Fess Up


So. Reader. Look. I regard us as friends. Maybe not great friends, not, help-you-move-to-a-new-apartment level friends. But friends. Out meaning well for each other, even if we sometimes screw it up. Giving a heads up when we see a comic strip we’re sure the other is going to love. Warning when you see we’re marching unprepared into at least a Category Two Drama Storm. That kind of friend. OK? So that’s why I have to ask about this thing from the sidebar of a YouTube video I just watched.

YouTube sidebar ad. The picture shows cement being troweled onto three rolls of toilet paper. Title: '35 cement ideas that are so easy', published by 5-Minute Crafts and 'Recommended for you'. The video run time is 15:13.
Also: what, precisely, is “easy” about thinking to trowel cement on three rolls of toilet paper? Just trying to think about doing this makes my head hurt in a way that, like, covariant tensors do not. The doing of this might be physically easy but imagining a world in which I would is I promise you not.

Exactly which one of you is telling Google, “You know what Joseph needs? The suggestion he line up three rolls of toilet paper only to trowel cement over them. Plus 34 other things to do with cement, each explained in an average of 26 seconds. But he’ll be so fascinated by that he won’t even notice this Five-Minute Crafts video is fifteen minutes long”? What is it you think you know about me? What are you drawing these conclusions from?

Curiosities On The Highway


Pumpkin Is Back. Unexplained sign in the midst of a patch of those trees they have lining every Interstate-grade highway. It’s an invitation to wonder: pumpkin was away? I suppose technically. We worry a lot about pumpkin-spice things in fall and I guess it’s fall enough for most practical purposes around here. But pumpkin isn’t pumpkin-spice, as your pedantic friend on Facebook is already trying to contact me to complain about. I’m not on Facebook, but if you like I’ll give you some inaccurate names that might well be people your friend could complain to instead. Still, pumpkin what? Pie? Bread? Spice? Some other pumpkin product, such as pumpkin-inspired gatherings of squirrels? All great thoughts before you smash into the back of the Two Guys And A Pumpkin moving van that stopped short.

An Unspeakably Great Mass Of Foam On The Median. This overstates things. It’s more of a speakable mass of foam, but that’s because there isn’t a whole lot to foam. Most of it is air and the parts that aren’t air are … water? Soap? Something, anyway. What makes it so speakable is that it seems to be going on for quite a way. A quarter-mile or more of dribbles of foam resting in the grass, almost all the way to the Pumpkin sign. Why foam? Is someone trying to scrub the highway? Sure it needs it, but why the median? Or is this what’s left over after an inadequate rinse job? If they’re rinsing, is it just washing the road or are they trying to dye the highway so it looks younger? But why would a highway want to look younger? Is it trying to attract a new partner after Old Business 17 got re-routed five years back? Ends at Thump Road, gateway to the industrial bubble district.

Lego Buck Rogers. Another inexplicable sign. Is this a movie? A toy line? One social commentator’s cryptic message about the recycling and mashing-up of ideas to produce a franchise that feels worn out at its newest? Is Buck Rogers different from Flash Gordon in any way we have to have an opinion about? Is it about leaving the spaceships all over the rumble strips on the edges of the road? Did they dispense foam on the median in the attempt to escape killer trucks? If so, why is it not Lego Foam?

Inexplicable speedup. The less-appreciated counterpart to those weird little vortices of tardiness that roll around highways. Those spots where everybody suddenly drops to like twenty miles per hour. Here for no especial reason all the traffic gets going twenty or even thirty miles per hour faster. This lasts until the spot is passed, which takes only a couple seconds. Many people don’t even know they were in it unless somebody remarks how they arrived as much as five seconds ahead of expectations. This happens maybe four percent more often than you would expect.

Highway Sign Displaying The Message “September 5”. This one seems straightforward enough, what with there being a September and it having a “5” in it. No warning about anything starting then, or ending then, or continuing then, or even not being done at all then. And it isn’t the 5th of September or any date particularly near it either, except on a cosmic or historical scale. Possibly someone hopes to raise the brand awareness of September. Or “5”. If it’s an attempt to raise awareness of 5 that might explain why it didn’t say “September 15”. That would bring “1” even more attention than it already gets.

Customers Welcome. Sign painted to the wall of the … cement shop? Had they not been taking customers before? Were they just sitting behind cement desks thinking how nice and peaceful everything was and then they got worried about meeting payroll? Or is the cement industry only now getting tired of old-fashioned ways? They’re now looking to sell cement to people who need cement for whatever it is they do? Maybe something like creating tiny Brutalist public libraries for their backyard patio? Easily the strangest customer appeal since the shop with the sign Nominated One Of Three Places To Buy Paint that was off the foamy exit like six months ago. Maybe they were celebrating the return of someone nicknamed Pumpkin up there? That kind of makes sense.

S J Perelman: Counter-Revolution


[ The Peace of Breda was the 1667 conclusion of the Second Anglo-Dutch War, and produced the legal settlement by which the English crown secured (Western) ownership of Delaware while the Dutch government obtained security in its claims on the nutmeg-producing island of Run, in the Banda Isles. S J Perelman is noted for writing a couple of pretty funny movies. This all appeared in The Best Of S J Perelman. ]

The other night a forty-five-year-old friend of mine, after ingesting equal portions of Greek fire and artillery punch, set out to prove that he could walk across a parquet flooring on his hands while balancing a vase on his head. As a consequence, about eleven o’clock the following morning he was being trepanned at the Harkness Pavilion and I was purchasing a bottle of Major’s Cement. I had reassembled the shards and was about to uncork the cement bottle when the bold yellow leaflet in which it was wrapped caught my eye. To predict that this small
circular will eventually outrank Magna Carta and the Peace of Breda in historical significance may seem audacious. Yet even the most frivolous cannot escape its implications, for in a single decisive stroke it alters the entire status of the consumer.

From its opening sentence, the document was marked by a note of brooding, reminiscent of a manifesto:

If we could make the cement in liquid form and transparent, and at the same time as strong and as proof against moisture as it is now, we would be glad to do so. But this cannot be done.

Continue reading “S J Perelman: Counter-Revolution”

Robert Benchley: About Portland Cement


There are many writers I deeply admire. Robert Benchley’s one of them. Here’s one of his essays, one of those that doesn’t get much attention compared to “Movie Boners” or “How To Get Things Done” or “The Treasurer’s Report”, but which I think is worth reading.


Portland cement is “the finely pulverized product resulting from the calcination to incipient fusion of an intimate mixture of properly proportioned argillaceous and calcareous materials and to which no addition greater than 3 per cent has been made subsequent to calcination.”

That, in a word, is the keynote of H. Colin Campbell’s “How to Use Cement for Concrete Construction.” In case you should never read any more of the book, you would have that.

But to the reader who is not satisfied with this taste of the secret of cement construction and who reads on into Mr. Campbell’s work, there is revealed a veritable mine of information. And in the light of the recent turn of events one might even call it significant. (Any turn of events will do.)

I suppose that these cement people understand their business. I shall know enough to watch out, however, and insist on having whatever cement I may be called upon to carry home done up in a cloth sack.

Continue reading “Robert Benchley: About Portland Cement”