For the last year and a half on Fridays I’ve posted little music cues from the late 1950s radio comedy, “The Couple Next Door” - the soundtrack to the mid-century middle-class domestic existence. Some of you may find the snippets interesting; some tuned out long ago; a few of you sought out the show itself, which was available at archive.org until it was not. (More on that at a later date.) I’ve noted, when needed, the plot of the shows from which the music cues were taken. I listen to it every morning around 9:30, as if it was still on the air. (And more on that at a later date, too.) This morning I did the usual routine with a troubled heart, since its creator and writer and actress, the inestimably valuable Peg Lynch, the bard of the ‘burbs, the miniaturist who could write 100 self-contained playlets that fit into a single story, the funniest writer who never wrote a gag in post-war American humor, and not incidentally the most criminally underrated vocal actress in radio - well, she was in intensive care.
That’s never a good place to be and a worse place when you’re 97.
I was listening this morning to a BBC 4 drama about the life of Gustave Holst. It did not make too much drama out of his unease with the success of “The Planets,” but the part about him fretting whether he had created his greatest work with years of composing still ahead rung true. Which I say knowing little of the man beyond the standard biography. Still. There must have been consolation in knowing that he didn’t just nail it perfectly when he wrote “The Planets,” he nailed it seven times without a needless measure, and created the most haunting and beautiful evaporation of the self in “Neptune” set to music. It ended with Holst narrating a dream of walking down a corridor while Neptune played, reaching for the door at the end - pure fancy, of course, but one of the things I love about the BBC4 afternoon drama is that they do the life of Holst, for heaven’s sake.
It ended and I went downstairs for a chicken sandwich.
The phone rings while I’m having lunch, and I can tell from the number it’s an international call, which means it’s Peg’s daughter, who lives in England. Stab the glass, hello?
Annnnnd it’s Peg, bright and spry and chatty.
“I’m in the hospital!” she says.
“I know! Get out of there and get home. You have work to do.”
She does. Some interviews had to be rescheduled. I have some questions about some stories that involved a trip to Europe. She has scripts to sign for fans who want to buy a copy of their favorite story. C'mon, Peg. Neptune can wait.
An awful November day, masquerading as April; cold, damned cold, a plunge down into the forties, not a speck of green to be seen, bare branches, spring in full stall. This is the Difficult Week, too - work obligations almost double every other week, but at least it makes for some zesty days of scramble and panic, all of which is rewarded at 3:30 PM Friday when I push “send” on the final piece, and off she sails. Then the Friday is truly earned. No time for games - although I have been playing “Bioshock Infinite,” and I’m just - stunned.
I was showing it to Daughter, who was mesmerized by the world it presented, those beautiful cities in the clouds. Of course, All Is Not As It Seems; you are uneasy from the start, lulled by the culture and civilization but bothered by the fervent blend of civics and religion. Then comes the moment when you’re at a Fair, and have the opportunity to throw a softball at an interracial couple who’ve been presented for public amusement. (The year is an imaginary 1912, where zealots have taken to live in floating cities. Don’t ask.) Daughter was shocked by the pickaninny art and the cruel turn of the story. I had two choices: throw the ball at the couple, or throw it at the carnival barker who was encouraging me to air out my arm. I asked her what I should do.
“Throw it at the circus guy!”
But then I will be arrested. I am a detective on a secret mission. I don’t know what it is, but I suspect this society is my adversary, and if I tip my hand the mission is over.
So what should I do?
I think the Bioshock games actually betray the paucity of moral actions in video games, because the choices they offer are stark, and remind you how most games are mostly free of moral quandaries, or cheerfully amoral. But at least they have them. I’ll tell you how much these games have trained the way I play: when you arrive at the city, you walk through an enormous church devoted to the flinty prophet who led his people up to this new world, and as with all games, you come across things you can pick up. In the chapels where people had lit candles and left offerings, I had the opportunity to scoop up the money people had left. In any other game, sure. In a Bioshock game?
No. I don’t want to be the guy who pockets a silver eagle he found in a church. And not just because I feared the game would add this to some pre-programmed calculus that would come back to haunt me later. It just wasn’t the right thing to do.
I’m almost sad that the game eventually turned into, well, a game. I would have been content to explore forever. I don’t want to run and shoot and hide.
But that, perhaps, is one of the points it has steered me towards, just like running through your justifications for throwing the softball at the interracial couple steers you to understand the gamut of social pressures and expectations in that culture. This is still a new form of storytelling. We’re beyond the “Great Train Robbery” phase of the medium, but we’re years away from Chaplin.
Tuesday construction update:
I'm heartened to see handbills posted. Typical Minneapolis: they're for the Opera. Just wish it said POST NO BILLS on the side, a locution that always seemed rather high-flown and archaic for the time. But there's no simpler way to put it, is there?
Except, perhaps, NO BILLS.
Our weekly look at the look of other weeks. The commercial culture, examples low and high, mean and great.
The weekly Borden takes an unexpected turn. I don’t think it’s the same artist. Elsie’s pushing coffee, and from the looks of the illustrations, 10X caffeine and a mild hallucinogen are the key ingredients.
No one ever ran until they had some of the stuff. Then they ran everywhere. Eyes bright! Stark naked!
I was driving around town yesterday with my dad and pointed out an old Sinclair station on the edge of the highway. It’s not this old . . .
. . . it was from the Dinosaur logo era, with the original sign. But this reminds you that there was a constant style in the 30s and 40s, a clean streamlined look that said GAS STATION. The product may have been dirty and literally oily, but the stations were designed to look the opposite.
To my surprise, I learned today that Sinclair still uses the Dino logo. The company’s history says:
Harry Ford Sinclair's father reared his younger son to be a small town druggist. But along with the pharmacy, the sire bequeathed his scion an overweening ambition, a gambler's courage, and an intuitive stubbornness perfectly suited to another destiny.
Fate was scarcely subtle with young Harry Sinclair. It caused him to lose the drug store in a speculation at age twenty, just as an oil boom enveloped the community. Freed of his confining inheritance, penniless, product of the schools of frontier Kansas, Sinclair read correctly the juxtaposition of his stars and attributes, and headed for the oil fields.
It’s quite a story, and reminds you that Sinclair is the only oil company from those early days that’s still around, and bears its founder’s name.
Perhaps I missed it on the company history site - it’s as breatheless as it is exhaustive - but there was one other fact about Harry Sinclair, and it’s in Wikipedia:
Founder of Sinclair Oil, he was implicated in the 1920s Teapot Dome Scandal.
Two weeks after Harry Sinclair's trial began in October 1927, it abruptly ended when the judge declared a mistrial following evidence presented by the government prosecutors showing that Sinclair had hired a detective agency to shadow each member of the jury. Sinclair was charged with contempt of court, the case eventually winding up before the United States Supreme Court who, on June 3, 1929, upheld Sinclair's conviction. He was fined and sentenced to six and a half months in prison.
SPRINKLE ME ELMO
So it’s glue, then:
Founded in 1907 by Mary and Margaret Elmo. The company was in Philadelphia. The web does not abound with additional information.
A few weeks back, Damon Runyon. Now his wife gets into the act:
I suspect it was a plan to elevate the humble frank above its ballpark connotations and reassure everyone that it was actual meat, and as such there was no shame in having it for supper.
Still isn’t, as far as I’m concerned. I love a good frank. Even if they have scare quotes. But of course they weren't scare quotes then.
Frankfurts, you'll notice. Not Frankfurter. That would be the person who makes the frankfurts.
Your ham has never been so gay:
Tune into Don McNeil’s Breakfast Club, it says at the bottom. Millions did: Don’s show ran from 1933 to 1968, the longest MC run ever.
THIS CONFUSED ME
. . . as a kid. I didn't know how they got flowers through wires. As if it was something out of Star Trek.
It’s called a “Flower relay service,” if you’re curious. “FTD” stood for “Florists’ Telegraph Delivery,” and it started in 1910 by a fellow named . . . John Valentine. Awww. It was a cooperative for decades until it underwent Demutualization, a word that means the privatization of a co-op. And that’s your new word for the day. Let it hereafter be employed in a piece about a celebrity divorce.
In the early days Mercury didn’t carry flowers, but a caduceus. Wikipedia: “It is said the wand would wake the sleeping and send the awake to sleep. If applied to the dying their death was gentle, if applied to the dead they returned to life.” See what I mean about that “it is said” nonsense? Or did I make that point at the work blog? Anything that is preceded by “it is said” is usually wrong. Also, if it made for gentle deaths AND brought the dead to life, you’d like to think it had a “cure” setting, but apparently not.
Then again, it has no medical meaning. You’re thinking of the Rod of Asclepius. DO NOT CONFUSE THEM. Even though everyone does.
Usual usual here and there; see you around.