When I was growing up, I couldn't wait for videophones. It was inevitable, just as TV had followed radio. The demonstrations looked great - happy people chatting on dedicated devices. The Bell 1964 model was just what we expected:
(From this video.) Its debut, intentions, capabilities, and commnercial failure are still a fascinating story, as the video details. There was another attempt in 1992, with a little flip-up screen. It failed as well. Now we have FaceTime and Zoom, goes the line, and it's successful!
It's common, but I don't think anyone likes it. Zoom mass-meetings are acceptable because the window is small, most people are not talking, and are often looking down or away from the screen. I find FaceTime irritating - it makes me itchy and impatient, but then again what doesn't. But I feel fixed in place, stuck, required to stare. When I make eye contact with the other person, it doesn't feel right. It's a reproduction, of course, a simulation, a reconstructed version drawn right from the reality on the other side of the planet, but it's not right.
Yesterday Natalie texted to inform me that she had been spat upon by some yobbo, and found the whole thing infuriating. The spitting, the lack of apology, the question of intent, all that. I mentioned that Mom was in the room, so she offered to call and vent. Why yes! So the screen on the phone with all its words was replaced by a fuzzy image from London. As always, great to see her. But we had to stand close to fit into the portrait orientation, feeling like the American Gothic couple. (Yes yes I know, the woman was the daughter.) Or, if you wish, the Country Corn Flakes couple. Point is, it's limiting. Your gestures go out of the frame, you can't walk and talk, you have to stare at the other person. What's normal and natural in face-to-face conversation - eye contact - now feels like something you have to do.
Eventually Sara went upstairs to do a meeting - on Zoom - and I laid down on the floor next to Birch and held the camera up, until my arm tired.
Here's my theory: it's unbearable now because it's cheap. If you were using the old system, it was expensive, and every long-distance minute counted. You packed all your chat into five dense minutes, or you just goggled and smiled at the grandchild. Then everyone finished up because video long-distance just bled your wallet white.
Well, it's a theory.
Our weekly example of the happy pasttime of our era: clicking and clicking with no objective in mind. Where do we start? Where do we go? And how . . .
. . . do we get from here . . .
. . . to here . . .
. . . via this guy?
It started with a quasicomic, which made me think more about Folgers than I had intended.
Our house was a Butter-Nut house, but Folgers was around in the mix somehow. Perhaps Grandparents bought it. The commercials made sure everyone knew it was Mountain Grown, which was the Richest Kind. Housewives everywhere offered up thanks to Mrs. Olson, because now that their coffee-making has improved, their husband wouldn't leave them for the secretary.
Never seemed to occur to the husbands to make their own, or investigate why the coffee was bad. Was it weak? Too strong? Bitter? I mean, most of the commercial roasts of the day were probably just fine. You didn’t make any money selling lousy coffee.
You’re probably thinking Folgers is named after a guy who said “you know, coffee in these parts of the country isn’t that good, and it’s cumbersome for everyone to roast their own. I think I will start a coffee business.” Yes and no. The brand was founded by William H. Bovee. When he went into the coffee trade, he needed a mill, so he hired a carpenter named . . . James Folger.
That’s right. It’s named after the guy who built the factory.
After working at Bovee's mill for nearly a year, Folger had saved enough money to buy part of the company, and went to mine for gold. He agreed to carry samples of coffee and spices, taking orders from grocery stores along the way. Upon his return to San Francisco in 1865, Folger became a full partner at Pioneer Steam Coffee and Spice Mills. In 1872, he bought out the other partners and renamed the company J.A. Folger & Co.
Folgers went on to become the country’s #1 coffee. P & G bought it, then it ended up in the sticky hands of Smucker. There was a Mr. Smucker - the name was changed to Smoker for a few generations, wikipedia says, but the family changed it back to dispel the tobacco connotation. Mr. Smucker got his start selling apple butter, and family lore says his trees had been planted by Johnny Appleseed.
There’s a name I hadn’t heard in a while. Real guy, regarded as a saintly nut.
Supposedly, the only surviving tree planted by Johnny Appleseed grows on the farm of Richard and Phyllis Algeo of Nova, Ohio. Some marketers claim that it is a Rambo; some even make the claim that the Rambo was "Johnny Appleseed's favorite variety”, ignoring the fact that he had religious objections to grafting and preferred wild apples to all named varieties.
According to author David Morrell, the apple provided the name for the hero of his novel, First Blood, which gave rise to the Rambo film franchise. The novelist's wife brought home a supply of the fruit as he was trying to come up with a suitable name for the protagonist. It is uncertain whether David Morrell's wife brought home Rambos or Summer Rambos. Summer Rambos would have been much more common, but since his wife bought the apples at a roadside stand, either is possible.
Summer Rambo sounds like a hippie chick in a Billy Jack movie.
Anyway, the role of John Rambo looked intriguing to Steve McQueen, who wanted to play him. The producers turned him down. Elsewhere in McQueen’s wikipedia page we learn that his name was found on a hit list held by Charles Manson. He was supposed to be at the Tate house the night Manson’s gang killed everyone, but he decided to spent the evening with a woman he’d started dating. (I know, I know, “dating.”)
You know who was at the house that night?
Abigail Folger, the great-granddaughter of the man for whom the coffee was named.
And that’s how we got from here to there.
The first of two visits to Grenada. Twenty-one thousand souls.
It had to be a motel lobby. Next door:
Can’t find proof, though.
No retail jobs, but at least someone gets paid to trim the topiary.
Nothing going on in Suki’s world these days.
Used to be something else, of course; those aren’t beauty-supply windows.
The most cursory know-how of reading the old downtowns tells you that this City Hall was a bank.
You can tell by the rehab and the clock on the corner. God knows what’s under that mask.
Someone please offer to sandblast the entirety of Grenada
And deBuckaroo it while you’re at it.
It's off-center, but that's because it put the second-floor entrance on the left . . . except it seems to be in the center.
I bet it was lovely once.
"Friend of the owner" wouldn’t be a bad guess for the artist
Weathered wood is never a sign of downtown vitality, but you knew that, too.
Now, to the center of town, with the usual statue for Johnny Reb:
In the fall, the tableau is less interesting, and a bit depressing.
The Mansard-Buckaroo combo, for maximum downward pressure
Larry, Curly, Moe
I don’t think they’ve redone the window frames since the building went up.
And you can’t help wonder if someone didn’t break every bone in his body when the other balcony fell. If there was one.
Standard-issue post-war civic modernism, on the cheap:
Don't think about the location of the trees too much.
Uh oh. The blurry 2007 / 09 street view usually foretells bad things . . .
Another view from the Paleolithic age of Google Street View:
Again, rare original windows on the second floor.
All the rehab money went into fixing the ground floor. Well, better than the rest, that’s for certain.
Okay, that brings a certain note of interest to downtown, if only to ask "when?" and "what happened?"
And, of course, "what was it?" but you'll never get the full story on that one.
Another proud commercial building chopped up with paint, for some reason.
"How are things, Kent?"
God help the town that had a minor boom in the 60s and 70s, and the merchants decided to upgrade their exteriors. It ruined them all for good.
There’s another installment. Does it improve? We’ll see.
Now two ways to chip in!
That'll do, I hope - except there's more! There's always more.
Oh, what's that? The Country Corn Flakes Couple mentioned earlier? Yes, of course.