I wish it would snow. It has snowed. It will snow. But right now we’ve old snow, crusty and thin, and it makes the world feel brittle. For Christmas it will do - except that it’s supposed to hit 50 this weekend, and that will boil away a lot of the stuff. Cause for Joy in the hard months of January or March, but in December you ought to get your White Christmas, dammit, because of the song and various illustrations and childhood memories. You want that charming Victorian Christmas - which, as I’ve noted, was their own attempt to recreate the honest, decent, authentic Christmases of yore. At some point a stylish 50s Christmas with neon and cars with fins and men in hats may replace the Victorian Christmas, but that would take a hundred years.
Wrote a column last night, submitted it today; have to write a column tonight to file tomorrow. Repeat once more then bourbon. In the evening I’ve been driving around to take daughter hither and yon - thither was not on the Apple Maps, but I expect the next release will solve that - and this has been a window into a Child’s Mind. In her view, there’s the drive to the place we’re supposed to be at 6:30, with glowers and slight huffing because we actually had to be there at 6:10 to fill out paperwork ahead of time, and EVERYONE IS SLOW and WE ARE HITTING ALL THE RED LIGHTS. In other words, what I would be saying if I was alone, but tamp down in her presence to be a calming adult figure of responsibility. Then when she
s done the ride is outside, just there, and home we go. To me it’s almost two hours of driving - going there, returning, going back, returning. But to a kid you are just There.
Had an hour between trips. Hardly time for anything. Maybe it’s just me, but I have a hard time starting anything if I know I have to stop and go somewhere in an hour. Suspension on tenterhooks, whatever the hell those are . . . sigh. Googling. A hook used to fasten cloth on a tenter, it seems. A tenter is a drying frame.
Doesn’t seem indicative of a suspenseful situation. No one looks at cloth fastened to a drying frame and thinks “the lack of resolution, or the promise of resolution, makes me feel anxious.”
Anyway. Wednesday: one-hour Church meeting for next year’s camp counsellors. Travel time to church: five minutes, which means I could come back and have 50 minutes of madcap fun cleaning out the storage closet, or could run an errand. You can always run an errand. But: Is food provided at church? It is provided, so I could use that 50 minutes to have supper. My own lonely supper at home alone, possibly before the fire with the lights out to save money, startled when the figures on the wall start to move. Wasn’t that what happened to Scrooge before Marley showed up? There were tiles around the fireplace with pictures baked into the ceramic, and they started to move.
This would seem to be proof that Scrooge had ingested a hallucinogen. You could chalk up the morphing door-knocker to bad eyesight, but when the tiles start to move it suggests that Crachet may have added something to the boss’ tea. Here’s the passage:
The fireplace was an old one, built by some Dutch merchant long ago, and paved all round with quaint Dutch tiles, designed to illustrate the Scriptures. There were Cains and Abels, Pharaoh's daughters, Queens of Sheba, Angelic messengers descending through the air on clouds like feather-beds, Abrahams, Belshazzars, Apostles putting off to sea in butter-boats, hundreds of figures to attract his thoughts; and yet that face of Marley, seven years dead, came like the ancient Prophet's rod, and swallowed up the whole. If each smooth tile had been a blank at first, with power to shape some picture on its surface from the disjointed fragments of his thoughts, there would have been a copy of old Marley's head on every one.
``Humbug!'' said Scrooge; and walked across the room.
Would have been. Doesn’t mean there was. The movies changed it, made it explicit. The movies, alas, usually kept this line:
A slight disorder of the stomach makes them cheats. You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato. There's more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!’'
The idea that you’d hallucinate the ghost of your former business partner because you had consumed a small portion of mustard, or a jot of insufficiently cooked potato - no. But the line about more of gravy than the grave is a horrible pun, and requires actors who are trying to set the mood spoil it with a joke. He’s speaking with an apparition, and ascribes its presence to meat sauce.
Then next line:
Scrooge was not much in the habit of cracking jokes, nor did he feel, in his heart, by any means waggish then. The truth is, that he tried to be smart, as a means of distracting his own attention, and keeping down his terror; for the spectre's voice disturbed the very marrow in his bones.
Which to me sounds like Dickens explaining why he put in a line that clangs, because he just liked it too much.
I had chili for supper. Twice. The first time was a Bag of chili I bought on sale at Target; they had samples, and the samples were tasty. The stuff in the bag had beans that were made from Nerf, and it tasted bland. Since I had a can of chili - also bought on sale, also after a sample - I decided to continue in the prefabricated chili mode, and heated it up. It tasted like something you scrape from the grooves in a bison’s hoof.
Took daughter to an orientation for a soccer school. They kicked balls for an hour while the parents toured the facility and settled in for a Powerpoint (well, Keynote) presentation on the place and what made it special. If you’ve ever been subjected to Powerpoint, you know that no one can make a slide unless it has three bullet points. Otherwise it looks insubstantial. But after a while the audience tends to tread the next slide, because it will have three points - or MORE - and each of those points stands as an obstacle to getting done with that slide and moving on to the next, which itself presents a fresh set of bullet points in need of explication.
I have a 20-minute attention span for things that do not interest me. It is a personal failing, I know, but it’s there and that’s that. Soccer does not interest me at all. It’s great that daughter likes it, and hurrah for sports, and all that. It still comes down to moving a ball around with your feet, and while that is a skill that requires training and discipline and situational awareness and competitive drive and teamwork and all that, it’s moving a ball around with your feet. It means nothing to me. So 50 minutes of Powerpointing about moving a ball around with your feet was trying. But that’s my failing.
And I’m sure it goes back to being a chubby kid in grade school and junior high, when gym class was the Revenge of the Swift and Lean, and I associated every smell and sneaker-squeak and locker-slam with ineptitude and humiliation. Even though I would spend a lot of time in gyms later on in life - voluntarily - it’s still a foreign country, almost a parallel world. There are books on the shelves but they are not about literature or history. There are videos piled up by they are not stories or documentaries. There are pictures on the wall but they are not art, they are pictures of stadiums and grimacing people kicking things.
Anyway. Put me way behind schedule, so I’m off to write that column. More below, of course.
The weekly survey of downtowns across the fruited plain, as captured by the roving eye of Google. Today it's . . .
It begins with one of the basics: the Old Bank, with its reassuring classical form. First National Bank. Why, I'll bet it had assets of $200,000!
Many parts of downtown seem to have been punished, rather than remodelled or rehabbed. The building on the left, for example: a post-war modernizaton punched a big display window into the store, but A) left about six square feet for commerce, and B) did not attempt to bring the rest of the building along for the ride. You can see the dots that once held the sign, and I hope it was neon.
Big posters of people who were born here. Google is racist:
Yes, that's Eb from Green Acres. The others are Leontyne Price and My Favorite Martian.
Lester, by the way, is the only surviving member of the Green Acres cast. He's now a farmer and an evangalist. He left Laurel 50 years ago.
Everything bleeds with time:
You know it's a venerable local firm that values customer service and tradition over the chains and mall stores. Or so I'm sure they'd like to say, and for all I know it's true. The renovation of the structure is showing its age, though - if that was a renovation, and not a 30s / 50s structure. The windows make me think it might be from 50s, just because the width and pacing and materials:
Elsewhere: this poor fellow was not served well when the metal facade came off.
Blank second floors: it's the modern style! See also below:
A blinded building with ghost signs and baby-puke paint:
Proof that small-town architects should not experiment on their patients:
Again, it appears as if the metal was ripped off; was there a scrap drive in 2007? The brick looks recent, as if it was trying to connect to the thing on the right with the shingled overhang. There's no way this building is coming back from that.
Pave the first floor! The invaders can't crawl any higher:
From this angle it looks as if got a 50s makeover; the stone on the bottom was popular during the era of downtown modernization. It was classy stone. The building itself was a Kress, the chain that split up the country with Kresge - and left a legacy of small-town architectural landmarks around the South. This isn't one of them.
Nor is this, but:
It sums up so many small towns: a name, a shuttered store, and a shoot of green for hope.
Enjoy Laurel MS: there's more than what I selected.
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