Friday I drove to St. Paul to see wolves. I had no idea I would be seeing wolves, but that’s the job of my job. The shoot was the Sportsman’s Show, an annual event in the dead cold heart of January, reminding the locals that spring will strike again against the stony breast of winter* and lo, you can drive your RV somewhere and watch “Star Wars” on the HD set in the kitchen.


I love doing these shoots - it’s just a big bellyflop into an event without any idea what you’ll find or see or who you’ll meet, and we wander around and make up the story as we go along. The clock is always ticking; the piece has to be up in a few hours, and there’s no time to script or plot. You show up, conjure your lines, talk, cut, do it again for safety, move on. I’d love to do this every day, just for the things you see and the people you meet - and, of course, the wolves.

But also the guy with the amazing collection of lures. Some guys were interested in the lures themselves - okay, most guys - but I was interested in the packaging, the vestiges of old cast-off commercial art no one intended to survive the purchase. But there it was.

When you see wolves you think Oh Big Noble Dog, but of course, no; they’re wolves, even though they seem happy and domestic. I entered the pen with no trepidation, but took care to move slow and let them get to know me. The white wolf found a hairbrush in my pocket, and since it had a gel handle, it thought: soft covering around a hard center, o joy, flesh and bone, let me play with it.

Are you happy now? Huh?

There’s a point in your life when you have a full Wolf muzzle up in your rear, the equivalent of looking at your business card, and all you can do is just stand there and say “happy to see you too.”

They also had cats. The cats judged you: meal or threat? Just asking dude.

When we were done I mailed a picture of me in the wolf den to daughter, knowing she’d go AWWWW awesome! when she saw it. Also had an ulterior motive: to you I might just seem DAD BORING DAD who sees you off in the morning and greets you at the door when you come back, but you know, in between, I do things. Now and then I have a wolf snout up my nethers.

You’re wondering how Jasper reacted when I came home smelling of wolves. I gave him a big hug wearing the jacket the wolves had explored, and he snorted and settled back down on his pillow, as if he’d caught a scent of something that raised the alarm bells for a moment, but really, at this point, whatever. Nothing surprises him anymore. He’s 200 years old. What matters is whether the stuff in the bowl is wet or dry. If it’s dry, well, he’ll get around to it. If it’s a bag of Disgusting Wet, then please, if you will, bring over the rug so he can give it the attention it deserves without slipping on the floor.

When the pack was assembled for Friday Pizza he made a long slow lope around the kitchen island, waiting for the boon: the yielding cheese, the crunchy crust. So it has always been for almost two decades. The aroma hits his snout and attention must be paid. Once upon a time he paced around the table, whining softly, waiting, waiting; now, in the middle of our feast, I hear the clink of his collar tags as he begins the process of Standing Up, and clacks around the corner to see what scraps clang into his bowl.

And so on a wintry night everyone in the house is content. Daughter tweets out a picture of the Wulf I met, wife finally unwinds after a week of work and watches something on TV without leaping up every time the iPad bongs with an incoming email, I palaver on a radio show then tweak the Bleat and site and watch something old and greyscale, and Jasper walks around for half an hour before deciding that the highlight of the day - indeed, perhaps, of life itself as proscribed in this frigid times - has passed, and dumps himself down on his bed.

All is well and and everyone is fine. An ordinary night at Jasperwood; an ordinary day. But each has something that sets it apart. Wolves, in this case. I interviewed a wolf. I like this year so far. I could live this day over a dozen times and wonder what I’d missed.

Anyway: HERE'S THE VIDEO! Watch it and get my hits up. Thank you.

* Paraphrased overly dramatic Genesis lyric.


Note: Clicking on the B&W Banner now takes you to an page of links that go directly to last year's entries. Why? Because I had an hour to kill.

I always say these aren't reviews, and this installment should prove that point nicely. The movie's almost irrelevant. The other night while cleaning out bookmarks I found a "documentary" about small town life in the 50s. Nothing of the sort; an educational film that sought to bind chidren to their community by showing how everything works together, and how everyone requires the labors of others.

It's set is "Millwood." I wondered: can I figure out where this is without skipping ahead to the credits? How long would that take? Let's see.

This is Richard Anderson, young citizen of Millwood. Richard's mom comes in and irons the sheets and blankets while he's still in bed.

While he sleeps . . .

. . the Dairy workers are busy bottling milk for growing bones, working in a a modern, dramatically-lit factory. . The milk is delivered by . . .

Ah hah. This is all we get. I’d say, Bowman? Really, I don't know why I came up with that, but seems a likely name. Googling: A hit for the Bowman Dairy Co. of Chicago. google for some pictures of the trucks to match the typeface . . . and there we are.

Well, that didn’t take long. So it’s somewhere in the Chicago Milk Delivery area. Also while Richard sleeps - the lazy little ungrateful git - the bread man arrives.

Pep’ridge Fahm! And it says “Skokie” on the truck.

We see Richard turn over in bed, and then:

Not his nightmare, but the truck that’s delivering the food for his dinner. SPECTOR. Still around; thanks to internet obsessives you can find entire pages devoted to the changes in the Spector fleet over the years. Again, this nails it down: Chicago area.

Now we see the butcher unloading meat, and I think we all know what this brand is. We looked at the sad abandoned Rath Plant last week in Products.

Anyway. We meet the utility workers, the newspaper people hard at work getting out the morning paper - and they’d best be quick about it, since the next shot shows the thing being delivered by a boy on a bike, as was the custom at the time.

Finally, he rouses himself from bed and walks to school. He passes:

As it happens, the Mayor of Skokie is . . . George Van Dusen. Close but no cigar. Keep googling. The Lake Shore News reported on May 15, 1912, that Mr. A.S. Van Duesen “has purchased a machine to slice cold meat.” The newspaper gives us an address: 1154 Central Avenue, Evanston.

Down the street past Schneider’s Shoe Shop - which directories put at 1148 Central. Same street.

Switch to a grocery store. You can tell it’s a grocery store because . . .

Because of the metal railings and the rubber mats, which triggered the automatic door openers. You needed those when you had your hands full. Around down you can find stores that still have the railings; they always give away an old urban grocery store.

Well, now it’s time for a boring recitation of the transportation options, none of which will impact Richard in our story, unless of course they literally do, but it’s not that kind of film. The train station, the buses, the taxis - they're all working together to help people. People lile Richard. or the people that people like Richard will become one day after they'be been properly schooled at the Modern Information Dissemination Center:

If it's an Evanston school, I can't find it. There's also a shot of the Factory where Richard may work when he grows up; nothing comes back on the company name. They could be throwing in stock footage, and besides, Richard may go to another city when he grows up. Richard will break his mother's heart. They don't say this, of course.

When people are done at the factory it is time for Recreation:

On the way back from school he appears to wander aimlessly through the streets, passing a building where TV happens inside:

"Richard enjoys watching television and learns many things from it." Never learned about the story behind that hideous puppet, I'll bet. Wikipedia:

By 1948, toymakers and department stores had been approached with requests for Howdy Doody dolls and similar items. Macy's department store contacted Frank Paris, the creator of the puppet, to ask about rights for a Howdy Doody doll. While Paris had created the puppet, it was Bob Smith who owned the rights to the Howdy Doody character; an argument ensued between the two men, as Paris felt he was being cheated out of any financial benefits from having made the puppet. After one such disagreement, Paris took the Howdy Doody puppet and angrily left the NBC studios with it about four hours before the show was to air live; it was not the first time Paris had taken his puppet and left, leaving the live television program with no "star"

With Paris' past disappearances, impromptu excuses regarding the whereabouts of Howdy Doody had been hastily concocted. This time, an elaborate explanation was offered—that Howdy was busy with the elections on the campaign trail. NBC hurriedly constructed a map of the United States, which allowed viewers, with the help of Smith, to learn where Howdy was on the road.

The explanation continued that while on the campaign trail, Howdy decided to improve his appearance with some plastic surgery. This made it possible for the network to hire Velma Dawson to create a more handsome and appealing visual character than Paris' original, which had been called "the ugliest puppet imaginable" by Bob Smith.Since Paris did not provide the voice of the character, Howdy's voice would stay the same after his appearance changed. The puppet which is remembered as the "original" Howdy Doody replaced the actual original made by Frank Paris.

Richard also passes a movie theater, and if there was any doubt where they shot most of Millwood, this seals the deal.

The words may be blurry, but there were only two possible words that could be above the name of the theater: Baliban and Katz, the great Chicago theater magnates. Sure enough: my book about their work returns an address for the theater . . .

Everything seems so much less, in a way - but only because there isn’t a solemn wordless civic hymn playing along as we go through our daily life. Also, we’re not ten. Also, we forget that if they’d showed this to us as kids in 1954 we would have been bored, or rolled our eyes. Because it was lame even then. Kids naturally roll their eyes at this earnest instructional stuff. Only in retrospect do we infuse them with solemn civic meaning and suspect this meant that everything was better.

Some things were. Some things weren't.



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