Texted wife: off to the hardware store; need anything? Expecting, of course, “no.” But she said we needed sidewalk grit.

Ah. Well, they didn’t have any. I went to two big-box stores, and they had no grit. You might ask: did you see if they had any gumption? No, I didn’t think of that. Went to the friendly neighborhood store, and they had grit in 50 pound bags. Bought two, and had a lad help me carry one bag to the car. He struggled with it more than I did, and I didn’t struggle at all.

I do wonder where the phrase “friendly neighborhood (blank)” began. It was obviously a cliche by the time Spider-Man used it, but I didn’t know that at the time. Has it come around full-circle so it’s not used ironically any more?

Anyway, I didn’t put down any grit, because it was warm and the ice melted. By the nightfall the next day - surprise, how the hell did this happen, oh right January - the ice had reformed, and all the grit that people had put down was locked beneath a fresh sheet. So walking the dog is, again, an exercise in concussion avoidance. Every time we hit a slick patch and I see a stone wall I imagine myself jerked off my feet when Birch lunches, and my head hits the wall. That’s why you always take your phone on your walk. You never know when you will be struck unconscious, and need to dial for help.

Which you can’t do because it’s lights out, twinkly stars and birds revolving around your friendly neighborhood head.

Rote Monday, nothing to report; turned in two columns. Enjoyed some fan mail from Germany, thanks to the recent Strib column where I answered Der Speigel’s fantasy about Fergus Falls.

Most read Variety piece at present! Huzzah for me.

Nothing more to add about the day, so let's get cracking and investigate . . . some wallpaper.







I’ve been rewatching Boardwalk Empire, an exceptional HBO show. THIS IS NOT A REVIEW. Remember, we're here for the odd telling details.

I love this show more than The Sopranos, although not quite as much as Deadwood and Rome - but there’s a hair’s breadth between them all. I know I should rewatch The Sopranos, but I figure I should also watch Breaking Bad, except I have no interest in it. Same with Game of Thrones. I’m sure they’re great. Count me out. Am I missing anything?

Really? A few cultural references, but beyond that? If everyone has the right to insist I watch Breaking Bad - oh you got to, you just got to - then I have the right to insist that everyone watch Boardwalk Empire. For one thing, it takes place in a period rarely visited by TV, because it’s expensive to reproduce: the late teens and early 20s. I think the 20s might be the most misunderstood decade, inasmuch as it’s understood at all any more; the teens are a muddle. I’ve been fascinated by the 20s since I was a kid, but this wasn’t the 20s I imagined. The 20s of my imagination were full of flappers and flivvers and skyscrapers and clever people laughing at a New Yorker cartoon; the time of Boardwalk is, for the first 2 seasons, haunted by WW1.

It has the same arcs as Sopranos - why, things are changing, and people are moving in our territory. It does not have that end-of-things lament that gave The Sopranos its false weight. Okay sorry you came in at the end of things, when guys in nylon socks whacked other guys and then they went to Ginos for the spaghet, eh? And then after six hours you go home and smack the wife around a little? But no one touches my family! Family is sacred!

And so on. I love gangster movies and I love the whole Goodfellas myth, but Boardwalk is the root story here. It’s what happened before the time that Tony laments. It sets it all up.

It has, without question, the best Al Capone. And it has one of the most haunting, tragic characters in TV: Richard Harrow.

We’re used to incredible production values now, so what would have been astonishing in a big-budget Hollywood movie is is now par in a prestige channel show, but man: the art direction on this show is amazing, and gives you the sense of the American culture in the first few decades of the 20th century. Oh, and it has Omar from The Wire. All that and Eddie Cantor, too.

Anyway. Wanted to note this.

The final season is set in the 30s, and upgrades some of the interiors accordingly. I love this shot, whcih just has layers and layers and reflections and layers, with the same inescapable pattern:

I had to smile. It's an old friend.

I simply must have it! you say. Sorry; it's been discontinued. (Link goes to the site that made the wallpaper.) As for the basic idea, I've met it here . . .

. . . which is to say the doors of the Holland American Line ships, and I've met it here:

They loved that motif in the late Deco years. Believe it or not, the man who came up with the motif . . . was an armaments manufacturer.

Edgar Brandt was born in Paris in 1880 and educated at the Ecole Professionel de Vierzon. At 18 he graduated the Brevet Technicien Superieur and served two years in the 153rd infantry in Nancy. During his military time, he observed that the French infantry had no light versatile long target-range weapons. He returned to Paris with an order to produce a 60mm mortar and the ammunition. His subsequent design, and those for 81mm, and 120mm mortars were widely copied throughout WWI and WWII.

After the war he went into design, and made quite the mark. I wonder if the design of the Holland America elevator doors and Rand tower grill are from his studio. Entirely possible.

Anyway, that level of detail exists everywhere in the show, in every frame. As far as I know, they avoid mistakes like this, which I spotted on F is for Family:

Leave aside the show title; it's not relevant. What's wrong is the radio and 1958. Ahhhh but why?

One more thing: I was going to use this as a banner, but this year's banners are all retro ad art, the way it used to be.

That’s a filtered shot of Eddie the valet. He vuss a Cherman. Every man ends up as Nucky or Eddie, and if you’re the latter the only question is how much dignity you bring to the job. A one-note character who suddenly got a story, and it was worth it. The entire series of worth it, and has an arc, a beginning and an ending, that doesn't leave you wanting more. It ends, and there is nothing more to tell. It's the opposite of The Sopranos. You know. You can stop and put the story away, because you know.

Okay, sort of a review.



It’s 1896, and we're looking at the ads in a trade journal that catered to men's clothing.

There wasn't a lot of it, so they had to come up with novelty items.

We don’t care about party affiliation of platform. We’re just here to sell you novelty bow ties. They’re patented!

I understand “sound money,” but what’s “Sixteen to one”? Easily googled:

Sixteen to one is the arbitrary ratio of the number of ounces of silver equal in value to one ounce of gold in the bi-metallic monetary system established by Portugal in 1688. The ratio had profound effects on the world's monetary arrangements for many years, and was adopted by the United States of America in 1792.

The sixteen to one system was dropped by the United States in 1873, enraging the silver producers. William Jennings Bryan advocated a return to the sixteen to one policy in his presidential campaign of 1896, claiming that the inflationary effect of flooding the market with silver ("free silver") would benefit the common man's ability to pay his debts. However, when William McKinley defeated him, the issue was considered dead thereafter and the gold standard remained firmly in place.

Okay then! We learn something here every day, don’t we.


The Leominster! Made by Leominster in Leominster.



Lovely logo, but a busy ad. You suspect there’s no trace of the industry left in Leominster, don’t you. Competition from them damn furnurs. Right?

The shirt industry was a major employer in Leominster between about 1880 and 1930. Its genesis was with a company founded in 1880 by G.F. Morse, one of whose employees, George Gane, founded the Wachusett Shirt Company in 1882.

The success of the company and the concentration of experienced shirtmakers brought Cluett Peabody & Company, maker of the Arrow brand of shirts, to Leominster. The shirtmaking industry peaked in the city in 1902, with 3,000 workers, and had declined to 1,500 by 1915. Wachusett Shirt went out of business in the 1930s.

Was that the Leominster Shirt Co? No; it was founded in 1880.

The factory:


I can’t find it anywhere in Google Maps. Believe me, I looked. And there’s no mention in local histories. Odd.

By the way, they found something to do after the shirt biz fizzled. Plastics! The Comb Capitol of the World! Also . . . some sort of sure-seal lid and bowl company founded by a guy named Tupper.

Your criticism will be appreciated.

You want criticism? Fine! Times are still hard! The very concept of money seems to be in flux! Your optimism isn’t grounded in the facts! But nice ties.

Howard and Harrison Streets? Good luck finding that intersection today.

Same goes for the showroom at Broadway & 9th. But we can find a picture of the factory, which all the records put in Germantown.


The area today:

That might be a lone survivor on the corner.

All the things we take for granted were one separate items to worry about, like this . . .


And this.


The things we no longer have to care about.

The back page of the magazine, where advertisers could spring for color:

Back to 16 to 1. Was Troy the Collar Capital of the world?



Let's drop in on the far-away yet oh-so-relatable world of 1916, as seen through the work of Clare Briggs. See you around.



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