Like an idiot, I left my work ID at my desk when I left the building for a while. I say “like an idiot” because I want to make it clear that I am not an idiot, but temporarily behaved like one. For some reason I just dumped the warp core when I got to my desk; everything came out of my pockets - wallet, earbuds, keys, everything. Never done that before. Didn’t realize I’d done it until I was at the elevator bank, ready to beep my card . . . oh. Right.

Sigh. Can’t wait for someone from my floor to come along, because this is a guarantee that no one will. Went to the security desk and got a pass to our 13th floor office, where I looked forward to convincing the front desk I worked there. Really: I don’t know if they all read the paper. It would be one of those situations where I could finally, finally use the paper itself as ID, because my column was in today’s issue, and there’s an illustration of my mug.

But I can well imagine: “that doesn’t look like you really.”

“I know, I know, but the general contours. It’s me.”

“If it’s your column, read the first few lines.”

“What? I don’t remember. Something about airplanes.”

Never had the chance for this, because there was a sign on the desk.


OH MAN COME ON. Now I’m trapped in this little room with glass doors on either side, four elevators, and I can’t get in.

It’s peculiar to be locked out of where you work, or just denied access. It’s one of the reasons I can’t imagine retiring. There would be no place for me downtown anymore. Walking around the building’s public area, I feel like this is my place, my home base, and I have access. Every other space I pass through is just public terrain, and I never think about what it would be like for this office building or this skyway to be mine. I only think ahhh, I belong when I get to my place. Because I do!

And it can disappear (snap of fingers) and then you’re an outcast from the entire working world of downtown. It was an unnerving observation, and reminded me of when I first came to Minneapolis and went downtown, taking refuge in food courts where I could buy a cup of lousy coffee and write something. So very long ago; I’ve been here so very long.

Finally a fellow worker came along and let me in, and I went back to my desk with a sense of reprieve. Everything was normal again.

And it will be normal forever! He said, walking and whistling, wondering what all those stone objects in the dark landscaped park are.








Reminder: not a review

I’m enjoying chewing through a British police procedural, “Line of Duty,” because I saw some tweets about how fantastic the fifth season finale was. How good the show was. After one season, I can see it getting really impressive; it’s pretty good from the start. The beauty of short seasons - six eps - is the compression of the pacing, so the STARTLING SHOCKS aren’t doled out to string you along, but hit you in the head at the end of the ep. In the first season they were after a corrupt cop who wasn’t entirely a bad guy, and I declined to google anything, lest it reveal that four seasons later they were still after him.

I mention it not as a review, because we don’t do that here. Much. I bring it up because the show has a visual style that’s dated quite poorly, and will be immediately familiar to anyone who might have found it innovative at the time.


The camera is a voyeur, a presence, lurking and peeking. It’s not a neutral observer you don’t notice; it’s not the dispassionate gaze of fate. It is something actively controlled, and that means it goes wobbly, skitters a bit when tracking people as they walk, and - the most hideously noticeable tic - zooms in a few degrees for no apparent reason. It’s these nervous jumps that nail the show to the last decade. Those slight skips, those furtive movements.

At the time it was quite inventive, and lent an air of immediacy to the proceedings. But now it seems like the thing that’s most easily parodied to establish a particular era, and I can’t think of any other visual trope that was so overused and so regrettable.

When I shoot video for work, or when I did, I wanted motion to be fairly constant, but there were two kinds: motion within the frame, with the camera stable, or motion of the camera, with the action concise and focused. Motion within the camera suggests a dispassionate observer; motion of the camera suggests a volition behind the observational mechanism, and that changes the viewer’s reaction to what they’re seeing. The only time I’d combine them would be for expository passages - if I was explaining something or setting up a story, I would do the walk-and-talk, but partly as a parody of the TV news trope.

Once I had to do a story about people slipping on the ice. Really. It was winter and a lot of people were slipping on the ice. Also called “winter, where people slip on the ice.” Apparently there was an uptick. We went to the emergency room at the nearby county hospital, and since I had field-producer status here, I decided to the most challenging example of the genre, rarely attempted: the backwards walk-and-talk.

Usually the walk-and-talk has the reporter strolling along with the camera, recounting the events that led up to the Tragic Thing, and then you stop at the spot where the camera captures the end result or location of the Tragic Thing. This was different: I walked backwards through the emergency room to an examining room and sat on the bed with the thin paper sheet, that being the end destination of people who came in with sundered pelvises. I had no script, just things to say, so I could make the points until I felt the bed brush up against the back of my legs and then make the last point which would lead to the interview with a doctor or patient. (I remember that the doctor had truly stonking denture breath.)

I miss doing that. At the time I didn’t like to do it, simply because the news video producer had been given authority over me to send me to do things, and I did not like that at all. You can’t tell me what to do. I’m a columnist.

Why did I just hear fingers snap again?

No, I'm not anticipating anything. Just keeping perspective.



Hello, strange ventriloquist dummy in heaven who trods upon the earth:

Cutter and Croissette. About the last guy, I don’t know - but there’s a 1918 obit for Mr. Cutter. Born in Cambridge in 1849, came to Chicago after the war, founded the firm in 1880, and prospered. He died suddenly on vacation - what was that all about? What caused people just to keel, with no cause given? Other than “Sudden illness.” Funeral services were held at his home, here.

Can’t tell if that’s a rehab or not.

Darwinism explained everything. The modern man who was engaged in the issues of the day would nod: thus it has always been.

Yet the man reading this might be in THE DUMPS because he didn’t make any money the year before.

Obviously, evolution will leave him behind, unless he keeps up his courage! THE SUN OF PROSPERITY will soon shine again! If you have this shirt!

The shirt will lift you from THE DUMPS!

Now, class, what does this ad assume the reader knows?

It’s simple. First of all, you can tell what the year is. Right? Who would like to tell us the year?

Correct, it’s 1896.

During his presidency, McKinley led the nation to victory in the Spanish–American War, raised protective tariffs to promote American industry and kept the nation on the gold standard in a rejection of free silver (effectively, expansionary monetary policy).

The brands come in gold or silver. Not and. OR.

Don’t buy any Madras bosom shirts, gents:


Fourth leading cause of mortality, behind grippe, ague, and shinters.

You’ve heard of the first, but perhaps not the second.

Jordon Marsh. The store, then:

A familiar story. I’m rarely interested in how they start, because it’s always the same - Ebenezer Scrottins borrowed three dollars and sold some ribbon on a barrel, etc. The end is what compels, because the stories are equally similar but leave you with a tired ache, as one more tradition passes.

After World War II, the management of Jordan Marsh announced that it would build a new store in downtown Boston. Jordan's five older buildings would give way to a new building that would take up a full city block. Covering an area larger than Harvard Stadium, it would have two stories under ground; another 14 would rise into the air. It would have all the latest technology, including air conditioning, automatic doorways, block-long show windows, and radiant-heated sidewalks.[1] After the addition of the "new building" in 1949, the Jordan Marsh Complex was split into four distinct units; the 1949 new store, the original main store, annex, and bristol building.

The Boston redevelopment authority estimated the complex's total retail space at 1,700,000 sq ft , which made it overwhelmingly the largest retail venue in Boston. At the same time, the company began moving, along with its customers, into the suburbs. Jordan's constructed its first branch stores in older suburban communities in the 1940s, but by 1966 the branch stores accounted for half of all department store sales.

Then acquisition, debt, retreat, mergers, and evaporation.

Hey, I know this building.


The stories contained in that 19th century building would stretch ten thick volumes, and it’s just one building in New York.


Vanderhoff is gone.

The building, like so many in lower Manhattan, is not. A civilized place, it was - right by the park, with the constant clip-clop of hooves on the cobblestones. And, of course, the constant reek of manure.



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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