Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Gas Powered Refrigerator

During my childhood my parents bought a cabin out in the woods which came with an old gas stove and a gas-powered refrigerator. We never used the refrigerator for anything but storing items we didn't want the mice to get into, but I always wondered about it.

Well, today while pouring over old issues of Life Magazine I came across this ad for the Servel Electrolux gas refrigerator and it spurred me to investigate how burning propane can make ice cubes.

The answer (from How Stuff Works) is as follows:

First heat from burning propane or kerosene is applied to an ammonia and water solution that is contained in the refrigerator's in the generator.

As the mixture reaches the boiling point of ammonia, it flows into the separator where the ammonia and water are, well, separated. The ammonia gas flows upward into the condenser, dissipates heat and converts back to a liquid.

Liquid ammonia then travels to the refrigerator's evaporator where it mixes with hydrogen gas and evaporates, chilling the refrigerator's cold box.

The ammonia and hydrogen gases flow to the absorber where the water from the separator is re-mixed with the ammonia and hydrogen gases. As the ammonia forms a solution with the water it releases the hydrogen gas, which flows back to the evaporator for re-use while the ammonia/water solution flows toward the generator to repeat the cycle.

There you have it, the basic workings of a propane-powered refrigerator!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Farewell Richard Matheson

Sometimes there's an author who touches your understanding of a genre without your even realizing they have. For me Richard Matheson was that sort of author. Then again, when you write I Am Legend, The Thing, and 15 episodes of The Twilight Zone you're bound to influence a few people. On Sunday, Matheson passed away at the age of 87, but his influence and fiction will live on.

Monday, June 24, 2013

The Fountain Pen - Quink Then and Now

1936 Quink Ad
If you've read my musings on writing, you know I'm a fan of old fashioned, hands on pen and ink writing. There's something about applying ink to paper that helps my creative process and this has led me into the world of fountain pens. This past Christmas my dear wife gave me a Parker pen as a gift and I've been enjoying using it ever since. It's my weapon of choice when penning thank you letters, hammering out a story, or just journaling.
Early fountain pens were filled manually, and by that I mean using an eyedropper to top off the pen's ink reservoir. As you can imagine, that sort of process led to a lot of ruined shirts, stained desktops, and frustration and in 1901 the first self-filling fountain pens went into mass production. The years leading up to the introduction of the ball-point pen were marked by the introduction of various filling mechanisms and eventually ink cartridges like the ones I use in my pen.

Recently I decided to take another step toward becoming a Luddite and I invested in an adapter. Adapters let you to use a pen that's designed for cartridges with bottled ink. The mechanism's pretty simple, a screw plunger that draws ink from the bottle into a reservoir that fits in place of the pen's cartridge, and I'm looking forward to giving it a try when I've exhausted my supply of cartridges. Without thinking I went to my favorite pen catalog and picked out a color of ink I thought would be appropriate for my writing. The selection ranged from extremely expensive and colorful inks to every day black and blue. Without having any preference or recommendation to work with, I decided the best course would be to buy a bottle of Parker ink for my Parker pen - and that's how I came to buy an ink that's been on the market for over 80 years.

Before 1931 documents written with a fountain pen required blotting. This removed excess ink from the page and prevented smearing. Quink was Parker's answer to blotting, an ink that made use of isopropyl alcohol to speed the drying process. What Parker didn't bargain for at the time was the fact its revolutionary ink would essentially eat the barrels of the fountain pens in which it was used. It took ten years for Parker to introduce the Parker 51 pen with a barrel which resisted the corrosiveness of Quink.
My Nemesis

For the time being my bottle of Quink sits on the desktop, looking stately and important and urging me to write something of value. I'm not sure I'm up to the task. I mean if you're going to use a fountain pen and bottled ink you should write something important, right? A treatise or declaration, or maybe that next great American novel? Nothing like being intimidated by your own writing instruments...

Short Story - Roses for Sophia Cooper (Part 2)

Roses for Sophia Cooper
Part 2
The Story of a Disappearance
The shotgun wielding stranger approached slowly, adjusting his grip on the gun as he walked. For a moment Thomas considered slamming the car into reverse and gunning the engine, but by the time the though fully germinated a stout, balding man had taken a position blocking the drive.
“Who are you and what are you doing trespassing here?” the moustached man demanded once he’d gotten within a few paces.
“I’m Thomas Brooks,“ Thomas answered, keeping a hand on the gear shift and his right foot ready to stomp the accelerator in case he had to rethink his aversion to running one of the strangers over. “This house belongs to my uncle, so by rights I should be the one asking who you are and why you are trespassing.”
“Tom?” The voice hailed from the vicinity of the house and when Thomas diverted his attention from his inquisitor he could see an elderly man braced against the porch railing.
“That’s right.” Thomas shut the car engine off, stepping out. The man on the porch could have stood in for any of the bell ringers who populated every street corner in Boston during the holidays. He had a neatly trimmed white beard, round glasses, and a paunch. Thomas recognized the face from the framed photos his mother kept on the mantel back home. “I’m your nephew. Mother wrote to tell you I’d be coming.”
“Why come in my boy!” The elderly man smiled broadly, making his way along the banister toward the steps to greet his visitor.
“Aren’t you supposed to be taking it easy?” Thomas asked, making his way passed the crowd and wagons and climbing the steps to where his uncle stood balanced on a cane. “If I knew you were well enough to throw parties I might have reconsidered making the long trip.”
“It is a bit of a circus at the moment.” He clapped Thomas on the shoulder. “But look at you! You were barely a tadpole the last time I saw you and now you’ve turned into a man!”
“Time will do that, Uncle Daniel.” Thomas shook his uncle’s hand and stepped onto the porch.
“Time, don’t talk to an old man about time.” His uncle shook his head, smiling. “Next I know you’ll be telling me all there is to know about arthritis and pensions.”
“Maybe.” Thomas surveyed the collection of wagons and animals on his uncle’s lawn. “So, what’s going on?”
“Help me back inside, I want to introduce you to some acquaintances.”
Thomas took his uncle’s arm and they left the cacophony behind for the staid confines of the parlor just off the house’s foyer. A pair of men and a teen waited in the small room and all three stood as Thomas escorted his uncle into the room.
“Dukker, Lash this is my nephew Tom. He’s been good enough to come all the way out here to look in on his feeble old uncle…”
“Uncle Daniel,” Thomas protested, but his uncle had already moved on.”
“The young fellow is Dukker’s son, Hanzi, whose about to leap into marriage,” Thomas’ uncle continued.
Thomas looked the boy over. His doughy features and fawn-ish attempt at a moustache only succeeded in making it hard to believe anyone so young could get married. He gave Hanzi a nod and managed a stunted congratulation before his uncle came to the rescue.
“Lash was relaying some troubling news. It seems that, the bride, his daughter has disappeared.”
“It’s Kolb, it has to be,” Lash proclaimed vehemently, the anger in his face showing off a deep scar that ran from his left jaw to the bridge of his nose. “I don’t know why we’re wasting time with this gadjo when we should be out there saving Sophia!”
“Watch your tongue, Lash,” the second man growled. “Dr. Daniel has always been a friend to my family. I brought you here to hear his council, not to insult him in his own house!”
“Insult him? I’m the one who should be insulted. Look at you sitting here defending your friend while my daughter, the girl who would be your daughter-in-law is missing.” Lash’s tone grew sinister. “It’s almost as if you don’t want her to be found…”
“What are you saying about my father?” Hanzi took a step toward Lash, his chest pushed out and his hands balled into fists.
“Gentlemen!” Thomas’ uncle raised his voice, banging his cane on the floor to draw attention. “I know I’m an outsider here, but I promise I’ll do anything I can to help. Lash, I know your daughter. I remember when she was just a little girl chasing butterflies in my back meadow. She’s a sweet girl and I want nothing more than to see her returned home safely. Just give me the chance.”
“He’s a good man,” Dukker repeated, pushing his son back. “If he says he’ll help you, it’s the truth.”
“I don’t know why I should trust you,” Lash turned his attention to Thomas’ uncle, “Or you, but I’ll give you your chance.”
 “Good,” Thomas’ uncle said, gesturing to be taken to the chair near the fireplace. Once he’d settled, the he began his questions. “Tell me, when did you last see Sophia?”
“It was yesterday, her cousins were helping get ready for the wedding. She didn’t like the flowers that had been gathered for her. Her cousins left her alone while they tried to find me so that I could drive them to a flower shop in Whitley, but when we returned she was gone.”
“She’s hard headed,” Hanzi said. “If she didn’t like her cousins’ ideas she would have taken things into her own hands.”
“I see.” Thomas’ uncle stared thoughtfully at the youth for a moment. “Please don’t take this the wrong way, but is there any chance she had misgivings about getting married?”
“What are you trying to say?” Hanzi said, his voice nearly breaking under the excitement the question elicited.
“You’re both very young. Maybe as the day got closer she began to have doubts?”
“No,” Lash answered. “Over the last month she’s practically never stopped talking about her love for young Hanzi and the life they would build together. She didn’t run away, if that’s what you’re implying.”
“Very well, we can eliminate that possibility.” Thomas’ uncle thought for another moment. “Tell me, why do you suspect John Kolb has something to do with this?”
“Lash’s camp is less than a mile from Kolb’s property and that man hates our people,” Dukker answered.
“Who is this Kolb, anyway?” Thomas asked.
“A power-hungry gadjo who thinks he owns the world,” Lash responded. “He’s the devil’s own kin and he wouldn’t hesitate to kill any of us if it suited him!”
“That’s a big accusation,” Thomas’ uncle protested.
“You don’t understand what it’s like being one of us, my friend,” Dukker replied. “Just last summer Kolb shot at one of my brothers for picking blackberries near a fence line he claimed to be on his property. Five years ago a young gypsy girl from the Gorman clan disappeared from a campsite near where Lash is camped now. Stefan Gorman even reported the disappearance to the police, but all he got were insults and suggestions that she’d gotten pregnant out of wedlock and ran away to hide her shame. Two days later the authorities ran his family out of the county and his girl never was seen again.”
“We’ve wasted enough time.” Lash stood, addressing Dukker and his son. “My daughter is betrothed to your boy and that means your family is equally responsible for her protection. I’ve given you an opportunity to live up to this commitment, now you have to decide whether you’re going to honor our traditions or turn gadjo.”
Lash stormed out of the room, slamming the screen door as he left the house. Thomas heard the man ranting as he rejoined his kin on the lawn and he didn’t need a translator to catch the gist of what was being said.
“He’ll kill Kolb,” Dukker said, slowly rising from his seat and collecting his hat.
“And what will you do?” Thomas’ uncle asked.
“Help him if it comes to it. As he said, Sophia and Hanzi are betrothed, that means the fates of our families are joined.”
“You’re kidding, right?” Thomas asked. “You’re not really telling me you’d take part in a murder based on nothing more than the suspicion he might have something to do with the girl’s disappearance.”
“I don’t expect you to understand our ways.” Dukker said something in his native language and his son left. “I’ve told you what will happen.”
“Dukker, do you think you can hold Lash off for a while?” Thomas’ uncle asked.
“It won’t be easy.”
“I only need a day. Just let me see if I can find Sophia before you turn to violence.”
“You’ve never steered me wrong, Dr. Daniel. I’ll talk to him.” Dukker turned his dark eyes on Thomas. “I’m glad you’ve come to look after the doctor. He’s the only good gadjo I’ve ever met; it’d be a shame to lose him.”
Thomas helped his uncle from the chair, holding his arm as they followed Dukker out to the porch. They watched as the wagons departed and when the sound of harnesses and hooves died away Thomas reached into his pocket to retrieve his keys.
“Where’s the nearest police station?” he asked.
“In Rochester, about an hour’s drive,” his uncle answered.
“Hopefully they can get someone out here before it’s too late.” Thomas took a step toward the house. “Let me get you settled, then I’ll get going.”
“We’re not going to the police yet.”
“You’re not actually thinking of letting those men kill this Kolb fellow, are you?”
“Dukker will keep Lash in check for twenty four hours. That’s plenty of time for us to try to sort things out without involving the law.” Thomas’ uncle freed himself, and began hobbling toward the front door. “Now, help me get my hat and we’ll get going.”
“This has got to be a joke.”
“Murder’s never a joke, Tom. Neither is a missing child.” Thomas’ uncle gave a slight smile. “Now where’s that big city hurry of yours when it’s needed?”

Stay tuned for part 3, coming July 1, 2013!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Full Strawberry Moon

June is the time of the Full Strawberry Moon, named by Native Americans for the ripening strawberries they collected during this time. In Europe, where strawberries were unknown, June’s full moon was given the monikers the Full Rose Moon and the Full Mead Moon. Funny thing that all the names of June’s full moon would make a wonderful romantic interlude, isn’t it? I’m imagining a little fresh strawberry ice cream with candied rose petals and a flute of mead under the full moon.

How to be Well Groomed

Welcome to the wonderful world of 50's instructional video. Want to look smooth at school? Watch the video below and you won't be a goon!

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Summer is Barbecue Time

One day after summer starts and I’m about to say something sacrilegious. So you might want to usher the children out of the room, close the blinds, and make sure a government drone isn’t loitering overhead before you continue reading. Prepared? Are you sure? Okay, here goes, the great American institution that is barbecue isn’t American at all.

Alright, I apologize. I know that the revelation one of our beloved summer traditions didn’t originate here in the US isn’t quite as shocking as I made it out.  To be honest, nobody really knows where the term barbecue comes from, though there’s speculation that it derives from the Spanish term for a cooking method they witnessed native peoples of the Caribbean using. Due to the abundance of pork in the American south the technique became established by the 1800’s.
To start things off, it’s important to talk a little about the distinction between barbecue and grilling.

Grilling is a method of cookery where food is placed directly on the rack or grate of a grill which uses a heat source such as wood, charcoal, or gas. The best kinds of foods for grilling tend toward meats and poultry (although fish, seafood, and vegetables grilled with the right accessories).
Grill is a high-temperature/dry heat cooking method which means that the meats cooked on a grill should tender and many cooks utilize marinades to help retain moisture.
On the other hand, Barbecue utilizes indirect heat to perform cooking and many smokers designed for barbecue will have a separate firebox to help keep the heat applied to the meat between 200 and 220°F. Cooking times for real barbecue can be as long as 18 hours which helps retain moisture and allows for the use of relatively tough cuts of meat with large amounts of fat and connective tissue (such as pork shoulder).
There are four basic styles of barbecue in America: North Carolina, Kansas City, Texas, and Memphis. Each of these differ in the choice of meat and the way it's prepared for cooking. In North Carolina the preferred method is to slather pork with a vinegar-based barbecue sauce during the cooking process. In Kansas City a combination of dry spices and sugar, commonly referred to as a dry rub, is used to season the meat before cooking. Texan barbecue artists also use dry rubs, but they lean toward choosing cuts of beef for their smokers. And in Memphis sweet and spicy tomato-based sauce sauce mopped over pork is king.
My preference? Well, I'm born and bread in the Midwest so I have a fondness for Memphis and Kansas City barbecue. Don't get me wrong, there's nothing like a properly smoked and seasoned beef brisket and I won't hesitate dig in when I get a chance, but my meat of choice is pork and with a good dry rub and a smoking-hot sauce to finish things off.
Barbecue holds at its smokey heart a kind of roadhouse romance. It's the alchemical art of mixing love with what geography provides poverty allows to create food for the soul. The best pit masters create rub recipes which they guard jealously and pass down through generations. I’m still working on my personal combination, a blend that expresses who I am, my history, and where I come from. It's a journey of discovery that started with a recipe for a ‘foolproof’ rub that I stumbled across on the web and still is evolving to this day and I highly recommend you begin your own exploration. Dig back into your history for flavors and mine your memories and in the end you might cook up something that speaks to your soul.


Friday, June 21, 2013

Welcome to Summer

Today kicks off a season that meant a lot more in the days before year-round school, summer internships, and making up every snow day. I remember the run up to the end of school and the fluttering of lightning bugs in my stomach as I looked out the window. Summer seemed to stretch out as an endless series of possibilities. Maybe some of you went to summer camp or your parents had a summer house somewhere near the beach – or maybe you played the Cruel Summer role and stayed home while everyone else went away. Summer was an event, even in the life of a kid summer stood as a sign that the great wheel of the year was slow turning.

I have a vague memory of canoeing at Chain of Lakes state park. I must have been seven or eight, all I remember is seeing lily pads for the first time and the fields of aquatic weeds wafting in the current just below the surface. It seems like there was some falling in the water, but I’m not sure. Early in my childhood we frequented state parks and would spend a week at a time baking on the beach or fishing. I brought back a lot of memories; the ones that are most vivid are the mosquito bites, poison ivy, sunburn, and raccoon raids on our supply of Hostess snack cakes. There were good times too: hikes, thunderstorms rolling across the lake, fishing with my grandfather and listening to his stories, riding bicycles faster than seemed humanly possible down the rolling hills of southern Indiana (and winding up with skinned knees), and lying in a canvas tent listening to katydids scratching their summer love songs to the night.
I hope you’ve got plans to make better memories than these this summer and that those memories won’t simply be the periodic table. Everything school can teach you is written in a book, but learning how to tie a clench-knot from your dad or that your old grandpa was a little bit of a hell-raiser in his youth can only be learned one way and during such a small window of time. Go out and roast a weenie, make s’mores, and tell a tale or two around the camp fire.  Have a happy summer, the kind that will stay with you long enough that you’ll tell your grandchildren about it.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Happy International Picnic Day!

I’m willing to bet you didn’t know that June eighteenth is International Picnic Day. At least according to web sources. Frankly it has the feeling of a fabricated holiday. All I found on the web were circular references; sites pointing to one another without ever referencing an "official source". Still, it was an opportunity to dig through Shorpy to come up with a great old photograph of a picnic, and there’s a lot to look at in this one!

This particular photo comes from 1941 and even though it was taken in October it seemed suitable for picnic day. Looking at its details I get a little nostalgic. My grandmother used to wear a turban like the one worn by the woman in the foreground. Hers were made of polyester and came in a variety of pastel colors. In fact, I hardly remember seeing my grandmother’s hair at all, for what I know she might have been bald or had a battleship tattooed on her scalp.

It’s also remarkable that the gentleman giving the camera the hairy eye is wearing a nice tie, tie-tack, and striped dress shirt. It’s a pretty remarkable time when a man would dress to sit at a picnic table eating baked beans. I say baked beans because that’s what the label on one of the cans on the ground seems to say. It’s also amazing to see the tableware, real coffee cups, plates, bowls, silverware, and glasses. Plastics were a thing of the 50’s which necessitated hauling a kitchen’s worth of plates and utensils out into the wild in a wicker hamper. My parents had a 50’s version of the picnic hamper complete with melmac plates and aluminum cups in assorted sizes and colors.

The Harvard Brewery was founding in 1898 and survived prohibition, a government takeover, and financial troubles before shuttering its doors in December of 1956. My grandparents beers of choice were Blatz and Old Milwaukee, but I remember the horrid days of the 70’s when they switched to generic beer with its ugly gray and white striped cans.

Ah, things are different now. I’m not a fan of eating in the wild, I hew to the theory even cavemen ate in a cave and we (hopefully) have evolved since then. I have to admit when I see this picture I get a soft spot for packing a hamper on a cool fall afternoon and heading out into nature’s embrace…of course then I think about the yellow jackets, flies, sunburn, and poison ivy and the spell passes.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Short Story - Roses for Sophia Cooper (Part 1)

There are times when I have to remind myself that The Gentleman from Indiana is a writer's blog. I enjoy posting tidbits about Indiana, magazine clippings, funny ads, information about the phases of the moon, and the like, but the purpose of this blog is to share my writing with you and keep you updated on where my stories can be found. The more I thought about this fact, the more I came to the conclusion it would be an interesting experiment to create a few stories that are intended specifically for my blog and thus Thomas Brooks and his uncle, Dr. Daniel Webb were born.

Over the next few months I will be sharing a multi-part short story of the exploits of Brooks and Webb. I'll be publishing a chapter each month and I hope you enjoy reading about the detectives as much as I've enjoyed writing about them.

Roses for Sophia Cooper

Part 1 
A Troubled Arrival

If Thomas unfocused his gaze, letting the midday sun and its mirages have their way, he could have imagined he was standing on the dunes at Eel Point. He could see the white sails off the shoulder of Tuckernuck Island filling with wind and the surf breaking on the beach, offsetting the glinting green of the ocean. He could smell the salt and hear the keening of gulls overhead. The illusion felt perfect enough to stroll into, but it failed the moment he began to take the first step. The ocean receded from him, leaving the dust blowing through the gas station lot, the unending cornfields, and the darkening clouds on the western horizon in its wake. The cramps in his muscles attested to miles between himself and the home he’d known all his life. Stretching in a fruitless attempt to work the stiffness out his back, Thomas rummaged through his pockets in search of a coin for the humming Orange Crush machine that sat beside the service station’s shanty.
“I tell you if you hadn’t told me yourself, I never would have figured you for old Doc’s nephew,” the stubby attendant said, emerging from the tiny building. He recounted Thomas’ change, giving him a squinty inspection before dropping the money in his hand. “The two of you don’t look a bit alike.”
“I guess I take after my dad’s side.” Thomas sorted through the coins, separating a nickel and dropping it into the machine. “So, do you think you could give me directions to Uncle Daniel’s place?”
“I’d have figured you’d know the way, being family and all.”
“The directions I got before leaving Boston were a little on the vague side. Besides, the last time I saw my uncle I was five. About all I remember is he had a donkey that bit like hell if you gave it a chance.”
“Do you mean you came all the way out here to look after an uncle you barely know and ain’t seen since you was a kid?”
“Someone needed to. I promised my mother I’d look after him, so here I am.”
“Well, I guess I got to admire you for your commitment.” The attendant shook his head. “Most fellows your age would be more interested in making some money and starting a family, not holing up out here in East Nowhere with only an old man for company.”
 “Yeah, I guess I’ve got a thing about promises.” Thomas popped the cap from his bottle of soda and took a drink before continuing. “So, how about those directions?”
“Well, let me see.” The man took a few steps toward where Thomas’ Desoto sat parked. “You’re going to keep going south on this road for about fifteen miles. You come to the bridge over the Yellow River and just on the other side of that you’ll see a side road. Follow that road, your uncle’s place sits opposite the old Bruceville Cemetery.”
“Thanks,” Thomas said, climbing into his Desoto and settling in for the last leg of his trip. He’d just stepped on the starter when the attendant knelt to augment the directions he’d given with advice.
“You’re going to want to be careful on that side road. We had some pretty good storms this spring and the river overflowed its banks, I imagine that road will be pretty rough. If you don’t pay attention you might leave your transmission lying on the ground.”
“Doesn’t sound like the way I want to spend an afternoon.” Thomas gave a nod of appreciation and pulled away.
The gas station disappeared from the rear view mirror and soon even its bleached star-shaped sign was lost to the gently rolling landscape. The monotony of the road returned, leaving Thomas to contemplate whether his decision to leave Massachusetts had been a mistake. As he told the station attendant, he promised his mother he’d look after Uncle Daniel, but he’d put that promise on like a parachute and used it to bail out of a life that had threatened to nose into the ground at any minute. He draped his arm out over the car door, turning away from the past to survey the neat rows of corn that rushed by. The road stood on the crest of a sort of causeway between fields and from its elevation the scattered farmhouses stood like craggy islands, each separated from its neighbors by inlets of rolling green.  He drove for twenty minutes with only the corn for company until the angular shape of the bridge announced he’d reached the waypoint of Yellow River.
Thomas slowed the car, rumbling to a stop once he’d crossed the river’s shallow waters. Through the passenger side window he could see a narrow track cut through the weeds, but calling it a road would have been overly generous. It consisted of little more than a pair of graveled ruts that hugged the river’s winding course. On the opposite side a broad meadow separated the road from a thick pine forest that stood a distance from the waterway in what Thomas supposed was a testament to the Yellow River’s propensity to overrun its low banks. He paused, pushing his hat back and leaning across the seat to stare out the window at what lay ahead. The drop-off from the paved road didn’t seem as treacherous as what the gas station’s attendant suggested, but plunging in without thinking definitely could lead to a very bad day. He drew a deep breath and cranked the steering wheel, gently urging the Desoto forward until her front wheels lumbered over the edge of the concrete. Gravel crunched under the tires and the car’s suspension groaned as he inched forward, but the transition passed without grinding the undercarriage on the ground.
Bolstered by the initial success, Thomas increased his speed, but the side road didn’t welcome trespassers and it repaid his intrusion with treachery. He’d barely gone a hundred yards when he found the first hidden pothole. The Desoto bucked violently and Thomas’ head met the roof, mashing his hat down over his eyebrows and forcing an unceremonious break to reassess. Once he’d rearranged his hat and walked around the car to make sure no damage had been done, he resumed the journey at a cautious fifteen miles per hour.
After a few punishing miles, the side road abandoned the river bank. It crossed the meadow in a broad arc, finally entering the deep shade of the pine forest. The cool air felt good on Thomas’ sun-scalded face and the needle scented wind that blew in through his window revived memories. On one of his childhood visits to his uncle’s house he thought he remembered playing in these woods. There had been a game of hide and seek and other children, but whether they’d been relatives, neighbors of his uncle, or creations of his childhood imagination had been lost to the tides of time. He gave up the attempt to recover details when he spotted the gates of the Bruceville Cemetery. He turned into his uncle’s drive and within minutes he caught sight of the house.
It rose from the pines gradually, almost as if, abiding by some old fashioned rule of decorum that forbade startling the newcomer. First came the roof with its quilted brown and gray-green slates, widow’s walks, and turrets. They filled the gaps between the pine boughs, floating among the trees like a fairy tale castle and tempting Thomas to stare longer than was prudent while driving. Soon painted fish scale siding and garish gingerbread appointments showed in bright glimpses, catching the summer sunlight like the plumage of some strutting bird. The road made a final bend and Thomas leaned out the window to better see the house’s next act, but as he cleared the last of the pines he had to stomp on the brakes and turn the wheel hard to avoid colliding with the wagons, horses, and people that crowded the lawn.
The sudden emergence of a car spooked the horses; they champed and tossed their heads, fighting their harnesses and jostling the wagons to which they were hitched. Two sturdy men raced to calm the animals, calling out in a dialect Thomas didn’t understand as they struggled to gain control of the situation. As they held fast to the harnesses a third man emerged from behind one of the wagons. He had a white brush of a moustache and wore a chewed fedora with a feather protruding from its band. The hat and moustache, along with questions about the identities of the men, passed through Thomas’ mind quickly. What remained was the more urgent concern posed by the shotgun the man carried.
The next installment will be available June 24th, 2013 - stay tuned!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Happy Father's Day

You might think that Father’s Day is one of those holidays that’s been around for a long time. You’d be wrong. In fact in the US Father’s Day has only existed since 1972. It’s possible that fathers lingered so far behind mothers because they didn’t pose such a ready and obvious market for the flower and card industries, but the origin of the holiday could be traced back to July 5, 1908, when a West Virginia church sponsored the nation’s first event explicitly in honor of fathers. This Sunday sermon was held to memorialize 362 men who perished in a December 1907 explosions at the Fairmont Coal Company mines in Monongah. This was a one-time commemoration, though, and it wasn’t until a year later that Sonora Smart Dodd, one of six children raised by a widower, tried to establish an official equivalent to Mother’s Day for male parents. Dodd went to local churches, the YMCA, shopkeepers, and government officials in her quest to garner support and she was successful. In 1910 Washington State became the first in the nation to celebrate a statewide Father’s Day.

The holiday slowly spread across the country. In 1916, President Wilson honored the day by using telegraph signals to remotely unfurl a flag in Spokane. In 1924, President Calvin Coolidge made the case for state governments to observe Father’s Day. However, ironically, it was men themselves who stood in the way of the holiday’s acceptance. As one historian writes, they “scoffed at the holiday’s sentimental attempts to domesticate manliness with flowers and gift-giving, or they derided the proliferation of such holidays as a commercial gimmick to sell more products--often paid for by the father himself.”

In the 1920s and 1930s a movement to scrap Mother’s Day and Father’s Day in favor of a single holiday called Parents’ Day gained support. Rallies were held in New York’s Central Park on Mother’s Day. In a stroke of irony, it was the Great Depression that came to the rescue of Mother’s Day (and Father’s Day, though it hadn’t become official). Struggling retailers and advertisers rallied behind the idea of another holiday to promote sales, redoubling their efforts to make Father’s Day a “second Christmas” for men and promoting goods such as neckties, hats, socks, pipes and tobacco, golf clubs and other sporting goods, and greeting cards. When World War II began, advertisers began to argue that celebrating Father’s Day was a way to honor American troops and support the war effort. By the end of the war, Father’s Day may not have been a federal holiday, but it was a national institution.
So, in 1972, in the middle of a hard-fought presidential re-election campaign, Richard Nixon signed a proclamation making Father’s Day a federal holiday at last. Today, economists estimate that Americans spend more than $1 billion each year on Father’s Day gifts.
Here’s a hearty Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there. I hope you find your Dad’s Day stocking filled with all sorts of manly goodness.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Happy Flag Day

The first proposal for an annual observation of the birth of the American Flag came from Bernard Cigrand in 1886. Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation for a nationwide observance of Flag Day on June 14, 1916 but the holiday didn’t become official until 1949 when Harry Truman signed the holiday into law.

Happy birthday, Stars and Stripes!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Happy Birthday Maurice Sendak

Today would have been Maurice Sendak's 85th birthday. I miss the man who took me Where the Wild Things Are.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Noir Office Fan

The noir detective’s office has been progressing, albeit slowly and in the background. The latest addition is a little gift provided by two close friends, a Barcol Eight two bladed Bakelite fan.

The Barber-Colman (Barcol) company once was the largest manufacturer in Rockford, IL with a nearly 65 acre facility that made everything from temperature controls to garage door openers. The factory now sits empty, it’s once busy corridors gathering dust. Like in so much of American manufacturing, the well-paying jobs that once fed and clothed a generation have been shipped to third world countries where it can be performed at slave labor rates of pay under sweat shop conditions.

I did an Internet search for Barcol fan ads and came up disappointingly empty. I did turn up a 50’s era garage door opener ad that ran in the Rotarian magazine. Sometimes its striking how much these ads remind me of the suburb where I grew up, right down to the coffered garage doors. This is an image of suburban sprawl before the term carried the negative connotations it’s associated with now. You’re seeing an image of the blue-collar American dream Ozzie and Harriet-style; a three bedroom bungalow on a tree-lined street with a two car garage and a swing set in the backyard.
Dreams die hard, though. That same neighborhood in 2013 is a run-down second-ring suburb. The streets are in disrepair, the sidewalks are cracking and heaving more every winter, and Dutch elm disease or emerald ash borers have killed just about every shade tree. The people who occupy these 50’s bungalows can barely hold on, their dream is to make the mortgage and maybe put away enough to send their kids to college. But I digress.

I stumbled across a page from a 1939 catalog that features the Barcol Eight. It's probably appropriate that the fan which will be stirring the air in my little detective's office is the cheapest model available. Now we'd never consider something like a power switch or speed control as options, but Barcol produced a fan that had neither. You got one speed and if you wanted to turn the fan off you unplugged it and liked it. The trade of was you paid a  whopping $2.35 for your fan. As for my part, I’ll have to perform some minor repairs before plugging my Eight in. It has an iffy cord and the one time I dared plug it into an outlet it made a grinding noise that suggested it might burst into flames. I’m guessing I’ll either be cleaning the motor or replacing it.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Happy National Doughnut Day

It’s the first Friday in June and that means National Doughnut Day. You might be thinking, “What’s this? Another corporately produced holiday and one that takes advantage of America’s poor eating habits?” Well, National Doughnut day actually has quite a long history. The event was created by The Salvation Army in 1938 as a way of honoring the women who provided comfort to soldiers during World War I by serving coffee and doughnuts.

In 1917 the Salvation Army concluded that some of the needs of US soldiers could be met by founding canteens and social centers (called huts) which served baked goods, provided supplies for writing and sending letters home, and provided for mending the soldier’s clothing. These huts typically consisted of six staff members, four of which were women whose job was to “mother” the boys. About 250 Salvation Army volunteers performed this canteen service in France during the war, earning the women who staffed the huts the moniker “Doughnut Dollies”.

In 1919 Billy Frisch composed the song Don’t Forget the Salvation Army (My Doughnut Girl) to commemorate the service of the Doughnut Dollies and Arthur Fields later released the tune on an Edison Blue Amberol cylinder.

So, while you’re enjoying a complementary glazed Krispy Kreme with your morning coffee just remember this day really commemorates more than deep fried dough. Then again, there’s nothing wrong with a National Deep Fried Dough day, is there?

Thursday, June 6, 2013

What Did You Do Today

I spent the day fussing with car problems and when I sat down at the keyboard I'd achieved a pretty good snit of feeling sorry for good old me. Then I came across an interesting fact, on this day in 1944 the invasion of Normandy began. Thousands of young men stormed the French beaches beginning a new phase in the liberation of Europe. I guess a little car problem isn't so bad after all.

Thanks to Shorpy for the great photo of New Yorkers watching news of the invasion scroll across the New York Times news line.

The Beaches of Normandy

A LIFE photo of a soldier crawling through the surf under German machine gun and mortar fire.
Most of us probably don’t connect June 6th with anything more than balmy summer weather and maybe a little vacation time with the family. Turn the calendar back to 1943, though, and you will land on the day of the Allied invasion of Normandy, D-Day. So, while enjoying the tranquility of summer pause a moment to think of all those young men who perished on a French beach for the sake of freedom and say a silent thank you to those who gave everything for what we all too often take for granted.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013


Dextrose, simple sugar and carbohydrate supreme. I never thought something like dextrose would need to be promoted, but then I came across this ad during one of my magazine forays. I don’t think I’ve ever heard the phrase “America’s finest packaged desserts…” before reading this ad and I’m still not sure it’s an endorsement. Now we read processed foods and, even if we don’t listen, the doctor voice in the back of our minds starts making disapproving noises. I’m guessing the ad executives who put this one together had an inkling they were on thin ice too since they resort to putting prepared in quotes.

Corn Products Refining Company (now the innocuously named Ingredion) was based in Westchester, IL and manufactured dextrose from corn (read corn syrup) as well as raw materials for corn starch and corn oil. In 1955 the company got in trouble with the IRS for its hedging practices and ended up appearing before the Supreme Court. They lost the case and wound up on the short end of the IRS’ tax paddle. Something tells me there isn't enough dextrose food-energy sugar in the world to sweeten a dish of back-taxes.
What drew me to the ad was the maniacal cheerleader-cow girl-patriotic-fairy mascot. She’s got those helter-skelter eyes that say she really needs to cut back on the coffee and the corn sweetener and possibly start a course of anti-psychotics before someone gets hurt. I can’t imagine a mom looking at that image and saying, “yeah, that’s what I want in my kid…the jitter fairy.”

Monday, June 3, 2013

100 Years Ago: June Breezes

There are a lot of things that we’ve come to take for granted. Take what’s considered a staple of modern life: air conditioning. Central air has become so common for Americans that when I talk about how I grew up without it I’m reminded of the “walking twelve miles to school barefoot” stories my dad used to drag out. It isn’t fair how time makes codgers of us all, even those of us who’ve taken a vow never to engage in finger-shaking lectures about appreciating what you’ve got. Anyway, I come to bury my youth, not praise it.

100 years ago, General Electric ran this ad for its hot and relatively new gadget, the oscillating fan, in Popular Mechanics. Reading the copy makes me realize how much the world has changed in a century. A modern commercial for air conditioning bombards its viewers with terms like “sub zero”, “arctic”, and the like while the GE ad talks about bringing the breeze into your office or home. Maybe the hyperbole is a symptom of a world where everything is branded. We no longer have the Polo Grounds, Candlestick Park, or the Hoosier Dome and I’ve even seen rumors of a corporation buying the rights to name newly discovered species. It makes you feel a little like the Grinch – all the noise, noise, noise, noise!
Its days like this, when din gets so loud that it seems to become one big featureless sound-scape of self aggrandizement that I disconnect. I put on some old jazz and retreat to my detective’s office. I open the window and turn on my little oscillating fan and listen the soft whirr and the sounds of the birds outside.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Quote for June

If a June night could talk, it would probably boast that it invented romance.

~ Bern Williams