Aug 19

What day is it again?

I’ve got … not a lot today. That’s a bad showing for a Tuesday, but it happens sometimes. Not every day is Tuesday! Though today is more like a Thursday. And tomorrow is going to be a day the Gregorian calendar doesn’t recognize in the summer time.

Plus, students are now back in town, with classes to begin next week, and that changes every dynamic, interaction and plan you can conceive. And that also effects every intersection, construction zone and every mode of locomotion the modern person can employ is also altered in ways big and subtle.

My source of fun today was going to be a haircut. And we love haircuts around here! There’s nothing better than going to the place and having to give your phone number, genome sequence and high school locker combination to get a little taken off the top. There’s nothing better than sitting in the most uncomfortable plastic chairs waiting for your turn in the big chair, wondering if you’ll get the person who’s feeling talkative or the person who’s already dreading doing the dishes tonight.

And if you don’t want to talk with me, that’s fine. It’s late in my day too. I’m happy to chat, but don’t feel you have to perform for me. We can just do what we’re both here for. Cut my hair straight. Except for this point-cut (I’m learning terms lately) around the wavy cowlick.

I don’t know if it would be in my top 10 trips, but if I did invent a time machine one of my excursions would be to go back to my early childhood to visit my mother when she put me on the wrong side of my head, thereby cursing this one part of my hair to a lifetime of weirdness. She meant well, of course, and probably just took the best advice available. So maybe I can get her to tell me where that idea came from. Then I could travel back a bit further, meet that person, and we could have a few words.

There must be some in-the-crib-and-playpen explanation for it. The scalp is fine. My follicles are perfect. But let it grow a bit and it becomes something just this side of a vexation. So these days I try to get in the barber’s chair before my hair gets so long that the feature becomes pronounced. And we talk about point cuts.

When, really, what I want to talk about is how my hair has so much more silver in it immediately after a haircut than just preceding the trimming of the ol’ mop. What are you doing to me?

That was going to be my fun, but then at the end of the work day I got a bit sweaty moving things from here to there. No man or woman who ever decided they wanted to work in other people’s hair on a daily basis thought “I hope, on some regular August day, someone who’s been in an overly warm building comes to me with sweat-matted hair.”

So I put that off until tomorrow and sat on the futon in my lovely bride’s home office and talked with her for a while. It was a better use of my early evening than anything else I could have thought up, I have no doubt. Then there was dinner off the grill, which is a very necessary thing, and then some cleaning, which is wholly unnecessary and never finished, and then laundry which was wholly necessary and, also, never finished.

I’m going to jump back into the 1930s before the night is finished. I’m still reading Frederick Lewis Allen’s Since Yesterday which has been on balance an entertaining read. I get why it is considered an informal history. I appreciate the distinction. And I don’t mind it at all. There are breezy points, but there is real data. There is real insight, but he finished the book before the last 1939 calendar was pulled down from every wall, which doesn’t allow for the true perspective of history. (But he had a gift for prescience, nevertheless.) There are a few more anecdotal setups than I’d prefer, but they do a nice job of setting his scenes.

I bought this for $1.99, as I do most things I download, and it was worth it. The Kindle app says I’m more than 70 percent through the book now, which means, despite a few more late night reading sessions, it is almost time to start wondering what I’ll read next. Maybe I should run a poll on social media. The wisdom of the aggregate to the rescue!

That’s a phrase no one has ever written on the Internet before. Sometimes you have the idea to Google phrases, just to see, and those series of letters and words have never been put together in that order. It can still happen.

Anyway, a few photos from the last few days, before I go way back in time or: I have them on my phone and I should do something with these …

This is a bowling alley we passed in Queens, and I love the signage. I’m not sure which I appreciate the most. It could be the general look, sure, but the notion of a 24-hour bowling alley is intriguing. (And affordable, it turns out.) Perhaps it is the slight kerning issues of the letters, but I only noticed that here and now. It could be this weird angle they expect us to swallow as we look at the pins:

What is the proper perspective a viewer must have in relation to the pins to see them lined up like that?

Also, they’ve got a blog. And it seems like the first post they wrote was Why a Bowling Center Is the Perfect Date for Valentine‚Äôs Day:

2. Gives Opportunities for Getting to Know One Another

For those in newer relationships, bowling offers the perfect opportunity for really getting to know one another. It puts you in an environment you may not be used to and causes you to interact in a competitive yet friendly way. This may help you uncover a new side of your partner or even show off a different side of your own personality.

Can she pick up that split? Does he shake off a gutter ball? Or will he yell ridiculous things to demonstrate his triumphant victory over wax, reactive resin and maple?

So I’m hooked. I learned how to throw a hook, but I couldn’t do it today. I don’t think I’ve even been bowling since the Bush administration.

This isn’t a bush, but it is leafy!

I’ve loved variegated leaves since the moment I learned the term, and this English ivy is no exception. I don’t even think it is supposed to be where I found it, but it works.

It probably hasn’t been mysterious, for a long time, what causes variegation. But it was a mystery to me. And then I looked it up one day. I always wish I hadn’t bothered. The answer wasn’t enthralling and the mystery was gone.

Here’s one you never hope goes away:

Sure, the students can come back, but you always hope the summer, and its symbols, stay forever. Otherwise, you’re just left with a Tuesday.

Aug 19

Perfect timing

Last night I was sent on a mission to dig up two photographs from 19 years ago. I found one of them. But I also found others, from 18 years ago. One of them is now here, because two weeks ago, I spun together a tale of a book I’m reading and my great-grandmother. It’s a pretty fantastic post, and I think you should read it. Anyway, this is that great-grandmother, Flavil:

While searching an old hard drive for other old pictures, I re-re-re-discovered this rich vein of photos I took just before moving out of the state for work in 2001. I’d taken the time to go see all of the family and visit and laugh and eat and take pictures, and such.

A few weeks later I was in Little Rock for a new reporting job. I’d been there about three days on September 11th. No one in the newsroom knew me or trusted me yet (Indeed, the news director at that station had a stunned look on his face a few days prior when I filed my first report. Maybe I was wrong, but I interpreted it as “He’s literate?”) and I saw the first cut-ins and had to tell the morning anchors.

The lead story that day had previously been the local zoo re-gaining its accreditation, and one of the anchors had spent part of the morning making animal noises on air. (My literacy was not the problem in that shop.) I imagine my great-grandmother probably watched her local stations go to the network feed right there in that chair, but all of that was still almost a month later.

It was gray the day we took that picture, you can see it in that south-facing window in the background, and I remember the rain was coming in later in the evening. When it gets gray there, the ceiling moves in for sure, but it never seems too low, and the sky always seems full of … possibility, I suppose. This storm could be a gentle shower, a toad strangler, a gully washer, the wind could really blow, lighting could strike. It could move on without an explanation. It probably wouldn’t get very bad, not in August, not like the spring and late-autumn storms I spent several years covering, but every cloud looks familiar if you’ve been through some of the bad storms. There’s a sense of energy there in watching a storm roll in, and I don’t just mean the perceptible feeling of the barometric shift. Plenty of places have that sort of experience, but not every place, and somehow even under perfect cloud cover the sky can still seem somehow bright.

Usually there would be a small group of us going to visit her. We’d sit in her tidy little house and exchange pleasantries and speak up, and ask and answer a few questions. It might have just been me that day. I always enjoyed visiting with her, she had candy after all, and I know she appreciated when her family came over, but, in retrospect, I was usually young and loud and in a hurry. By then I was smart enough to finally slow down a bit and listen a little. I was somehow brighter for it, too.

The young person’s lament: I wish I’d caught on to that earlier.

Do you know what I just caught on to, just now? Look at the date stamp on that photo.

Aug 19

Getting out of Dodge

It was late. I couldn’t sleep. And, separately, I’ve been on the search for westerns lately. So late at night, early in the morning, really when I couldn’t sleep, I found the 1939 classic Dodge City. Let’s dive in!

The post-war Kansas setting trades on the pioneering west, cattle ranchers, big money, boom town, the legendary ruthlessness of Dodge City and a postbellum hot point. Also, there’s bad guys and the law. And it all starts because of this first shot:

The iron horse has arrived. The railroad has just crept into western Kansas, and destiny made this is a vital and valuable and rowdy national crossroads:

After watching some old men sit on the train and set all of that up with some only-slightly stilted exposition, we get into the open plain, and our first glimpse of our hero, that notable Cary Elwes lookalike, Errol Flynn:

This is Flynn’s first western. And he was a bit self conscious about it, and you can feel it in places. Here he was, the Tasmanian who acted with an English accent playing an Irish cowboy up out of Texas. The character, Wade Hatton, rode with J.E.B. Stuart during the war, so that part fits well. The man could ride a horse.

He’s facing off in a friendly conversation with the bad guy, here:

Bruce Cabot has 110 credits on his IMDb record. He’s playing Jeff Surrett, a rancher who runs the town. This little conversation isn’t about cattle, but about buffalo, and murdering the natives. Surrett gets arrested, and vows his revenge. So, really, this is all preface. In the background, above there’s Yancy, who is the big heavy. Bruce Jory was a success on screens both big and little. He appeared in projects from Gone With the Wind to Mannix. He also taught acting at the University of Utah. There’s still an active scholarship there in his name.

So here we are, a rousing speech from the back of the train, where Col. Dodge (this is a solid likeness, by the way) predicts a thriving city, right here, but what to name it?

Why, one of the other men on the car says, we should name it after the man who made it possible, Col. Dodge! Dodge City it is! (When, in fact, the nearby fort was named after Dodge, and the city took the name from there.)

Here’s a wide shot showing the rousing huzzah at the end of the speech. How can you not love Technicolor?

We flash forward with two more title cards. The rest of the movie takes place a few years on, in a notoriously violent 1872. There’s a montage showing it off. And every clip, gambling, a shootout and so on, in the montage is something we’re going to see again in the natural arc of the movie.

We meet this man and his son. And you’re going to hate the kid immediately.

But then his dad, who is a rancher, dies trying to get paid what he’s owed. It was the bad guy’s henchman that shot him down. So now you feel bad for the little boy:

That’s Bobs Watson, of the famous Watson family. He had an entire baseball team’s worth of siblings who appeared on screen. Bobs acted for 60 years, his last credit was in a Perry Mason movie. He was also a Methodist minister.

Oh, finally, a love interest.

Olivia de Havilland’s character is coming up from Texas with her brother to live with an aunt and uncle. They’re making the move with Flynn’s character, Wade Hatton, who is bringing up cattle to sell. On the way the brother, bored and drunk, gets killed by Hatton. There’s a shootout-in-self-defense and then a longhorn stampede. So you know she’s the lady, and we see her brother get killed by the hero. It’s an awkward start. They even talk about it later, unconvincingly.

Meantime, there are the occasional gorgeous shots like these. I always like to imagine a director or a cinematographer came onto the set that day, saw this and said “Get some horses in there. I’m about to frame the best atmospheric shot of the film!”

Our hero and his sidekick make it into Dodge City. And they’re immediately stuck up.

It’s that kid again. And he’s running a protection racket: a quarter to watch your horse. That’s about five dollars a horse today. And our hero, who is cash rich and sense-poor, gives him a dollar. The kid looks at it, agog. That’s about $21 today.

Also that boy is from the future. There were no rubber bands in 1872.

A bit later we meet the local newspaper editor, in one of this film’s many great three-shots.

Just outside, the editor runs into the bad guy. The Jeff Surrett character is played with a bit of villainous charm, a sort of “It’s only evil if you don’t look at it from my point of view,” or an atmosphere of “It’s only bad if I don’t get my way,” and a strict “Don’t ever write with your eyes closed” sensibility:

They use the paper nicely to advance the plot: Hatton, having seen that boy killed as a by-product of a shoot out, decides to honor the town fathers’ request and put on the sheriff’s badge. He’s going to clean up this place.

And that editor’s paper has never met a slammer it didn’t like. At least we get different shots. There’s a paper on a desk in the newspaper’s office:

Here’s one coming right off the press:

This isn’t dummy copy, but it is repetitious. And the ad that keeps appearing for carriages is from a real business, but one in Vermont. Spencer S. Bedard was born Canadian, moved to Vermont and got in the harness and carriage business with a brother. He became a town official, and it looks like he died in 1897. Some 42 years after his death, perhaps his three children, or grandchildren, saw his name in print on the screen. That must have been a surprise.

This last paper, we’re looking over a resident’s shoulder, and the Bedard ad is there for a third time.

There’s also a bicycle ad on the lefthand column. That seems unlikely for a wild 1872 Kansas, but I could be wrong there.

Anyway, Flynn and de Havilland are going on the foodless, pointless picnic trope. They ride out to this place, climb down from their horses, have a few sentences of painful dialog and then decide it is time they head back. It advances the plot, they probably thought to themselves.

This is their fifth movie together. The first western for both. Maybe that’s why it feels like they have, well, the critics call it chemistry, and who am I to argue that point? She was apparently also in a rut with the roles she was receiving. Or maybe that kid with the anachronistic rubber bands has replaced Errol Flynn’s sheriff character with an alien who rips people’s faces off:

Soon after, the newspaper editor gets killed, and she could be a target. When you count her brother, the bored guy Hatton killed at the beginning of the film, the little boy who was dragged to his death by runaway horses … Just knowing this man is a hazard.

Here’s the dramatic finish:

The sheriff is trying to take Yancy out of town to avoid mob justice, but Surrett and his gang chase down the train to break out their man. There is a shootout, and the train catches fire. Then there’s a shoot out on the burning train! It’s a marvelously well done piece, perhaps even more so since we’re talking the 1930s.

If your train is on fire and the good guys are in the next car up, there’s only one thing to do. You get off the train. And if the train is still moving you have to take the plunge and hope that your fellow cowboys, and stunt people, are good horse handlers:

We saw three people escape the burning train this way, each exit more thrilling than the last. This one is the head bad guy and, below, Surrett for a moment has his hands on the saddle and his feet on the ground, pogoing up into the seated position:

Immediately after that Hatton and his sidekick, who escaped the burning train car and worked their way up and over the coal car, shoot and kill all the bad guys. Admittedly I have the advantage of 80 years of hindsight here, but this was, to say the least, a bad tactical move by the bad guys. All three had gotten off the train, and then continued to ride, in parallel, with the still-moving locomotive. Turn around! Live to set up the possibility of a sequel! This is a classic and important film in many ways, but imagine if Surrett escapes, skins out of town and they started teasing the possibility of sequels in 1939!

At the end of the film Col. Dodge returns. He’s grateful that Hatton has saved the city named after him, so now Dodge tries to convince the sheriff to come out and clean up a new burg, Virginia City, in Nevada. But I can’t do that, sayeth the swashbuckler, I have a 17th century British drama to make next. (But he would soon be in a movie set in Virginia City, Nevada, albeit the action takes place a bit earlier.) Also, me and the lady are to be wed and are honeymooning in New York. But then, after a great deal of emoting-upon-eavesdropping from the hall, she comes into the room and says “When do we leave?”

And so they climb on a wagon and head west:

Which is good, it gives us the iconic last shot. They’re literally riding off into the sunset:

Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland made eight movies together. A veteran of 61 films and TV shows, a winner of two Oscars, and could count plenty of time on the theatre stage. She was still being asked about her time with Flynn on her 100th birthday.

Edit: She’s 103 today.

Aug 19

Happy National Tell A Joke Day

It is National Tell A Joke Day. (Should that be in all caps? How does national tell a joke day look, in comparison?) Did you know it was National Tell A Joke Day? This is one of those holidays that always sneaks up on me. But, fortunately, I caught it just in time.

I asked Siri to tell me some jokes to mark the occasion, because that’s what one does these days. I think I asked for 15 jokes, and these are the best eight of the bunch. These jokes, then, are the second best part of my day:

Now to put this in my calendar so I don’t miss it next year.

Aug 19

Pedal pedal pedal

We had a nice bike ride this evening. Part of the ride was the regular basic route, through the neighborhood that has it’s own private Fourth of July parade that we’ll see one day, through the roads surrounded by corn fields, into the giant subdivision where I always see the same lady running, then over a small, but respectable, hill that would take you to the ice cream shop, which is a turnaround spot. Back over that hill from the other direction, which is a little shorter and sharper, then through the outskirts of two or three other little random subdivisions that aren’t especially distinct.

This takes you to a road that ends in a T-intersection. And, like all T-intersections, the only important things are the stop sign and where each direction will send you. If you turn left, as we usually do, you go about four miles down the road to the water treatment plant, the lake and a turnaround.

Let me just tell you: today we turned right.

We were on this road named after an ancient local family. They’d come to Bloomington from South Carolina — the first of their children was born here in 1837, just 12 years after the city was incorporated — and their ancestors had come over from Ireland before the American Revolution. That first kid, William, grew up to be a Presbyterian minister. He graduated from theological school, got a job and got married all during the first month of the Civil War. He worked in Illinois and Ohio, had five kids, lost his wife, got remarried, took on a church in Iowa, then moved to South Dakota in the 1880s and farmed and preached there until his health took a turn. He would move back to Ohio, where he died in 1916. About the time that William left Iowa, his younger brother David, the second son born here, moved to Florida to grow oranges, which makes sense. I looked up the family name, and there are still some of that family in town today.

We weren’t on that road for as long as it took me to look all that up. But there was time enough there for you to read that paragraph before we turned left onto a road named after a village that isn’t there anymore. The post office there, says the Wikipedia stub, was closed in 1904. Just down the road, at the manmade lake, there’s a beach that bears the name, but otherwise you’d never know of the place. And anyway, it’s a quick right-hander onto a road named after a thriving local family farm. They raise free range things, all organic groups. Anyway, the road they are on gives you views like this:

This is a road we’ve ridden before, but not recently, and it was a scenic treat, which was followed by a less interesting road named after another family that moved here in the town’s earliest days. I supposed that’s the way it is with roads and other named features. They have to be called something, and, Hey, you’re a family has been here forever and there’s still a lot of you around, so you’re it.

Maybe that’s a downside to being a Smith. You never know if this thing was named after your people or not. (Nothing has been named after my people, of this I am fairly sure.) But that’s an upside to being a Smith, too: I get to claim them all.

Anyway, it was a 25-mile ride, with a lot more negative splits than positive ones. It was a fine evening, and a delightful part of the day.