Tuesday, June 17, 2014

A small house halfway up the next block

A very large panoram of Bloomington, Illinois, probably pre-WWII.  I've posted this photo before but this is the largest one I have ever seen.  To the right of the courthouse is the People's Bank building.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Little Gossips

There were many "wheels within wheels" on the Vic and Sade radio show that make it work. You could start with the terrific scripts written by Paul Rhymer. One could point to the wonderful acting by a crew of underrated radio actors. The myriad of imaginary, larger-than-life characters who seem so real, also would be brought up. The way everyone is self-important and demands to be heard - yet no one is really listening to each other might be another.

Come to think of it, there are thousands of reasons one could point to that show why Vic and Sade is such a beloved program that lasted more than twelve years.

Lately, I've been thinking about something Sade calls, "Little gossips"; these are the barely-explored, tiny stories that only work because your mind must fill in most of the details.

There are many of these stories - they probably average two to four an episode.  I recently gathered up some of the gang and asked a few Vic and Sade devotees to tell me their absolute favorite gossip.  This seemed to be quite difficult for most, because picking one tiny snippet from all of the shows can be somewhat impossible.  But they persevered...
LOUIE JOHNSON - The man I consider to be The Authority on Vic and Sade, and a surviving member of the 'Friends of Vic and Sade' club:
One of the most enjoyable aspects to Paul Rhymer's writing is that he often has a sub-text in operation which sometimes is not noticed even after several hearings of an episode. The idea of “L'il Gossips” is well-evidenced in the very well-crafted and popular episode, “Bacon Sandwiches” from August 14, 1940.

The day is hot and slow-moving. Rush is desperate for company on the front porch, and he goads his mother into joining him on the porch swing. There's really nothing much of interest taking place, and the conversation focuses on the mundane, later effectively contrasted with Rooster Davis' outrageously half-wit scheme to make bacon sandwiches. Much of the episode's conversation centers on conversation itself and how acquaintances of both Rush and Sade tend to dominate and take control of discussions. There's a deliberate interplay between son and mother as they each consciously try to curb that same tendency in themselves.

And on the back-burner in this exchange are Sade's gossipy little observations about neighbors as they walk down Virginia Avenue. A good definition of gossip is that as facts are unveiled, they're colored with personal embellishments to make the observations a bit more interesting. Sade has probably learned through the grapevine that Mr. Kreider buys a quarter's worth of steak every evening, but it would seem she would have no first-hand knowledge that he cooks it himself and eats it himself. And Mr. Clark's fear of the sun leads him to carry an umbrella on sunny days. Sade probably heard that it's because he had an episode of sun-stroke, but I think her conclusion that he wears tennis shoes because the sun-stroke affected his ankles is her embellishment. Sade's insights give her a sense of order, which we know is very important to her.

The Rogers girl is wearing her tam-o-shanter, and Mr. Foster has his dinner bucket tied to his bicycle. Simple observations. Nothing out of place. All is well in Sade's world – until Rush begins elaborating on Rooster's wacky restaurant idea.

I've also always enjoyed Sade's exuberant hyperbole in the episode “Speaking Acquaintances”, also from 1940. The simple discovery that Ruthie has never met Mis' Harris is a juicy l'il gossip to Sade, and her enjoyment of that discovery is illuminated by phrases like:
“You want your shoes to hop off and hit the ceiling?! 
You want your undershirt to explode in a million pieces?!

I found out something this afternoon that’ll make your Sunday hat turn green… You could have run over my big toe with a coal wagon I was so excited!

Darndest thing you ever heard of?! You could’ve chopped off my nose with a pound of butter!

You could have took a dish-mop and elected me King of Peoria!

The more I think of it you could put my leg in the tea kettle!!” 
Nobody writes stuff like that.

All hail Paul Rhymer and the cast who made us believe that people cared about these L'il Gossips.

LYDIA CROWE - transcribes audio and writes commentary for The Crazy World of Vic and Sade website; runs the Well Sir... website
I'm going to have to go with an Uncle Fletcher story, since his are usually the weirdest and I thrive on weirdness. Can I pick two with the same theme? I like the story in the episode about Uncle Fletcher's Key Collection where he tells about the origin of one of his keys -- someone just walked up to him, handed him the key, and walked away without saying a word. It seems like something out of a spy novel, except that Fletcher was left out of the loop and unaware of his role in the plot.

And I also like Uncle Fletcher's story [in the episode,"No Hookey For Vic & Rush"] about a friend of his who would walk up to complete strangers and wordlessly hand them cards that said something like "Hello, friends, my name is Ollie. Life is beautiful and life is jolly. Hello stranger, yes, by golly."
Generally, I'd like to live in a world where people walk around handing things to complete strangers (that aren't religious tracts or coupons for 10% off your frozen yogurt). We'd all benefit from a little more absurdity and mystery in life.

JOHN HETHERINGTON - author of Vic and Sade on the Radio: A Cultural History of Paul Rhymer's Daytime Series, 1932-1944
In the April 7, 1937 episode Sade reports on some “exciting information” that she has heard from Mis’ Donahue, who heard it from Mis’ Razorscum, who got it from Mis’ Drummond: Mis’ Drummond bought a “half a ton of little white stones” (p.6). Sade has concluded, through a series of deductions, that Mis’ Drummond is planning to dump them in the Gooks’ backyard until she’s ready to use them to decorate her garden – nearly two months later. Needless to say, Sade’s not pleased about this.
OK, this isn’t the most scintillating gossip; however, there are a couple of things that make this memorable to me. First, there’s the complicated flow of information that Sade must recount to Vic as she tells him what she’s learned. Then there’s the trouble she has trying to share the gossip in the first place. You see, when she arrives home from Mis’ Donahue’s Vic is trying to read the newspaper and Rush is busy trying to persuade him to let him try out a new wrestling hold that Rooster has come up with, a “combination half-nelson an’ belly-jab.” (p.1). At one point as Sade tries to impart her “exciting information” she gets annoyed with Rush, who, unable to entice either Vic or Sade into letting him practice  the hold on them, has taken to trying to practice it on himself. Exasperated, Sade tells him to “go out-doors somewhere an’ choke yourself” (p.4). Given that Sade so rarely lets either Rush or Russell complete a story, I think it appeals to my sense of justice when Sade is confronted with the same problem.
Finally, after trying to follow Sade’s saga of the half-ton of little white stones, Vic turns to Rush:
VIC: You say you had a new wresting hold?
RUSH: You bet. Combination half-nelson an’ belly jab.
VIC: Is it painful?
RUSH: Terrifically so.
VIC: Try it out on me.
That just about says it all! A terrifically painful combination half-nelson an’ belly jab wins out over enduring Sade’s complex chain of gossip and its potential ramifications anytime!

You know, there are just so many to choose from. I've always loved the letter from Aunt Bess that has Rush spending practically the entire episode trying to read it aloud but he keeps getting interrupted by Sade. However, that's not a "little gossip".

It is yet another letter from Bess, though, that provides the impetus for what I've finally decided is my favorite. I'll let Paul Rhymer's own words tell the story (from the episode, Bess' Letter; Grocery List on Top):

SADE: “Heard from Esther and Muddy at last. They’re all settled in Milwaukee now and Muddy seems to like his situation in the gasoline station fine. He’s the one that wipes off your windshield. He don’t get very much pay yet, Esther says, but they like his work quite good and Muddy thinks before long he will get the job of actually puttin’ the gasoline in the different automobiles. He’s learnin’ all the time.” You know who these people are, don’t ya?  [...]

SADE: Muddy useta work for Walter in the barber shop.

VIC: Oh.

SADE: He’s the one Walter hadda let him go. Kept cuttin’ his own hair and shavin’ his own face all the time, instead of workin’ on the customers.

I've always loved that reveal to the 'joke'. Anything Rhymer wrote about barber shops in general is just fun for me, just because I have so many memories of the barber when I was a kid: it's the first time I ever saw baseball on a color television set, the smell of cigars and brand-new bubblegum, talcum powder, etc., the big mirror and the big chair.

It's just a simple gag but it will stay with me forever. 

The story is a simple one but the joke is funny, especially the more you think about it.

- - Jimbo

I'd like to do a Part II to this article.  If you have a favorite "Little Gossip", send it along and it will be included.

Thanks to all who contributed to this article.

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