Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Where Was I Then?

Another of those where-were-you-then memories: It must have been scary, for me to recall the scene so vividly after 75 years. 
It had to be Sunday evening, and it had to be later than Jack Benny’s program, because Daddy was listening to Walter Winchell. I can still see him, sitting in Daddy’s Chair next to the big Philco floor radio. That’s the Chair I never could bring myself to sit in, not even 70 years later when it ended up in Anna’s apartment in Manhattan.
Winchell started his rapid-fire news and gossip delivery –  "Good evening, Mr. and Mrs. America from border to border and coast to coast and all the ships at sea. Let's go to press!"  (yes, I just googled that, because I couldn't remember the border-to-border and coast-to-coast part)  and then he broke in – this was the scary part -- to announce, several times during the program, that “There has been no emergency in New Jersey this evening.”  Or maybe it was “no catastrophe”. 
I  believe Orson Welles said Winchell’s assurance that no Martians had landed only contributed to the panic about Welles’ War of the Worlds broadcast that Halloween eve in 1938.
But anyhow -- how come I  wasn’t out trick-or- treating?

Monday, October 28, 2013

Height of foolishness

I just received an e-mail, evidently widely distributed, that contains only these eight words: 
October 30 is Talk Like Jane Austen Day.
Poor Jane!  Nobody trivializes Dickens or Shakespeare that way.  Nor, come to think of it, do I refer to them as Charles or William.  Maybe it’s because she’s a woman?  But we don’t seem to have any Talk Like Charlotte Bronte Days…  At any rate, not to worry.  Jane Austen admitted, in her famous defense-of-the-novel aside in “Northanger Abbey”, that one of her goals was “well-chosen language” and she chose very well indeed.
                                                 Nobody will talk like Jane Austen.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Spoiler Alert, Read the Letter First

 Don't look ahead until you've read this letter, which I just found in an old file. Then let's see if you can figure out why I saved it -- what it reminds you of.
  AustentoWoolf II was evidently the catalog I'd ordered from.  The K. A. Porter was Katherine Anne Porter's own copy of Pride and Prejudice.  I don't have it any more -- in keeping with my current urge to divest, I put it up on eBay a couple of months ago and the man who bought it told me he collects not Austen but Porter; he recognized her signature on the flyleaf so he knew it was genuine.  So do add a comment to let me know if this letter reminded you of the book --
84, Charing Cross Road
by Helene Hanff

and if  you've never read it, I envy you -- you have a treat ahead of you.   

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Suburban Adventures

Not up for writing a blog post this morning so I'll share last night's journal entry with you: 
10 pm: About an hour ago, dark out, doorbell, it was the Roof Guy. (Norm always said he was a Nice Guy -- remember? he and his wife have twin Harleys with bluetooth so they can talk to each other in their helmets?) I didn’t recognize him, I think he’s lost weight .  I hadn't heard from him after I left a phone message some weeks ago about tree damage – so I got another guy to repair it, $750.
Roof Guy said "Are you mad at me?" Asked him in. He took off his boots and left them in the hall, sat down in the living room and started rambling. First I thought he was drunk but no smell of liquor, took me a while to realize there’s also the possibility of being stoned. 
Started telling me about his wife, cops, car chase with the lights off, judge, Henry's (?) moved out, "and me in my shorts the whole time", he always did the cooking, order of protection, $3,000 hidden in the cassette in the car, jail, she's had three husbands, he has a nice room, did I read about it, it was in the paper, bail raised to $10,000, suspects she’s sleeping with the neighbor, the ambulance came.  He stopped every now and then, closed his eyes, then stared at me without saying anything, all very disjointed and I got scared.  When he asked to use the bathroom I ducked out, phoned across the street and asked Rex to come over.
Looking back, I think Roof Guy was just looking for work and apologizing for not returning my call. Evidently he had got out of jail (how?-- or was he even in jail?), gone to look over the job and come to give me an estimate – tho how could he when the job’s been all fixed now? Rex finally told him we had some paperwork to do, RG picked up his notebook, put on his boots and went out in the dark peacefully.  Well, I’ve got the security system on. I was pretty sleepy an hour ago, extremely wide awake now.

So I put on the security system, double-checked the door locks, put out the lights, went into my bedroom and the land line phone on my bedside table was playing the William Tell Overture.
I thought I might be going crazy.

Thursday, October 17, 2013


Catalog that arrived today offers an authentic  vintage electronic typewriter.  Good grief!  That’s what they call vintage?  Even from here I can see a correction key that automatically erases typos.  I’ll bet it even has a key for the numeral 1.  And I’ll bet one gets to the start of the next line by pressing a button.
     Let me tell you about vintage typewriters.  In 1939 I had to spend a year in the hospital flat on my back, not even allowed to sit up in bed to eat.  Daddy brought me a headphone radio but they made him take it back, “sorry, the rule is no radios on the wards.”  So his reaction was to buy me a portable typewriter, and to build a stand that would hold an open book over my pillow (heavy elastic straps).  The typewriter I got to see only once when he brought it on a visit, but what he left behind was a typing textbook.  I spent the next twelve months practicing on the bedspread – left hand a s d f g, cat fat rat.  When I finally came home, I could touch-type 60 words a minute.
     That Royal portable had no key for the numeral 1 – you used the lower-case L.  I could swear it didn’t have a zero either, with a capital O being used, but there does seem to be a zero here.  Faulty memory.  What does look exactly right, at any rate, is this heavy wooden case.  And the space bar, just waiting for a smart whack with the flat of the left hand.  Leroy Anderson got it right in his "Typewriter Song", though I can’t remember just where the bell came in – at the end of every line?  At the start of every new line?
     Having a typewriter was pretty classy in high school back in the 1940s – a few rich kids had fountain pens, but hardy anyone else had a typewriter.  When I got my first reporting job --at 18--the editor gave me a desk but I had to bring  my own machine -- new ones unavailable with the War on.  Maybe the editor hired me just because I had a typewriter.  And then when I enrolled in freshman journalism at Syracuse, we were told at the first class session that no handwritten work would be accepted.  Hard and fast rule, everything had to be typed.  You should have heard the protests!  Not to worry, we were told, --those who don't have typewriters (War still on) can use the typing lab on the first floor. And four years from now, you can't graduate with a degree in journalism unless you've passed the typing test (40 wpm.)
     What ever happened to that Royal?  I know just when I turned my back on it – 1960.  I was substitute teaching, came in for the high school business ed teacher and saw, in the typing room, that the whole left-hand row of desks had electric typewriters!  I'd never seen one before.  What a momentI’d just sold an article to McCall’s (remember McCalls?) about how our son Dov was born at home.  Biggest magazine check I’d ever received -- $500.  First things I bought with it were a typing desk, a whole ream of typing paper (long-time ambition -- you wouldn’t believe how expensive paper used to be) and – an electric portable.  Never looked back.
     These days I’m possessed by this strong urge to divest, getting rid of stuff right and left, and yet –
while I was searching for the right picture on Ebay, I found myself yearning to see that typewriter yet again, just to touch its keys.  I’ve started bidding on Ebay Royals.  My first one cost Daddy three weeks’ salary. Of course they're nowhere near the same dollars now, but the price seems to run about that same amount for these vintage machines.
Nobody on Ebay ever uses the words old or used.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

If you read it, disregard it

For a bit there in the bleak hours of last night I thought it was time to stop writing the blog – hope this morning's post, which I just deleted, didn’t lose me too many viewers? readers? “eyeballs” they used to say in the early days of Internet sites, and I always wondered if a site that boasted 1,000 eyeballs had 1,000 viewers or 500 viewers (think about it.)
Anyhow, I’ve taken down this morning’s l’envoi because I realized I never got around to writing about my first typewriter.  Don’t touch that dial; we’ll be back in a moment with typewriters.

Disregard the Following

Here's the post I deleted, in case you're interested -- seems a shame to waste the time I spent writing it and stealing the probably-copyrighted illustration.  Always enjoyed that phrase "disregard the following", which I found in Belle What's-her-name's book "Up the Down Staircase" so many years ago.  So please disregard:   

For the past week or so, I've suddenly -- abruptly -- had the feeling that it was time to stop writing this blog.  Couldn't think where the conviction had come from -- just out of the blue.  Woke early this morning, having slept straight through to five o'clock, which is actually pretty exciting, and came out to the office in the dark.  Figured out how to go back and look at the first posts, and to my amazement discovered that the blog started exactly one year ago.  Some sort of subconscious clock that's been ticking off 365 days?

Just turned off the desk lamp because through the window I'm getting sunrise, light spreading behind the willow tree, which, by the way, is bursting out all over in just the few weeks since its amputation.  As I've told you, I identify with that tree.  There's life in the old dame yet.  
Just picked up the little camera to get you a picture of the dawn light spreading behind the tree -- but I can't because all it shows is "change the battery pack".  That seems like yet another message --so cheerio, my friends.  Toujours gai!

Friday, October 11, 2013

From My Desk

Just this minute.  Deer watching cat.  Cat watching squirrel.  What squirrel is watching I can't say. 
And people have started asking if I'm ready to leave this house.  How can I?

Monday, October 7, 2013

Bugs and Art

So what ever happened to bedbugs?  Or for that matter, to grafitti?  These days the front pages are full of stuff like Government Shutdown and Entangling Foreign Misadventures, but I remember a time when the news was totally absorbed in the threat of bedbugs taking over our world.  So what happened?  Surely bedbugs didn’t just go extinct?  

And – it might have been decades before that – we kept hearing about society's desperate battles against grafitti on buildings, railroad cars, walls, highway signs -- and then disputes about whether we were dealing with eyesores or Art. So did it just vanish?  No grafitti in the Breaking News that streams across our screens these days.
But there is one I do remember fondly from way back in the 40s - and you can still see it today, on the World War II memorial in Washington.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Ou sont les Wreaths of Yesteryear?

The other day I was watching a black-and-white movie (okay, confess, it was “Now, Voyager” yet again) . The domineering matriarch, bossy even in her wheelchair, collapses during an argument with daughter Bette Davis.  We are spared any further unpleasantness; the next shot is of a wreath on the mansion’s front door.

     Every 1940s moviegoer gets the message.  Not only does that wreath signify a death in the family, it serves as an invitation to those who want to pay their respects by viewing the body.  “It’s here,” is the message, “She’s lying in state here in the drawing room.”
     I assume it was a black wreath but maybe that’s just because the movie wasn’t in color.  Specific flowers could bave been chosen for their significance.  But what I’m wondering is – when was the last time I saw a funeral door wreath?  The last time anyone did?  Because I do remember them from my childhood.  I even remember some confusion when I first noticed a Christmas wreath on a doorway – oops, wait a minute, there’s a red ribbon so I guess it doesn’t mean someone died.
      You almost never notice the last time you do something.  You notice the first robin in spring but not the last one in fall.  I remember thinking this once when I was rocking an infant grandson to sleep – and that time I had it right, for the rocking chair is 3,000 miles away now and the grandson is out of college.