Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Early American Advertising

I was evaluating the quality of some microfilm owned by the library where I work, to see whether it was necessary to keep the duplicate reels we'd just found. It turns out both copies are good enough that we can give the extra set to one of our sister libraries in the building, provided they're interested.

The title in question is Porcupine's Gazette, published in Philadelphia from 1797 to 1800. Amid all the news about the war in Europe, lists of ships arriving and departing, and public notices of various types, there are some very funny and creative advertisements. Here's a front-page ad that ran for most of March 1798:

Winter Morning's

"To shave? or not to shave? That is the question --
Whether 'tis better for a man to suffer
The grisly beard to grow upon his chin;
Or cut it off at once?
To shave with ease! to clear the stubbled face --
'Tis a consummation devoutly to be wish'd.
To shave with ease? to shave! --
Perchance to tear! -- aye, there's the rub! --
For while we shave the thick rough hairs away,
The Razor's edge will pluck them by the roots;
Or check'd turn inward on the tender flesh :
Then trickles down the blood,
And the sharp pain smarting the face,
Makes cowards of us all! --
But who would bear those rubs and ghastly cuts,
When he himself, might his quietus make, with
Hail! Philadelphia! Hail South Third-St. No. 65, hail!
That makes my beautiful face, both clean and fair!
Hail those whose names are underwritten, --
Equally renowned for attention to customers--
HOPKINS's original Vendors

And then a list of business names and addresses.

There was no change of font between these ads and the regular news items. I stopped to read things here and there throughout the run of the paper, and sometimes I'd get almost halfway through an advertisment before I'd catch on. For example, one item read like a letter to the editor but turned out to be a testimonial for cough drops. Before trying these little wonders, the writer had been coughing, wheezing, and having pains in the chest (the word "martyred" was used at one point. The symptoms as they were described sounded a lot like pleurisy, or maybe asthmatic bronchitis), but now they were cured! Amazing!

And I thought modern advertisers were sneaky.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Well-Thumbed Favorites Meme

G asks: What are the books in your house that have been handled to crumbling point? He suggests a list of the top five. Here are mine. Brace yourselves, some of them are a bit on the girlish side:

Little Women: Every once in a while I pull this out and read it again. I weep every time I get to Beth dying, just as much as I did when I didn't know it was coming. Once my Mom called me right at that point, and like an idiot I answered the phone instead of letting the machine get it.

"Hello?" I asked, voice all ragged.

"Honey, whatsa matter?"

"Beth just died." Sob, sniffle.

"Beth who?"

"Beth March." A slight pause while she processed this.

"Are you reading that book again? All right, go finish. Call me later. Goofy."

The Riverside Shakespeare: It's a huge book. A compilation of everything the Bard ever wrote, including his will. It's printed on sheets and sheets of very thin paper, and it's one of the largest, heaviest books I've ever owned. I used to have to schlepp this thing to and from my Shakespeare class, and it felt more like I was carting around his actual body than his body of work. I drag it out periodically to read a play or two, usually before I head off to the Stratford festival for the summer (that's Stratford, Ontario, not Stratford, England. Oh, how I wish!) or to reacquaint myself with the sonnets.

Knitting for Dummies: A while back, I bought a leaflet called "Learn to Knit in Just One Day." Four years later, I still hadn't figured it out. I saw this book in a Barnes & Noble bookstore the February before last, and decided perhaps it wasn't user error after all, but simply bad instructions. I've only had the book two years, and it's already rather battered. I use it quite a lot. Very well-written, and full of pictures. My only quibble: they should have made it spiral-bound. It isn't so much well-thumbed as well-kneed. I've lost track of how many times I've found myself putting the book in a chair and holding it open with one knee, while I stand on the other foot and try to knit and read instructions at the same time.

Jane Eyre: I have in fact read two copies of this book to the crumbly stage, and am currently working on destroying the second replacement copy. I like that Jane is not pretty, that she's not winsome, that she's sharp-tongued, and that Mr. Rochester is not a sweet-natured handsome gentleman. When I first read it, I didn't realize Bronte was rebelling against the stereotypical romance of the period. All I knew is that these were people I could understand, and their imperfections made me love them.

Persuasion: On my first replacement of this one. Not that I read it less, it's just that the first copy was in better shape to start with than my Jane Eyre. I love Anne Elliot, I love the way Captain Wentworth falls in love with her all over again. I love her silly, superficial, oblivious Daddy and older sister, and her rank-obsessed sister Mary. The Musgroves are wonderful. I just love this book. As a matter of fact, I think I'm going to go dig it out and read it again.

I told you it would be a bit girlish.

Oh! Here's an extra one, from childhood. I don't have this book any more, it's been passed around from child to child in our family, and I have no idea who has it. It's a Sesame Street book, featuring Grover, and it's called There's a Monster at the End of This Book. What I like best has nothing to do with the story, but with the memory Mom reading it to me (and 6 years later, to my baby sister) in the best Grover voice this side of Frank Oz. Really. If he gets laryngitis, he should call my Mom. No one would be able to tell the difference.

I'm Not Management Material

Have you ever had a sentence from stranger's conversation stray into your ear and leave you with more information about him than you really wanted?

I was in the dairy section of a local supermarket yesterday afternoon, giving myself frostbite while trying to find the milk carton with the best "sell by" date (they load the cartons from the back, see, so the newest ones aren't within easy reach), when I heard a man behind me say to whomever he was with:

"Of course you want your subordinates to do well, but...not better than you."


I turned around quickly to see who'd said that. There were two men walking past, but neither of them was speaking now, so I couldn't match a face to the voice. And I really wanted to. I wanted to imprint that face on my brain so that I could draw a picture of it from memory later. Or maybe if I'd been a little more on the ball (and didn't have hands numb with cold) whip out my camera and take a photo of him. Or at the very least ask him where he worked, so I could make sure no one I cared about ever applied for a job there.

He hadn't said it sarcastically. He had been absolutely serious. Almost off-hand, as if this were something everyone knew.

Is it? Really? Am I that naive?


I hope not.

I've trained people, but I've never been solely responsible for someone's supervision. I'd like to think, though, that if ever I am someone's supervisor and they go on to better things, I‘d be proud. Like a parent. I don‘t think I‘d be upset.

Why would you? Why would you need to keep the people under you under you?

I've spent the past day or so turning that round in my head, wondering what sort of petty, selfish person would feel the need to guard against a subordinate's success. As if one person's success must come at the expense of another’s, because there's only so much of it to go around, y'see. I wonder if this man is the sort that lifts a good idea out of someone's memo to him and claims it as his own.

Doesn't being the person/department that hires, trains, and ultimately produces really good people who go on to become great at whatever-it-is say more about you than if you appear to be some sort of go-getter with a bitter, unhappy staff that knows they're being kept down?

I’m glad he’s not my boss. And I’m very glad my doesn’t boss think that way.

Or does she?

Friday, January 27, 2006

Chicken Broccoli?

Walking to the New Chinatown Restaurant for dinner after work, I resolve to not get the same old thing. Every time I go there (and it's been off and on for a couple of years now), I end up with chicken and broccoli. Nothing wrong with that. I like chicken. I like broccoli. Ergo, I like chicken and broccoli. But I've fallen into a sort of rut with this place, where that's the only entree I order.

They don't even bother to give me a menu anymore. As a matter of fact, every time I walk through the door, the fella who's usually running the cash register smiles at me and says, "Hi! Chicken Broccoli?"

Not. This. Time. I mean it. I'm tired of being that predictable. There must be plenty of things I'd like on that menu. I should choose another one. I shall choose another one.

When I walk in, he's writing down a take-out order from a youngish dark-haired woman in a navy wool coat and really nice boots. Dressy boots. Boots you only wear when there is absolutely no possibility of bad weather. Looks like she's taking dinner home for the family. Another young man who I don't believe has ever waited on me asks me whether this is for here or to go. As I tell him "For here," my friend behind the counter glances over the young woman's head, sees me, and says:

"Hi! Chicken Broccoli?"

"I don't know yet," I grab one of the xeroxed take-out menus from the counter, and go sit down -- in exactly the same booth as always.

All sorts of stuff here. I skip the beef section. I don't really like beef in Chinese restaurants. Too chewy. Egg Foo Young (I pause briefly and consider the spelling. Shouldn't it be y-u-n-g? I shrug. Spellcheck gone wild, I assume)? That's just a Chinese fritatta, isn't it? Kung Pao chicken? Only if I want to blow the back of my head off. Pork with mushrooms? I don't really trust pork that hasn't been cooked by my Mom. Trichinosis, and all that. Lemon chicken? But that's just meat in sauce. I should eat some vegetables. Broccoli and bean curd in oyster sauce? That's just chicken and broccoli with a slight replacement.

Flip over to the back, to a section entitled "Chef's Specialties." Peking Duck must be ordered in advance. That's just fine, I don't even know if I like duck. Moving on. Stewed fish with brown sauce. What kind of fish? Fresh squid in black bean sauce. Um...no. Happy Family. Nice name, no description. Dragon and Phoenix. Ditto. Ground pork with winter melon. Hmm. There's that pork thing again. Oh dear. Pork stomach soup with sauerkraut. Shudder. Immediately I think, "Chinese haggis!" but then I remember that haggis comes from a sheep. People sure do eat some strange stuff.

The fellow from the counter is at my table now. Smiling. He knows. Oh, yes, he knows. I hang my head in shame.

"I guess I'll have chicken and broccoli," I admit. He reaches for the menu, but I clutch it to me.

"Oh, can I keep this? I want the phone number," I lie. I really want it for my blog entry, because I have nothing with me on which to make notes, and I want to remember the pork stomach soup thing. I also want to read up for the next time I come in here.

As he walks away, I have one little glimmer of an idea for being different:

"Could you maybe have them do that..."

"...in garlic sauce?" He finishes for me. "Sure."

"Thanks." Apparently I've been doing that a lot too.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Mass Transit

Missed the bus this morning. He was early! By four minutes. Four minutes! That's a lot of time, especially in the morning. That's the difference between finishing your coffee and dumping it down the sink. I was only partway up my apartment complex's driveway when the bus whooshed by, and I didn't get a chance to read its head sign. I checked the time and assumed it was the Express, which comes through a couple minutes ahead of the local to scoop up all the students trying to get to campus for their classes (I live in a college town, by the way). A few minutes later, when a second bus failed to appear (or a few minutes after that when a second bus still failed to appear), it occurred to me that what I'd missed was the local. Argh! And so I called work and said I'd be there at 8:30.

Lucky I work with a fairly flexible group of people. Also lucky I wasn't supposed to be on the reference desk at 8 AM.

I wasn't the only one who got stuck. I saw at least 6 people at the bus shelter up the hill from mine doing the same pace-turn-peer-hopefully thing I was doing.

Ah, mass transit. It's wonderful.

Actually it's not all bad. During peak hours it can be a bit irritating. I don't much care for the way they always seem to be short of buses on my route. We get squashed in tight, and I've taken to walking two or three stops further up the route ahead of my own, just to ensure I get a seat. I hate standing in buses. I'm not good at it. I think it must be like surfing. There has to be some way to stand that can help you adjust to shifts and bumps, but I can't find it. Maybe it's just that my balance is bad. It doesn't matter whether I hang on to the bar or a strap. Doesn't matter whether I use one or both hands while hanging on. I still weave and bobble and make the people around me worry that I'm going to wind up in their laps. It doesn't help that the guy up front takes turns at light speed, or that he hits the brakes so hard it's a wonder someone doesn't get flung up against the windshield.

Wasn't I just saying it's not all bad? It really isn't. That stuff with the cramming in really only happens around rush hour. Most of the time it's full, but not packed. And most of the drivers are nice people.

Like The Whistler. I got to ride with him this evening. He's a fan of big band and swing music, and he makes mix tapes to play on the bus's stereo. Great stuff. He whistles along to them, which I think is the best part. Not just the melody -- come to think of it, I don't think he ever whistles the melody. He makes up these intricate harmonies on the fly, weaving them in and around what's playing. He's a nice good-natured guy. Never seen him in a bad mood. I think the music has something to do with it. Lately, he hasn't been bringing tapes as much. It depends on which bus he's assigned. Some of the stereos are a little on the old side, and I guess he's had a couple of his favorite tapes eaten by them. So in those buses he listens to the oldies station on the radio, and whistles to that.

And that reminds me of something that happened a few years back. I was on the Express bus home. Crammed in like sardines, as usual. The driver (a woman this time. I haven't seen her recently. Don't know whether she quit or just got assigned to a route I never take) had the radio on. Billy Joel's "Piano Man" started playing just as we were leaving campus. She turned it up and began singing along. Wasn't long before most of us were bobbing our heads, then humming, and by the time we hit the first of the Express's stops, we were in full swing:

"La, da, da dideeaaaa, lada dideeaaaaaaaaaaaaadadum!"

Felt like a scene from a movie.

See what I'd miss if I had a car?

Monday, January 23, 2006

Okay, now what? / Vital Statistics Meme

Well, after dithering about it for a good six months or more, I finally decided to start a Blog. So here I am, all dressed up and nowhere to go.

Maybe I'll go play with settings for a while. Perhaps something profound will come to me while I'm doing that.

Don't hold your breath.
-- Later --

All right. I have an idea. I'll start with a meme I saw on G's blog a while back, called the Vital Statistics meme. I don't know why they're called "memes," though as I typed that I think I figured it out -- "me" twice. And they're all surveys about oneself. Ach so. I do so love thinking with my fingers.

So here we go:

I drive: Absolutely nothing. I have no driver's license, so a car for me would be nothing but a really expensive lawn ornament. I keep telling myself (and everyone else who knows me) that "this is the year I'm going to learn." Been saying that for three years now. Something about the idea of controlling that much machine with only my two hands and one of my feet makes me really, really nervous.

If I have time to myself: I generally goof off. Reading, playing with the computer, jewelry-making, embroidering, knitting, doing other handicrafts. Or staring at the Idiot Box.

You wouldn't know it but I'm very good at: Drawing. Surprised myself, even. Took a drawing class on a whim a couple of years back and found out that I could actually produce something that didn't look like it was done by a five-year-old. And math. I was planning on being a math teacher at one point, before I realized that meant I'd be spending the rest of my life in high school, a place I'd hated the first time around.

I am no good at: Cleaning. I hate it. Why bother? Things just get messed up again as soon as you're done.

A book that changed me: The Sound and the Fury: the first book I had to read more than once before I understood what was going on. And Ulysses, because it was the first book I've ever put down without finishing it out of pure irritation. There's a difference between being difficult to read and daring the reader to make some sense out of you.

Movie heaven: I'm all over the map here. The Sting, Sense and Sensibility, The Grifters, Strictly Ballroom, The Music Man, Silverado, The Crying Game....this list will probably change tomorrow.

Comfort eating: A great big bowl of oatmeal, with brown sugar, bananas, raisins, and a few chopped pecans.

When I was a child I wanted to be: An author, a music teacher, Shirley Temple (yes, really!).

All my spare money goes on: CDs, beads, yarn, embroidery stuff, scrapbooking supplies (that's just lately). Or books/magazines about beading, knitting, embroidery, and scrapbooking.

At night I dream of: Lately, it's been people I've lost touch with. I also have a panic nightmare that crops up once in a while: I am late for a final exam in a class I forgot I signed up for and cannot drop. I usually wake up from that one with my heart hammering in my chest, until I remind myself I'm not in school anymore.

My favorite building: My parents' log home in the middle of the woods, the one they've dreamed and planned and saved for since shortly after they were married, and finally moved into this past August.

My biggest regret: Spending so much time, care, love, and energy on someone who later proved to me he wasn't worth it.

If I wasn't me, I'd like to be: J.K. Rowling: because she's doing what she loves, and she has people who love what she's doing. The money wouldn't be bad either.

My favorite artists: Edmund Blair Leighton, Claude Monet, Jan van Eyck, Vermeer, Rodin, Dennis O'Hara (a photographer in Minnesota. Takes great nature photographs), Cheryl Butchko (watercolor artist I lived down the hall from when I went to college).

The soundtrack of my life: Again, all over the map, and this will probably change tomorrow. Beolach (Nova Scotian Celtic band), Fall Out Boy, U2, Sarah McLachlan, JS Bach, Karl Jenkins, Johnny Cash, Green Day, Violent Femmes, the Beatles, Gaelic Storm.

Best invention ever: The printing press, the light bulb, indoor plumbing.