Went to the Service Department today to get my driver’s license renewed. Every four years, a new institutional picture that says “yeah, four years. They’re adding up. The gentle minute, the lazy hour, the placid day - all combine to swing the scythe, friend.” Usually I do this at the suburban branch, but I was downtown and had the time and decided it might be more interesting. It wasn’t. Not in any sense. You expect colorful individuals at a downtown government center, but it was sparse and sedate. You could almost hear the water thundering down outside the fountain basin outside, reminding you that they fixed it. Again. It’s the city’s most underwhelming fountain, and sums up its era perfectly: above ground there’s a big pool punctuated with six . . . splashy things, to use the technical term. They spit water about two feet in the air. Big deal. The water empties into a waterfall that’s only visible underground in the passage between the monolithic 7ps style Godless Human Control Center and the great grumpy City Hall. It’s a nice thing to come across, but you feel like an idiot if you stand there and watch it.

I stood there and watched it. Even took pictures, which was probably verboten.

Then I went into the Service Center, your center for service, and got in line behind a very short fellow who was attempting communicate a matter of immense complexity to the lady who handed out the tickets with numbers on them. She bore it all with great patience and explained that she just handed out the tickets with the numbers on them. He had lots of paperwork. Agitated people with a case against the government usually have lots of paperwork.

I was next; got a form to fill out. Conversation at the writing table between an older man and a younger woman:

You want to be a donor?

Give blood you mean?

No, when you dead, they get your organs.

Don’t matter.

So I can put you down as a donor.

Does it cost?

Don’t cost nothing.

Okay then.

The downtown location feels smaller than the suburban operation, and about the same number of occupied windows: half. The others are unmanned to mock you. Same voice on the loudspeaker calling out the tickets:

E 301. What’s an E-ticket for? You probably had one once and forgot it.

J 414. Who’s standing up for a J? That burly guy. No way to tell what he wants. Could be a hunting license for Wabbit Season. Could be getting a permit to move a garage six inches to the left. Whatever it was he wants to do, it has to be run through this narrow aperture and stamped with the proper approval.

G 294. That person went to the window where they have the cameras for pictures, so I figure figured it was driver’s licenses. I happened to be G204. It seemed unlikely they would go to G 999, then down to G 001, so I just waited. When it got to G299 it reset to G200, so I could see the pattern. Gs were 200 series, Js were 400 series, and so on.

So why have the letter?

Because that’s what you listen for. If they went from 207 to 749 to 413, people would be confused. The letter stamps you as part of a clan, in a way, albeit a clan of people who wish everyone else would just go away, and hold out hope when a letter is called that the person has wandered away to look at the waterfall, and will be skipped.

Well, I had to wait through seven more. They went quickly. The staff, as I learned when I got up the window, does not dawdle. They do not look at you like a slab of meat writhing with maggots that’s been dragged up to their window and propped up and leaks juice everywhere, and if there’s not a lot of chitchat while the work’s done, that’s fine.I will always remember the Washington DC DMV, which made a Kafka bureaucracy look like a McDonald’s drive-through at 4 AM.

Eye test! Look in here and read the top line. I read the top line. Which side to you see lights flashing? Hah hah, trick question. Both sides.

“I see flashing lights all the time,” I confided in a stage whisper. “Is that a problem?” This got a smile.

Took my mug shot and left. It’ll take three to six weeks.

Really? I know the licenses aren’t like the keycards you get on a ship, but they make those in about 10 seconds, and I have to think there’s a quicker way to get them to me. Unless someone actually draws them by hand to look like official documents, and the foil-and-hologram part takes a whole day.

My card was sliced with The Official Scissors to indicate I had applied for the new one, and I was done. Took 32 minutes. Nothing noteworthy had happened at all, and I had nothing to complain about.

I love it here.

Walked the dog around the neighborhood, nothing the changes. The neighbor's house is for sale; she's moving. The house on the corner that had an old lady and her son was sold after she died; all the trees tha shrouded the house are gone, and there are children's toys strewn on the lawn. In all the years I lived here I never saw a soul come or go or pass a window. In the summertime an above-ground pool was filled. Never saw anyone in it. One of the two enormous mansions that sit atop broad swaths of lawn is full of construction; bought at a foreclosure price that made everyone's teeth hurt, and the owners are adding . . . everything.

and went up to the water tower. The Guardians of Health always look best during a summer evening.


A brief thing to tie together Monday through Friday: Were these actors from Peyton Place Episode #100 also on Star Trek, or, Failing That, Some Other Form of Science Fiction?

How about this fellow:

Sensors say yes. I recognized him right away as Captain Merik, who I'm sure was at the Academy with Kirk; he made the fateful decision to beam his crew down to the Completely Believable Roman Planet where everyone spoke English. The actor is William Smithers.

Side note: Merik commanded the SS Beagle, which might be an odd name for a ship until you remember there was a British ship of the same name. And what's it remembered for? Carrying young Chuck Darwin around. A nod, perhaps to Hodgkin's Law of Planetary Development, which posited "parallel evolution" among sentient beings.

Claptrap, of course, but it made for a fun episode.

Another note: Merik was called the "First Citizen," a title I believe Augustus took on to indicate how, well, shucks, he was just like all the other Romans, albeit the top one. Think "First Comrade" in a Soviet society on Bosho IV. Which, alas, the Enterprise never visited, even though I guarantee it would have had a jovial Bear of a commissar who was much like us in many ways, civilized and cultured, and perhaps treacherous at the end - but there would have been a Slavic shrug to indicate hopelessness in the hands of fate.

Final note: "Shucks" is a great word and I just don't use it enough. No one does.


The weekly look at commercial images and logos and such from the middle of the previous century. We begin, as we do often, with the Weekly Borden.

Oh, my.


What are you is a reasonable query, and Elsie's odalisque pose is more than a little disturbing.

The boy gets a taste of the nattering monomania Elmer will endure in decades to come.




An old plot now lost to modern eyes: the horrors of the PURGATIVES, bowel-blasters that went through you like a gummi Tomahawk and cleared out everything. Old Cranky apparently lived on cheese and cement, because he had almost fifty different types of chemicals designed to hasten along the yards of impacted matter.

All he needed was bran! Four muffins and he felt like a new man, having excreted the equivalent of an old one.

Ray Van Buren drew this strip, Abbie ’n Slats, for over 400 papers. Al Capp wrote it until 1945. Detail from his bio: “Van Buren served in the old Seventh Regiment (107th Infantry) of the 27th New York Empire Division in World War I. He was art editor of the Division's magazine, Gas Attack.”

A sense of humor always helps in difficult times.



Another of those Rocket 88 ads, but instead of the singers who rode the silver projectile, it’s a lady who is wearing Scottish gear, which was the universally understood Garb of Thrift.

Nowadays their image is different.

You can still find Cheap Scotsman Jokes on the internet if you look. I love this one:

When a bus company was prevailed upon to increase the concessionary fare to frequent travellers so that they got six journeys instead of four for a pound, one elderly gentleman, renowned for his frugality, even in a community where frugal folk are common, was still unhappy.

"It's all dam' foolishness," he declared. "Now we've got to walk to town six times instead of four times to save a pound!

That's cheap.


A rather odd ad campaign: now you can have at home the soups that are poured out en masse to hungry people in hash houses whose primary considerations are value and speed!

Was “Tom Thumb” a chain name, or just one shop? I suspect the former - this Tom Thumb Restaurant, not the Tom Thumb. Whatever the case, now you can enjoy delicious soup on the same spot where Thomas Jefferson penned the declaration. Really, right there. That stool. The one with the gold chains around it.

(FAST UPDATE! Reader Joe S. mails:

The Tom Thumb Restaurant was at 7th and Market Sts. - on the southwest corner - across from the Rohm & Haas' parking garage (which was next to Rohm & Haas' corporate headquarters). It was very small - almost a lean-to. In the '70s, they tore it down to make a Jefferson museum.

I used to work at R&H downtown from '71 to '78. More on Rohm and Haas here.

You guys know everything. As for the other one:

The Sixth Street White Tower, eh. Googling . . . Well, it was still around in 1955, because a lady “fell into a hole in the pavement” in front of the restaurant, and sued White Tower.

Here we find a picture, and an address. . . . ah.

The window on the side is probably original; the chain liked big windows by the grills, so people could see the food being prepared out in the open, instead of back in a fly-blown kitchen with bloody crates that said HORSE MEAT on the side.



Yes, with the new 1947 Xtra-Wide Tubes of Tomorrow, you’ll see all the action like you were there!

Really! If you were there the player would look this small from where you sat.


  I don’t think this lasted very long. Too much work.



Richie Rich addition; work blog around 12:30, Tumblr around noonish or so - see you then!


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