What To Call People Without Getting Them Necessarily Angry


My love and I were talking in the car about what to call people from various states, because our podcasts were out of fresh episodes. You know, like, “Michigander” for people from Michigan, or “Marylander only the emphasis sounds weird” for people from Maryland. We knew better than to try calling people from Massachusetts anything. And we’re pretty sure that we could call people from Maine “Mainers”, since they don’t see much reason to speak to us anyway.

Still, our shared interest in the old-fashioned hobby of remembering stuff failed us for a couple of states. For example, we can’t figure out a good term for people from Connecticut, although that doesn’t matter much since we couldn’t afford to even drive through the state, much less talk about anybody in it. New Hampshire, though, and Arkansas are giving us trouble and we’re just going to have to insist that people from those states move out in order that we don’t have to have a term to describe folks from that state. New Hampshire already has what seems like a perfectly functional backup in Vermont. Arkansas I don’t know so well. I’ll trust them to figure out where to go. They’ve probably got their section of the United States pretty well figured out, apart from the adjectives.

PS: I topped out at 957 page views, from 458 visitors, yesterday. I knew I should’ve logged out and hit refresh just 43 more times.

In Which I Try Stirring Up A New England Cheese Controversy


So I had been reading Edwin Valentine Mitchell’s 1946 book It’s An Old New England Custom, which is about just what the title suggests, though it goes on with more words about the subject. Something it claims is an old New England custom, and I’m quoting the chapter title exactly here to make sure I get it right, “To Eat Cheese”. And I had to be careful because until I went back and picked it up I would have sworn the chapter title was “To Be Fond Of Cheese”, which is a marginally different thing, especially since the chapter about customary fondness is actually “To Be Fond Of Fish”, which would put me off on almost exactly the same rhetorical thread here.

Mitchell goes on to demonstrate by way of anecdote and paragraphs containing numbers, many of them long enough to have commas, that New Englanders eat cheese. He reports how the census of 1850 shows that “Vermont produced more cheese than all other states put together except Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Ohio, and New York, and did it from 148,128 cows”, which sounds pretty impressive until you remember in 1850 if you rule out Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Ohio, and New York, you’re left with maybe four other states. It’s impressive Vermont could out-cheese, I don’t know what’s left, Delaware and Bleeding Kansas, but if they’re not going up directly against Ohio what’s the point of the statistic? Other than having a suspiciously precise count of cheese-generating cows of Vermont in 1850. (But if they were making up their cheese-generating cow count why not add in twenty imaginary cows and make the number a nice repeating 148,148? I can’t see any sense in that either.)

He also mentions how Cheshire, Massachusetts, sent a cheese weighing 1,450 pounds to President Jefferson, which he formally received on New Year’s Day, 1802. Apparently on the first slice of it Jefferson said, “I will cause this auspicious event to be placed on the records of our nation and it will ever shine amid its glorious archives”, which doesn’t sound at all like he’s reading a prepared statement from his pro-cheese kidnappers. But it also undermines the claim about New Englanders eating cheese because, and I’ve checked this thoroughly, Thomas Jefferson wasn’t a New Englander. I’m not even sure he was speaking to any New Englanders by 1802, and if he did, it was just to accuse them of lying about rocks.

Anyway, I guess all the cheese-production statistics do prove that New Englanders made plenty of cheese. But just because there’s a certain per capita production of cheese doesn’t mean that it’s all going to the purposes of being eaten. New Englanders might just be stockpiling vast reserves of cheddar and other, less popular kinds of cheeses, perhaps in the hopes of constructing a vast dome of cheese that completely shields their state from the oncoming winter snow. This won’t work, but it should make commercial aviation over twenty percent more thrilling and kind of parmesan-y. Plus a sufficiently thick layer of cheese above all of New England should allow the region’s residents to finally overcome backyard astronomy.

The thing is, while I’m satisfied with Mitchell’s thesis that New Englanders eat cheese, I’m not convinced that’s a particularly New England custom. Another set of people who could be characterized as “eating cheese” would be “pretty near everyone possessing the gene that renders them capable of digesting milk products”. If you wanted to make a map of Western Civilization, you might do it by examining where the local culture derives from the ancient Greek and Roman civilizations as filtered through the philosophical development of Christianity and the rediscovery of Aristotle leading to the Renaissance and the Enlightenment and the rise of the liberal-democratic social contract, or you could just look for where the menus describe items as ‘cheesey’. Most of the people either place are going to eat cheese. Eating cheese seems a peculiarly New England custom in much the same way ‘liking the warm weather’ or ‘secretly hoping for an excuse to use the big stapler they keep in the supply closet’ or ‘preferring not to be pelted with excessively many rocks while changing a tire in a freezing rain’ are.

Anyway, I don’t want to put you off the book, because it contains the statement, “From Massachusetts comes a delightful tale of cheesemongering”, and if that hasn’t improved your day by at least ten percent then I think we just don’t have anything in common. I’m sorry.

Robert Benchley: Highways and By-Ways in Old Fall River


This is another slice from Robert Benchley’s Of All Things, from among a set of very short pieces gathered under the general heading of “Tabloid Editions”, little things which ran in The Saturday Evening Post, or Harper’s Magazine or The American Magazine, and which strike me as representative of routine Benchley. This is an example of what feels to me like Benchley proving he could write as much of his kind of stuff as needed, even if the subject didn’t inspire lines that’d be quoted decades hence.

The chance visitor to Fall River may be said, like the old fisherman in Bartholomew Fair, to have “seen half the world, without tasting its savour.” Wandering down the Main Street, with its clanging trolley-cars and noisy drays, one wonders (as, indeed, one may well wonder) if all this is a manifestation so much of Fall River as it is of that for which Fall River stands.

Frankly, I do not know.

But there is something in the air, something ineffable in the swirl of the smoke from the towering stacks, which sings, to the rhythm of the clashing shuttles and humming looms, of a day when old gentlemen in belted raglans and cloth-topped boots strolled through these streets, bearing with them the legend of mutability. Perhaps “mutability” is too strong a word. Fall Riverians would think so.

And the old Fall River Line! What memories does that name not awaken in the minds of globetrotters? Or, rather, what memories does it awaken? William Lloyd Garrison is said to have remarked upon one occasion to Benjamin Butler that one of the most grateful features of Fall River was the night-boat for New York. To which Butler is reported to have replied : “But, my dear Lloyd, there is no night-boat to New York, and there won’t be until along about 1875 or even later. So your funny crack, in its essential detail, falls flat.”

But, regardless of all this, the fact remains that Fall River is Fall River, and that it is within easy motoring distance of Newport, which offers our art department countless opportunities for charming illustrations.

Money-Making is Also a Service


I’ve been doing some more reading about good investments, since I plan to make one someday, probably by accident. The strong candidates are all in services, which is a strong growth sector of the economy because everyone’s discovered that goods just don’t cut it. The problem is that whatever good you might try making, it turns out it’s cheaper to have it made somewhere else and shipped to you instead. Which would be fine for that somewhere else except they’ve found it’s just as easy to get the good made somewhere else and shipped to them, and so on. The last place in the world that actually made any goods — Snipatuit Pond, Massachusetts — closed up shop late last year when it was noticed that it hasn’t existed since 1946 and now everyone’s just in the business of getting the goods already made shipped to them to send out again in the hopes of making good on their good-making contracts. Shipping, of course, is a service.

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