The warm days are still here, but Monday was gloomy and rainy. Felt like early April - and of course it's not, which could be a problem if you'd made the mental adjustment and decided that this was now thin-sweater / medium-jacket weather. It'll be scarves and galoshes by next week. Sounds like a nice little oath: oh my scarves and galoshes, what a pickle.

When I left the office today I unfurled my big red umbrella. It's good quality, which is surprising for a giveaway; says TRAVELLER on the side, which means it was handed out by the insurance group that uses a red umbrella for its logo. A man walked past and said:

"Nice Umbrella!" I turned and burst out laughing.

You can't see it in the picture, but his umbrella says TRAVELLER too.

Why the hell was he walking around holding that thing up? What was he trying to keep dry, his hand?

I heard a story on the radio today about the Permian Extinction -

No, wait; back up.

I’ve always been a bit unclear on planetary formation. I grasp it, but I don’t feel it, to put the matter in the most scientific terms at my disposal. The Big Bang spews out matter galore; gravity makes the matter condense into local groups; stars and planets are formed - while everything’s still expanding. That’s what I was taught.

It has a satisfying simplicity in grade school, but the more you think about it the more it all becomes baffling. It’s enough to make one a New Mysterian. Just learned about this philosophical strain last week, and it’s depressing. Or resigned. Or accepting, if you choose. It says we simply lack the mental faculties to truly apprehend the nature of the universe. We’re capable of understanding some things, but at a certain point it’s like orbital mechanical to a dog.

Regular readers of this feature will recall my untutored suspicion of Dark Matter, an idea I distrust because it answers a question without providing an actual answer. Well, we can’t explain this, so there must be . . . THIS STUFF that explains the things we don’t understand yet. It’s a placeholder. I am likewise inclined to give side-eye to the Big Bang, for the same reason. It’s like the old joke about people trapped in a well, looking for ways to get out, and there’s an economist who says: assume a ladder. There’s no BEFORE the Big Bang, and the human mind can’t accept that - not because we’re primitive, but because we can sense time in long draughts and believe in cause-and-effect. To quote Felix Unger:


Now who’s the gravy-maker, that’s another issue. Whether this is the sole iteration of the Universe, and will inevitably end up cold and dead with billions of light-years separating the remaining constituent atoms, I don’t know; whether it all gets compacted back again and explodes again and creates the universe anew for the second or 32,349,374,292nd time, I don’t know. Whether there are massive black holes at the heart of a galaxy that occasionally consume so much matter they undergo a transformation that creates a new universe with its own laws, I don’t know, and whether all these universes are arrayed like soap bubbles or have borders that can’t be breached, I don’t know.

What I do know is that the materials that formed this planet are incomprehensibly old. Feh, you say - four billion and change, right? We know that. But that’s just a word, billion. I heard a story on the radio today about the Permian Extinction that said life rebounded faster than previously thought. Which is one way of saying “scientists who thought that one thing were wrong.” And that’s okay; you present your theories based on the best evidence. New evidence says that life was doing pretty good only a million years after the Permian Extinction.

A million years. That’s enough time for a species to rise, colonize vast swaths of space, collapse due to plague, and have every accomplishment erased. It’s an unimaginable swath of time - and all the while the rock that makes up our planet sat silent, locked in mountains, buried in the floorboards of the planet.

But rock moves. There’s a big stone in my backyard that was pushed here long ago - it was too big to remove, and so the original owner just left it there. Subsequent owners of Jasperwood didn’t trouble it. It’s smooth, so it looks as if it was worn by water, but where, and when, and how long ago? Was it polished by ancient currents, abandoned when the lake fled, shoved here by a glacier? How this simple inert thing got here amazes me when I think of it, and amuses me when I turn on the pump and water shoots out the hole the fountain-builder drilled into its center. My contribution to this rock's strange existence.

Then there’s the Tommyknocker Rock in the back yard - a flat space where nothing grows, about the size of a Frisbee. My wife asked me to get rid of it, and I started digging - only to find the sides slope away at an angle suggesting the stone is immense.

Then there’s the pebbles I poured into the spaces between the stones on the stairway - the steps were quarried from Minnesota, and owe their striations and fossil imprints to ancient sedimentary deposits over God knows how many years, but the pebbles - again, worn smooth by water - could be from anywhere. They were bigger, once; the rocks to which they belonged were sundered from a bigger rock, and so on and so on until you have the vast stone heart of the planet heaving and cracking and rising and falling, sometimes in the course of a day, usually over the course of a million million days, casting off smaller chunks like a sneeze throws off a million droplets.

One of those rocks, about the size of a child’s marble, ended up in a particular place on a thin strip of cement, and there it sat. Cars ran over it, and moved it; trucks roared past, and blew it an inch or two left or right. One truck’s wheels hit it just right, and perhaps for the first time in its existence it took flight. It wasn’t pushed around or washed to or fro, it flew. It arced up and struck my windshield with a sharp report, and left a divot.

Of course, I swore. But then I thought where did it come from? Wasn’t any rock-hauling truck in front of me. Once you ask where did it come from you have to go back to the starting point, and then you’re rather amazed: that divot in my windshield, which is a thing that has never happened - an utterly unique event in the universe inasmuch as there is only one of these windshields at this time in this place, situated thus to be struck - this happened because the planets formed and the earth cooled and the long, long subterranean mutterings combined with the billions of interactions and random acts of an intelligent species, and lo: a crack in the windshield.

If I’d spent 5 more seconds in the shower it wouldn’t have happened.

But it did, and that crack, that divot, now has an almost metaphysical attraction to me. A glancing object, a mystery - proof that something happened, but no idea of the actual sequence of events that made it possible.

It’s on the upper right-hand side of the windshield, so it doesn’t bother me. When I see it I think: the thumbprint of time, in a way.

If it was right in front of me, where I look when I’m driving, I’d be all, like, screw you Big Bang. Now I have to call my insurance company. Reason for claim? Deep time and happenstance, pal. Here’s the bill. Cut me a check.



More of the work of C. H. Wellington, cartoonist mislaid by history.

It's bad enough to have a knot in your hair, and find yourself alone on the beach, homely, self-conscious, and generally miserable. But the worst is yet to come, etc


Technically, the stars should eminate from her head, indicating pain at the root, but then no one would know there was a tangle.




If you've just joined us, we're working our way through the decades, from the 1890s to 1970s.

The era of pathetic hair justification is over! Done! Finis!

Three kinds of Breck, one kind of lousy logo. It says “John H. Breck” at the bottom, but by 1972 the company had long been in the hands of the charmingly named American Cyanamid company.


Advertising that "every woman is different," by the 1950s, the shampoo was available in three expressions, color-coded for easy identity:
D (red label) "For Dry Hair"
O (yellow label) "For Oily Hair"
N (blue label) "For Normal Hair"

This ad has the New Regime: it’s Breck Basic, Extra Texture, Regular Breck Basic The Texturizer, and Breck Basic Silk ’n Hold. Yeah, that’s memorable.

How many can you name?


Founded in 1957, when such clubs were all the vogue. Folded in 1975, as sales diminished. They sold most of their catalogue to the Columbia Record Club, which will be familiar to many as a source of astonishment followed by monthly dread.

Is that Victor Borge at the bottom left?


Oh joy. IMDB:

Short lived late night comedy series of short stories which featured famous celebrity guest stars checking into a posh hotel.

The list of “famous celebrity guest stars” included Marty Allen, Charles Nelson Reilly, and More Amsterdam - as the Bellboy!


This is so very typical: a copy-heavy ad with an elaborate photograph, shot in slightly gauzy focus.

There was a lot of 20s nostalgia floating around in the 70s


Yeah, you can taste, but you’ll be tasting Cellulon and Polyethelene:

Two things:

1. 14 mg was low tar? Really? By the end of the decade 8 mg would be low-tar, and 1 mg would be Ultra Low. Carlton made an ultra-extra-low that got it down to .5, I think. It was like smoking a straw in fog.

2. These things tasted horrible.


Originally a premium brand, the cigarettes were re-branded in 1984 as a savings brand. This made Doral the officially first branded cigarette to be in the value-savings market. Doral currently receives limited support from R.J. Reynolds, as Pall Mall has taken over as the company's primary discount brand.

And to think it was once a top of the line smoke.

What is the point of these things?

I’ve never given them much thought, except that they have always existed and the ads have always pretended they’re something fantastic. Everyone knows they’re the dullest crackers imaginable. Stale or fresh, doesn’t matter. You had them when you had a stomach bug, because they were bland and didn’t make you feel like throwing up, or you had them with chicken noodle soup, and they got mushy and disgusting.

Gawd, this stupid woman:

Doesn’t she know? She might, but decades of conditioning and habit have taught her there are things that must be done in a particular order, or clothes will come out of the washing machine BONE HARD.

See what I mean about the 20s nostalgia?

That’s a straight-up John Held Jr. swipe. Steal. Homage? Whatever.


That will do, and it had better; that was exhausting. See you around.


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