Not so surly today; winter anger turns to sullen dull indifference after a day. It's hard to feel much about anything on a February Wednesday. But I can tell we're all ready to crack.
I'd say more on the subject but I just realized that should probably be a newspaper column, so I'll save it. I've gone through two ideas tonight, and while both were good 400 words in, one was too similar in subject matter to something I wrote last month, and the other is more bloggy.
I am sorry I typed the word bloggy.
At the Paris Review Daily, my daily source for smart writing about which I can find any number of gripy irritations (except for Sadie Stein, as I've noted before) there was a piece by an author who had two unexpected encounters in one day with the letter H. I read it all, but this is what I took away about the author: discussing a survey that attempted to canvas the state of Happiness in America, she wrote:
Yet as unreliable as the results might have been, I understood why someone was compelled to assess the general level of happiness in our gun-ridden strip-mall of a country. Pascal said happiness was the motive behind every action of every man whether he recognized it or not. Which is why, although it left me delirious, I continued staying up later and later until I finished the novel.
Gun-ridden strip-mall of a country.
You know, it's an enormous place, despite what they may say in the Creative Writing Program at Princeton University. (Which is where she works.) She was born in western Pennsylvania, so perhaps she grew up in a part of the country that had strip malls and were Ridden by Guns, but as a general description of America it speaks a lot about the speaker. You sense that the real good America, the only part in which a civilized person feels at home, is the dense center of a very large city, where there are small restaurants that serve good food from other cultures, and where everyone lives in small boxes and never ventures ten miles for years on end.
Why would you? Out there it's nothing but strip malls.
Look, I love New York, but I'm always amused that I'm supposed to take their views on the rest of the country as gospel, as though they arrived in Gotham after a decade-long anabasis that wandered through every state.
I was driving around the north side of town for a story today, and paused to take a picture of this sad structure. There was talk of granting it historic status. Can you guess why?
Use your imagination and erase the wing on the right side of the door. Pretend the door isn't in the middle, but on the end, and there's a tower above it.
A tower that made it look like a little castle.
On the way back I went through an old industrial section. Looks grim. About 15 blocks to the south it's all condos and apartments; it might take a while to get up here. I love places like this, especially when they contain mysteries we will never solve:
The mystery being, of course: who lived in that house? How many stories played out behind those windows?
Back to the tiny pictures found on record sleeve.
Thurston Knudson may not have been from Africa. Let's google . . . ah.
Thurston Knudson was born on August 5, 1894 in Salina, Kansas, USA. He is known for his work on Curse of the Ubangi (1946), Siren of Atlantis (1949) and Hoola Boola (1941).
Seems like he had a niche.
There are times you wonder whether anyone lives in these towns at all. There are times you wonder whether it's been empty for decades, and it's just a matter of waiting for everything to fall down. But then you think no, that was painted some time ago. Perhaps in this century.
Wikipedia: Borger is the largest city in Hutchinson County, Texas, United States. The population was 13,251 at the 2010 census. It was founded by Ace Borger, and dig this bio: "Borger began his career as a town promoter at the time of World War I. In 1915 Borger and his younger brother Lester Andrew, known as Pete Borger, sold land in Picher, Oklahoma, which was in the center of valuable lead and zinc deposits. In 1917 the Borgers partnered with noted oilman Tom Slick."
A job as a town promoter. An oilman named Slick.
Of course it was a gas station. You can see where the island was, even if you couldn't tell anything by its placement.
More from wikipedia:
Borger established a lumberyard in his namesake town, and opened its first bank as well. Often he took out full-page advertisements in area newspapers that promoted settlement in Borger and other oil-rich communities throughout West Texas and eastern New Mexico in which he had bought an interest. Mr. Borger also owned several wheat elevators in the area and also 19,000 acres of farmland in Hansford County.
He was doing all right.
Downtown bears the marks of an ill-considered and abandoned municipal improvement attempt. Let's build brick walls downtown! Add plants! People will stop going to Wal-Mart and shop downtown again!
You hate to say "just raze it, already," but this can't be good for civic morale.
In 1929 Borger built a spacious two-story brick residence, the first such house in town. From the start he had set aside sites for building churches and schools. Visiting dignitaries were lavishly entertained in the Borger home, which Mrs. Borger decorated with fine antiques.
That sign must be 40 years old, at least.
COME TO HISTORIC DOWNTOWN AND SEE THE QUAINT GAZEBO AS IN DAYS OF YORE
What are the chances that a business will ever occpy that space again?
Keep out! Do not enter! No Trespassing!
Mind you, there is some commercial activity downtown, and a few blocks seem to have some going concerns. But the overall impression -
Well, let's keep going, and see if there are any big surprises.
One of those modern renovations that looks like someone's put a blindfold around the building:
I'll place the sign at . . . 1967. Just a guess.
It could have been a movie theater, wouldn't you say? Certainly not a bank.
Speaking of which:
Borger's overt generosity with friends and acquaintances caused hard feelings among certain folks, particularly county treasurer Arthur Huey. Huey's dislike for Borger intensified after the Borger State Bank (which Borger had established in June 1930 as president and his son Phillip as vice president) failed, causing a minor panic.
The elder Borger was later convicted of taking deposits while the bank was insolvent and received a two-year prison term, which he appealed.
That seems to be a sad end to a big life, but the story isn't over yet.
For 1926, that's pretty darn stark.
Whoever modernized the ground floor, they're gone. Could have been any old five and dime. Guarantee the patrons of that store in 1957 couldn't imagine yoga as its eventual purpose.
Don't believe this one's in use.
But once it was:
And then it sank and decayed and failed.
Remember Arthur Huey, who had a gripe against Big Ace Borger?
Arthur Huey was jailed for embezzlement and reportedly asked Borger to help bail him out. When Borger declined, Huey threatened his life. On August 31, 1934, Borger was getting his mail at the post office when Huey walked in with a Colt .45[, cursed and shot him five times. Huey then took Borger's own .44 pistol and fired four more times.
Bystander Lloyd Duncan, farm boss for the Magnolia Petroleum Company, was severely wounded in the attack and died five days later.
At Huey's trial, which was held in Canadian, Texas, Huey claimed that he acted in self-defense, arguing that Borger was instead out to kill him. The jury acquitted him. Three years later, however, Huey was sentenced to the state penitentiary for theft of county funds.
I'll bet some people still like to tell that story.
And then, as if imported from a prosperous big city, this:
Oh, there's more. From the town's own website:
Within a matter of months, oilmen, prospectors, roughnecks, panhandlers, fortune seekers, card sharks, bootleggers, prostitutes, and dope peddlers descended on Borger. "Booger Town," as it was nicknamed, became a refuge for criminals and fugitives from the law. Before long the town government was firmly in the hands of an organized crime syndicate led by Mayor Miller's shady associate, "Two-Gun Dick" Herwig. The center of this vice was Dixon (now Tenth) Street, notorious for its brothels, dance halls, gambling dens, slot machines, and speakeasies.
Two-Gun Dick. I swear, this is as Texas as it gets.
That would do, except there's Restaurants below. See you around.