We recently watched in the same week of flight from the MSM the movie Mowgli and the miniseries Watership Down. An odd coincidence because Watership Down really seemed a bit like Mowgli transplanted from the jungle to the English countryside with all the wolves and tigers and monkeys replaced by rabbits. Both productions were extraordinarily good and I couldn’t help thinking ‘What if’ type thoughts. What if you took, say, the Lord of the Rings and replaced all the hobbits and elves and dwarves, etc, with dogs? Wouldn’t that be fun? Then I remembered I already did that five years ago. Would you like to see it? Great. It’s in nine parts. Here it is:

Gandalf the Wizard, where the story begins…

 

Three Sets of Three

 

Part 1 — Beauties and Beasts

Part 2 — Wizards and Whatever

Part 3 — The Ring Pack

 

TREAT TIME

 

Part 4 — Frodo and the False Start

Part 5 — Moria and Mayhem

Part 6 — Death and Dangerous Dreams

 

TREAT TIME

 

Part 7 — Too Many Towers

Part 8 — The Bikers Of Rohan

Part 9 — Return of the Plott

 

NAP TIME AND CREDIT ROLL

Then the sneaky little trailer for the huge PREQUEL-SEQUEL you’re just dying for.

 

TIME TO GO OUT FOR A WALK

Alan Partridge in a Pear Tree (or is it Steve Coogan instead?)

 

2019 will be a momentous year. Let that suffice for predictions. Now we have a moment to consider where we are at the end of 2018, and in my opinion most are having difficulty determining that because of a problem with their mental models. I’m going to talk about this without apologizing for length or scope. As always, my chief concern is leaving a record for the ones who will come later, after we are all dust.

I’m organizing this in several parts. First up, a mental model lots of people are using, whether you know of it or not.

1. The Overton Window

This is a model developed in the 1990s. By model I mean a conceptual framework for understanding things that are happening and to some extent how and why, the better to prepare for the future. A conceptual model is a metaphor, a hopefully elegant way of saying “this is like that.” We all have them, in all sizes and scales, modeling our own views of how the world works and even the things in it, from internal combustion engines to PTA meetings.

The Overton Window is a model for distinguishing what’s possible and what isn’t at any given point in time. What’s inside the window frame is the realm in which change, reform, breakthroughs, bad stuff, whatever you want to call it, is possible. What’s hidden and therefore outside of the window frame is the past, the future obviously, and whatever long term process timeline is unfolding. Here’s an example of how the Overton Window is used to explain things.

Same sex romance and politics as reflected by popular music in the 1970s and 1980s.

Feel free to blow up the window size to identify titles and pics.

Status of same sex politics and romance by the time of the Obama Administration.

Pop music may seem trivial as a ‘window’ on the realm of the possible, but it is in some ways sufficient. What’s important from this vantage point? We’re looking at a huge change here, one accomplished in the approximate ten year gap between 1999 and the first Obama term. (We’re naming him for timeline purposes, not as a prime cause.) In the earlier window, hit songs are about self acceptance, coming out, and the emotional burden of homosexuals generally in the American culture. In the later window there is no more asking for acceptance but aggressive, demanding self confidence, a vision of “having it all,” whatever that might consist of.

Overton Window 1’s realm of the possible seems to be what we might call a Separate Peace, a live and let live accommodation between the straight and gay worlds. Overton Window 2 is a realm in which open, state-sponsored gay marriage is not only a possibility but an inevitability. Mind that we are talking about a truly massive shift in public opinion in this differential, on an issue that cuts very deeply to the heart of the cultural consensus on the meaning of human sexuality.

The value of the Overton Model is supposed to lie not in any trick of managed perception but in the opportunity to identify change and try to track its progression from where we were to where we are. The fact of progression is perhaps the key part of any Overton analysis. A timeline is always there, right behind the time segment being focused on. In our case it looks like this:

The ‘open’ window is outlined in black. The timeline graphic has been there behind the wall the whole time.

Our interest is not in the causes for the rapid transition we’re seeing; it’s in the way the model actually works and whether its way of working is effective and useful. Like any conceptual model/metaphor its purpose is to provoke questions and suggest lines of inquiry. Where in the timeline do events behind the pop music culture line up with or explain the transition? What makes the same sex constituency acquire so much more boldness and how is the growth in their assertiveness, anger, and power accomplished at such speed? It might be useful to ask, for example, if we are seeing a spontaneous change of mind here or a mere inevitability mandated by judicial fiat.

It is here that the Overton Window falls short. The window shows us a point of view, not a chain of cause and effect, and it has a structural bias not shown but implicit. We have used the word ‘progression’ several times now. That is what the proffered timeline shows. It is showing us a context in which change is to be understood implicitly as ‘progression’s cognate ‘progress.’

How does it do this? Look at the way the model works in a technical sense. (Check the directional arrows in the previous graphic.) It is the window itself which is being dragged forward through a set of ordered time events that exist independently; that is, they ‘are written’ and the window has to move to keep up. Interestingly, this means that the timeline itself is actually pointing backward, progress working its own will on the focus of the window. The next window, for example, will bring elements of an as yet unseen timeline of progress leftward/backward from today’s future into a new already ‘written’ now. It’s not hard for us to guess that that future timeline includes TG rights, unisex bathrooms, and the demolition of the word ‘gender’ as a meaningful descriptor of anything.

This distortion is an artifact of how the model works, and it is quite easy to see how its reliance on the emotional appeal of progressive transitions can break down utterly and embarrassingly.

Here’s our final application of the Overton Window, focusing this time on progressive perspectives on Donald J. Trump:

Two distant dates. Two different perspectives. What kind of progressive transition will the Overton timeline show us?

Maybe the timeline will show us an evolution, a development, a logical progression from one mental state to another.

Huh. The Overton Window appears to be broken. It can’t point to real causes, and it can’t predict the ‘progress’ that will inevitably occur from this point forward.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen. We are going to be needing a better conceptual model of what is going on in the heads of the Progress Party. It just so happens we have one.

That brings us to the end of Part 1. The next part, Of Graphics and Tables, can be found here:

Part 2.

The most important thing a conceptual model of our present situation should do is explain the extraordinary phase transition regarding Donald Trump that occurred on November 6, 2016, and has not budged at all, not even a blip, in terms of the view of him cherished by the people who call themselves liberals, Democrats, Progressives, and hard line traditional conservatives.

A valid model will not involve reliance on opinion polls, pop culture fads, election horserace tactics or even overarching political strategies. The model will involve understanding the particular reality our culture as a whole is living in, which is not synonymous with anything that can be compiled from statistics of various sorts or the meticulously quoted words of those who have opined about the nature of 21st century reality. Why?

Because reality has become a very dicey business. Broadly and accurately speaking, reality is easy to define as the way things are, the superset of all things of all kinds everywhere, seen and unseen, from the particle and string level to the cosmological/multiverse level. Every kind of reality definition you encounter in contemporary America, however, is only a subset of that greater reality, because the one human drive even more powerful than sex and survival is the imperative to chop reality down to manageable size, in accordance with our own agreed upon criteria.

Here is the metaphor for that subsetted reality I propose:

Yes. A tabletop. A hard glossy, formerly living surface with no legs. Of course, every man, jack, and jill has his own tabletop, and those tabletops have legs you can see and depend upon.

There are others among us, of course, who have their own legless tabletops, but they are not on THIS particular tabletop.

The Main Tabletop is an extrapolation from the rise of science during and after the European Enlightenment that gave us chemistry, biology, geology, cosmology, physics, medicine, information technology, and other disciplines relying on the hard rules of the Scientific Method given us by Sir Isaac Newton. Breakthroughs in these areas also gave us somewhat less nuts-and-bolts-type disciplines like economics, psychology, anthropology, capitalism, earth sciences, and most marvelous of all, advanced mathematics.

The tabletop has no legs because they were finally chopped off in the 19th century when Newton’s mission statement was thrown overboard because it declared science a tool for better understanding and honoring Divine Creation. The toolset he devised was retained, however, and his religious delusions are now chalked up to his Asperger’s.

Hence the Tabletop of our model. It has a hard surface, representing definite tangible reality. Nothing is permitted on its surface but that which can be measured, counted, catalogued, seen, touched, stored, dissected, and plugged into various kinds of probability models and recordkeeping and modeling algorithms. Everything which does not meet these criteria is thrown over the side into the infinite nothingness which is the only larger universe the scientists dare to accept. The meaninglessness of the nothingness is the indispensable tool for declaring that it is not the responsibility of authoritative science to explain life, the universe, or the meaning of absolutely anything. What they have in place of literary mythology is a scientific narrative that tells them all they need to know about the weak-minded human race, where it’s going, and who should be in charge of it. Here’s what that narrative looks like on top of our table.

Don’t worry about the TV show. We’ll get around to it. Runs on PBS between pledge drives.

This isn’t that hard a model component to parse. Just remember that nothing is permitted on this table that hasn’t been subjected to the myopic reality criteria of the current interpretation of the Scientific Method. We weren’t there to collect samples and conduct experiments on the fossils of the cosmologists’ Big Bang. We also can’t draw any sort of line from the beginning of Darwinian Evolution back to the origin of life, which can’t be nailed to the table and must therefore be thrown off it. What we have are fossils of dinosaurs, Darwin’s Theory postulated (by consensus of the cognoscenti) as Fact, and the measurable, countable physical evidence of about 5,000 years of human civilization. Which is quite enough, thank you, to produce repeatable results on the subject of human empires, the inevitability of man’s obsession with building more powerful weapons, and only one what you’d call ‘scientific’ route out of the omnipresent pattern of doom: technology; i.e., building computers and systems and robots that are smarter than we are and uncompromised by dangerous variables like individuality. And please don’t forget there’s no earthly reason for looking beyond this particular tabletop, because the physicists have discovered proofs that we simply cannot ever know enough about the big mess called the universe to look out there for help or even answers. If we had any questions left.

Which leaves only the one residual and not that important question anyone has to deal with. Who should be running things as the human experience winds down. Scientists are too bored to do it. Much much better to make high six figure salaries spending government money on detail-oriented projects like whether birds or feathers cane first in the evolutionary Jitterbug.

Did somebody mention government? That’s obviously who should be running things. It should look like democracy and say fine words about liberty, opportunity, equality, elections, and progress, while doing what is necessary, which is a hard detail-intensive job for experts in dozens of academically approved disciplines. The technocracy they create is immune to everything merely human that opposes it, and the control of the tabletop by technocrats is absolute. Why they have all those meetings and hearings and managed planning projects. Theirs is the tabletop the scientists’ model of reality brought into being.

All is for the best in the least dangerous of all conceivable realities.

Great progress has been made by the time of the 21st century. The ruins of the horror called Christianity, which began the Enlightenment and only by accident failed to end it, have been pushed so far over the edge of the table that they’ll careen into the void any day now. Thankfully, there’s a substitute for religion produced by ever helpful science, which retains the fear of apocalypse in the form of a long term mankiller called climate change that can be used to give the technocrats a kind of papal authority. The advantage of this kind of artificial religion is that you really can measure and count and quantify things of earth to a fare-thee-well, and no big amorphous phantasm called the Flying Spaghetti Monster or some such pejorative nickname has any power over a human government that owns the reins of political power, the applications of information technology, and the will to ride roughshod over the rebellious in the name of those who prefer to live under the wing of a bureaucrat who tells the same lies enough time. Take that, Spaghetti Monster:

Look at that sad cloud formation. Pitiful.

Whoops. That graphic made our tabletop look just a little smaller in the scheme of things. But the sheer size and extent and variety of things not included or permitted on the tabletop doesn’t give them any power. All of the stuff that doesn’t belong, can’t be nailed, or ridiculed off the cold surface of REAL reality just doesn’t matter. Look at it all:

Esoteric crap. Who ever measured a sunspot or looked at it under a microscope or in an ice core? Nobody.

These are insubstantial fables. Everyone knows — and our experts have repeatedly proven — that there is no mystery about UFOs or Flight 19 or the Thunderbird of the Native Americans or legends of ghosts or worlds beyond our ken. You do the math.

Maybe not the right instruction. Math is a tricky subject. You can’t see it, measure it, or even count it or put it under a microscope or at the end of a telescope. It is far bigger, in fact infinitely bigger, than the science which uses it as a utilitarian tool. It is at least as large as the entire universe, and it contains so many nested infinities even these can’t be counted. And unfortunately the very sad fact for our tabletop is that math preexists mankind and, given the rules of operation of the universe as we claim to know it, math is older than the universe as well.

But there is no meaning. Math can have no real meaning either because it can’t be nailed to our tabletop. In that sense it doesn’t even exist. Something men made up by accident that looks sort of infinite from certain points of view.

Oh well.

What does any of this have to do with Trump and the curious case of the Overton Window?

This the end of Part 2. The concluding section is here:

Part 3

The Trump Enigma Explained

We’ve seen the universe of things that can be ignored because they aren’t real and don’t exist.

Esoteric crap. Who ever measured a sunspot or looked at it under a microscope or in an ice core? Nobody. Not even possible. Like figuring out where the gigantic moon we see came from: a huge (yuge?) mystery staring them right in the face. Nobody cares.

See that little ship riding a cloud in the upper right quadrant? It’s called The Flying Dutchman. A ghost story of the sea. People like the fantasy, retell it, claim to have seen it. No harm done. It’s nothing.

Until you open your eyes one day and look up from the all powerful conference room table to behold this:

The Good Ship Trump.

The rest of this is pretty simple. There is nothing of what you’d call reasoned analysis in attempts from every quarter to deal with the Trump presidency. The ones who would ‘remove’ him (and that is exactly the right word) cannot even permit his existence. He is not real, he is not of the table that is their cramped universe, and they have no tools or words or strategies to undo his offense against reality as they perceive. He is an absolute, proven impossibility that is nevertheless THERE in front of and above them. During the campaign they had a full year to nail him to the table, put him under their microscopes, dissect him from stem to stern, count his ‘lies,’ graph his unfitness for a place at the technocrat table. When they found they couldn’t even touch him, they repeatedly threw effigies of the Trump phantasm off the table, but he was always back in their faces, never fell off in fact. Now they are stuck, paralyzed in an incredibly long wail of denial because they have nothing but denial to throw at him.

That’s why the Trump phenomenon, particularly the bizarre reactions of so-called smart people and their loutish serfs, has always seemed so insane. It is insane. It’s a psychotic break, the kind experienced when one’s whole sense of reality is broken into bloody splinters.

It will continue. Whether they succeed in their nominal objectives or not, the broken ones will never be whole again. Their table has a permanent wobble. America on the other hand has a reality that includes far more than tax tables and regulatory bureaucracies. And the Americans who elected Trump aren’t likely to forget that again.

SURREAL PLACES — JOHN F. KENNEDY AIRPORT, 1985 (Introduction)

This is about my challenge to people to share their personal experience of surreal places in space and time. The inspiration piece was a list of fifteen such physical places that are in some way overwhelming, disorienting, or otherwise unforgettable. I offered to share fifteen of my own, hoping the process of investigating their own memories would cause people to discover uniquely powerful moments in their own lives, linked to specific physical places and times.

This one is something that could seem trivial. Why I worked to capture it in a graphic visual way.

The subject of the experience was in part at least a motorized beast called the Countach, shown below.

SURREAL PLACES — JOHN F. KENNEDY AIRPORT, 1985 (Part 1)

The airport once known as Idlewild and renamed after a presidential assassination was always a depressing place for me. The ride to Queens was a stark reminder of just how much the great city of New York had declined. Highways in bad shape, shoulders home to numerous unremoved wrecked and stripped cars, the route itself involving a sad passage by the remains of the 1964 New York World’s Fair, tall weeds marring the view of the fairground’s once gleaming now rusting globe. The sixties and afterwards had been hard on world’s mightiest metropolis.

The airport has always been one of the nation’s busiest, the prime hub of NYC’s international flights, but it seemed when I was there that the place was always strangely empty, the terminal an echoing barrack and the tarmac not empty of planes but nearly so. At JFK you get a sense of how vast the property is and how bleak the surrounding landscape. Other airports are so jammed up, so full of themselves and their busy-ness you tend to feel like you’re walking through the equivalent of a transportation casino. (Except in Philly, but that’s another grim story…)

I’m sure the unpopulated, or depopulated, feel I got at JFK was not a special experience reserved for me but a function of the off-hours schedules that seemed to accompany my international business flights, the only ones I needed JFK for. This day was like the others, far from the busiest time, and I boarded the only airliner I saw, settled in for the takeoff, in a window seat for some reason I can’t explain because it’s so atypical of me. 

Not a very full flight as I recall, but more of us in business class.

The stewardesses (as some of us still thought of them) were bustling up and down the aisle, providing pillows and blankets, and I must have had a seatmate I didn’t want to exhaust my small supply of small talk with before we were even airborne, so I opened the blind of the window and looked out on the tarmac.

A ho hum glance.

And there was the most astonishing, fantastical sight I had ever seen at an airport. Much less than a hundred yards away, just forward of my window was an Air France Concorde, the first I had ever seen and the only one I ever would see. It was gorgeous, of course, more breathtaking in person than in its breathtaking photographs, low, white, weaponlike in shape but lovely of line and shockingly small compared to the Boeing 747 I was on.

Most shocking of all about the tableau before me was that the Concorde wasn’t even the most incredible thing in it.

Countach. A red Lamborghini Countach sitting on a huge wooden crate like some royal personage waiting with his vast luggage for dilatory attendants to arrive. Like ships, exotic sports cars are referred to as females, with the seductiveness, curves, and femme fatale temperaments to fit. Never thought of the Countach as anything but male, an Italian brute of a muscle car, four-square to the road and predatory in its stance. Here on a crate at JFK USA, the first Countach I had ever laid eyes on. Because they were famously unavailable in the United States.

It was a photo shoot. Had to be. The Countach was coming to the U.S. This might even be the first one. Nah, but close anyway. It wasn’t the Concorde that had brought it obviously. The crate was too damn big. It was a pairing of two of the world’s great mechanical beauties in a place of speed, glamor, and international flavor.

There you have it. My surreal moment at JFK. A jaded consultant injected with a disorienting rush of schoolboy enthusiasm. In my mind’s eye, I could see all the thousands, millions, of Countach posters tacked up on boys’ bedroom walls since the year 1978, a place of honor next to the iconic posters of Sophia, Raquel, Farrah, and whoever the It girl happened to be at the moment. The Countach was the It car of every boy who dreamed of going 200 mph with Sophia or Farrah at his side. None of those boys (well, say 99.9%, consultant talking) had ever seen what I was seeing now.

Cool. We done now? Should be, I suppose. But I like to show you old things I’m talking about. This was 33 years ago. Many of you have some familiarity with the Concorde and the Countach, close or distant, and more than I like to think probably know almost nothing of either except maybe for the tragic, fiery end of the world’s first supersonic airliner.

The Internet has no record of this event. I looked, using every search term I could think of. I was forced to a weak resort, finding photos on white backgrounds of the plane, the car (red!), and the crate. Particular angles required of all three. Laboriously assembled with many “close but no cigars.”

The Raw Materials

But how to put them together. I had Photoshop for a decade or so, but no longer. It perished in some computer nightmare years ago and I’ve not replaced it. The graphics I do must be done otherwise. I was complaining about my options to my wife, saying I can’t just post three different objects on white backgrounds and say, “All you have to do is imagine this one sitting on that one in front this great big one. Surreal, huh?!”

She said she thought it might be good that way. Imagination and all. Tried it. As you see here.

SURREAL PLACES — JOHN F. KENNEDY AIRPORT, 1985 (Part 2)

After I did that first Concorde-Countach rendering (or arranging), my wife liked it, or said so, and I hated it. So I dug as deep into my bag of graphic tricks as the bag was deep and produced this. I kind of liked it. My wife loved it. I was ready to go with it. Here it is.

I was proud of this one.

Conceptually pure. All elements in place. It was my favorite one.

SURREAL PLACES — JOHN F. KENNEDY AIRPORT, 1985 (Part 3)

On the verge of posting it I was reviewing all the interim graphic files I’d created with an eye to deleting a couple dozen of them when I saw a tarmac shot I hadn’t really studied before. Thought I’d try to up the ante on what I’d already done. Showed it to my wife thinking she’d probably agree that the all white background had a certain minimalist elegance about it that made it the right choice. No. She latched onto the new one with instant finality. “That’s the one. No contest.”

So here it is. I still kind of prefer the… oh forget it. This was the winner of the contest.

What I saw from the window of a 747. Almost exactly. My wife’s favorite.

P.S. Why am I boring you with the process of making a graphic? I think it might be the real proof of the impact this brief visual experience had on me. I had to do this for some reason. Pull a memory out of the mists of dreamy half-existence into living pixels. Not for you particularly, though partly, of course. But I did it for me. Re-orienting myself with respect to a gossamer airport romance, briefer but far more moving than a one night stand.

Has there ever been an ‘unperson’ in the modern history of the United States? The answer to that question is a resounding yes. His name was Augustus Zinsser-Zellbach, a self-made man from Brooklyn who rose to dizzying heights of fame and fortune, then plummeted into an obscurity so deep he might as well never have existed. You haven’t heard of him. His name will turn up in no Google searches. Yet he killed no one, never spent a day in jail, and was once accorded one of mass media’s highest honors. How can this be the case in an open uncensored society such as our own?

Augustus Zinsser-Zellbach (1898-1950)

ACT I — There Was Once a Boy Who…

The story begins, as we said, in Brooklyn, New York. Augustus J. Zinsser was born to typically mixed American parentage in 1898, on the cusp of the world-changing twentieth century. His father, James, was a generation away from Ireland and worked in the undertaking establishment started and still being run by young Augie’s immigrant namesake, respectfully addressed by almost everyone as “Mr. Zinsser.” Augie’s mother, Flora, was herself an immigrant of German roots by way of Canada, and her devout Lutheran heritage made for an uneasy union with hubby James — or Jay, as he was known at the local watering holes. In addition to Augustus, the couple had a firstborn daughter, May, who inherited her mother’s vocal disapproval of her father.

Despite quarrels about Jay’s drinking over the years, the old man — Mr. Zinsser even inside the family home — managed to maintain relative calm in the household. According to his grandson’s later recollections, he had a knack for grave teasing that insulted no one but drew laughs in tense situations. He could end even loud marital arguments by means of self-deprecating non-sequiturs. “Were you admonishing me, children? For a moment there I thought I’d put my hair on backwards again.” Always ridiculous and straight-faced. Never the same twice. The boy adored him. The two were inseparable outside of school hours, including the hearse runs on funeral days (both of them “dressed to kill” as they joked to each other without smiling). Even May liked the old man well enough. He’d made a present to them of his own boyhood tin soldiers, half to each, which won her heart.

What does any of this have to do with a mighty rise and fall in American fortunes? Those early years with a doting grandfather who kindly ruled the Zinsser roost were the opposite of what was to come, a series of momentous events that forever changed the direction of Augie’s life. In 1907, when the boy was nine, Mr. Zinsser fell down the basement stairs and broke his back. He survived but his life came to be circumscribed by the wheelchair he now needed to move about. In a walkup building (living quarters on third floor, funeral parlor on the second, “lab” facilities in the basement), he could no longer operate the business and was confined to a single smallish living area. This turned the Zinsser world upside down.

Jay had to take over the whole of the business. Before he had been comfortable in the role of, essentially, the maître d’ of the ground floor funeral parlor. All the rest of the work was the unflappable Mr. Zinsser’s job. Embalming, dressing, and preparing the bodies cosmetically, driving the hearse, calling on the bereaved before and after the funeral, and even presiding as a lay eulogist in the services held from time to time at the parlor. He did all the financial side as well, billing, accounts payable, collections, dealing with suppliers, and serving as liaison with priests, ministers, and rabbis. Nobody knew what all his responsibilities entailed. No one asked. Until the accident.

Now it was all on Jay, who responded by drinking more, having more quarrels with Flora, making an enemy of May and a stranger of his own son. Early in 1908, in a show of desperate bluster, he purchased a brand new Locomobile hearse with the last of the rainy day cash Mr. Zinsser had socked away in his sock drawer. Flora was apoplectic. Business was bad and getting worse, she was taking in washing now to help pay mounting past due bills, and she claimed the Locomobile, which doubled as family transportation, was much harder to drive than the ancient Model T that was always good enough before.

She must have been right, one evening when Augie was about 12, shortly after Mr. Zinsser’s Quiet Death, Flora was traveling to an evening meeting of her group across town and accidentally ran into Jay returning home in the dark after a business get-together down the street. Actually ‘ran into’ is less accurate than ‘ran over,’ which left Jay’s legs squashed and bleeding like his father’s before him. He recovered sufficiently to return home some weeks later, but ironically and fatally, suffered a fall of his own down the basement steps as he was transferring from the wheelchair to an amateurish slide contraption he’d built to get down to the lab. Always a tinkerer, he had ‘tinkerered’ himself to death this time, as May waggishly put it. The coroner, a longtime associate of the business, laughed when he heard this. “More likely ‘drinkerered’ himself to death,” he muttered loudly enough to be heard in the neighborhood.

There were some, mostly Irish, who had doubts about two crippling accidents to the Zinsser men and two basement falls, even if circumstances differed between father and son. Flora ignored the talk and did two strong-willed things. She took over the business and resuscitated it with a new kind of client, widows of men who had died while working for companies with deep pockets. These could be found throughout Brooklyn, not justbin the neighborhood. She became a kind of compensation counselor, instructing her new and potential clients about the kinds of accidents that might be paid for by a big-business settlement. Whatever money she made was saved out of everyone else’s knowledge and reach. May may have known more than she ever let on, but Augie’s relationship with both mother and sister continued to decline on a steeper curve than it had been on before.

He did to learn to cook, though, because his mother’s evenings were increasingly taken up with her new passion, leadership in the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), an environment and a cause in which she thrived, grew, and acquired real political clout. Following in parallel footsteps, May became similarly active in her late teenage years in the Women’s Suffrage Movement. While the women in his life protested and carried signs with big pointed handles, Augie found old bound and printed cookbooks once collected by the grandmother he’d never known, and taught himself what he could with the modest but not meager household allowance his mother gave him. He discovered baking, and crêpes, and coq au vin (made with grape juice aged in the closet), and best of all pommes frites and Golden loaves of French bread. He frequently ate dinner alone though, except when he got a visit from an old friend of his father’s who had heard about “the boy who could cook like a hotel chef.”

The old friend was also very much interested in the political activities of Flora and May. As their devotion to their causes appeared to reach near simultaneous fruition with the passage of the 19th and 20th Amendments, he confided in Augie, “You got to find a way out of here, son. Their heads is going to explode with all their new female pride and power. Don’t be around it anymore than you have to.”

They discussed it over Augie’s concoctions with patisseries, hors d’ouvres, entrées, and fromages, and within months, the motherless sisterless boy was launched into a daily train commute to and from Manhattan, where work as a busboy was easy to find in the Prohibition world of speakeasies and well connected hotel bars.

This was the biggest turning point yet in the life of Augie, now Augustus, who was leaving Brooklyn in the rearview mirror not just physically but spiritually as well. The break was real, a sort of fracture, but it wasn’t complete. After Jay’s death Flora had abandoned the Zinsser surname and returned to her maiden name of Zellbach, reflecting her German (and Lutheran) forebears. She’d made it legal in court, and required Augie to register for school as Augie Zellbach, a name that appeared on every form of identification he had so far acquired. In New York City, he changed the rules of the game. He kept the Zellbach to avoid confusion, but he added the Zinsser back in, along with his sainted grandfather and martyred father. The hyphen that joined the two surnames was like the connection in his soul between Brooklyn and Manhattan, equal in reality if not in affection. Because the young Augustus Zinsser-Zellbach was head over heels in love with that island of brilliant skyscraper dreams he had seen only as a steel and concrete silhouette before reaching his age of majority. Twenty-One. Also the name of a fabulous club where he was on the waiting list for part-time work. Drum flourish and cymbal crash. The end of the beginning.

From here, we’ll let the pictures tell the tale, just so you can get the raw feel of a story played out in the press and tabloids. Later, there will be an epilogue though, an attempt to make sense of what happened here. Look for it.

Flora and May Zellbach

Literary Prohibition

The Love Of His Life

He went to school and fell in love down the street from the Parlor.

The ZZ Taxi Taxi, 1924

The T4 ‘Tracker’

The Christie Co. ‘CC Safe’

An early artist’s rendering of the 1930 ZZ Model 19R

Blueprint schematic for Zig-Zag Drive

The first advertising campaign was not well received.

The monster prototype, the ZZ 24I, code named The Invulnerable.

The 1930 ZZ 18L

The 1930 ZZ 12R

Cockpit of the ZZ 12R

The driver’s seat of the ZZ 12R

A discreet, high-toned sales campaign succeeded brilliantly.

Newspapers and magazines were full of photos and renderings of the ZZ Model 24’s dramatic (and hideously expensive) Open Book Grille. The car was a Star.

Augustus bought a vast estate in Newport RI with his profits.

The Pinnacle Of Fame. 1933. Time’s Man of the Year in 1932 and 1934 was Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Heady company for an undertaker’s son.

Zinsser-Zellbach became obsessed. He had to have that Nobel Prize Cup.

Then the Catastrophe.

The Nobel Literary Ball and the 1934 Cup Winner Luigi Pirandello

Pirandello partied for days, all over Italy, and everywhere else too.

Back in the United States, every Zinsser-Zellbach vehicle, every part, every building, every scrap of documentation was destroyed.

Zinsser-Zellbach was a broken man.

His car was found abandoned in the seaside town of Menton, France.

The interior was neat as a pin. There was no note.

Zellbach’s tuxedo was neatly folded and left behind with his shoes, top hat and stick. Still no note.

The interment drew shock and ridicule.

The belated monument is still a mystery.

The one last ZZ-24 is not utterly destroyed. It is resting but not in peace.

And that haunting green citronella light.

Ronnie

Don’t tell me who I am. I’m an American and all people are my people. Especially Ronnie Spector.

And so to bed.

How we met her. On the side of the road after our honeymoon. She ran away from us into the wheels of an SUV. She was crazy.

After the operations, we had to teach her how to walk again.

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She did learn. But it cost a little piece of her heart.

Little piece of a huge heart.

Okay. She is really nuts. Out of control.

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And then there is one beautiful day…

Still loving me. Right?

Right. But life hurts all the time. Pugs are Chinese you know. Bred to take it on the chin and be beautiful throughout.

But a little back scratch doesn’t hurt nearly so much as life.

And so to bed.

Like it’s one word, the fans say “Fred’n’Ginger.” But it’s hardly the whole story. They made great movies together, and Ginger got a lot of mileage out of the line, “I did everything Fred did but backwards and in high heels.” Cute and memorable but not quite true.

Truth. Fred Astaire was a dancer of genius. Ginger Rogers was a hoofer. Thing is, he also worked with other very gifted dancers. The best are represented below.

Eleanor Powell.

Audrey Hepburn.

Cyd Charisse.

Leslie Caron.

Who wins? All of them.

AND A BONUS, COURTESY OF THE MAESTRO GEORGE GERSWIN:

Feeling better? I knowI am.

Newest Plan

Mah Hazel

All right. Come Monday, I’m going to the plastic surgery shop to git me the face of an old old country singer. Then I’ll be eloping with mah true love Hazel Dickens. Don’t she just beat all?

What? My wife just told she’s been done dead for a year or three. Or five. She shouldn’ be snickerin’ like that. Joke’s on her ain’t? Now she’ll have to fix on some other ways of gittin’ me gone. Dayumm.

 

I guess there’s a hormone called Endofthelineagen that explains why broads who are no longer young feel compelled to show off their T&A&P to the whole wide world. If you have a better explanation, let me know.

WOW. South Philly rules.

Classical music radio station WFLN said, “The greatest voice of them all, bar none. A shame what Hollywood did to him. They killed him, plain and simple.”

Number 20.

Christians are to blame for Islamic violence:

Obama references crusades, slavery at Prayer Breakfast.

“President Obama has never been one to go easy on America.

“As a new president, he dismissed the idea of American exceptionalism, noting that Greeks think their country is special, too. He labeled the Bush-era interrogation practices, euphemistically called “harsh” for years, as torture. America, he has suggested, has much to answer given its history in Latin America and the Middle East.

“His latest challenge came Thursday at the National Prayer Breakfast. At a time of global anxiety over Islamist terrorism, Obama noted pointedly that his fellow Christians, who make up a vast majority of Americans, should perhaps not be the ones who cast the first stone.

“‘Humanity has been grappling with these questions throughout human history,” he told the group, speaking of the tension between the compassionate and murderous acts religion can inspire. “And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.'”

99 percent of muslims are peace loving sweeties.

Ahem.

You’ll be Shocked by How Many American Muslims WANT to be ruled by Shariah Law!!!

“More than half (51%) of U.S. Muslims polled also believe either that they should have the choice of American or shariah courts, or that they should have their own tribunals to apply shariah. Only 39% of those polled said that Muslims in the U.S. should be subject to American courts…

“Even more troubling, is the fact that nearly a quarter of the Muslims polled believed that, “It is legitimate to use violence to punish those who give offense to Islam by, for example, portraying the prophet Mohammed.”

Ring wraiths are all basically good at heart.

If there’s anything wrong with Dementors, it’s that they just love people too much.

Ninjas aren’t really violent. They just think black is a powerful fashion statement, and they’re embarrassed about their teeth. A sad thing. More to be pitied than censured.

Once you get past the invincible exo-skeletons and glaring red eyes, Terminators are exactly like Aunt Bea. Off duty, they knit, listen to Hazel Dickens, and fry chicken.

And ISIS is really just the militant wing of overall Islamic pacifism.

Here. Ask their women. They’ll tell you what nice guys they all are when they come home after a long day’s work on behalf of Muhammad. You should see their undies.

Oops. How did that get in here? Well, she’s obviously one of those evil Christian Crusaders. Just unsee it. You never saw this, right? Right? Right? Right?

Feast your eyes on this instead. Repeat after me: Islam means peace, peace, peace, peace, peace. Right?


Always win. I know I do.

You thrilled to Olympus Has Fallen, if you knew which flick it was.

It was the good one with Gerard Butler, not the Jamie Farr one. Okay?

And then you thrilled 2 to the sequel London Has Fallen, which also starred Gerard Butler.

How cool is that?

Oops. My wife says I have to show you Gerard Butler.

She likes that Scottish beef. But she likes me a little too.

And NOW!!! you’re going to be thrilled 3 by the masterpiece of filmmaking called HILLARY HAS FALLEN!!!!!!

Which doesn’t star Gerard Butler because he was busy that day. But it IS directed by the potent team of Woody Allen and Roman Polanski, who know a thing or two between them about women who just accidentally bang their heads on coffee tables. And then can’t, you know, get up.

This nerve-wracking thriller begins at a Hillary campaign rally.

Oh the irony! Life Alert!

Then she goes back to campaign HQ for the Victory Party. Where things start to go wrong. Trust Woody and Roman to find the right film reference when there’s no actual footage of THIS scene.

What Woody Roman came up with:

Old White Guy (vagina included just for fun) totally trashes the room because he lost. After which, he falls down and can’t get up. Where our story begins.

Is that the $12,000 Armani tent sweater?

Ya know, it’s actually more music video than an action thriller. Uncharacteristically, Woody resorts to the Stones to portray her crawl across the living room floor.

When she is temporarily unable to continue crawling, Roman fills in with this:

But when she finally makes it to the doorway of the kitchen (why the kitchen? Oh. Knives.), Woody gives us this counter-intuitive bit of filmic genius:

When she realizes she can’t reach the knife rack, no way, Roman gives us this affecting song, in all its mediocre glory.

When he could have done this instead. Why they call genius “genius.”

Which is where the movie basically ends. Although the closing credits are kind of interesting.

Then Roman kicks in, inexplicably with this.

And when they’re rapidly scrolling the Special FX credits, the Stones end it all with this.

Be nice to your InstaPunk. Or else.

Neither is Raebert.

And he doesn’t get to drink coffee. So be veeeeery nice to him.

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