Archive for The Way We Were

The spirit of 76 octane

Bill Quick saw this before I did, and asked: “Remember when filling stations actually filled your tank for you?”

Gas station in Lincoln 1933

For a few days in my adolescence, to help out a friend, I played pump jockey. I wasn’t especially good at it, though I was dead reliable at checking tire pressures.

And yes, E10 was around in those days. (Under that “10% Blend” verbiage: “Development Means Cornbelt Prosperity.”) It never really caught on, and purveyors of the stuff eventually sought antitrust action against Ethyl, manufacturer of another, far nastier, gasoline additive.

Interestingly, this photo was taken in Lincoln, Nebraska in April 1933, eight months before the end of Prohibition. I have to wonder how much of that ethanol was diverted before it got to the gas station.

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That one moment in the sun

Then again, we’re talking Yuma, Arizona, which gets a lot of sun. Curtis Lee was born in Yuma in 1939; in the middle 1960s he joined his father’s construction business, took it over entirely in 1969, and ran it well into the 21st century. Cancer got him this last week at the age of 75.

Why are we talking about an Arizona homebuilder? Because of this:

This was Lee’s third single for Ray Peterson’s Dunes label. Lee wrote the song with Tommy Boyce, before Boyce and Bobby Hart were a name-brand songwriting duo; Phil Spector (!) produced. In the background were the Halos, a doo-wop group from the Bronx who sang on another famed Spector production, Gene Pitney’s stirring “Every Breath I Take.”

Spector also produced the follow-up, “Under the Moon of Love,” another Boyce/Lee collaboration, which just missed the Top 40. (And the B-side, “Beverly Jean,” is a gem.) Further recordings went nowhere, and Lee went back home to Yuma to, yes, build houses.

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Made with the shade

I’m old enough to remember when Crayola had a crayon called “flesh”; about 1962 it dawned on them that hey, not all flesh is the same color, and they wound up renaming it “peach.”

This particular insight was still catching on in the middle to late 1970s, when a small Chicago company decided to get into the pantyhose business:

Sugar & Spice hosiery ad 1978

This ran at least twice in Ebony, though the real test, I suppose, would have been getting it into something like Ladies’ Home Journal. Then again, LHJ, facing the usual magazine woes, has cut back from monthly to quarterly publication; Ebony continues to put out 12 issues a year.

Madijo survived, so far as I can tell, into the middle 1980s, but by then the major mills had figured out that they needed new shades.

And if you’ve never seen a Parklane Hosiery store, neither have I. The last one apparently was in the Mall of Memphis, which died in 2003.

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Not so awfully slick

So this shows up on Facebook:

Johnson's Dance Wax

It’s been decades since I even thought about this stuff: the packaging here suggests late 1950s or early 1960s. And, well, you have to figure that if it’s wax, S. C. Johnson & Son would be selling at some point. The current product line doesn’t seem to include dance wax, which was probably rendered superfluous by urethane coatings, though they do still sell the long-established Glo-Coat floor wax, which, so far as I can tell, is not suitable as a dessert topping.

Once in a while some sort of dance wax shows up for sale:

The store had several large cans of Golden Star Powdered Dancing Wax (“For all Dancing Floors … Sprinkle the wax lightly over the floor before the dance and the feet of the dancers will do the rest. Do not use too much.”). No UPC on the can, no zip, the given address “North Kansas City 16, Mo.” Golden Star Polish, the manufacturer of Golden Star Powdered Dancing Wax, still exists, kicking out mops and mop frames. To dance with. I have no idea how old this can is, or when dance wax took off as a packaged product. I found a 1907 dance wax can for sale on eBay. More recently, I eyeballed some swing kids on a web-based “BBS” mewling about people using dance wax and the ensuing ass-landings/litigation. It doesn’t taste that great, either.

For what it’s worth, Golden Star eventually moved across the state line into Kansas.

If you really, truly must have dance wax today, you can get it from Triple Crown, an Omaha-based manufacturer of shuffleboard supplies. (Which makes sense, right?)

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Jimmy the Kid

How little was Jimmy Dickens? Officially, four foot eleven. He didn’t adopt the adjective, though, until he’d signed with Columbia in 1948 — he was then twenty-eight — and joined the Grand Ole Opry.

Pop audiences were scarcely aware of Dickens until 1965, when songwriter Neal Merritt, having seen too many segments of Carnac the Magnificent, penned a silly ditty called “May the Bird of Paradise Fly Up Your Nose.” Dickens waxed it for Columbia, watched it go to #1 on the country chart and #15 pop, and was still singing it in 2008.

The next Dickens hit followed the old rule: just like the last one, but different. “When the Ship Hit the Sand” had the same tempo, the same style, and probably the same Grady Martin guitar work. The title might have been a trifle risqué for the period: “Ship” hove to at #27, and never cracked the Hot 100.

When Hank Locklin (1918-2009) died, Dickens became the oldest living member of the Opry. He was still inclined to poke fun at the rest of the world. From the Country Music Awards in 2009:

By this time, the little guy had shrunk to four foot nine. And he made a pretty good Justin Bieber, too. You can’t get away with stuff like this unless you have a big, big heart, the kind that will carry you all the way to age 94.

Addendum: The oldest surviving member of the Opry now appears to be Jean Shepard, who was invited to join the Opry in 1955; she turned 81 in November.

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Fourteen and unmad

That was me in 1967, when Donovan unleashed “Mellow Yellow.” Apart from the fact that the record can’t be had (legally, anyway) in stereo, its main distinction has to do with bananas:

Somehow, either in the lyrics or just scuttlebutt, word got around that you were supposed to bake the skins. So I did.

The results were, shall we say, less than enthralling:

So I baked it and then I scraped some of the baked part off and then I ate it. Awful, really awful. And waited for the buzz to begin. And waited and waited. And waited some more. And I was a senior in college at the time. And really dumb.

Of course, if I had a dollar for everything dumb ever done by college seniors, I could probably endow a couple of universities. Still, one of the defining characteristics of Homo sapiens is that individual members of the species sometimes aren’t too damn sapient.

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The Christmas truce

Brief once-over:

The “Christmas truce” is a term used to describe a series of unofficial cessations of hostilities that occurred along the Western Front during Christmas 1914. World War One had been raging for several months but German and Allied soldiers stepped out of their trenches, shook hands and agreed a truce so the dead could be buried. The soldiers also used that truce to chat with one another and, some claim, even play a football match. Unofficial truces between opposing forces occurred at other times during World War One but never on the scale of that first Christmas truce.

You’d think an event such as this would be widely celebrated in media a hundred years later. So where’s the celebration?

Which it is, and it came out in 1967, almost half a century ago. The writers — producing team Hugo & Luigi, and lyricist George David Weiss, also known for ginning up an English lyric to “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” at the behest of H&L — made this fit into the existing Snoopy vs. the Red Baron template with the greatest of ease. Billboard scorned it, as it did all Christmas songs in those days, but it made the Top Ten in rival Cashbox.

That said, there are some commemorations, though inevitably this one drew my attention:

In 2014 Gavin Marriott, a New Zealand member of The International Military Music Society and The Passchendaele Society, came up with an idea of commemorating the centenary of the historical origins of this song. It was promoted to play or sing “Snoopy’s Christmas” before Christmas dinner in people’s homes in honour of an event which could have changed the world. A reading has been suggested for people in conjunction with the playing of this song. As an alternative he suggested people could sing “Silent Night” … “This song reminds us before our Christmas feast, that a century ago today, soldiers, as depicted in this song, lay down their arms in Flanders Belgium for a truce, in the spirit of the Christmas we now all enjoy today. If allowed to continue, this truce could have meant 100,000 New Zealanders not going to war and there may not be 18,000 of those not returning. This song reminds us of the sacrifice of those that did go, so we can enjoy this song, this day a century on and our Christmas feast.”

“Snoopy’s Christmas” was even more popular in New Zealand than in the States, charting several times in the 1980s and again in 2013. It does, however, have its detractors.

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Early assimilation device

Never had any problems resisting them, though:

Mid-century Borg bathroom scale

This is actually pretty famous, as bathroom scales go:

In 1952, this Model 1500 Flight bathroom scale was designed by Don DeFano, Richard Latham and Franz Wagner of Raymond Loewy Associates. It was introduced by the Borg-Erickson Company in 1953 at $15.00, and was later selected by Fortune magazine as one of the top 500 designs of all time.

Well, no wonder. Raymond Loewy, more or less the Godfather of American Industrial Design, definitely knew how to pick ‘em.

Still, you couldn’t sell one of these today if it only went up to 250 (actually 259) pounds.

(From Visual News via Miss Cellania.)

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Oh, what a night

Late December, back in ’53,
What a very special time for me,
As I remember — what the hell?

Hoover vacuum ad from 1953

Sixty-odd years later, Susan and Tom are still not speaking to one another. The Hoover, meantime, sucks as much as it always did. (I have one such machine, admittedly not that old; it’s still functional as its 40th birthday approaches.) Not that anyone born in the last 25 years is going to believe that humble household appliances were once considered dynamite Christmas fare.

(From Pop Sugar via Miss Cellania.)

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Eaker than thou

The City of Durant has been requesting proposals for runway improvements at Durant Regional Airport-Eaker Field, south of town. What they want is an overlay on the existing 17/35 runway, to improve its surface, and to extend it beyond its current 5,001 feet. Nothing is planned for the secondary runway, 3000 feet, oriented 12/30. Proposals are due in tomorrow.

Historical note: Ira Clarence Eaker, who attended what was then Southeastern State Teachers College in Durant, was commissioned in December 1917, and 24 years later got his first star and a job organizing the VIII Bomber Command in England, later the Eighth Air Force. As commander of the Eighth, he delivered an address to the British garrison, including this pithy sentence: “We won’t do much talking until we’ve done more fighting. After we’ve gone, we hope you’ll be glad we came.” The character of Major General Pat Pritchard in the 1949 film Twelve O’Clock High is based largely on General Eaker. He died in 1987, aged 91.

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Instructions to the victor

If we ever actually win another war — and believe me, there exist people who would burst into tears if we did — we should not repeat an earlier mistake:

The Odious Wilson stuck his oar in the peace process and mucked things up, as was his wont, and the eventual Treaty of Versailles has mostly gone down in history as an example of how not to treat a defeated foe. Either plow the ground with salt and sell the population into bondage, or give them a magnanimous hand up, but don’t leave a beaten enemy to nurse grudges while inflicting gratuitous and punitive punishments on them.

On the whole, our handling of the second World War, which fell mostly on the “magnanimous hand up” side of the spectrum, was much better than what we did after the first.

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After a hot morning mess

Nineteen seventy-three. I’m wearing khakis because while I thought I looked better in fatigues, which isn’t saying much, the crusty warrant officer (then again, aren’t all warrant officers crusty?) who ran our shop insisted, and I wasn’t one to bend rules — at least, not his rules. Our little subcommand had lots of duty stations worldwide, some of them desirable, some of them less so. There was one post, though, that nobody ever seemed to want, and given the fact that transfer orders for enlisted personnel had to get past my desk, rather a lot of individuals who outranked me — I was a lowly Specialist Four at the time — seemed willing to do me favors to get them out of that assignment if at all possible. I never promised anything, and I never tried to collect on any of those markers, but sure enough, disposition forms materialized, signed by the correct officers, changing their destinations to some preferred location.

This could not possibly last forever, and of course it didn’t. Eventually they decided to fill one particular billet with me. It was a short tour — 12 months — and it came with a stripe. I shrugged. “I’m twenty years old,” I said, “and I’ve never been east of Boston or west of Amarillo. Maybe I should quit bitching.”

And so I was packed off to the Middle East, which was quieter than it is today and much quieter than some Southeast Asian locations at the time. It was, first and foremost, a duty station, so duty came first; but I did manage to spend some free time wandering about this crazed place without working up too much of a sweat. (Really. Typical middle-of-summer high temperature: 80°F. What was I worried about?) Of course, things can and do happen without notice, and as the phrase goes, everyone’s secondary MOS is Eleven Bravo.

That post has long since been closed, its need for it having largely evaporated and its host country having grown restive, even surly, over the years. Still, a lot of us passed through its gates over the years, and some of us are still around, even though we’re no longer wearing fatigues. Or khakis.

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First-class ticket to ride

There was a time, apparently, when it was considered appropriate to dress to the nines to visit an amusement park, and that time was in the middle to late 1950s:

Advertisement for Berkshire Carnival Colors

I wonder if they actually shot them right-side-up and then flipped the photo.

By the spring of 1959, Carnival Colors had expanded to Orange Pop and Merry-Go-Round Yellow; the Steeplechase Green apparently fell by the wayside.

In 1955, Berkshire Fine Spinning Associates and Hathaway Mills had merged. Seven years later, this happened:

In 1962, Warren Buffett began buying stock in Berkshire Hathaway after noticing a pattern in the price direction of its stock whenever the company closed a mill. Eventually, Buffett acknowledged that the textile business was waning and the company’s financial situation was not going to improve. In 1964, [BH chairman Seabury] Stanton made an oral tender offer of $11 1/2 per share for the company to buy back Buffett’s shares. Buffett agreed to the deal. A few weeks later, Warren Buffett received the tender offer in writing, but the tender offer was for only $11 3⁄8. Buffett later admitted that this lower, undercutting offer made him angry. Instead of selling at the slightly lower price, Buffett decided to buy more of the stock to take control of the company and fire Stanton.

By the spring of 1965, Buffett owned all of Berkshire Hathaway, and in 1967 he started buying, um, other things.

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800 years ago today

Something I found while looking for something else:

The Siege of Sinope in 1214 was a successful siege and capture of Sinope by the Seljuq Turks under their Sultan, Kaykaus I (r. 1211–1220). Sinope was an important port city on the Black Sea coast of modern Turkey, at the time held by the Empire of Trebizond, one of the Byzantine Greek successor states formed after the Fourth Crusade. The siege is described in some detail by the near-contemporary Seljuq chronicler Ibn Bibi. The Trapezuntine emperor Alexios I (r. 1204–1222) led an army to raise it, but was defeated and captured, and the city surrendered on 1 November.

I knew that Sinope — today’s Sinop, a nifty little town of 35,000 on the Black Sea, occupies that same space — had changed hands several times over the years, though I hadn’t paid much attention to the details, and the last time I dug around for anything was when I was actually there, forty years ago.

What opened my eyes, though, was the demonym for persons from Trebizond: “Trapezuntine.” I felt briefly abashed for not knowing this. (It’s from the Latin “Trapezus,” which I am told was adapted from ancient Greek.) The Trapezuntine empire expired in 1461 at the hands of Mehmed II of the Ottomans; the surviving city of Trabzon, a place I had a chance to visit but didn’t, was its capital.

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Approved for Room 101

Although presumably you’d need the optional Sharp Pain attachment (sold separately):

Self-hypnosis equipment by Schneider

Rumor has it this was actually more effective than watching VH1.

(Via Mostly Forbidden Zone.)

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One last ride at midnight

Paul Revere occupied the same relative position to the Raiders as did Harold Melvin to the Blue Notes: he was nominally the leader of the group, and hardly ever missed a show, but most of the time, the focus was on the lead singer — Mark Lindsay for the Raiders, Teddy Pendergrass for the Blue Notes.

The Raiders came out of Idaho around 1958, and scored an instrumental hit in 1961 with “Like, Long Hair,” a piano-boogie number that sounded nothing like anything they did afterwards. In 1963, they were caught up in the “Louie Louie” madness sparked by Rockin’ Robin Roberts; their own relatively polished version of the old Richard Berry semi-calypso song was well-received, but didn’t quite have the impact of the utterly insane Kingsmen version. Still, “Louie” got them a look from big-time Columbia Records, which put them to work grinding out mono singles, because it wasn’t worth the effort mixing that rock and/or roll stuff into stereo. Subsequently, the band wangled a gig with Dick Clark’s Where the Action Is series, and started wearing fanciful American Revolution-ish duds, as seen here on the Ed Sullivan show (Revere, as always, playing the Vox Continental organ):

“Kicks,” written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, was ostensibly addressed to an unnamed girl with problems who, we found out later, was not a girl at all.

In August of this year Revere, seventy-six, retired from the band; he died Saturday back home in Idaho. Oh, and “Paul Revere” was two-thirds of his real name; his family name was Dick. I do not know if he was related to Tim Allen, also a Dick.

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Fark blurb of the week

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That terrible day

A lot of 9/11-related stuff came out today, much of it saying the same things that have been said a dozen times before.

Which is why the item to which I point you is this one:

The biggest thing I personally remember, in my individual reaction, was how so many things I was doing suddenly felt futile. I was trying to write a Biostatistics exam when my then-chair came around and told us they were closing down the university for the day and we all needed to go home.

(To this day, I don’t know if that was done out of respect for the loss of life, or out of concern there might be more things going to happen.)

And I found myself wondering: In the world that is coming, will we need Biostatistics? What is the point of learning about probability when something that seemed impossible just happened? Shouldn’t I rather be teaching my students what basic first aid I know, and what plants are medicinal, and how to grow and find and hunt your own food? That was actually where my mind went: “Could we be witnessing the beginning of the end of civilization as we know it?”

I honestly don’t know. But if at the time it seemed the end was near, nothing that’s happened in the thirteen years since can make me think the end is any farther away.

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A pretty good call

A vision of (some of) the future:

Unfortunately, morning email is still a chokepoint.

Well, at least he didn’t mention flying cars.

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A memory left behind

Women of a certain age may relate to this:

I remember with the few friends I did have — who were kids from families that were frugal like mine — whispering furtively “lard-ass jeans” about the Jordache jeans (I think that may have been a joke on SNL?). Whispering furtively because “ass” was a bad bad bad word and we could have got in SO MUCH TROUBLE had a teacher overheard. Heh.

Actually, it went far beyond “joke on SNL”:

In 1984, Jordache Enterprises, Inc. was the designer jeans behemoth of its day, grossing about $400 million annually. Jordache had just launched a $30 million ad campaign to keep up the momentum.

That same year, two Albuquerque women, Susan Duran and Marsha Stafford, started a home-based company to market a brand of designer jeans for plus-sized women.

The two ladies were passionate about their new venture. Duran, 35 (5’8″, 190 pounds), and Stafford, 33 (5’7″, 170 pounds), had long wanted to create jeans for the amply-proportioned woman.

They considered a variety of brand names for the new company — Calvin Swine, Vidal Sowsoon, Seambusters, Buffalo Buns, Thunder Thighs. In the end, they chose Lardashe.

Jordache, of course, was not amused:

During the three-day trial, an attorney for Jordache said, “The term Lardashe, which everybody understands to be lard ass, is an offensive, insensitive term to use to apply to overweight women.” He claimed that potential customers might think Lardashe jeans were a Jordache product and could take offense… The District Court in New Mexico held, and an appeals court later affirmed, that no trademark infringement had occurred.

There was, however, one unexpected later development:

Although the ladies won, the legal battle proved to be particularly costly for Stafford. She developed an ulcer and lost 60 pounds, making her too svelte for Lardashe jeans.

She and her partner solved the problem by creating a new line of Lardashe junior sizes.

Eventually, Lardashe was wound down. Jordache survives today, although they’ve diversified into lots of other product lines, and their jeans are no longer considered even slightly iconic.

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Days of yore.dat

Prodigy iconI was there, and by “there” I mean “here, at this desk, logged in,” when Prodigy Classic was put out of its misery just after 11:59 pm on the first of November, 1999. Of course, I’d warned about that several months earlier:

The real disappointment, at least to me, comes not with the announcement of the termination of the service — it had been expected for some time — but with the management’s willingness to blame everything on Y2k. It is no doubt true that Prodigy’s proprietary technologies are not fixable for Y2k; however, Y2k is just the tip of the iceberg. The core of the Prodigy software is ten years old. By the standards of the Net, it’s Fred Flintstone stuff.

We have now discovered that Y2k was, at best, a convenient excuse:

After that shutdown, loyal Prodigy customers, who had hung on to the bitter end, were suspicious about the stated reasons for the closing. And they were mad. Fifteen years later, we can now confirm that their suspicions were correct: “As far as I know, Prodigy Classic being shut down was not influenced by Y2K issues,” recalls [Michael] Doino, the Prodigy employee who actually pulled the plug on the service in 1999.

Where is that enormous amount of data, anyway? Much of it has probably evaporated; the way P* assembled pages, using cached bits from here and there, makes it darn near impossible to trace. And yet:

Fifteen years later, a Prodigy enthusiast named Jim Carpenter has found an ingenious way to bring some of that data back from the dead. With a little bit of Python code and some old Prodigy software at hand, Carpenter, working alone, recently managed to partially reverse-engineer the Prodigy client and eke out some Prodigy content that was formerly thought to have been lost forever.

The ultimate goal of all this? “Some day,” Carpenter says, “I’d like to create something to emulate the Prodigy backend and serve up requested objects to the client.”

I was in my usual chat room when the last goodbye came; I’ve kept about 16k of that room’s final chatter. (Hey, it’s only 15 years old; I have email older than that.)

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My tears are falling

And of course, you came in with ’cause you’ve taken her away, the opening to “Take Good Care of My Baby,” recorded by Bobby Vee in 1961, the second Number One hit for Brill Building stalwarts Carole King and Gerry Goffin. The first, you may remember, was the prodigiously influential “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” cut by the Shirelles in late 1960. Carole did the music, Gerry did the words; Eva Boyd, who did their baby-sitting, sang their third.

Goffin and King broke up in 1968; both stayed in the business and made lots of hits.

Then King tweeted today:

She was never the words person, but she came up with a few:

“Gerry Goffin was my first love. He had a profound impact on my life and the rest of the world. Gerry was a good man and a dynamic force, whose words and creative influence will resonate for generations to come. His legacy to me is our two daughters, four grandchildren, and our songs that have touched millions and millions of people, as well as a lifelong friendship. He will be missed by his wonderful wife Michele, his devoted manager, Christine Russell, his five children, and six grandchildren. His words expressed what so many people were feeling but didn’t know how to say.”

When they wed, Gerry was twenty; Carole was seventeen. He made it to seventy-five; she’s still working. And you know, she could knock out a lyric if she really wanted to.

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Application for the Geezer Card

There is an essay required, but anyone close to meeting the qualifications almost certainly already has a story not unlike this:

Back in the day, when I was in middle school (11-13 years old), we had to walk over 3K to school in the rain and snow and sleet, and NOBODY CARED!! None of our parents rallied to have us bussed! None of them felt remotely bad for our plight! We trudged through adverse conditions for three whole kilometres in torrential downpours or baking sun, and not one of the parents in the area ever offered us a ride. I clearly remember a blizzard one year: snow was almost waist high and yet our troubles did nary make dinner table headlines. And I’m really short, so it was even higher on me!

I lived 8.7 miles (Google says so) from school. Getting there was no problem: a neighbor worked in the same general vicinity, so I rode with her. School days, however, were shorter than work days, so I had this complex scheme of walking down to the nearest city bus stop (four blocks), riding the bus to the end of its route (seven miles, 50 cents), and then walking the rest of the way (a mile and a half). This was in South Carolina, and on the coast at that, so snow and sleet were uncommon. Rain, however, was something I got to see on a fairly regular basis. I hasten to point out that the total distance walked each day fell short of 3 km.

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The opposite of nostalgia

James Lileks is looking for a name for it:

What’s the word for an exaggerated dislike of a particular time? I know I am nostalgic for things I did not experience, and only see through the pop-culture elements left behind, which communicate incomplete and occasionally misleading messages. But I have antipathy for things I experienced at the fringe of adolescence — not because it was a bad time, or I didn’t like them then, but because they seem now to be the products of a culture that was getting cheap and lazy; it was full of gimcrack baubles turned out by an exhausted system that tried to adapt to the times, but had no strength to put forth any ideas or uphold any ideas that went before. The period from 1967 to 1975, with some stellar exceptions, was just a horrible time for everything, and you can reduce it all down to one middle-aged balding dude with wet hair plastered over his head in brown polyester pants and a mustard-yellow shirt approving one thing after the other because the kids will go for it.

I suspect we can generalize further: if anything worthwhile happened during your bête noire period, it happened in spite of that middle-aged balding dude.

My own “Oooh, take it away!” era runs roughly 1989 through about 1994 or so: it is delineated by changes in my own life, which had only just bottomed out and was in a tediously slow recovery, and by the fact that Mariah Carey was getting massive hit records by sounding like her record producer — Tommy Mottola, you may remember, lives on the road — had stuffed a live ferret into her pants.

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When auctions were merely awkward

Jack Baruth recalls the early days of eBay:

If I didn’t get in on the ground floor to eBay, I was close; I’ve been a member since Feb 15, 1999, about two years after it became practical to buy anything on the site and well before it became part of the American vocabulary. In the first few years, I sold a bunch of vintage BMX parts and bought a variety of old Atari computers. It’s fair to say that I am deeply ambivalent about eBay: it’s raised the price of old books into the stratosphere while simultaneously adding a $250 transaction fee to most vintage guitar sales. On the other hand, it’s enabled me to find and purchase items that I’d have never found otherwise. You have to take the good with the bad; yes, you can now actually find a brand-new Atari 1200XL, but it will cost you.

Transaction history having been truncated in recent years, I’ve had to comb through my email archive to determine my first item, which was acquired in June 1999: a collection of various Debbie Gibson ephemera. (I had then been a Debfan for about eleven years; I remain one to this day.) I’ve never actually sold anything. I have won, however, enough actual auctions to have earned myself 161 solid-whatever-color-it-is feedback points, without a single negative.

I admit that I did my part in forcing up the price of old books in those days. But a combination of boredom and penury weaned me off the site; I think I’ve returned twice this year, and one of those visits was to change my password. (Mine was, I think, even lamer than Jack’s.)

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And some gave all

Still they come, the dreams, brief glimpses of what might have been.

The war had been going on, we knew — they hadn’t told us, since it wasn’t “critical to the mission” — for nearly seventeen (“officially,” eleven) years. For all we knew, it had eleven or even seventeen years left to run, and if you were eighteen, as I was, that was close enough to eternity to bring you up short. None of us, cringing in our marginally awake state at 0430, knew what to expect: all we knew was that some of us would be sent to the front, and not all of us would come back.

But first, there was training. Lots of it. We learned some possibly useful skills — my own company proved to be particularly ingenious in dealing with the recapture of escaped partisans, and if I did indeed throw like a girl, only seven of my sixty test grenades failed to hit the target — and we learned to hurry up and wait, to stand there awaiting orders, and to not waste time thinking when those orders were given.

And then it was all done and new orders were cut and eventually I was sent to the other side of the world, where it was probably unlikely that I would be shot at, but it didn’t make any difference in the grand scheme of things: there was a mission, and I would be doing my level best to make sure of the success of the mission, Sir.

It’s forty years later and I still think about the ones who didn’t come back. They had faces, they had names, and several of them, I am told, drew resting places as near to nowhere as can exist on this planet. I grin when I think of some of the gallows humor produced in the wake of the war:

Six Phases of a Military Operation

    1. Enthusiasm.
    2. Disillusionment.
    3. Panic.
    4. Search for the guilty.
    5. Punishment of the innocent.
    6. Praise and honor for the non participant.

And then the grin vanishes, erased by the knowledge that the humor only barely concealed the truth of the matter.

It could have been me. The luck of the draw, the whim of the Almighty, whatever, it could have just as easily gone the other way. I’m not sure which bothers me more: the fact that we lost so many, or the fear that we won’t be able to mobilize anyone if something serious should happen.

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Before the Breathalyzer

When Professor Harold Hill hit River City, one of the plagues he predicted as a result of the presence of a pool table was tobacco, and the concealment thereof:

While they’re loafin’ around that hall
They’ll be tryin’ out Bevo, tryin’ out Cubebs
Tryin’ out Tailor Mades like cigarette fiends
And braggin’ all about how they’re gonna
Cover up a tell-tale breath with Sen-Sen

At the time, I understood about a third of this: I knew from Bevo — before it was a University of Texas symbol, it was a near-beer — and cubebs were a sort of spice that occasionally found their way into smokes, sort of like cloves only more so. “Tailor-Mades,” it turned out, described a bevy of bottom-of-the-line off-brands, purchased by those who could not afford the Good Stuff. But I never had a clue about Sen-Sen back then, and had pretty much forgotten about it until now:

As a kid, I judged that Sen-Sen was the worst candy ever made. A number of years later, I learned that Sen-Sen was primarily used to mask the smell of alcohol on a drinker’s breath.

The last packets of Sen-Sen, amazingly, were produced in the summer of 2013.

Suddenly I have an urge for a cup of cider.

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They know nothing

Was this truly television’s most tasteless sitcom ever?

Hogan’s Heroes premiered on September 17, 1965, and quickly became the most popular new show of the year. In fact, for several seasons it ranked in TV’s top 20 programs … but it never escaped the controversy it premise engendered: Was it immoral to portray history’s most evil killers as bumbling — even lovable — buffoons week after week, just to make a buck? One critic wrote: “Granted, this show is often funny and well-acted. But there’s simply no excuses for turning the grim reality of Nazi atrocities into fodder for yet another brainless joke.” Another wrote simply: “What’s next? A family sitcom set in Auschwitz?”

Three words: Springtime for Hitler.

And guess who defended the show:

Ironically, the biggest apologists for the show were its Jewish cast members — including all four of the actors who played the regular Nazi characters — Colonel Klink, Sergeant Schultz, General Burkhalter, and Major Hochstetter. Not only were they Jewish, but three were actually refugees from Nazi Germany.

Then there was Robert Clary, who played Corporal LeBeau:

In 1942, because he was Jewish, he was deported to the Nazi concentration camp at Ottmuth. He was later sent to Buchenwald, where he was liberated on April 11, 1945. Twelve other members of his immediate family were sent to Auschwitz. Clary was the only survivor.

Clary is the last surviving member of the Hogan’s Heroes cast.

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At least it isn’t Axe

Joe, catching a whiff of a chap who reeked of Aqua Velva, was somewhat startled: “I didn’t think they made that any more.”

This, you may be assured, led me to go track the stuff down. Combe Incorporated acquired the J. B. Williams company in 2002. I remembered Williams for this product (and its longtime slogan, “There’s something about an Aqua Velva man”), and for something called Lectric Shave, which conditioned one’s beard before bringing on the Norelco. The Wikipedia article on Aqua Velva contains the unsupported statement that before it was marketed as an aftershave, the blue liquid was sold as a mouthwash. A guy with some vintage bottles is prepared to say otherwise.

Also passing through Combe ownership via J. B. Williams: Cepacol, which actually was a mouthwash, and later throat lozenges. It is now owned by Reckitt Benckiser, whose own convoluted history probably deserves a once-over on these pages.

Combe, incidentally, first came up with Clearasil, but sold it off after ten years. They still have one -sil product: Vagisil.

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Give or take a cubit

We’re not saying that they’d all fit, but we’re saying that they’d all float:

[R]esearch by physics students suggests that a structure on the scale of Noah’s ark as described in the ancient text could have been built.

And what’s more, they say it would have been buoyant even with two of every animal on Earth on board.

Okay, you’ve gotten my attention. How does this work?

  • The dimensions for the ark were provided in cubits in the Bible, an archaic measure based on the distance between the elbow and the tip of the middle finger.
  • Noah was commanded to make the boat out of ‘gopher wood’ and in order to calculate the weight of the empty ark they needed to know the density of the material the boat was constructed out of, but there is no modern-day equivalent of gopher wood.
  • English translations of the Bible refer to cypress wood instead, so this was the material that the students used.
  • In order to calculate the overall downward force of the ark, the students needed to know the mass of the animals on board; previous research has suggested that the average mass of an animal is approximately equal to that of one sheep, 23.47kg, which was the figure used.
  • “Our conclusions were that the ark would support the weight of 2.15 million sheep without sinking and that should be enough to support all of the species that were around at the time.”

Still unexplained: why Noah didn’t swat those frickin’ mosquitoes when he had the chance; and dammit, you expect unicorns to be smarter than that. Or at least I do.

(Via Interested-Participant.)

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