Sunday, July 28, 2013

The 19th Running of the Brickyard 400

It just occurred to me that I've been giving short shrift to the "other" motor sports event here in Indy, the Brickyard 400. Today's race marks the 19th time NASCAR's stock cars have torn around the famous oval. The inaugural year I happened to be living about ten blocks from the track and I learned the stark difference between an Indy 500 and a NASCAR crowd.

Thinking NASCAR would be worse? Maybe you'd expect a little moonshine fueled red neckery? I mean it takes a lot of money to put an Indy car on the race course while NASCAR's firmly rooted in the southern soil of bootlegging and white lightning. Well, if you fell for the stereotypes, you're very mistaken.

Without fail the Indy 500 crowd turned out to be more destructive, disrespectful, and rowdy. That first year of the 400 I sat on my back porch listening. With the 500 the night before the race the air would be filled with the low cacophony of sirens, gunshots, revving engines, and people. With the 400, you couldn't even tell a race event was in town. NASCAR came, qualified, raced, and got out without leaving a metric ton of trash in its wake or turning life in the vicinity of the Speedway into misery.

So, my apologies NASCAR. Please accept this little Champion spark plug ad from the December 1955 issue of Life Magazine as a token of my esteem. I'll try to make your 20th year in Indianapolis a special one!

Death aboard the Seeandbee

Back in 1885 Morris A. Bradley established the Cleveland and Buffalo Transit Company (C&B). The company operated a popular steamship line from Cleveland, running passenger and freight service to Buffalo, NY aboard the liners State of Ohio and State of New York. With business booming, C&B added to its fleet, christening the City of Buffalo and eventually replacing the aging State of Ohio with the City of Erie which provided night service between Cleveland and Toledo.

C&B saw an opportunity in moving passengers and in the same year as the Titanic’s ill-fated maiden voyage, the Seeandbee joined the fleet and began making regular trips between Cleveland and Buffalo. In her day the Seeandbee held the title of largest and mostly costly liner on the Great Lakes. She was 485 feet from stem to stern and could accommodate 1,500 passengers with 510 staterooms and parlors over four decks. She had an elegant ballroom in which passengers could partake of music and dancing while making the crossing.

The Seeandbee operated from 1913 to 1938, maintain her reputation as the lakes as its most famous liner until, like so many Americans, she was called to war. World War II saw many civilian ships converted for military purposes, and the Seeandbee was no exception. She was converted to operate as an aircraft carrier and rechristened the USS Wolverine. Under her new name she saw service training carrier pilots for shipboard landings and takeoffs. The USS Wolverine operated out of Chicago on Lake Michigan until the end of the war and was decommissioned and scrapped in 1946.

All of this is interesting – well, at least to someone like me who enjoys digging through dusty magazines – but it’s not why I found the little ad for cruises aboard the Seeandbee so intriguing. You see, the ad comes from a 1935 issue of The Rotarian Magazine, a call for business-folk across the Midwest to spend their hard-earned salaries on a little shipboard frivolity, but on August 12, 1940 when the ship docked in Cleveland one of its passengers wouldn’t be disembarking.

Mrs. Benjamin Mozee, a retired teacher from Nome, Alaska, boarded the Seeandbee on July 24th and, according to her sister, had in her possession a large amount of money as well as three diamond rings none of which were found in her state room. On July 31st the battered body of Mrs. Mozee washed up on the shore at Geneva-on-the-Lake and, adding insult to the injustice that had been done to her, since there wasn’t anyone who could identify the body, she was buried in an unmarked grave.

The money and jewelry weren’t the only things that had disappeared when the ship docked. Mrs. Mozee had been attended by a maid while on shipboard. The maid was a member of the Seeandbee’s crew and had tended to her during the voyage. Investigators found that the maid had disappeared immediately after the cruise.

When Mozee’s body was identified there could be little doubt she hadn’t simply fallen overboard and drown. The body showed signs of a beating and grease on Mrs. Mozee’s palms suggested she’d been in the crew area of the ship. An FBI investigation followed, but there is no record of there being an arrest, trial, or conviction associated with the murder.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

A Day at the License Branch

I spent part of my morning taking care of a few things that couldn’t be handled over the internet or via mail at the local BMV and the experience reminded me there’s a lot to like about the modern age in which we live. I spend a lot of time fondly reflecting on the past and sometimes glossing over its flaws. Here in Indiana we can renew driver licenses and plates via mail or internet, chores which when I was growing up required sacrificing a day on the altar of government inefficiency.

You can tell how I feel about the prospect of spending time at the BMV, but I have to point out that I got in and out within a half hour and without anything more irritating than dealing with a slack-jawed clerk to complain about. The experience was less painful than grocery shopping or the daily commute, still it seems onerous. Maybe turning yourself over to the BMV violates a fundamental human need for self-direction. You walk into the building, take a number, and then spend a few mind-numbing hours waiting to be shuttled from station to station where bureaucratic drones shoot simple if terse questions at you. Maybe it’s the fact that there are two modern American institutions which seem to pride themselves on being openly antagonistic toward their customers: the airlines and the state.

I don’t know, all I can say is what I expected to end with a bang went out with a whimper and I’m okay with that.

Poetry - A Guest at Dusk

A not-so-particular Saturday in July seemed to be a good time for a bit of poetry. Arthur Wallace Peach was head of the English department at Norwich University, a private military college in Vermont. I love his imagery of a dream softly coming to the door.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Road Rage

Sometimes it seems that we believe everything we’re going through in our complicated, modern age of cell phones, email, i-this-and-that, and 60-hour work weeks is new to the face of the Earth. We’re more connected, more aware, and more informed with our twenty four hour news cycles and social media. The problem is, when you delve into old media, you know the stuff that was originally printed on dead trees, you’ll find many of our “modern” worries were showing up almost a hundred years ago. From out of control climate (and no, I’m not a global warming denier) to dwindling water resources, you’ll find it all in the pages of most of the popular news magazines of the time.

Take road rage as an example. A quick googling will show it’s a popular topic and it certainly seems modern, what with automobiles and all. Go back to 1939 and this ad for Postum, and you’ll see that everything new is old again.

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Full Buck Moon

Ah, July, one of my favorite months. It’s the month of thunderstorms and fireworks. Thunder in the sky and thunder on the earth! I can remember many a July 4th sweating in the July heat and returning to the blessing of air conditioning smelling like sulfur and black powder. There’s nothing like a good hot dog and some salty chips after you’ve spent an hour lighting up the night in honor of your country.

Though we didn’t have a full moon for fireworks this year, here’s a little on the Full Buck Moon, July’s full moon (caution, I had to go through some acrobatics to get this one embedded - you may get Old Farmer's Almanac's whole video play list from YouTube).

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Travelling in Style

Pullman luxury from the 40s. I've taken a 40 hour-plus cross-country trip on Amtrak and the experience can be a harrowing one when you're travelling coach. I'm willing to wager that it's still better than an equivalent air trip, though. That is unless you really get into surly cabin staff, delays, lack of leg room, having your luggage lost, and being charged for breathable air.
A Pullman car is something different, though. It's like having a rolling economy hotel for the duration of your trip. Consider the cheapest room aboard an Amtrak train runs (as of today) about $350 one way. With the base-level room you get:
  • Meals
  • Picture window
  • Two reclining seats which convert to a bed; upper berth which folds down from wall
  • Restrooms, showers nearby in same train car
  • Electrical outlets
  • Climate control
  • Individual reading lights
  • Garment rack
  • Fold-down table
  • Fresh towels and bed linens
  • Soap and shower amenities
  • Personal service (turn-down, coffee, paper, make-up bed)
  • Bottled water
  • Daily newspaper
I've stayed in hotels that didn't offer as much.
So, right now you're probably asking, "Who has 40 hours to get to their destination?". The proverbial moose on the table is time, we've become a society that values instant over almost everything else. I concede that train travel to the coast for the weekend isn't viable unless you live, well, on the coast. I submit that as a society we might do well to reacquaint ourselves with time and distance. America is huge, five time zones (counting Hawaii and Alaska) of diversity and difference. Train travel gives you a real appreciation of just how big the US is and, maybe, an illustration of how different we all are.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Vive la Margarine!

As you probably know, I like to pour over old cookbooks. It gives me a chance to find forgotten recipes that might be worth trying along with a few that definitely are worth avoiding. Well, during today’s trawling I came across this recipe for Victory Meat Dish from Mrs. Scott’s North American Seasonal Cookbook: Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter 

The name was the first thing to catch my attention. It reminded me of the infamous Freedom Fries served at the House of Representatives Cafeteria during 2003. America’s good for redefining and food-isolationism during times of military upheaval and, since the cookbook was written by Anna B. Storck Scott in 1921 (not long after the end of World War I), the name isn’t surprising. The recipe contains another little nugget of arcane culinary practice though, the use of Oleomargarine which, by chance, is why I decided to write this blog post on Bastille Day weekend.
Oleomargarine was one of a new class of food products in the twenties: processed food products. Oleomargarine, even without the E-Z Color dye-pack, has a colorful history. Its origins can be traced back to Emperor Napoleon III. Napoleon was faced with the problem of feeding his navy and the poor subjects who’d overthrown the French monarchy over that whole “let them eat cake” thing so he offered a prize to anyone could create a cheap and palatable butter substitute. The winner was French chemist Hippolyte Mège-Mouriès. In 1869, Mège-Mouriès patented a process for churning beef tallow with milk to create a butter substitute he dubbed Oleomargarine.
The prospects for this new product of science weren’t exactly sunny yellow, though. The product failed to gain widespread acceptance and Mège-Mouriès sought the help of a Dutch company (Jurgens) to build an international market. It was at this time that dyes began being added to the product to give it a more butter-like appearance.

It’s probably obvious that dairy farmers and butter manufacturers didn’t take well to the introduction of a cheap butter substitute. Lobbying by the dairy industry resulted in a tax of two cents a pound being levied against margarine (no small sum in the 1800s). Artificially colored butter became contraband in thirty US states by 1900. Between 1886 and 1948 Canada enforced a total ban on margarine with only a short exception during World War I and in Quebec bans on dying margarine remained in place until 2008. Margarine producers didn’t take these restrictions lying down, instead they sold dye-paks along with their product so that consumers could make their own artificially-yellow butter substitute at home.

The growth of the Pure Foods Movement of the 1920s eventually helped margarine’s case, preventing dairy producers from including additives in natural butter that would make it more spreadable. Smooth-spreading margarines became the toast-topper of choice during the depression and the rationing of dairy products during World War II convinced many consumers to switch.

In 1950, the U.S. government finally repealed its margarine tax, and the market continued to grow as individual states reversed their bans. Even the medical industry seemed to be on the side of margarine for a while, declaring that the high levels of saturated fats in butter put diners at a higher risk of heart disease. As we all know, though, the healthcare pendulum always tends to swing back and forth and eventually margarine got the doctor’s thumbs down for the use of trans fats which not only increased risk of heart disease but raised levels of LDL cholesterol (that’s the bad stuff).
The truth? Actually there never was good evidence replacing butter with margarine cut the chances of having a heart attack or developing heart disease. So, if I were to include this recipe in my Bastille Day feast I’d have to leave out the margarine in spite of its French connections. Still, vive la France!

Friday, July 12, 2013


I'm taking a moment away from the normal Friday night festivities to drop a note about the WriteStuffWriters conference coming up on July 20th. The price is right and we all can use a few pointers or to refuel our inspiration. I'll be attending, will you?

Monday, July 8, 2013

66th Anniversary of Roswell Incident

On this day back in 1947 the residents of Roswell, NM reportedly saw a UFO crash into the desert. In honor of this interstellar incident, here's a little musical tribute from Billy Riley!

The Funnies - The Marshmallow Nut Kind

Short Story - Roses for Sophia Cooper (Part 4)

Roses for Sophia Cooper
Part 4
Fallen Roses
The series of back roads Thomas’ uncle directed him to drive made Boston’s tangled web of streets seem logical. They curved and coiled on themselves, twisting into blind corners and plunging into dips that left Thomas’ stomach fluttering near his heart. From the position of the approaching storm front and the way it dominated the sky ahead, Thomas guessed they were heading westward and skirting Kolb’s property. They forded a shallow creek, coming to a stop near a culvert that ran under the road just as the first raindrops spattered on the dusty windshield.
“We don’t have much time,” Thomas’ uncle said, wrestling the passenger door handle.
“Wait a minute; it’s about to storm…”
“You think I can’t see that?” Thomas’ uncle snapped. “Let me out of here, I didn’t ask for a weather report!”
“And I promised my mother I’d take care of you, not stand by while you caught your death of pneumonia.” Thomas pulled the door closed. “Now, tell me where you think the girl is and I’ll look for her.”
“I don’t have time to give you directions.”
“So, you’d rather waste time arguing?”
“Fine, follow the gully about a half mile into the woods and you’ll find a clearing where the old Peterson place used to stand. Be careful, though, that old place is falling apart. Sophia could have wandered inside and gotten hurt.”
“Okay,” Thomas said, retrieving the flashlight he kept in the glove box. “You’ve got to promise me you’ll stay in the car.”
“You don’t have to treat me like a child.”
“Alright,” Thomas said, stepping out into the rain. “I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
Thomas slid down the road’s steep bank, reaching the outlying ranks of trees just as the clouds opened. At first the drops drummed on the canopy, sheltering him from the rain, but soon the green ceiling gave way and torrents poured through. Seemingly sensing a chance to add to his misery the woods closed in, slapping him with wet branches and catching his clothes, but he plowed deeper into the trees. Finally, after clambering over a fallen log, Thomas saw the clearing.
Wild roses owned the meadow, swelling in flower-spangled drifts and forming thorny galleries that choked the space. The only evidence that a house had stood on the site was the ruined chimney that burst from the verdant growth, reaching skyward. Unabated by the forest canopy, the rain poured into the clearing, beating soft pink petals from the blossoms and sending them spiraling to the sodden ground.
“Sophia,” Thomas called picking his way through the outer ranks of thorns, but only thunder answered his call.
He moved deeper into the bramble, surveying the landscape as he went. The roses formed an almost impenetrable barbed obstacle that would have been at home on any of the battlefields Thomas had the displeasure of seeing. They eagerly grabbed at his pant legs and shirt sleeves, threatening to drag him into their barbed embrace. The only route through the field was a narrow path formed by the rotting bones of the old house and if anyone had come to this forsaken place, Thomas figured they would have followed that route. He tore free of the canes, making his way along the path to the chimney and it was in the shadow of the leaning stone spire that he found the first evidence Sophia had come this way.
The straw basket sat on the hearth stone, half filled with fading blossoms. Thomas stooped and inspected the roses; they were limp from the heat of the day. He surveyed the clearing and from his kneeling position he could see the dark pit of an abandoned well gaping under a bank of brambles.
Ignoring the clawing thorns, Thomas pushed under the rose canes and crawled to lip of the hole. The well shaft dropped ten feet before the gloom closed in and he reached for the flashlight to beat back the shadows. The beam of light showed that the walls of the well were lined with rough stones. Years of growth had spoiled the even cladding and in places roots as thick as Thomas’ forearm pushed out into the shaft. Further down a raft of rose canes and brush were caught up against the wall and the pink blooms that remained attached lay against a background of yellow cloth. He’d found Sophia and the sight of her at the bottom of the hole stabbed at Thomas’s heart. He called her name, but she didn’t respond to his voice or the probing flashlight beam. If he was going to get her out, he’d have to climb down.
The stone lining and relative narrowness of the well were an aid to Thomas’ descent. He stuck the flashlight in the waistband of his pants and wedged his toes into gaps on opposite sides of the shaft and gradually worked his way downward. It took time to make it to the bottom, and the runnels that coursed over the slimy stones didn’t help his grip. Finally he stepped onto the muddy floor, water rising to his ankles and rushing into his shoes. The rain had started filling the well; he’d have to work fast. He flattened against the wall, retrieved his light, and assessed the work that lay ahead. The narrowness of the shaft made it impossible to check Sophia, that would have to wait until he’d gotten her to the surface, but the question remained how best to make the ascent.
Thomas pulled the belt from his pants and slid down into a squatting position. He looped the belt under the girl’s arms and fed the end back through the buckle to form a makeshift harness. He wrapped the tail of the belt around his hand and pulled, testing his idea. As Sophia’s body rose the grisly sight of bones greeted Thomas. Roots grew through the gingham cloth that clung to the skeletal ribcage, pulling the remains down into the clay, and in his heart Thomas knew the pit had also claimed the Gorman girl Dukker spoke of had met her end at the bottom of the abandoned well. Swearing he wouldn’t allow Sophia to meet the same fate, Thomas adjusted his grip on the belt and began the ascent.
It took a half hour to reach the surface and by the time he pulled Sophia from the hole, Thomas’ back and shoulders ached. He put the pain aside, hovering close over the girl to look for signs of life. The first hint came in the gentle, dream-like fluttering of her closed eyes. A wave of relief erased the pains that wracked Thomas’ body and he scooped Sophia up, draping her over his shoulder and heading for the car.
* * * *
“It will weeks before she’s back to normal.” Thomas’ uncle took a drink from the tumbler of wine that sat on the table, savoring the home-brewed liquor and watching the festivities that swirled around the camp for a moment before continuing.
“I don’t know, I don’t trust this gadjo doctor – what is his name?” Lash asked, pulling the cork from the bottle to top off Thomas’ glass in spite of his protests.
“Dr. Mike Jameson,” Thomas’ uncle answered. “You don’t have anything to worry about. I served with Mike in the Army and he’s a good man, he even made arrangements for Hanzi and his father to stay in a rooming house not far from the hospital.”
“While I appreciate that, it still isn’t right for the groom’s family to be so deeply involved before the wedding. I’ll have Sophia’s cousin go up there; she can make sure nothing happens.”
“I’ll call Mike in the morning and tell him to expect more visitors.” Thomas’ uncle swirled the contents of his glass. “Concussions can be tricky, Lash, if I were you I’d postpone the wedding until October at the earliest.”
“If you say so,” Lash replied, nodding and returning the cork to the bottle. “I can’t thank you enough for saving my daughter…and me.”
“You should be thanking Tom. He’s the one who hiked through the woods and found Sophia.”
“I’ll never be able to repay you.” Lash met Thomas’ eyes and then danced off to the celebration. “I lost Sophia’s mother two years ago. I’ve never had to endure pain like that and I don’t think I could have kept going if it weren’t for Sophia. If I lost her…”
“But you didn’t.” Thomas replied.
“No, I didn’t. You and your uncle are always welcome in my camp, I consider both of you family.” Lash drew a deep breath and stood. “Now, eat and drink. We have an engagement to celebrate and that’s something that has to be done right!”

Thanks for following this little jaunt with Thomas Brooks and his uncle Dr. Daniel Webb, if you like what you've read please let me know. I'm considering writing more short adventures for our two intrepid detectives. I'll be airing at least one more short story (whether or not it has anything to do with Tom and Dan remains to be seen) to air on the blog this year.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Favorite Turns of Phrase

“The valley was full of noises of running water, and the spatter of the mill-wheel - half words and chuckles by day; sentences and impudent songs by night – and wherever you went, you could not (the children had tried often), hide from an Oak, an Ash, and a Thorn, all three trees together, leaning and whispering and watching.”

Rudyard Kipling, Robin Goodfellow – His Friends
McClure's Magazine, April 1906

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Happy 4th of July

Celebrating the 4th of July with the 1931 cover of Boys' Life. Here's hoping your holiday is safe and fun!

A Can o' Meat for the 4th

The Fourth of July is one of those times Americans get outside and enjoy a burger that's blackened in all the wrong ways. There's nothing like the flavor of lighter fluid and charcoal briquettes to celebrate our Independence! Well, maybe you can add to a can o' meat to the festivities, I mean it does come with its own sack o' sauce.

Oscar Mayer put this ad in the August 1950 issue of Life Magazine and I really don't know how it played. It has the look of 50's food ads - indescribably unappetizing. First off let me say, a can of wieners? Really? And regular wieners weren't enough, Oscar Mayer went for cocktail wieners too.

Note the line at the bottom of the page, "Ask for Oscar Mayer "Yellow Brand" liver, sausage, pork sausage, and sliced bacon at the fresh meat counter!" Yellow Brand refers to the yellow label that you still will find on Oscar Mayer products. According to the Oscar Mayer website:
"In 1929, Oscar F. Mayer began wrapping his products with a branded yellow paper band. In a time when the meat industry was inconsistent and untrusted, this strip of yellow was a beacon of quality and consistency."

I'm really not sure how a can of wieners qualifies as a beacon of quality, but there you have it.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

White House Coffee!

Buy a package today and receive a free drone strike!

Diced Cream!

Ah, the 50s brought us so many unnaturally colored and shaped foods. Since we're rapidly approaching the first holiday of the summer, what better food to focus on than ice cream? Wait, that's diced cream. The right angles make it 35% richer, if you doubt it just consult your rich-o-meter!

Diced Cream was a convenience food, what we call single-serve packages of ice cream. It was manufactured by Diced Cream of America Company and in 1955 the company was dragged into the 9th Circuit Court to face charges of price fixing. That's right, I said ice cream price fixing. According to the case records:

"Plaintiffs brought fifteen separate actions against defendants under § 4 of the Clayton Act, 15 U.S.C.A. § 15, claiming violations of the federal anti-trust laws. The basic claim was that each plaintiff who is an independent ice cream manufacturer or distributor in the Los Angeles area sustained injury when Arden Farms Co., which operates in the manufacture and distribution of dairy products in the same area, lowered its prices upon ice cream in this area alone. Prices on all of its ice cream products were reduced with the exception of prices upon "diced" ice cream manufactured by Arden exclusively and just being introduced on the market. The gist of the complaint was that Arden operated in the northwest states and in Arizona and that discrimination was proved because the price level upon like products in these states was not made to conform to the Los Angeles price level."
The world of frozen novelties is a tough one and those who can't compete fall to the back of the Kelvinator, falling prey to freezer burn. Diced Cream has disappeared from the American grocery scene, leaving only stale court records and overly optimistic advertisements to prove it existed. So long, square ice-cream-flavored-food-product. We hardly knew ye.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Glen Gray and the Casa Loma Orchestra - Out of Space

Usually I think of the nameless horrors of HP Lovecraft when I hear the phrase "Out of Space", but it's also one of my favorite tunes by Glen Gray and the Casa Loma Orchestra! Come on Cthulhu, dance this foxtrot with me.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Farewell Sammy Terry

Childhood is a frightening time. You’re smaller and less powerful than everything in your world, you have no say about what happens in your life, and then there are people (or creatures of the night) like Sammy Terry. Sammy, aka Bob Carter, appeared on WTTV channel 4’s Nightmare Theatre every Friday night, bringing classic b-grade horror flicks to the Indianapolis metropolitan area during the 1960s and 70s and I largely blame him for my being afraid of the dark for most of my prepubescent life. It was Sammy who introduced me to the classics: Frankenstein, the Wolf Man, Dracula, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, and the Phantom of the Opera. He taught me the ocean is filled with giant mutant creatures that crave human flesh, that the vacuum of space is peopled by insectoid alien horrors with unspeakable plans for humanity, and that the house at the end of the block actually is haunted. Life would have seemed a lot safer without Sammy’s dark theatre of nightmare, but then it would have been a lot more boring too.

Thank you for introducing me to the dark side of things, Sammy. Without you, I might not have become a writer. You taught me fright both as high art and cheap thrill. I’ll miss you, but then you’ll be with me every time a cloud passes over the moon or whenever I hear the sound of thunder in the night.

Do you have memories to share about Sammy Terry? Drop me a comment, I'll put them on the air.

Quote for July

Mosquito is out,
it's the end of the day;
she's humming and hunting
her evening away.
Who knows why such hunger
arrives on such wings
at sundown? I guess
it's the nature of things.

~ N. M. Boedecker, Midsummer Night Itch

The Fountain Pen - Inkwells

A recent discussion about dip pens, quills, and refillable fountain pens left me looking for a new accessory, an inkwell. As I've mentioned in previous posts I'm in the process of fashioning my little writer's office into my own Sam Spade-style noir detective's office and that means choosing an inkwell of the appropriate period as well as one with the appropriate nior sensibility.

What is a noir sensibility and, while we're at it, what exactly is noir? According to University Press of Kentucky:

"(Classic film noir) is characterized not only by a constant opposition of light and shadow and a disruptive compositional balance of frames and scenes, but also by dark, foreboding characters and plots and an overriding sense of alienation and moral ambiguity. Noir films reflect the sense of loss, fragmentation, and nihilism at the heart of the human condition in the twentieth century. Although the classic film noir period ended in the late 1950s, its impact on more films has been profound. While typically not black and white, these new films incorporate the noir sensibility of alienation, pessimism, moral ambivalence, and disorientation. This sensibility is obvious in films such as Blade Runner, Reservoir Dogs, Chinatown, and Memento."

This means leaning toward the Art Deco movement's hard, geometric shapes and industrial materials, but there is a complication. Personally, I'm drawn to the fantasy of Art Nouveau with its ornamentation, exuberance, and incorporation of mythological and fantastic creatures. So, to make my office uniquely my own I'm striving to blend the two worlds. And that's how I came to my first serious inkwell crush.

I'm not sure about the age of this bronze Japanese figural inkwell, but I wish I would have found it before the auction closed. It reflects the perfect blend of art and fatalism embodied in noir and I've long collected skulls and memento mori. I guess there's nothing more noir than finding something perfect after it's too late to obtain it. The hunt goes on.

Coronet Films - 1950s Advice on Health and Fitness

With summer upon us and with it the dread bathing suit season, we're all probably a little more aware of our soft spots. Hey, I wonder what the kids in the athletic club have to teach us about being fit? Here's a 1949 Coronet Film on Health and Fitness.

Short Story - Roses for Sophia Cooper (Part 3)

Roses for Sophia Cooper
Part 3
John Kolb
Thomas stood in the upstairs hallway listening to the ticking of the grandfather clock while his uncle searched the contents of his wardrobe for a jacket to replace the robe he wore. The longer he stood there, the more the situation he found himself in began to wear on him. Finally, after pacing the length of the hall and pausing to look at the pictures that hung on the walls, he ventured into his uncle’s room and stood at the foot of the bed while the old man pulled on a brown herringbone jacket.
“I really don’t understand, Uncle Daniel.” Thomas straightened his uncle’s collar. “It’s pretty obvious this Lash is angry enough to carry out his threats and whether or not this Kolb did something to his daughter the authorities surely are better equipped to deal with something like this.”
“Tell me what you noticed about those men, Tom?” His uncle stepped to the mirror that stood by the wardrobe, giving himself a quick once-over before turning to face Thomas.
“Well, from the fact they referred to us as gadjos I’d guess they’re gypsies.”
“They prefer the term Roma.”
“But they came to you for advice, how exactly did you come to earn the trust of a bunch of gypsies?”
Thomas’s uncle took a hat from the top shelf of the wardrobe. “You were in the army; did you ever see any of the Nazi prison camps?”
“I did.” Thomas tried hard to push the images down, but the mention of the war stirred the horrors from their slumber and they swept through his brain. It took several moments for him to realize he’d been standing in silence while the images settled and the look on his uncle’s face mirrored the pain that had left him speechless.
“I met Dukker and his sisters at Buchenwald. Being an old man and a doctor I got assigned as private physician for the generals, but I was getting sick of telling them to smoke and drink less so I volunteered to help with the refugees. There were so many of them – Jews, gypsies, just so many people. Until that day I never thought the world could hold so much hate.” The old man shook his head, staring down at the top of his dresser for a moment before recovering. “Let’s get going. Morning will be here quicker than it seems and we’ve got a lot of work to do if we want to keep John Kolb alive.”
“Right.” Thomas did his best to smile and took the old man’s arm as they headed for the hallway.
They left the grand old house behind, passing through the woods to where an expanse of corn broke against the barrier of the forest’s trunks. Dark clouds scurried over the neatly tended rows and the air smelled of rain. The corn stretched to the horizon, verdant and swaying in the growing wind that heralded the storm’s imminent arrival.
“All of this belongs to John Kolb,“ Thomas’ uncle said over the noise of the road.
“He must be rich.”
“Oh, I’m sure he is. He ran for state representative last year and if he had half as much personality as he has money, he might have won.”
“Well, its like mom says, everybody’s got personality, but that doesn’t mean they have a good personality.”
“That’s my little sister,” Thomas’ uncle chuckled. “She always knew how to craft a phrase. Turn here.”
A fence flanked drive separated Kolb’s fields, leading to a modern split-level house that would have looked comfortable in an affluent suburb. Looking at the house, Thomas felt like he understood the reason old southern plantation houses were built with long avenues like this one; the view of opulence and possessions gave anyone approaching time to consider the power of those they were dealing with and to reconsider any uppity ideas they might have. The sight fomented contempt deep inside Thomas’ heart, but it didn’t convince him the man was a murderer or deserved death at the hands of a mob. Before they reached the house they came upon a group of men working alongside the drive. Four of the workers stood waist deep in a ditch, stabbing at the clay with shovels while the fifth sat atop a shiny new tractor watching the proceedings.
“I take it that’s Kolb?” Thomas asked, slowing the car.
“How did you guess? “ Thomas’ uncle smirked. “Pull to the side; let’s see what he has to say about the missing girl.”
Thomas pulled into the grass and by the time he’d shut the Desoto off, the men in the ditch had stopped working and were leaning on their shovel handles watching as his uncle climbed out of the car.
“Evening John.” Thomas’ uncle paused at the edge of the grass. “Might I have a word?”
Kolb slid off the tractor, strolling toward the ditch with the sort of swagger Thomas associated with b-movie cowboys. Everything about the man, from his neatly rolled sleeves to the crispness of his hat and boots, felt false to Thomas. From what he could see, the man was playing at gentleman farmer while nursing other ambitions. Kolb paused at the edge of the ditch, spurring the laborers to resume digging with a sidelong glance before jumping the channel.
“I don’t have a lot of time for chit-chat,” Kolb said, jerking his head toward the excavation. “This drainage has to get cleared before the storm gets here or the north fields will flood. I didn’t plant all this corn just to have it drown before I can make my money.”
“This shouldn’t take long,” Thomas uncle replied. “Really I just wanted to ask if you saw a young girl yesterday morning. She’s a slight thing, about sixteen years old with brown hair and eyes who goes by the name of Sophia.”
“One of your gypsy friends?” Kolb asked sourly.
“Does that matter?” Thomas interjected, walking around the car to stand at his uncle’s side.
“It might,” Kolb replied, turning his gaze on Thomas. “Exactly who would you be?”
“This is my nephew, Tom.” Thomas’ uncle took hold of his elbow. “He’s visiting from Boston for a while.”
“Huh.” Kolb’s hard face remained unchanged, his shallow blue eyes boring into Thomas.” Well, I’m not sure how you do things out East, but out here we don’t take to thieving bums. Your uncle may have a soft spot for these con men and their brats, but I imagine he’ll come to his senses once one of them robs him blind. If I were you, I’d just pray nothing worse than robbery happens to him before he comes around.”
“I’ll choose my friends.” Thomas’ uncle’s tone went stony. “Now, did you see Sophia or not?”
“I did,” Kolb answered, turning back to Thomas’ uncle. “I ran her off with the promise I’d dust her butt with rock salt if I ever caught her nosing around my property again.”
“Where did you see her?”
“Not that it’s any of your business, but it was on the old timber road down by the new plot I bought last spring.” Thunder rumbled and Kolb tipped his hat back to look up at the lowering clouds. “Now if you two will excuse me, I don’t have time to discuss vagrants.”
“Just a minute…” Thomas started, but his uncle stemmed the protest, pulling him toward the car.
“Thanks for the help, John, and good luck with the dig.” He pulled on Thomas’ sleeve. “Come on, we don’t’ want to keep Mr. Kolb.”

“Don’t want to keep him?” Thomas let his uncle pull him to the car, leaning in to talk confidentially. “I’d like to knock that self-satisfied smirk off his lousy face!”
“You’ll have to save that for some other time, for Sophia’s sake we need to get going now.”
Thomas’ uncle climbed into the car, leaving him muttering as he walked around and got into the driver’s side. Once he’d started the engine he resumed the protest in earnest.
“Fine, I get that you don’t want to get into a fight with this guy, but we don’t have anything to go on. We don’t know one bit more than when we got here.”
“I have to disagree,” Thomas’ uncle responded. “John admitted seeing Sophia and even told us where.”
“So, that doesn’t mean anything.”
“If he killed her, do you think he’d admit seeing the girl? Especially knowing her background and that the police are likely to believe she ran away and put very little effort into searching for her?”
“Okay, it doesn’t make sense, but we still don’t have any idea where to look.”
“That’s where experience comes into play. What did Lash say his daughter was upset about the morning of her disappearance?”
“Her bridal bouquet.”
“Right, and John said he saw the girl on the old logging road that runs behind his property. Now, that road runs near an old homestead and last summer when I walked that area what struck me was the abundance of wild roses growing there.”
“So it’s likely she went to this old homestead to pick flowers for the wedding.” Thomas started the car.
“Exactly, and if she’s there we might not have much time.” The old man cast his eyes skyward. “Those lowlands flood quickly in a storm, we could lose an important clue or worse.”

The finale is coming! The final part of Roses for Sophia Cooper will air on July 8th, 2013!