We have a new spaceship in orbit around Mars. The Maven joins three others, and an Indian probe is en route soon. Five man-made craft circling another planet/. I’ve never quite agreed wit the statement that “the proper study of Mankind is Man,” attributed to Thomas Mann. (Kidding! Alexander Pope.) That may have been true when tools were rude and the impenetrable empyrean an eternal mysterious process of lights and bright streaks, but if we can throw a machine around another world we are obligated to do it.

I’ve always felt impatient with the lazy trope that says aliens would be bored with us, find us mere ants - you know, “beam me up, Scotty, there’s no intelligent life here.” If a spacefaring civilization wandered through our neighborhood and found probes circling various globes, powered computers interrogating the satellites of distant giants, I don’t there’d be hearty contemptuous laughter on bridge. Oh look at these apes, with their crude spindly things. It would be like a scientist going into the rain forest and finding a tribe that wore mud and ate bugs but also invented a steam engine.

Gorgeous weekend; hot on Saturday, so I could finish the small weekend project that only took five Saturdays: making a small stone apron for the garbage cans on a patch of the boulevard that had gone to weeds. It’s not as bad as it could have been. I put in the Paver Lock Sand, thereby Locking the Pavers, and put pebble rock on top, thinking as I laid it down that in four month’s time the snowblower is going to gather up a handful of those things and shoot them across the street like shotgun pellets. As I finished the job the skies gathered themselves into mood we hadn’t seen in a while, and thunder (boomed, rumbled, conurbated, whatever cliche you want) around the margins while the cell moved in. A hard mean storm fell upon the town soon, and I thought it might be the last thunderstorm on a hot day this year.

Over night the trees seemed to have voted for autumn. What was once solid green outside the windows that look down the cliff are now tinged with brown and orange. But I still don’t feel it in the sternum or the gut. It’s the moment when the lights go up on the third act and you see the set has changed, but no one’s spoken their lines yet.

An hour before the storm hit:


Snapshots from the weekend provisioning run:

Target is theater. It’s how I keep the weekly duty interesting. On the way into the store Dale, the invaluable heart and soul of the store who has Cerebral Palsy and rides around in a motorized chair and is perhaps seen by some uninitiated as a pity hire, is sitting in the share waiting for a ride, having a snack. WHERE DO THINK YOU’RE GOING? I bark. SLACKER. GET BACK IN THERE.

“I’m running away,” he says.

“The place will fall apart, you know that.”

“They’ll manage.”

Check. Okay, that leaves Linda, The Nice Fellow, and the very cheerful kind lady of a certain age I have never, ever been able to move off the script. Inside the store, a new sign:

It has begun. Feels not-quite-right; it’s a hot day and we’re all in shorts. But it’s almost right. At Traders Joe they had pumpkin ice cream samples. Delicious. I bought some pumpkin breakfast bars and pumpkin granola. You know, for later. When the pumpkinosity really kicks in. So far no. I mean, I stood in the soup aisle, and felt nothing. It’s not truly fall until I get the soup vibe.

I pass the very nice guy who always hands out samples with the most Midwestern easygoing kindness you can imagine. I DON’T WANT ANY, I say, sternly. The Luna protein bars are just candy. Dense, chocolatey, delicious candy. Oh all right, I’ll take some.

“We have a coupon good for a dollar off,” he said.

I take the coupon, even though I have no intention of using it. Down the aisle the Cheerful Lady was pushing some sort of breaded nugget made of compressed poultry segments; she was cooking up a batch and encouraged me to come by later.

“Sloggoth N’Srulh will arise again to consume our souls,” I could have said.

“Dollar off,” she would have replied.

I made a quick run through the store, wondering where Linda was. On my way to the checkout she blocked my cart and handed me a moist towellette good for removing makeup.

“Say Yes to Blueberry,” she said.


“YES. It’s for your daughter. Tell her I said it was for her.”

“I will.”

“Oh you’d better.”

At Cub I was spared the humorless lady of a certain age whose sole job is to serve up cold slices of sausage on a dry pretzel stick. Last stop, the likka-stow, where sometimes an industry rep is handing out hooch, or one of the employees is serving small rations of wine. I never take them, because it’s the afternoon, and also because about 10 years ago I tried to engage the employee in a chat about the wine, and he just looked away: it’s a municipal liquor store, pal. I’m not here to talk about fruity finishes. I never forgot that. Every time I see him I think: that was poor customer management, pal.

The counter staff changes frequently, but there’s the Sarcastic and Mildly Bitter Young Woman, the energetic young manager who will talk about any spirit you buy if you put a dime in the slot, the six-foot-tall Nordic Blonde who goes to my church, and so on. I picked up a bottle of Orange Stoli. I have nine bottles in the larder. Why? Because it usually goes for $24, and for a certain period every year it goes for $12. I stock up.

Walk to the register. The lady in front of me has a shopping car with six cases of beer and a dozen bottles of wine: par-tay. She sees me, says “oh, you just have one, why don’t you go ahead?” I thank her and I go ahead.

The clerk rings me up. “I’d like to pay for this with pennies,” I say.

Now, the lady with the party supplies gets it, and laughs. The clerk says “okay.”

Just kidding, I said.

“Fine by me,” said the clerk, and if I could discern the meaning in her diffidence, it was this: I’m on until five. You want to count pennies for three hours, I don’t care.

There are two kinds of clerks: one hears “pay with pennies” and shrugs, and the other flicks her eyes to the line to see how many people are waiting.



They're called "Programmers." Some people have a soft spot for them.

The imdb reviews are always the same: "not too long, fun, fine for a rainy afternoon." And the review's dated 2004 before Netflix streaming came along.

These were cheap shows intended for a double-bill, aimed at easily-pleased audiences who maybe paid attention to 2/3rds of what was going on, and really came for the other movie. Occasionally they surprise; sometimes you find wit, comedy, good direction, clever acting, and other hallmarks of people who are trying to do something that exceeds the low requirements of the genre. This is probably one of those. It still bored me dead. But: it's about radio!

See? Radio! (That’s Ken Carpenter, who was a real radio announcer. ) A look into the workings of a radio network was an interesting setting, like a TV station today, or . . . well, no, not an internet site. Nothing happens there.

Some shows did have a live audience. Unlike the taped audiences of today, which regard it as their duty to whoop and WHOOOOO! and behave as though they are an actor in the play, audiences could be very, very quiet. Sometimes you’ll be listening for ten minutes, and then you’ll hear the audience laugh, and you realize they were there all along, sitting in silence, behaving. The conceptual surrealism of the Jack Benny Show depended on an audience; Gildersleeve didn’t, but the occasional audience reaction wasn’t unexpected. Lum and Abner, my second favorite comedy, was ruined when they went to a live audience: it broke the spell.

Anyway, this is a mystery show, supposedly, and it has an audience. It’s like seeing “CSI Miami was filmed before a live audience.” Why?

The plot: radio actress decides to boost her ratings by solving a real mystery. As soon as she starts poking around, someone dies:

Girls! Your best “Dead Body Face”, if you will:

The actress is Ruth Terry, who was everything a programmer wanted: a good actress, pretty, and smart. That last attribute matters: movies like this usually had a dumb-dora to emphasize how the main star had brains, or a homely smart one to emphasize how the star had brains and beauty. They were good-girl roles, single gals who were doing all right on their own thank you, but melted when the Right Joe came along. As for Ruth herself, she’s 94 at this writing and still with us.

Ruth Terry, born Ruth McMahon (born 21 October 1920), is a retired American singer and TV and screen actress from the 1930s to the 1960s. She claimed her stage name came from Walter Winchell, who combined the names of two then famous baseball players, Babe Ruth and Bill Terry.

Quote from imdb:

[on being under contract to Howard Hughes, who at the time owned RKO Pictures, and how she wound up at Republic Pictures] "Howard was notorious for having women stashed all over town. When he found out I wouldn't give him anything, he sold me to Republic."

A shot you’ll never see in a movie today: lean in and look slightly sideways so you’re dramatically lit!

She wants to do an authentic recreation of the crime, and that means going back to the scene. Which leads to this image, which made perfect sense to the audience:



She wants a certain kind of sound, wind through the pines, and the sound-patterns engineer is showing her the discs that have wind + pine noises. That’s the behind-the-scenes stuff that flattered the audience, I think; they liked to know how the effects were made, but still liked to pretend they didn’t when they were listening. Whenever I listen to a Gunsmoke radio show I notice the sound FX at the beginning, if only to admire the skill at creating the Dodge City ambience. Then you stop noticing, because the mood’s been set so well. (Dragnet less so; accurate as it was, most of the FX were footsteps or a door opening.)

Anyway, the idea that they will go to the place and record the sounds for a radio show to make it authentic makes this a meta-commentary on the artifice of all dramatic media, in a way, but only in retrospect, but not at the time; it’s just an excuse to stop filming in rooms in the city, and film in a room set in the woods. It’s a very stagey movie, without any street shots at all. Even the segment shot in a newspaper office takes place in a dimly lit room where the old clippings are kept.

Yes, newspapers and radio: those were the days. The days of a newspaper radio columnist:

People might ask if that's a telephone dial? Grandpa had one of those. They'd probably recognize the format as a newspaper. They might wonder why a broadcast columnist would be unable to name the Brazilian singer. Or why the lead item is in a different typeface.

Anyway, she solves the crime in a little over an hour, and get smooched by her radio rival, who is also a detective. Happy ending for all! Including the audience, which probably had another movie to see, and one that had actual stars in it. Not that Ruth wasn't star quality; she was. And she should've been.

But, well, Howard Hughes.



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