Now and then you realize that there’s just one way out of a rut, and that’s to break free from the shackles of convention and do something so . . . out there, so unexpected, that you feel as though you’ve been scraped with a cheese grater and sprayed down naked with rubbing alcohol. You’re shocked, yes, but by God you’re alive.

And so it came to pass that I spent Sunday afternoon on the phone switching my insurance.

I did not switch to Geico. I went online a while back, got a quote, thought about it - and then they pestered me. They called me at home and asked if I wanted that insurance. Really? You’re sure? C’mon. If the guy’d done the lizard voice I probably would have signed up. But no. My father-in-law has been pestering us to sign up with USAA, which serves military and family members; he said they had great prices.

One of the first things the salesman on the phone did was to say “we’re not always the lowest.” They pride themselves on service and quality. So right out of the gate my expectations are diminished. Well, we get to talking, and I’m in the world of Exclusions and Riders and Deductibles and all manner of things arcane and particular. Every single aspect of these calculations had untold hours of meticulous statistical study behind them, I’m sure - each penny adjusted up or down depending on this, or on that. It was exhausting, and at the end of it I was surprised to find that the savings were not only notable, but I had a lot more insurance. Hell, I could start mowing people down now. Jump the curb and take ‘em out. Six-car pile-up? IT’S ON ME! Not literally, but sort of.

Then we moved to house insurance, and same deal: less price and more coverage. It took at least an hour, but for some reason I enjoyed it; the salesman was a nice guy, and we chatted about vacations and kids while the computer was working on something, or possibly displaying a screen ENGAGE CUSTOMER ON PERSONAL LEVEL NOW; USE COMPUTER EXCUSE #492. When we were done I regretted not agreeing to the automated exit interview, and said as much. He was happy to send me to his supervisor, who took down my plaudits and welcomed me to the USAA family with such warmth I imagine they’ll show up at the front door in a few days with a covered dish.

Printed off my insurance cards, which are pathetic; they look like something you’d do in Word 1.0, but I suppose it’s the numbers that matter.

I felt no disloyalty, leaving State Farm. I’d been with them for 30 years, ever since Frank sat down at the round butcher-block table in the Giant Swede’s apartment - I lived next door - and we signed up for some rental insurance and car insurance. Frank drove out to do business with a couple of college guys, and always treated our business as it was the most important thing on his desk. He died a year or so ago, and that was the permission I needed to get some lower rates. So I did.

Holy Jeezum Crow, pal, how do you top that? Didn’t even try. Monday I went to work, did the blog, then had a nice night at home with my wife - daughter was at a Sleepover, so it was a texted Happy New Year’s. I hate the holiday, really. Not hate, but I’ve never shared the enthusiasm for the change in the numbers, except when I was in public and had to fake it.

On New Year’s Day itself, though, I woke in a grand mood, as if the fortnight or so of botherations had been lifted, and set to work on all the things I’ll be rolling out here, starting next month.

One more thing: this represents Success. Do you know why? Answer at the bottom.




Watched this:




. . . which means it had been read by everyone, but that never stops them. "Say, this wildly popular book we're making into a movie - folks already know the story. Won't that be a problem?" Not for Hollywood; they change it all around just enough to irritate the people who came to see the thing converted into flickering spirits.

It concerns a fellow tromping around Germany who just happens to find himself in a remote woods with the Fuhrer in his rifle sight. Was he trying to assassinate him? You might think, well, yeah, it's a black-and-white movie. But "Man Hunt" was released before the United States' entry into the war, and there's genuine ambiguity about whether the sportsman was trying to kill Hitler.

Which makes it all rather odd.

He’s captured, and interrogated by . . .



Col. Sanders, if you will, wearing the most modern monocle posible. Look at that guy! This is why we should fear the Nazis: snappy dressers, good with accessories, and fanatical. Here’s our hero:


An aristocratic gent who’s really down-to-earth, and has the English toff-moniker of Alan Thorndike; played by Walter Pidgeon. Doesn’t look much like the guy who’d play Dr. Morbius in “Forbidden Planet” 15 years later.

He escapes, and flees back to England pursued by Nazis. A beautiful young woman of the night gets caught up in his story. He’s on the run, because the Nazis want him to sign a confession that he tried to kill Hitler. Then they’d have an excuse . . . for war!

Reviews from people who read the book said they made an utter hash of it.
IMDB reviewers rave. A few lone voices say "look, this is nonsense, most of it, and the romance - which wasn't in the book - gums it all up." Granted. But there's a reason to see it: Fritz Lang directs.

Almost everything he made in Hollywood was a disappointment compared to “Metropolis” and “M” - it’s almost impossible to think that the same fellow made “Metropolis” - not because it’s so spectacular and everything else is so bad, but because you don’t find a guy shifting from visionary budget-busting sci-fi to small noirs. And they’re disappointing because they seem ordinary. There are few visual touches that make you stop. Except, of course, when he slips something in.

Nazis: they have the best offices.



The clubby civilized jolly-good English office, by the way:



It has a few noir shots that remind you what Lang could do:




It has a spooky villain, the Nazi agent played by John Carradine, above - nine feet of gaunt Nazi menace.

And then there’s this kid.





There was something about him that made me think - I've heard that voice. Or rather the personality behind it. And so I had. This was his 17th movie; he'd made dozens more. He's been dead for many years - but he lived long enough to be a kid in one of the first anti-Nazi movies Hollywood made . . . and a voice in a Pixar movie. Oh, and an ape.

Strib blog and Tumblr up & running in the afternoon; see you there, and have a grand day.

Oh, right, the answer. It represents success because I came to the end of the seasonal-patterned Bounty Towels just as the holidays ended.

Surely that's a good omen.



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