Flash back a few months to the Lip Balm Revue - and there’s a sentence I can say with confidence that no one else could say with confidence. Oh, they might reference the Lip Balm Review, but not with confidence. That’s reserved for me, the man who made it happen! With the assistance of the Fair that supplied me with a guest 10 of the 12 days but never mind, Me! Me! Also the people who showed up and kept me from standing alone on the stage drenched in flop sweat, yeah yeah, but Me! ME!
Where was I? Right: after the show people came up to say nice things, and one day there was a family, two kids, and the wife was a big fan, although a bit too shy to say so; husband was all grins and brio, and told me that if I ever needed my shoes shined, I should come by his place.
The family stuck in my mind, as did the offer, and two and a half months later I thought: Westin, right? Westin hotel? So I went to the Westin, which is really the Farmers and Mechanics Bank.
The bank no longer banks, but the interior has been preserved. The bank itself is pure 40s. The office tower that rises behind it? Mid-century modern, right down to the turquoise panels. They were painted a different hue for decades, but when the hotel took it over they returned them to their fine 50s color.
I went through the banking floor, now a bar and restaurant, and headed up the twisty stairs designed to make you break an ankle because the angle of the steps is always changing, and can’t be predicted. You can’t jog up without thought unless you stick to the edge by the wall, and even then, you’re not sure. It’s the same with the Rand tower across the street. I’ve been walking up and down that staircase once every other month for decades, and I still think I’ll trip.
At the top of the stairs, there’s retail. A Starbucks, and - I was right! - a shoe-shine shop.
Took a second or two, but he recognized me, and once he did I was an old acquaintance from way back. Showed me his shop, told some tales. He has an oil painting of himself in the classic Jacques Louis David Napoleon portrait style, which is wife commissioned for him. The guy’s had a life, from Detroit to CA to here, and he’s full of cheer and gratitude. Now that I knew I had the right place, I said I’d be back with shoes.
I brought these battered boats, asked for them to be restored. A little darker, maestro if you please.
He showed me the tools, the techniques, the polishes, all the means by which dead shoes and other leather items are revived.
It’s a trade. It’s a useful trade. It’s a skill that requires a sense of aesthetics. The guy’s a wizard. I took some business cards and handed them out to everyone in the office I met that day, and everyone said - oh yeah, I have some dead shoes. That’s a good idea.
Everyone who lives in the skyways passes a business they notice, and take for granted, and then one day it’s just not there anymore. Soaped window, scars where the sign was hung, and you think: someone’s dream died, right there. And it’s no skin off my nose.
Except, it’s all one big nose, and we’re all breathing through it!
No, that’s stupid.
But it is true, in a way. I feel no responsibility if someone stakes everything on a niche idea. There was a honey store in the neighborhood that sold artisanal honey. You could pop for a honey straw for a buck, buy some flavored honey, get bee-related decorations, and so on. I went there once with daughter, and we bought honey, and I felt a bit guilty I didn’t go back to buy more honey, but I have limited honey needs. It closed after a few years, and every time I pass the storefront - still vacant - I feel a pang. You had a great idea and a great product but how could you know that the neighborhood’s need for honey was not sufficient to support a store that was utterly and total honeycentric? I hope you’re doing it online now and it’s going good and you didn’t drain the retirement funds.
There are some stores I will never visit because they’re too narrowly focused, and when you walk past you see someone at the counter either tapping on her phone or staring straight ahead, serving no customers, waiting, waiting. You don’t want to be the person who goes in, looks around, says nice things, and leaves without a purchase. You don’t even want to be the Pity Purchase Person, because that might be the only thing they sold that afternoon, and you don’t know if it gave them hope or underlined the futility of the effort. It’s one thing to have no customers, but there’s something cruel about having just one.
For Election week, a remarkable movie. And I don't mean "astonishingly good, technically superb, visually ingenious." I mean utterly insane.
This guy is elected president.
That’s his inauguration parade, which cuts him into stock footage. Then we go to the White House:
The inauguration went off with a bang! Yes, but it was pretty wet. I wonder when the majority of people cease to get the reference?
Well, we meet the president’s nephew, who’s a standard-issue unconvincing child actor reading his lines like he's chewing wood, and then a bunch of politicians laughing about the whole democratic process and elections - rubes! aw, they never learn - and then the party’s over. We meet the president’s secretary:
Franchot Tone. A woman shows up unannounced, and says she wants to see the President. It’s personal. Hint hint. Nudge nudge. The president promptly gives her a job as assistant secretary.
Y’know, this new pres may not be the idealistic leader the country needs to shake off Old Man Depression! But let’s give him a chance. How about a press conference?
John Bronson, Leader of the Unemployed, eh. Of course, the President wouldn't meet with him.
There’s one journalist who doesn’t like the President’s bromides and platitudes:
Filthy Red! Well, there’s more scenes of the president being blythe and unconcerned about things in general. He has the war department fly down a copy of Detective magazine in advance of publication! He plays with his nephew while the Dreaded John Bronson talks on the radio about the need for Relief. Turns out he’s got to be somewhere, so he gets behind the wheel, like Presidents are wont to do.
He does 98 MPH around a corner, blows a tire, and smacks up - although perhaps propriety and respect for the office prevents them from showing the accident. We just get reaction shots and newspapers.
He wakes from his coma . . . a different man. His humor is gone; he seems intent and a bit dismissive. Even to his girlfriend.
Oh no he woke a fascist and he’s going to have the Unemployed people killed!
Nah. He calls the cabinet together, and the miserable out-of-touch plutocrats say “the army of the unemployed is going to march on Washington! You must use the real actual army to stop them!”
He says no, everyone has the right to food. You’re fired. Next?
All of a sudden he’s a man of action. When someone says he needs to uphold the rule of law, he snaps: what law?
Oooh! A strong executive. Awesome!
Say, what about that dreaded John Bronson, the radical? Here he is, sitting humbly on a humble park bench, considering the needs of the humble men:
He's summoned to this place . . .
You can tell it's a crook's lair. They always had the modern furniture.
The top crook boss doesn’t want the march, because it’ll free up local cops to crack down on crime. I don't know why that's supposed to make sense.
I think this will tell you how grindingly tedious this thing is:
Then everyone starts singing and marching again. Well, the War Department wants to meet the protestors with tanks in Baltimore, but President Hammond has a different idea: what if we take the surplus food that’s rotting in the fields and give it to the unemployed?
My question: why aren’t the unemployed given jobs harvesting the rotting food?
Did I mention that John Bronson is killed while marching? He was. So the President of the United States
He walks alone into the camp of the unemployed and meets the daughter of the dead hero, and it’s right here that the film reveals itself:
You stupid lazy people!
The crowd demands WORK, and the President makes them a proposition: The Army of Construction. You’ll be under military discipline, fed, clothed, and housed as in the army, and you’ll put to work with no profit for everyone, and eventually you’ll be moved back into private industry when it recovers.
Whereupon the unemployed sing out “we have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”
Annnnd scene. Now. If you’re thinking that this movie is conflating progressive politics with divine will, that is of course ridiculous.
Ridiculous. We'll conclude next week.
After the election.
That'll do; here we go again.