The tree is down, repeat the Tree is down. The neighbors still have theirs up; I can see it from the back steps. Looks twinkly and homey and makes me think I acted too soon, but perhaps they're Orthodox; perhaps they're not home. Perhaps they're lazy. Still looks like Christmas is going on somewhere, but of course it's not: January marches on, and with the standard pangs the ornaments are stowed away. The furniture is back where it should be. Last year I had this lingering sense of Christmas mysteries; I would from time to time play a version of "In the Deep Midwinter" to bridge the days from merry holiday hopes to the stern truths of the long spell ahead. This year: eh. None of that sitting on the marble slab over the radiator with the dog and watching the sun set. I'm busy. Things to do.

Too busy to be sad.

Hunter S. Thompson, a good writer who cratered into self-parody and incoherence, has gotten the bio he probably deserved: his son wrote a book. His son was terrified of his father, because his father was a lunatic. From the review:

Woody Creek in the late 1960s and early ’70s was a kind of elite hippie paradise.

The parents of Woody Creek wanted what most parents want: excellent schools and even better dinner parties. Amid the good intentions it was a druggy, unruly, glamorous, nonconformist, heavy-drinking scene that left broken marriages and scarred children scattered in its wake. None were more tossed about than Juan Thompson.

Not that it matters, because Art! and Myth! But note how the Elite Hippies can't even be mythologized by the people inclined to find them fascinating, because the citizens of this enclave were destructive infantile narcissists who hurt people. But they were glamorous! And I'm sure in some sense they're still respected for what they professed. Not how they acted, but what they professed.


We return to the thrilling tales of yesteryear. Okay, yesterweek.

Well, this is a special kind of hell, the most wonderful gilded bright shiny kind: an enormous fashion mall that has absolutely nothing to offer me except opportunity for dismay and approbation. Because that's the mood here, midway through the vacation. The Girls wanted to go to the mall, of course, wife wants everyone to go to a movie at the mall, because, and afterwards we're either going to eat or go see something that's been illuminated for the holidays. After the illumination-beholding we might eat. It depends!

So I'm a small rock in orbit of a cluster of comets, really. There's a certain amount of will that can be exerted; I have opted out of the movie simply because I am not interested in seeing a movie about a woman who invented a mop, no matter how good it's supposed to be. This either means 2 1/2 addition hours of wandering around the mall, or going up to Father-in-law's aerie by the mall, where there's a lovely view, and making use of their built-in espresso machine. Constant use.

Here's the problem with everything right now:


When that's the name of a store, it suggests that nothing else can claim the title, does it? Or that the title was dropped, or slipped from a cool and slumbering hand, and was snatched up by someone who expected a protest or perhaps pursuit, and was amazed when no alarums sounded. Well then I guess it's ours.

Walked through Barneys, which always reminds me of the wonderful book about the destruction and reconstruction of the New York brand, something that influenced the text of the Dorcus Collection. The store is spare, with merchandise spaced far apart as if it was very very special, or had a contagious disease. When you see an expensive store with so few items on display, you know the markup must be tremendous, but the target market doesn't mind; status display is the main objective. The thrill of walking from the store through the mall to valet parking with box that says BARNEYS NEW YORK so everyone knows you can afford something from BARNEYS NEW YORK. That's hardly a novel observation - Mr. Veblen to the courtesy phone - but it's also insufficient. There must be a personal expectation for some that their income and social status and grinding schedule of benefits and openings requires these clothing, and the knowledge that the words brushing the back of your neck are the right words is a comforting affirmation.

Eh. I sound like a high schooler criticizing the snobby kids. I get that way in malls. Not in grocery stores, even though I get irritated by food snobs who will only use Madagascar vanilla in their French Toast batter. (Along with cage-free eggs and milk from cows that didn't take BGH and ate non-gmo clover and were slaughtered with a blade sharpened on diamonds certified to be non-conflict) Grocery stores are a marvel. Daughter accompanied me to Fry's today - walked! Three miles! Willingly! With her father! Made my day. We had a serious conversation on the way there and an amusing one on the way back. She was impressed by the store, which has everything. And of course I made to make this a Sermon.

What you see is a miracle. This is the pinnacle of civilization, in its own way. No king in the history of mankind had access to riches like this. Look - here. (picks u box of special expensive gourmet crackers) This is someone's livelihood. Someone got a loan, started a business, hired people, paid someone to design this, because he or she wanted to make a special cracker, and here it is next to all the other special crackers, and this is just the special cracker department in the cheese department. There's another special cracker section in the cracker aisle. He might fail, he might win, but you can do that here, you can try. And if someone says why do we need so many cracker choices, this is why. Do you want some governing Cracker Bureau to say no, don't make crackers, make pretzels. But I don't want to make pretzels. I want to make crackers. Sorry, we have enough crackers. But I have this new taste. SORRY.

Now apply that to everything here! And the other store that has the stuff this one doesn't! And the other chain that carries a different line of speciality stuff!

Can we try them?

Hell no. Overpriced. Waste of money.

Be grateful you are an American. You are not a victim. You are an individual, not a member of a group. You are responsible for your own decisions. Happiness is a choice.

So I shouldn't be bored by this mall; I should be dancing a jig. I suppose. It's this: when you find yourself in some immense place of great prosperity whose interests are different than yours - and this place is a vast monument to female vanity - you wonder how many people just think this is normal, and self-perpetuating, the way it's always been and will always be, and it has arise because it's good duh, and has nothing to do with capitalism, which is said with a certain sneer.

I mean communism is awesome in the pure form, said one of Daughter's classmates, except it's never been tried.

Astonishing what capitalism in its debased form can accomplish, no?

There are three other people in this little sofa group where I'm sitting: the Husband, arms crossed, waiting for someone. A late-middle-aged woman reading a book, wearing the expression of someone who doesn't care if no one else smells that horrible smell, she does. Another late-middle-aged man reading a paperback thriller. They must have brought them. There's no bookstore here anymore.


Or not. Could there be something of interest beyond garments? Let's head back and explore another level and see what we can find.


Got a text from my wife inviting me to join her and in-laws for coffee by the canal. It's a nice spot, and if you think Scottsdale is nothing but wide streets with fast cars and endless indistinguishable malls, you're mistaken. It's this:


Otherwise, yes, wide streets with fast cars and endless indistinguishable malls. The coffee was good. Afterwards I walked around Old Scottsdale, which my French brother-in-law loved because, as he said, coming from Europe, to see this, the original, the Old Wild West!

Yes, but it's fake, I said. But it's genuine in a fake way.

He grinned and agreed and didn't care. I understand. I didn't care about the Campanile in Venice, either.

Speaking of which. Here's a comment on this Althouse blog entry on traveling, and why it's overrated. The commentor pushes back a bit:

Well, I like traveling to foreign countries. I like getting out of my shell. I like the differences. I like the interactions. I like the history and the architecture and all that. I like to see new things. It's usually fun and sometimes exciting. I DO get spellbound by many historical sites. I've traveled off the beaten path and on it, and I like both, each for different reasons. I've had adventures in some places and I've taken the best naps of my life in others. What's wrong with that?

Nothing. Agree with every word. You can read about a place and see pictures, but it doesn't compare to being there. I wouldn't conflate going to a place with understanding it on some subatomic level like the all-wise locals; wouldn't suggest that going to interesting places somehow makes one an interesting person. But if I had the choice between staying at home for a week in the summer, or spending it in Venice exploring churches, why wouldn't I go? I can walk around the neighborhood the other 51 weeks. Not a lot of baroque around here.

Ann wrote: "Do the people who travel have a more wide-ranging mind than the people who read and think about the world?" Not necessarily. People who read and think about space travel probably had a 'more wide-ranging' set of ideas than Neil Armstrong, who was thinking about getting there, landing, exploring, leaving, and getting home without dying. The armchair space explorer imagines warp-drive and generational ships. One is idle speculation uninformed by experience; the other is travel.

You can read about Venice, but you'll never know how it smells; you can think about Venice, but you'll never read anything that's the equivalent experience to turning a corner, finding a church, going inside, soaking in the atmosphere of five centuries, studying the artifacts. You can read and think about Venice all you like, but you'll never find yourself standing at dawn by the canal, near a stone with a date from the 16th century, waiting for your boat; you'll never know what dawn looks like from the water as it paints the columns and palaces. You could look at a artistic representation, but if art was the same as experience, people would marry statues.

On the other hand, reading and thinking is all you can do for most of the things outside you town and profession, and if you're not just looking to confirm your pre-existing biases, your understanding of, oh, Turkish politics is quite possibly better than someone who just took a day trip on a bus through Instanbul when the cruise ship docked.

(On the gripping hand, there's something to be said for those day trips on a bus.)

Ann also says: "Anyway, as Irving observes, places like the ancient ruins of Rome have tourists walking all over the place." Depends. Pompeii has spots where you, depending on the day, find yourself alone on a street, looking up at a wisp from Vesuvius. But as with the ancient ruins of Rome, experiencing them with lots of people is hardly an inversion of their original state. It's like going to the Colosseum and complaining about the crowds.

Anyway, if you don't like to travel, don't; it's your decision. It doesn't make you more interesting, necessarily, but it makes your life more interesting to you.

Unless you're in Fashion Square.



Remember all those Elsie ads with tiny type and clever tales about blustery, useless hubby Elmer? There have to be more. I'm always looking for more. Until I find a good one, we may have to return to the unsatisfying topic of Hemo.

There were no stories about Hemo, for the most part. Family members just started getting hopped up after quaffing Hemo, a vitamin drink.

The problem with these ads is rather simple: no one who drank a lot of Hemo probably found themselves full of boundless new energy. Unless it was the sugar.

Let's look at some bedspreads! Name the decade. Go on, take a wild guess.

"These 7 ideas appeal to Young Americans."

Once upon a time, as the bedtime stories say.


More ideas for bedrooms: spreads 'n' drapes.

Good neighbor policy leads to drape design! Because everything else in the 40s was on fire or hated us. So the Pan American thing was exotic and carefree and only slightly infested with Nazi spies.

If Hemo doesn't work, glop some viscous vegetable sauce into a glass and tell 'em it's "refreshing." Now with 10% more cocaine! Kids love its zingy aftertaste!
  We get a little tableau that shows Mom's reign of terror. PUNISHMENT IS IN ORDER FOR ALL
  Bottom line: in all ages, in all eras, no one likes to eat fargin' vegetables

The rising sun indicates that very little time had passed, and everyone was hooked for good on the stuff.



Ah, actual packaging: you really got to eyeball the goods when it came to a Dolly Madison cake.

Why the wife of an early president became a cake brand is not immediately known. Here's the rationale:

“Cakes and pastries fine enough to serve at the White House.” That is how food specialist Roy Nafziger described his Dolly Madison snack cakes at their introduction in 1937. Roy’s fascination with American First Lady, Dolley Madison, lent him the name and inspiration to create a high quality snack fit for a socialite like Madison yet affordable for everyone.

Roy - a member of the Baking Hall of Fame, natch - was also credited with the invention of the "first creme depositor," and I think you know where that led, don't you? You'd be wrong. Seems like the Twinkie came from elsewhere, but they may have used Roy's invention.

Once creme had been deposited, nothing in the world of snack cakes would ever be the same.

Creme Depositor sounds like some procreation appendance on a horrible insect.



That'll do - now enjoy the return of Sci-Fi covers! Only two a week this time, just to stretch it out as long as possible.


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