Lovely day. The view above is downtown by the river; had to shoot some pictures for Saturday's architecure piece in the paper. Ten years ago that would have earned me a grievance from the union; now it's standard job requirement.


Did I mention we tried Hello Fresh and Blue Apron and a few other services? They deliver a box of ingredients to your door, and you make really good meals. I mean, really good. Daughter and I made a few together, and it was fun. I enjoyed preparing something different than my usual fare. Since the beginning I've made a point of having a family meal at 7 PM, because it’s the one time you get together and talk. Sure, you argue. Sure, someone might not like what you make. Sure, the Family Ideal of the Happy Dinner disappoints sometimes. Don’t care. Family meal. It’s the law.

For one thing, it makes me feel useful and gives me structure: I shop, plan, make, serve, wash, clean. I like being able to give my wife the certainty that she can come home and dinner’s on the table, which is why I am Spock-eyebrowed about the supposed horrors that attend that expectation. Granted, I’m not a 50s housewife stuck in the burbs with no outlet for my creative impulses except flipping through a magazine and thinking “I should take a pottery class” while taking a break between dusting and vacuuming, or vacuuming and polishing, or polishing and dusting. I enjoy domestic work of a certain kind. We have a good division of labor, except when it comes to the yard. My wife is bothered by sticks on the grass, and I couldn’t care less. I’ve never walked past someone’s house, noticed some small branches, and tsk tsked.

Anyway: The meal kits were welcome additions, and once Daughter is off to college I will resume them with greater frequency, since we can go to 2 people instead of 4. Perhaps my wife will like to make the meals, since she loves to cook.

Or maybe not. Turns out it’s all a lie, a clever corporate manipulation of expectations, a simulacrum of an honest experience.

The box opens out as a kind of introduction to the basics of idealized family life: this is what dinner is; this is what home is. Each ingredient is individually wrapped and Saussureanly labelled. “Green Beans,” it says on the green beans. “Saffron,” it says on the saffron. The consumer is presumed to be in a state of primal confusion, an amnesiac being coaxed through the performance of some semblance of a former life. Here is your husband, don’t you remember? Your children, whom you love. This is your front doorbell ringing, this is a box sent by a friend, this is the katus-style eggplant you’re about to prepare and eat in this set of rooms that makes up the emotional center of your life.

This is from a piece that finds these boxes problematically problematical, and it begins with the usual specious generalities that reveal nothing about the subject and everything about the author.

The consumer is presumed to be in a state of primal confusion, an amnesiac being coaxed through the performance of some semblance of a former life.

The consumer is actually being informed that the saffron can be found in the packet labeled saffron. This is helpful information.

In its evocation of a family dinner table with no past and no future — having no leftovers is one of the key advertising promises of these services — meal-kit delivery services promise that, with the help of e-commerce, traditional family life can continue undisturbed even as the underlying structures that produced the family as we know it are undergoing extreme disruption. If becoming an adult is learning to parent yourself, meal-kit delivery imagines that parent at sea in the overwhelming churn of an unmoored and unrecognizable life.

I’d say that meal-kit delivery delivers meal-kits and leave it at that, but no one waved greenbacks at me to come up with a deep sociological take. I will note that we rarely had leftovers when I was growing up, possibly because mother was prone to sweeping all the dishes on the floor after dessert and shouting No Past! No Future!

If becoming an adult is learning to parent yourself, meal-kit delivery imagines that parent at sea in the overwhelming churn of an unmoored and unrecognizable life.

Or, it’s delivering cod and some spices, so you’re not putting thosefrozen tilapia things in the oven on Thursday again, because Thursday has always been fish night. Why? Why not Friday? Well, we’re not Catholic. Friday has always been pizza, so Thursday seemed like a good day for the fish option. There are so many!

By the way, you know who’s experiencing more overwhelming unmoored unrecognizable churn than meal-kit patrons? People who can’t afford meal-kit delivery. You know who’s engaged in some elaborate interior dialogue about being a Parent at Sea churning and unrecognizably moor-free? Personal Essay specialists who wish their daughter would deface a Barbie with a Sharpie so they could get a piece to pitch to the New Yorker. Okay, Jezebel.

Now, history!

The meal kit brings to mind another culinary innovation spurred by an era-defining new technology: the TV dinner. In 1953, the poultry company C.A. Swanson & Sons rolled out a frozen meal in a compartmentalized aluminum tray that could be used both to cook the food and as a plate. The story goes that the company had grossly overestimated how many Thanksgiving turkeys they would sell, and were left with 260 tons of leftovers. The 40,000 extra frozen turkeys were said to have been sent on a road-trip across America; the refrigeration in their railroad cars only kicked in when the train was in motion, so, like Sandra Bullock in Speedthey had to travel or perish. Taking their inspiration from in-flight airplane meals, the company deployed an assembly line of women who, with the help of spatulas and ice-cream scoops, shoveled vats of sweet potatoes, peas, cornbread stuffing with gravy, and turkey slices onto compartmentalized trays which were frozen and shipped to grocery stores with the label “Television Dinner.”

Yeah, well, maybe not.

The identity of the TV Dinner's inventor has been disputed. In one account, first publicized in 1996, retired Swanson executive Gerry Thomas said he conceived the idea after the company found itself with a huge surplus of frozen turkeys because of poor Thanksgiving sales. Thomas' version of events has been challenged by the Los Angeles Times, members of the Swanson family[10] and former Swanson employees. ] They credit the Swanson brothers with the invention.

Swanson's concept was not original. In 1944, William L. Maxson's frozen dinners were being served on airplanes.

Anyway, TV Dinners were all the rage for a while. A fast source of grub for most people. A novelty. They weren’t very good, but there was salty-savory in the meaty portion, and sugar at the end. Like every other aspect of American food, they got better - and now there’s a range of frozen items, all descendants of the Swansons template, and they can plug the gut with far more sophisticated tastes. And everyone knows they’re not as good as a real meal.

Uncoupling family dinner from the hours of labor involved in planning or preparing a meal allowed for a Cubist collapsing of the past, present, and future; in the 1960s, Swanson added compartments for soup and hot desserts like apple crumble, creating a three-course meal that happened all at once in the rectangular room-space of the metal tray. A meal could now exist perfectly frozen in time in an immaculate kitchen, a set of identical crystallized moments packed three deep in a hidden chamber.

In other words, “Mom had a few in the freezer in case something happened and she couldn’t make dinner.” Something like, you know, Cubist collapsing. That made it impossible to cook and don't even think about getting the car in the garage.

Yes, we’re talking about the images and implications of advertising. So?

I think of Blue Apron (or Chef’s Plate, or HelloFresh, or any of the many meal-kit delivery services now flooding the market) as a podcast dinner. Partly because so many meal-kit companies are advertised on popular podcasts as sponsors; and since meal kits are currently marketed to an affluent audience of young professionals, there’s a good chance they are also prepared and eaten to the accompaniment of a podcast in the background. But also, meal kits share with podcasting a self-consciously handcrafted tone. The meta-episodes of podcasts like Gimlet’s Startup are open-concept kitchens that put the making process on display, emphasizing an immediacy and emotional availability that encourages listeners to see professional radio personalities as real people.

Ahem. Well. As someone who has actually done podcast ads for meal-kit delivery systems, I can vouch for my own Real Personhood. It is entirely possible that people bought them based on my endorsement, and listened to a podcast while they made the meal. So what? This:

Meal kits offer restaurant-quality food with homespun quirk, suggesting that an honest hour of slicing and stirring could make you see yourself as a real person too.

Just to remind you: we’re talking about a box of meat and produce, withcooking instructions. It’s possible that some people are dressing the act up in grown-up clothes and pretending that they’re a real adult who is adulting, but the problem behind that has more to do with the culture’s indulgence of interminable self-examination and self-celebration.

Which leads to lines like this, in a review of a box of meat and vegetables:

The recurrent question of what to have for dinner is exhausting because hiding in its shadow is an even more unshakeable and troubling question: How and why do we keep on living?

How: by eating

Why: because the alternative is less enjoyable

The existential dread of dinner-time is real

Oh, God, no, really it's not

because the very purpose of food is existential. Meal-kit companies promise to do the thinking for us, presenting us with carefully curated dinner-theater experiences starring ourselves. But the artificiality of the enterprise can seem infantilizing, duping the home cook into thinking they are doing it all by themselves. What is the point of shrimp and langoustine ravioli with peppers and spinach? Or sweet-potato chaat with cool yogurt and sprouted mung beans? What is the point of any of this?

I think we’ve strayed a bit from the original subject.

By creating a family-in-a-box, carefully packaged to make us feel worthy, virtuous, and even loved, these services may be perversely highlighting the absurdity of the systems we have created. All the corporate infrastructure that has gone into the box that arrives at the door, all the anxious nostalgia for a previous way of life that most of us wouldn’t choose to return to.

All these paralyzed, damaged people, convinced of the righteousness of rejecting The Horrible Previous Way, unsure what should replace it, and perversely drawn to the old tropes because something in their heart tugs them in the "wrong" direction.



Well, this should be exciting! Dante was the name of the show:



Uh . . .

I'm not really getting a sense of the show. Let's try another. Sounds cool: Dan Raven!




Dan Raven featured contemporary celebrities appearing as themselves, including Buddy Hackett, Paul Anka, Marty Ingels, Bob Crewe, and Bobby Darin. Darin appeared in the first of the hour-long episodes, "The High Cost of Fame.”

It seemed too similar to 77 Sunset Strip, possibly because it took place on Sunset Strip. It also went up against Rawhide and . . . Harrigan and Son.

Other stars in the series: Marty Ingels. Playing himself? No; he played “Benny” for two eps.

Dick Wittinghill played himself, though.



It's one of the larger towns we've done - 117K souls. The Wikipedia entry sounds like it was done by local boosters, calling it "a tourist destination." Paris, watch your back. It also notes it's been featured in film and television: "The Daily Show has featured Evansville in two episodes. The first featured a story about comedian Carrot Top's reopening of the historic Victory Theatre. "

Let's take a look around. It's an interesting place, with many old buildings. Everyone knows what this was:



I'd say it could have been the First National Bank, but when you turn around you realize they have different ideas about bank names in this down.




I've no idea if my suspicions are correct, but we all know what this was, right?



I'm sure it wsas a department store, and everyone who goes early to Denny's for the senior special remembers going there as a kid.

Evansville had the usual problems after the war, and unfortunately took the usual steps: "urban renewal," which leveled some old blocks, and a pedestrian mall.

Neither was a good idea.


A sixties classic:




The grid on the facade is more 80s than 60s, but the black brick and gold windows represent a brief, minor trend in mid-late 60s architecture. And it's a throwback to some 1920s skyscrapers. Didn't catch on, but the few examples always have a stark, sophisticated look.


I hope he found peace in the end:



So, let's Google:

The Bitterman is an upscale market providing local artisans, crafters, and small businesses an opportunity to display their wares in an atmosphere that holds the perfect combination of modern and vintage flair. The Mini Shoppes are the solution for up-and-coming businesses to advertise and sell your locally made goods, while still maintaining your day job!

Last blog entry: two and a half years ago. Front page of the site:


So. It also has a link to, which wasn't.

This isn't the department store at the top of the page. It's anotehr. Strouse's. Closed.



That ugly duckbill awning was slapped on buidlings all over downtown. If I recall the rationale in Fargo, the awnings were intended to compete with the climate-controlled malls. See. you won't get wet! Much.



"Beauty and the Beast" comes to mind:


The decision-making procedure that went into the two buidlings on the right - I'd give a dollar to hear what they were thinking.

Watered-down International Style, with color! And peculiar arches. This style has no value today, which is a pity.



They'll tear down all the examples before they realize they miss it.




When old venerable financial instutitions or office blocks get a workout club, it's often a sign that they're trying to reposition and repopulate.



Somehow it doesn't say "downtown" like, oh, a thriving bank or a fully-rented prestige office tower.

More next week; there's a lot here.



That'll do; see you around.


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