Vic and Sade: A Box Of Old Letters


So years and years ago two then-friends played a little prank on me. One said hello to me, and we chatted a bit about the day and how it was going. Twenty minutes later the other said hello to me, and used the same prompts, and got the same conversation out of me without my noticing.

I was listening to the Retro Radio Podcast of Vic and Sade and last week they had a thoroughly delightful episode. If you don’t care to deal with your podcast software — and I admit, given that I’m on iTunes, I’m quite fed up with mine — here’s a link to the file from archive.org. And I should have it embedded to play below, if I can remember how to do that right.

It’s the Vic and Sade episode of the 26th of September, 1944. And it’s got a classically simple premise. Uncle Fletcher has made Russell the present of a box of old letters. They start off magnificently mundane and petty. And then writer Paul Rhymer brought his absolute freaking genius to something that makes my anecdote something on point. I know that Vic and Sade isn’t to everyone’s taste — it’s not a program to listen to casually, and the comic style defies the picking-out of specific punch lines — but this one just sang.

(In other Vic and Sade podcast news, Jimbo over at The Overnightscape Underground has had a bunch of small episodes of the Vic and Sadecast the past couple weeks. I would like to share the URL for that, but iTunes isn’t letting me, because iTunes.)

Vic and Sade: When The Building Falls In


Do you remember being bored? I mean, boredom is still with us. But it’s attenuated now, chopped up into small bits of boredom between something exciting happening on Facebook or watching the spectacle of the Future Disgraced Former President’s self-immolation or the like. And a lot of that is still an expression of boredom, since boredom is the state in which anything is sufficient to hold our attention. A video of a bird putting a cover on a cat isn’t actually interesting, but compared to nothing going on, it’s interesting enough.

But back in the days, we could be bored in quantity. Just have days, especially summer ones, when time stretched out and there wasn’t any prospect of something asking for attention. I’m not saying those were better days. They weren’t. By nearly all measures we are so much better off today that we have cell phones and abundant Internet and are never that far from someone we want to communicate with or something we find entertaining to watch or do.

In this Vic and Sade episode, from the 13th of June, 1939, it’s the boring part of summer. And the best of all possible things happens: something exciting comes up. A good part of an old building collapses. Rush gets to see it. And one of his friends is inspired. He turns something already exciting into a performance. Maybe it’s the sort of thing that could happen today. But I do wonder if it takes being bored, and knowing what the face of long stretches of quiet, inactive summer evenings imply, to see a chance like this and make it something even more.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index held steady today, not changing at all, as more cautious traders worried they were under surveillance by a cheetah and didn’t want to make a move lest they get caught in a rundown between second and third base.

331

Vic and Sade: Meet The Parade Community


I don’t know when this episode of Vic and Sade first aired. It’s dated 1941, but it includes Rishigan Fishigan (of Sishigan, Michigan) as a major off-screen player. And he doesn’t seem to have been introduced before the 12th of December, 1941. The show aired five days a week, but that isn’t a lot of time for Rishigan Fishigan to get promoted from a name on the boss’s Christmas list to a telephoned friend of Vic’s. But they did have as many as thirteen chances to get him kind-of on-stage. (I don’t know whether the show aired Christmas Day, 1941. Nor how many times it might have been preempted for news.)

It’s got to be from early in Rishigan Fishigan (of Sishigan, Michigan)’s tenure, given how exasperated Sade is by the length of his name. So maybe it’s a 1942 episode. No matter. I am delighted by the main conversation’s proposition that one could get a weekly list of all the parades going on in the country. It’s the sort of thing that surely exists today. My love and I schedule our December around a listing of when Rankin/Bass specials are going to air and on what channel. And I find Vic’s proclaiming that he’s a fan of parades likely. It doesn’t seem just a defensive reaction to Sade’s skepticism about the parade list. Remember that Vic was happy to join the All-Star Marching Team for his lodge, and that went off on its own weird little way.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index fell thirteen points over the trading day, providing a much-needed hushing to all the Another Blog, Meanwhile analysts talking about when we’re going to need to buy an index board that handles four digits instead of just three. Honestly. I get your enthusiasm and all that but really, go play outside.

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Vic and Sade: Meet Rishigan Fishigan


Sometimes a throwaway gag is too good to dispense with. In this installment, from the 12th of December, 1941, Vic’s boss has given him a list of people to buy Christmas presents for and twenty dollars to do it with. Sade expects she’ll have to do all the bother and that it will be an incredible bother. She’s right, as she makes Vic read the list and consider the complete lack of guidance into what sort of thing any of these people might want or how much they should spend on it.

The last name introduced is that of Rishigan Fishigan, of Sishigan, Michigan. It’s such a catchy name. It’s a catchy town name. It seems like it always attaches to the end of his name, so he’s spoken of as “Rishigan Fishigan of Sishigan, Michigan”. And I am sad that there is no such place as Sishigan, Michigan. We should rename something to be it.

The name must have caught Paul Rhymer’s imagination. Rishigan Fishigan would reappear, in mentions, and eventually as a friend of Vic’s. In later incarnations of the show he would even be a regular character, with dialogue on-microphone and everything. Given how many catchy names Rhymer created I wonder why Rishigan Fishigan (of Sishigan, Michigan) took such hold, although I suppose to say aloud it is to answer the question.

There are a lot of amusingly scrambled place names in the Christmas gift list — I can feel Sade’s righteous anxiety that none of this can be right, even if she allowed that she could buy anything for people she doesn’t know anything about — but I like to think that the choice of “Seattle, Iowa” was retaliation for the existence of “Des Moines, Washington”. I have a friend who lives in Des Moines, Washington, and it nags at me every time I need to send him a card or something. We need some thought put into our Des Moines requirements.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

Repeated heavy waves of selling struck the trading floor at Another Blog, Meanwhile over the course of the day, so of course the index went up eighteen points. At this point we have to suspect some of these traders don’t actually know what they’re doing and they’re just making numbers go up and down without thinking about the long-term implications.

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Vic and Sade: Meet Five Men From Maine


I’ve got a couple reasons to feature this bit of old-time radio. First is that my friend from Maine isn’t on the Internet this week so it’s safe to talk about the state. Second is that I haven’t really featured Vic and Sade lately, so I’d like to give it some attention. It’s the kind of show that isn’t everyone’s taste. But if it is your taste, it’s a powerfully strong taste. So please consider taking ten minutes and listening to it. (The show has a sponsor, as most did back in 1941, and goes on and on. You can zip ahead to about 2:45 into the show before missing anything that isn’t about Crisco, and you can bail out again at about 12:30 in the recording.) So here’s the Vic and Sade for the 30th of May, 1941.

Something I love in the world is that so much of it doesn’t quite make sense. We’re surrounded by weird little incidents and connections and coincidences. Here, Vic gets, by way of a phone call, an invitation to do something perfectly daft: travel — at his own expense — from the middle of Indiana off to Maine to meet five people he’s never heard of for no reason other than that they’d like to meet him. How does this make sense? Hard to say. But I particularly love how Rush comes to ponder how phony-sounding the five men in Maine are. Series creator and author Paul Rhymer had a love for creating names off exactly peculiar that they’re amusing without ever feeling like deliberately funny names. If you live with people named Edson Box, Fred and Ruthie Stembottom, Y Y Flirch, Hank Gutstop, or Rishigan Fishigan from Sishigan, Michigan, how do you call anyone out on having a suspicious name? But what other explanation makes sense?

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index dropped 21 points and it’s still over 300 and if you think that’s normal you don’t know what normal is, and I know none of us have had any idea what normal is, not since, like, what? When David Bowie died? The day before that was about the last normal day, wasn’t it? Please communicate in care of this office if you have information one way or another.

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In Which I’m Briefly Written By Paul Rhymer


In August of 1817 President James Monroe, as part of a tour of the several states, visited Detroit. But he did not visit the nearby, newly-created Monroe County. It would have been easy enough for him to visit, since it was only about a day’s travel away. But he didn’t. According to the article, nobody from Monroe County invited the President over. President Monroe might have expected Monroe County residents to come to Detroit to see him, but nobody did. You can forgive them this, because nobody told any Monroe County officials that President Monroe was going to visit the area. Anyway, they probably didn’t care, since nobody lived there except some French-Canadians who’d been ruined in the War of 1812 and didn’t much care about the American government, the Canadian government, or any of that. And Monroe probably didn’t care since there were already four other counties named for him. I mean, I’d be thrilled to have a fifth county named for me, but James Monroe lived a way more fascinating life than I have. He had other stuff on his mind.

I know anything about this because of an article in the March/April 2017 issue of Michigan History. And I couldn’t help reading choice quotes from this to my love. I have a habit of doing this. My love appreciates my reading stuff from the books and magazines I’m going through. I assume, anyway, based on how much time my love spends not punching me in the kidneys.

Anyway where this gets really fascinating is that nobody in Monroe County much cared about how President Monroe didn’t come visit them. It had been a long trip and he just wanted to go home. Until 1937, anyway, when one local historian declared that President Monroe had so visited the county, and even found a log cabin where he allegedly spent the night. This set off a little flurry of local historian claims that Monroe might have set foot in Monroe County. But, the article goes on to explain, historians do not regard this as credible, and they have their reasons.

And as I sat there, reading quotes to my love about this time 200 years ago that President Monroe did not visit Monroe County, and while there were people who thought he did, here are the reasons we think there was no such visit and why nobody much cared, I realized: I am living my Vic and Sade spec script. It’s every bit as wonderful as I imagined.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index dropped two points as investor confidence was shaken by Matt looking up the lyrics to the J Geils Band’s Angel In the Centerfold and learning that yeah, everyone did remember the lyrics right.

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From The Night Before The Yard Sale


We held the yard sale, and easily raised enough money to pay for supplies for the next yard sale, when we decide we can’t put off holding one any longer for some reason. My love’s parents came up the night before, to bring and price stuff they wanted to sell, and they stayed the night. So the night before we had this conversation with my love’s father:

“Do you have hair shampoo in your bathroom?” he asked.
“As opposed to rug shampoo?” asked my love.
“Yes, I just wanted to know if you have shampoo for washing your hair.”
“We have. There’s a bottle of … blue … with conditioner, and there’s another that’s yellow that’s shampoo and conditioner in one.,” I said.
“OK. Well, I don’t need it, because I took care of my hair already.”

And there the topic ended, and I suddenly knew what it was like the week Vic and Sade was written by George S Kaufman.

In point of fact, the yellow bottle turns out to be just conditioner, for some bottle of yellow-colored shampoo we didn’t buy, and don’t think that hasn’t been bothering me relentlessly since I discovered my mistake Sunday morning.

Sade and the Marching Auxiliary


If you’ve been listening along with Vic and Sade episodes this week you maybe noticed that not much happens in them. The characters talk about what they’re up to, but they don’t do much about it. That’s part of the style of the show. It has an almost classic respect for the ancient unities of Greek theater. Each day’s installment is one scene, at one time, and rarely do characters enter or exit, at least not much. Doing stuff is almost impossible in the ten minutes or so of conversation they have.

But stuff happens between episodes. And, more, it’s remembered. Vic and Sade is a representative of the serial-sitcom. It could have storylines going and progressing and developing, five days a week, just the way they might on soap operas. Vic and Sade isn’t a strong representative of the genre, the way that Lum and Abner or the difficult granddaddy of them all, Amos ‘n’ Andy, are. Vic and Sade stories aren’t as long and don’t dominate weeks of storytelling the way the more dedicated serials do. But it’s there.

Here, for example, at least after about the first two and a half minutes (spent talking about the wonders of Crisco and perhaps local advertisers), is a continuation of Vic’s All-Star Marching Team. The Marching Team is hoping to put together a Ladies Auxiliary. Sade is targeted to participate. She’s uninterested in marching and she and Vic talk just a little past one another about the point. The Marching Team was based on an absurd premise to start. And now the Ladies Auxiliary promises to be further absurd, as it can’t just be the wives of the Marching Team members. Many of them aren’t married. (One has intentions of marrying his beloved early in 1948, a joke which barely registers until you know that this episode is from the 22nd of February, 1941.) It’s not the straightforward absurdity of the original Marching Team premise, and its need to rehearse when none of the members can get together. That doesn’t keep it from finding wonderful absurdity anyway.

Vic and the Marching Team


Maybe I’ll just carry on with the old-time radio and make it a Vic and Sade week. Picking out episodes makes me want to hear more episodes, and I like talking about the stuff I enjoy. So here goes.

One of my favorite comic modes is the deadpan absurdity. The name almost explains it. Presenting the most ridiculous idea possible with the straightest face possible delights me. If someone questions your absurdity, you can own up to it … or you can try explaining why it really makes sense all along. Take the second path and you are entering the heady woods of the American heritage of tall-tale folklore, of the reductio ad absurdum that earns mathematicians their pay, and — if you happen to answer every objection soundly — conspiracy theory.

Vic belongs to a lodge, the Sacred Stars of the Milky Way, the way many people did in 1941. The way even more sitcom men did. The lodge wanted to organize an All-Star Marching Team. The head lodge chose ten members, Vic included. Lodge headquarters wants them to practice marching as a unit. The members are distributed across the country. The members aren’t asked to spend money and time travelling to each other.

So … how to rehearse marching as a unit when you just can’t get together? And there’s an answer, and it’s ridiculous. There’s obvious objections. They’re answered with a straight enough face that it all almost makes sense. It’s wonderful.

And a note for listeners: boy, the sponsor’s introduction really does go on, doesn’t it? If you are already as sold on Crisco as it is possible for you to ever be, you can skip to about two minutes thirty seconds in and the start of the real action.

Vic and Sade, with algebra, without Vic, Sade


I’m still feeling in an old-time radio mood.

Vic and Sade starred Art Van Harvey as Vic, and Bernardine Flynn as Sade. That was, apparently, enough cast to start with, but they adopted Rush, played by Bill Idelson, soon enough. Most of the scripts depended on the three, or two of the three if one of the actors got a day off, describing events to one another. A problem arose in 1940, when Van Harvey became ill. Every long-running radio show had this problem occasionally. If the actor’s illness was known about long enough in advance they could rewrite around the part. If it was sudden, they could just have someone else fill in. (There’s at least one episode of Burns and Allen with someone else playing the part of Gracie Allen, and that is not a role to step into lightly.)

To cover for Van Harvey’s illness, author Paul Rhymer brought a talked-about character in. This would be Uncle Fletcher, played by Clarence Hartzell. Uncle Fletcher could take the part of someone for Sade and Rush to talk to, or at least talk around, at least as well as Vic did.

It does mean we have curiosities like this episode, though. It’s from the 9th of October, 1941. It’s a two-actor day. So it’s an episode of Vic and Sade with neither Vic nor Sade. It’s built on Rush attempting to do his algebra homework, and Uncle Fletcher attempting to coach him through it. As I’d said, many Vic and Sade episodes are driven by the characters talking not quite past one another. This is a fine example of the form.

Vic and Sade hear about Rush’s Speaking Acquaintances


I’m in the mood to share some more old-time radio. This is an episode of Vic and Sade. It’s a strange show. It was for most of its run a daily, 15-minute program. It’s classed as a situation comedy, although it’s not what you would imagine from “radio sitcom from the 1930s and 1940s”. You might get that from how its Wikipedia page insists one of its catchphrases was “Is there a perfumed lady, heavily veiled and greatly agitated, hiding under the davenport?”. (I do not remember hearing this in any episode I’ve listened to. This might be instead a “memorable quote” from the show. However, I haven’t heard all the three hundred or so episodes that survive. Perhaps something happened.)

If I must describe it briefly, I’d say it’s “three people obsessively talking almost past one another”. It’s a small cast — Vic, Sade, and their son Rush — talking about what’s of interest to them. Often it’s some trivial daily event. Sometimes it’s a project that’s become urgent to one of them and uninteresting to the rest. It’s not a program to dip into casually. Something in it will be amusing if you listen to it while doing other stuff, sure. But it’s one of those shows that presents itself as deeply mundane. It keeps piling on the day’s premise until you reach the point of noticing they’re having a crazed conversation. There’s no guessing where that moment will hit for you. But it’s there.

Vic and Sade was written, all three and a half thousand episodes, by Paul Rhymer. Rhymer had left the newspaper business when the Bloomington (Illinois) Pantograph learned he was interviewing people who didn’t technically exist. Radio probably fit him better. He had a knack for writing people who are ridiculous yet not quite unbelievably so. People who could plausibly make a catchphrase of “You’ll send your undershirt to Detroit parcel post”. And he could string together words in that way that makes every sentence more interesting than it has to be to hold its information. It’s hard to pin down a punch line. Any sentence might suddenly strike you as the funny part, and you’re right. There are reasons most of the series was done without a studio audience.

And the episode I mean to have highlighted above — called “Rush’s Speaking Acquaintances”, based on Rush’s obsession of the day — gives a glimpse of one of Rhymer’s talents. He could compose funny names that are actually funny. The show would collect legions of discussed and typically-offscreen characters, all with names that feel off without ever quite being distractingly impossible. You don’t know how impressive this is until you’ve paid attention to people making funny names. Mix in some absurd touches and discuss without anybody quite finding their point, or convincing anyone else of it. It’s almost a course in how to write character-driven comedy.

About the Foot-Drawing Hall of Fame


Since my recent mention of the Foot-Drawing Hall of Fame there’ve been a number of inquiries directed to this office asking for more information about this Hall of Fame, such as where it may be found and whether I made the whole thing up, and what sort of person gets inducted into the Foot-Drawing Hall of Fame. The last is easiest: it tends to be people who draw feet, although there are exceptions made for people who have made great advances — strides, to use the industry jargon — in public awareness of foot-drawing and its associated fields, such as sock envisioning or the composition of toenail apologias.

The Foot-Drawing Hall of Fame as we know it was inspired by the opening of the Baseball Hall of Fame, as many Halls of Fame were. Every baseball player of serious note has or at some point had feet, or knew someone who did, and yet did they get any mention in the Hall? Not a word, and P K Shrelk couldn’t help wondering where all these players would be without their feet? Down a couple inches, was his conclusion, and that was good enough to search out a way to celebrate the drawing of feet, because when he looked into the whole foot there was too much to consider. Just thinking of all the bones alone could make someone have to lie down and come back later. He imagined someday a network of foot-related halls of fame might allow the understanding of the foot in all its complexity for the interested foot viewer. Shrelk died a very tired man.

The Foot-Drawing Hall of Fame opened in 1967 in Sick River Junction, Missouri, making use of the famous sanitarium which was once the Missouri State Home for the Tall. One needn’t worry about the former residents of the home. Medical advances and changing social attitudes allowed Missouri to sort out the patients who could be readmitted to society from those who were incurably tall. Those unlucky persons were few enough that they could be placed in more general-care institutions with cathedral ceilings. Indeed, Anthony Millest — one of the last children to be taken in to the Home for the Tall — was found to be not just healthy but to have a foot-drawing talent great enough that he became one of the earliest docents at the museum. To this day he’s three days a week, greeting kids and sharing stories of the museum’s goals and accomplishments and plucking things off the top of the refrigerator.

The first artist admitted into the Hall of Fame was one Pelter Rebleat, who was of no particular renown in the field of foot-drawing, truth be told, but the directors felt they needed to start with some impressive names. Rebleat was surprised by his induction, as the letter of invitation had been addressed to Peltier Rebleat (arguably the more impressive name) and because of what he described as the kidnapping which brought him to the opening ceremonies. Since then the policy of “once-famous, always-famous” has blocked all attempts to remove him from the hall, and people bring him fresh clothes and adequate food. He often gets together with Millest to play checkers and agree that things have changed and there’s probably not much of a way to stop that, especially on the web sites they use all the time.

Besides hosting the third-largest collection of drawings of feet among states whose names start with M, the Hall of Fame offers informational classes designed to help would-be artists overcome their natural fear of drawing feet. According to longtime museum defender Anabess Sweetkludge, the most common thing artists do wrong in drawing feet is begin too far up the leg, so that the feet fall out of frame. This can be overcome most easily by getting a slightly larger sketchbook or, for those artists who work digitally, holding the drawing tablet closer to themselves. A more complicated solution is to engineer an artistic movement by which ankles and their environs are regarded as the true measure of artistic accomplishment, but that’s regarded as too much work just for some pictures of feet.

I hope this answers some of the more serious questions. If it doesn’t, perhaps this answers some other ones instead.