8/8/88 &c.

August 8, 1988

On this particular confluence of numbers for a date, I went to work. After all, it was also a Monday. VW started today as editorial assistant. At last we get one. After introductions and a basic editorial meeting, I spent a fair amount of the morning showing her how to use the VDT.

At 11 or so, I met a writer named SB. Seems like he could do good work for us. Works part-time now for another local mag that I’ve never heard of.

Lunch: KD, JD, VW, MS and me at Dick’s Last Resort, which opened not long ago at North Pier. I think there are others in Dallas and Houston. The place has its staff pretend to be rude. Restaurant motto: “Can’t Kill a Man Born to Hang.” Had a bucket o’ beef ribs & fries & slaw & bread. Was good.

[I checked just now, and the Dick’s Chicago location at some point moved to Marina Towers. It’s still a relatively small chain, with 13 locations, according to its web site. I went a few other times during the late ’80s, and maybe once again when I moved back to Chicago.

Dick’s used to serve — maybe still does — Mamba, pride of the Ivory Coast brewing industry. Actually a malt liquor, not a beer. Came in pint bottles with a croc and a map of Africa on the label. I bought one once just to drink something made in République de Côte d’Ivoire.

Not bad. Had the empty bottle for some years, but it disappeared at some point.]

In the afternoon, got a surprising amount done. Queried participants in the Mortgage Roundtable, interviewed an industry cockalorum, and more.  After work, had a hard time getting home. The El was jammed with Cubs fans going to the big-deal, first-ever night game at Wrigley.

Got home, a postcard was in the mail from Bill K. He says he’s in love and that “Elvis lives.” At 7:30 or so, I headed north on the El, away from all the hubbub, to go swimming. As I was walking to the pool from Davis station, it started raining hard. Got to the pool, swam. Less crowded than usual. Still raining some as I walked back to the station. Down to a drizzle by the time I got home, but I understand the big night game was called because of it.

[Sure enough, it was called. I seem to remember that Royko was there, and the next day in his column said he was tired of people telling him that God didn’t want night games at Wrigley. One was played to a conclusion the very next evening in better weather.]

First, Fire All the Copy Editors

The following is a genuine headline from yesterday’s paper edition of the Chicago Tribune, featured with an article in the travel section.

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Where is this place, Brazel? I wondered. A small place with a name unfortunately similar to the major tropical nation in South America? That might account for tourists sadly overlooking the place.

But no. The article is clearly about the vast South American nation.

Thursday Loose Ends

While the Northeast is buried under snow, I look out onto a patch of northern Illinois — my yard — that’s brown. The heavy snow of December gave way to a moderate January, by local standards, and all the white went away. It’s cold out there, but it doesn’t look like February, which is usually marked by unmelted snow in some spots, or at least in the shadows.

I noticed the other day that My Favorite Martian was on demand, so I watched the first episode. I don’t have much memory of its original airing, from 1963 to ’66, and I don’t remember seeing it in syndication, so it’s essentially new to me. Verdict: mildly amusing at times, mostly because Ray Walston and Bill Bixby had some comic talent. But I don’t think I need to watch many more episodes, thus putting it in the same class as Mister Ed or Leave it to Beaver.

Reading a bit about the show, I learned that Bill Bixby’s full name was Wilfred Bailey Everett Bixby III. In our time, that would be the original name of a hip-hop star. Also, just before he died, he married Judith Kliban, widow of B. Kliban.

Hadn’t thought about B. Kliban in years. Didn’t know he was dead, but he has been since 1990. Somewhere at my mother’s house (I think) are collections of his cartoons that I bought. One is called Never Eat Anything Bigger Than Your Head. Words to live by.

At a magazine rack in a big box store not long ago, I saw a copy of Rolling Stone. I was shocked. It was so thin you could put it in a box and use it for Kleenex. The magazine was also standard size, or smaller, not the tabloid that by rights it should be. It was like running into an old acquaintance who’s now dying of a wasting disease. Guess its real presence is online now anyway.

“Acquaintance” because I never read Rolling Stone that much. Not all together my kind of magazine. But I would pick it up and look at in doctors’ offices or from friends’ coffee tables or the like. And I have to say it often had interesting covers, even if they depicted celebrity musicians I cared nothing about.

Last Friday, I dropped by the visit the Friendship Park Conservatory, a small conservatory that’s part of the Mount Prospect Park District. Nice to see some green now, even if the pit of winter this year isn’t too deep.

Friendship Park Conservatory, Mount Prospect

Friendship Park Conservatory, Mount Prospect

The last time I remember being there was in late summer, when it was green outside the conservatory as well as inside. Back in 2005. The girls were a lot smaller then.

Friendship Park Conservatory, Mount ProspectEarly this week, Junk King paid a visit to a house on my block.
I’d heard of the company, but never seen one of its distinctive red trucks before.

Lull-Time Reading

The lull time between Christmas and New Year’s is also a good time for reading, so I alternatively read Between the Woods and the Water, the second part of Patrick Leigh Fermor’s remarkable travels on foot in Europe in 1934, and American Mirror: The Life and Art of Norman Rockwell (2013) by Deborah Solomon.

I picked up the latter at Half-Price Books not long ago after reading a bit of it in the store, and realizing that I knew next to nothing about Rockwell, besides what his paintings look like, and that he’s been the subject of revisionism lately. Maybe more than one cycle of scorn and then revision have come and gone, for all I know.

Solomon skillfully makes the case that Rockwell’s work is well worth thoughtful attention. “Each of his Post covers amounts to a one-frame story complete with a protagonist and a plot…” she writes. “In some ways, Rockwell’s paintings, which are grounded in the rendering of the particulars, demand to be ‘read’ like a story. The experience they offer is literary as much as visual, in the sense that he cared less about the sensual dazzle of oil paint than the construction of a seamless narrative. The public that saw and appreciated his paintings walked away from them thinking not about the dominance of cerulean blue or cadmium yellow but about the kid on the twenty-foot-high diving board up in the sky, terrified as he peers over the edge and realizes there is only one way down.”

As for Rockwell the man, he comes off as a decidedly odd duck. An enormously talented odd duck. While perhaps not the most colorful of personalities — which is often just a way of denoting a jerk, anyway — he’s worth reading about too. (Then again, his family might have had some thoughts on Rockwell as a jerk.)

“On most days, he felt lonesome and loveless,” notes Solomon. “His relationships with his parents, wives, and three sons were uneasy, sometimes to the point of estrangement. He eschewed organized activity. He declined to go to church. For decades he had a lucrative gig providing an annual painting for the Boy Scouts calendar, but he didn’t serve as a troop leader or have his own children join the Scouts.

“He was more than a bit obsessive. A finicky eater whose preferred dessert was vanilla ice cream, he once made headlines by decrying the culinary fashion for parsley. He wore his shoes too small. Phobic about dirt and germs, he cleaned his studio several times a day. He washed his brushes and even the surfaces of his paintings with Irovy soap.”

Naturally the book is well illustrated with his work, though only a fraction of (say) his Saturday Evening Post covers, since he did so many (323 from 1916 to 1963). That made me look up more images posted by the Rockwell museums, one in western Massachusetts, another in Vermont (seemingly more of a store for Rockwelliana), both places that he lived. Just more things to see if I ever make it back that way.

A Wad of Paper Circulars

We still get a paper newspaper some days of the week, and last Wednesday’s newspaper was the heaviest I’d lifted off the driveway in years. It was a regularly sized mid-week paper supplemented by a weighty array of circulars, mostly from retailers fighting the battle against stagnant physical-store sales, though of course most have online sales as well.

They included (no special order): Macy’s, World Market, Sprint, Carson’s, The Dump, Best Buy, Abt, Duluth Trading, La-Z-Boy Furniture Gallery, AT&T, JC Penney, Kohl’s, Guitar Center, Mattress Firm, Bed Bath & Beyond, The Tile Store, Home Depot, Fannie May, Verizon, Sears, Art Van Furniture, Ulta Beauty, JoAnn, Staples, Office Depot/Office Max, Ashley Homestore, Value City Furniture, Walgreen’s, Sleep Number, Kmart, Walmart, HOBO (Home Owners Bargain Outlet), Bose, Toys R Us, Lowe’s, CVS and Target.

Some of these retailers aren’t just fighting to keep their physical stores busy, but against ending up in the dustbin of retail history. If you know even a little about retail, you can guess which ones those are.

The only one on the list I’d never heard of was The Dump. It calls itself “America’s Furniture Outlet.” As far as I can tell, there’s only one in the Chicago area, in west suburban Lombard. The brand is in nine other markets around the country and, strangely enough, notes its web site: “Regular stores open every day of the week and you pay for. [sic] We are only open Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, which keeps our cost of doing business down.”

A Reg Manning Travelcard — No. 15

Lately, thanks to the Special Collections & University Archives of Wichita State University, I’ve learned that “Reginald Manning was born in Kansas City, Missouri, on April 5, 1905. He moved to Phoenix, Arizona, in 1919 and studied art in high school. Shortly after graduation, Reginald began working for the Arizona Republic, starting work on May 1, 1926. He worked there for the next 50 years.

“Manning’s job at the newspaper originally was a photographer and spot artist. Before too long, he was drawing daily editorial cartoons and a weekly full-page review of the news called ‘The Big Parade.’ He quit drawing the ‘Parade” in 1948 in order to devote more time to his editorial cartoons. In 1951, Manning won a Pulitzer for ‘Hats.’

“In addition to his lectures, Manning has published many books. Some of the books that he produced are A Cartoon Guide to Arizona (1938), What Kinda Cactus Issat? (1941), From Tee to Cup (1954), and What Is Arizona Really Like? (1968).

“Reg Manning was one of the most prominent conservative voices in cartooning and has won numerous awards for his work. Besides winning a Pulitzer Prize, he has also won the Freedom Foundation’s Abraham Lincoln award two years in succession.”

He died in 1986. Somehow I missed knowing a thing about him until recently, when I was looking through some cards I’d bought at a resale shop. Seems that he did gag postcards, too. At least 15 of them.

regmanningHis style seems familiar. Probably I’ve seen his work without attaching a name to it. The card I have, copyrighted 1942, was mailed from Flagstaff in March 1946, addressed to a Master Georgie, so I’ll assume it was from a relative or family friend to a child — no one signed the card.

He or she did check off some of the lines on the card, which is amusing. Guess that was the intention. Wonder whether Georgie — later George — kept the card his whole life from the age of around 10 (say) to much more recent times, when it wound up in a box of cards at a resale shop. Maybe George, lately around 80, passed on not long ago, and his heirs had no use for gag cards from the 1940s. All speculation, but sometimes that’s just the thing for a found object in your possession.

Departures and Arrivals

Been reading Departures and Arrivals by Eric Newby (1999) lately. It was his last book, and gives the impression that Newby and his publisher had a conversation something like this:

Publisher: Newby, old man, have you got anything new for us?

Newby: I’m afraid not. As you know, Wanda and I are getting on.

Publisher: Nothing at all?

Newby: Well, there’s always something. I’ve a few files of unpublished pieces.

Publisher: Places you’ve written about before?

Newby: Some of them yes, some no.

Publisher: Let’s see what we can do with that.

So the book reads mostly like a series of diary entries. Mind you, these are Eric Newby’s, so they’re really good diary entries, including items about traveling to places that no sane person would now visit, such as Syria. Also, many of the items were about trips he took in the 1980s and ’90s — times and a few places (England, China) I have first-hand experience with, unlike the Hindu Kush in the 1950s. Somehow it feels different when you read about a more familiar time, even if the place is unfamiliar.

Speaking of reading material, I’ve been receiving AARP’s magazine lately. It’s well edited, of course, since the organization probably devotes more resources to its production than most magazines get. But it also has the same irritating tendency as many other mags to focus on celebrities. I can’t say that I care much what Cyndi Lauper (for example) thinks about life, now that she’s pushing 65 pretty hard.

Even so, AARP is a lobbying group I can get behind as I get older.

One Summer: America, 1927

Bill Bryson’s a most entertaining writer. Recently I spotted his One Summer (2013), subtitled “America, 1927,” at the library and I had to pick it up. I’ve only read a few chapters so far, with accounts of Lindbergh’s flight, Babe Ruth’s season, the Great Mississippi Flood and much more still ahead (which reminds me, I want to read Rising Tide).

So far I’m enjoying it. Among other things early in the book, Bryson discusses the rise of the tabloid in America during the 1920s, kicked off by the Illustrated Daily News in New York, which Col. McCormack had a hand in creating. The following is about a clearly colorful character I’ve never heard of.

“Such success inevitably inspired imitators. First came the New York Daily Mirror from William Randolph Hearst in June 1924, followed three months later by the wondrously dreadful Evening Graphic. The Graphic was the creation of an eccentric, bushy-haired businessman named Bernarr Macfadden…

“Macfadden was a man of strong an exotic beliefs. He didn’t like doctors, lawyers, or clothing. He was powerfully devoted to bodybuilding, vegetarianism, the rights of commuters to a decent railroad service, and getting naked. He and wife wife frequently bemused their neighbors in Englewood, New Jersey by exercising naked on the lawn…

“As a businessman, he seems to have dedicated himself to the proposition that where selling to the public is concerned, no idea is too stupid…. When tabloids became all the rage, Macfadden launched the Evening Graphic. Its most distinguishing feature was that it had almost no attachment to the truth or even, often, a recognizable reality. It conducted imaginary interviews with people it had not met and ran stories by figures who could not possibly have written them… The New Yorker called the Graphic a ‘grotesque fungus,’ but it was a phenomenally successful fungus. By 1927, it’s circulation was nearing six hundred thousand.”

That’s only a small part of the strangeness of Bernarr Macfadden. He even had a go at running for president, though it isn’t clear how seriously. Sounds like a man who liked to hear himself talk. Under just the right circumstances — as we’ve all been reminded of recently — that can get you pretty far.

Bilingual JWs at the Door

Awake! (Japanese)A couple of Jehovah’s Witnesses showed up at the door not long ago, one an English speaker, one Japanese. Whatever else you can say about them, they do their research. They left a copies of Awake! in both English and Japanese. The cover of the Japanese edition, published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, is posted here.

The headline says: Is the Bible Just a Good Book?

The JW were in the news — the real estate news — recently for selling JW HQ in Brooklyn for very big bucks, about $700 million. That kind of mammon will not only buy a fine new HQ in upstate New York, where real estate is cheaper, but probably a lot more granular data mining on behalf of propagating the doctrine. Seems like something of a hard sell to me. Blood transfusions don’t come up all that often for most people (fortunately), but no Christmas? Wonder when they get around to telling potential converts about that.

I showed the magazine to Yuriko. She shrugged.

RIP, Jim Ridley

I didn’t know Jim Ridley, but I knew of him, and had I lived in Nashville longer than I did, I might have easily made his acquaintance. Lately he was the editor of The Nashville Scene, the alternative paper in that city, but was best known as a film critic. Stricken with heart attack late last month, he died Friday at the unnerving age of 50.

As it was, I also just missed knowing him at Vanderbilt, which he attended as a freshman the year after I graduated. He wrote for both Versus (the student magazine) and The Hustler (the student newspaper) that year, both of which I had just finished writing for. This is the picture of the Versus ’83-84 staff from the ’84 yearbook.

Versus Staff 1983-84Jim Ridley’s the large fellow toward the right of the picture with his hand on his head. As I said, I didn’t know him, but I did know more than half of the other people in that picture, all of whom were involved in one way or another with VU student publications when I was there.

Here’s his obit from his own publication, and an appreciation from another film critic. RIP, Mr. Ridley.

Also: a fellow named Archie Dees has died. I didn’t know him either, but Indiana University remembers him as a basketball star whose heyday was in the 1950s (he was 80 when he died). I noticed that he was originally from Ethel, Mississippi, though he went to high school in Downstate Illinois. His central Mississippi roots and his surname very likely mean we’re cousins of some kind. Go back far enough — a century and a half, maybe — and we’re sure to have some common ancestors.