The Fifth Best Email We Wrote This Past Weekend: SPECIAL FREE BONUS WEEK

Good morning! Snow is rarely interesting when it happens to other people, but wintry mix isn't even interesting when it's happening to you. Wintry mix is a force for disappointment and division. Timid warm-weather drivers creep along through the ice; smug fools from the snow belt pretend they could do any better driving on wet glaze. Weather nerds start holding forth on "graupel': weather ignoramuses keep talking about "hail." The pink and blue and green radar zones carve up the map arbitrarily from town to town or neighborhood to neighborhood, so that in place of the nice collective experience of a blizzard, nobody is getting the same thing you are.
Just before 9 a.m. the weather app said there was light snow in Newark, light freezing rain in Trenton, rain in Baltimore, ice pellets in Timonium. It said the Upper West Side was only overcast, but out the window there was something blowing around against the darker backgrounds.
Until, in the end, you get wet rain. All weather is fleeting but wintry mix never really establishes itself at all. It doesn't have the narrative structure of a fast-moving thunderstorm, which may be over quickly but clearly makes its point. There's just gray switching back and forth with white, rattling and splatting and rattling again. There won't be anything to show for it, except on the Instagrams of the people who've been able to buy upstate, where they can trust a snowstorm to snow.
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Tidiness placard in the break room. Would it kill you to empty the sink strainer?


Did we ever make any furniture decision better than the armchair? We bought it out of necessity, in a hurry, so there would be someplace to nurse the early-arrived baby. All the furniture that had come with the apartment was Chinese middle-class postmodish, with polished wooden torpedo arms on metal frames, nothing you could settle into and lean against.

So I went out looking for something better, in the furniture stores out past Beijing's Third Ring Road, snapping photos on my Treo to bring home for consultation and approval. When I saw it, though—in the showroom of a place called Illinois—I was pretty sure I had it. It was just a rounded little Platonic form of armchair, intelligibly modernist, with a matching hassock. The floor model was a delicate light green, a knockout color if you didn't plan to have a baby spitting up on it. Along with the phone photo, I brought home a few sample upholstery swatches in various reddish stripes.

We agreed on the form and we agreed on the color; we were locked onto our new task of being parents with a single unified vision. I went back and ordered it. I can't begin to remember what the price was, except that it was not much at all, and it arrived quickly.

Everything about it was ideal. It was cozy but firm; we could settle in with the baby but still get back out again. The fabric, a textured rusty stripe, wiped up nicely and hid whatever stains remained. When the baby got bigger, we could prop him up in it. He liked sitting there.

When we moved back to the United States, it was among the furnishings we shipped back. It arrived, handled ungently, with one tapered chrome leg poking up through its wrapping, the chrome disk of its foot shorn off. Somewhere in the confusion and wreckage of unpacking, we were able to recover it and screw it on again.

Probably from the trauma of the move, it developed a little flex in the back. Nothing too serious. Now and then, one or another of the feet of the hassock would come unbolted and it would tilt over and I would have to find the nut and washer and put the leg together and tighten it up again. It was worth the fuss.

It was a tough little chair. It was lightweight enough to pick up and carry easily, singlehanded; truthfully, the center of gravity wasn't great when the child got taller and tried standing up in it. But the second boy came along, and he nursed in it in turn, and when he could sit up, he sat up in it too. Before long, the two of them would squeeze into it together.

Also featured in this image, the Medusa Lamp, subject of a previous DISPOSSESSIONS.

Now the older one is in middle school, and the furniture that was new when he was a baby is getting shabby and failing all at once. The padding is separating from the frame of the big shiplike couch; the melamine top is peeling off the dining table. Everything is a little too large for our small apartment, with growing boys in it, so that I had to squeeze past the armchair to get to my seat at dinnertime.

Over the weekend, I sat down in the armchair and it suddenly tipped forward and to the left. At first, in confusion, I thought about the hassock legs, but this was the chair itself. I got out and lifted it to have a look.

This was something new, and bad. The leg was an upside-down metal cone, with a flared flat ring around the base where it attached to the bottom of the chair. One of the long screws that attached that flat ring to the chair had worked itself all the way loose, and that side had pulled away and crumpled forward, the force shearing right through the metal.

Age and failure come on like that. One day you're loping around in your prime, the next day your lower back goes sideways and you can't roll over in bed without worrying about making it worse. When we weren't really looking, the warm red and orange fabric developed up a gray threadbare sheen on the high points. What could anyone expect, at that price point, after 11 and a half years?

I bent the broken piece back into almost its original shape and screwed the screw in place. I sat down, gingerly. The chair heeled over again, the leg twisting up and kicking out. I bent the leg back again and tried to use the chair again, keeping still, leaning my weight back and to the right. I could pretend it was OK, as long as I didn't shift my position or relax or otherwise use the armchair as friendly, trusted armchair. I couldn't pretend it was OK. It was shot.

I lifted it, plump and light, in my arms one more time. One of the boys opened the door for me, and I carried it out to the trash. We hung on to the hassock.

Nineteen Folktales: A Series

[Illustration by Jim Cooke]

5. The Unfading Goldfinch

Outside a prince's window stood an orange tree, and one morning a goldfinch began singing from one of its branches. The prince was drawn to the window to listen, and he saw the brilliance of the bird's feathers against the green leaves. "Nothing in my treasury is so fine and so pleasing," he said, and every morning thereafter he stood at the window to listen and to praise it.

There came a morning, though, that the goldfinch's song sounded mournful, and the bird hung its head a little. "What troubles you?" the prince called to it.

The finch flew to his windowsill. "My golden feathers," he said, "must fade when the summer fades. What then will there be for you to admire?"

The prince was moved by the bird's sorrow, and more than a little displeased at the thought of nature thwarting his own enjoyment. He summoned the palace goldsmith and armorer at once. "Prepare for this goldfinch an array to outshine his own plumage," he commanded.

The goldsmith and the armorer took the bird's measurements with fine threads, and retreated to the palace workshops. Working through the day and the night, they wrought a delicate coat of pure gold, paneled and jointed to perfectly encase the bird's form.

In the morning, they presented it to the prince. Delighted, he summoned the finch to his window. "Now," the prince said, "your plumage will never lose its luster." He carefully dressed the goldfinch in the golden coat, and set a mirror before the bird.

The sun glittered on the gold. The bird was dazzled and awed at the sight of himself in the glass. No goldfinch had ever been so majestic. He began to draw breath, to burst into song.

But the weight of the gold, delicate though it was, kept his chest from swelling. Instead of his beautiful voice, only a wheeze came out. The finch hopped on the windowsill and fluttered his wings, but the gold was too cumbersome. He staggered and plunged out the window.

The bird landed, in a daze, at the foot of the orange tree. No sooner had he hit the earth than a cat pounced on him. The cat tried to gobble the finch down, but the gold caught in his throat and he coughed the bird back up.

The cat regarded the goldfinch in disgust. "The finery you pleaded for," he said, "has made you useless to anyone."


A Minor Confrontation in the course of Hmm Daily duties

I was so preoccupied with taking snaps of the sign that did I not properly acknowledge the irritated Ford field rep.

While evaluating the state of the automotive union as expressed by the MOTORTREND International Auto Show’s annual run in Baltimore, MD, I was wandering around the Baltimore Convention Center, which is temporarily transformed into a vast car dealership showroom, and I was taking pictures of everything new and shiny on four wheels. My eyes were full of shapes and colors, and I was trying to get as much of it all as I could into my phone camera.

As I got near the Ford Motor Company’s exhibit area, I heard voices announcing the opportunity to sign up to be paid $50 to test-drive a new Ford, and I reasoned my way through the come-on as “Yeah, $50 if you test-drive a new Ford and then buy the Ford,” but I wasn’t there to buy a new Ford, I was there to look at new Fords, Chevrolets, Fiats, etc., and take pictures to support my written report. When I say there were voices, it’s because I never bothered to connect the sounds in my ears with humans, because all I was doing was looking at cars and taking pictures of cars, and anything else that might make a good photo-opportunity, like this two-lane blacktop rug that stretched through the event.

Among the visuals was the Ford kiosk, with words scrolling along an illuminated ring up top, and I became fixated on trying to get a shot of a possibly-funny chunk of Fordspeak, so I stood in front of it with my phone in front of my face and clicked away. While I was doing this, I became aware of one of the Ford representatives telling me I didn’t have to take pictures of the sign, because they had all the information the sign was advertising. So without lowering the phone from my face, I said something dismissive like “Yeah, I’m good, thanks,” and the Ford representative said something like “Well, if you were good, you wouldn’t need to take pictures of the sign, because I have all the info that’s up there,” and then I realized they wanted me to sign up for a $50 test drive, and so I even more dismissively responded with something about how I was just taking pictures of the sign, and they said “Yeah, you don’t have to,” and what we had here was failure to communicate: the Ford employee was doing their job, which, judging by the determination of that particular employee, may have been commission based, and I was doing my job of trying to take a picture of what might be a funny word fragment on some animated signage for a blog on an internet, and we were both getting irritated, justifiably, from our own points of view, or being unreasonable, from the other point of view.

Our goals were not compatible, but they didn't have to be in conflict. I thought for a sec there might have been some Ford irritation about picture-taking in general, but it was a car show, emphasis on show, everybody at a car show takes pictures of everything. So I’m reasonably certain this was all about landing me as a $50 test driver, but I offer up my sincere apologies for any offense to the Ford workers, I was just trying to do my job, and I hope you had good success building up the lead list.

Hmm Daily is a website in the Civil Network, offering commentary and news and other things. This email newsletter is written by Tom Scocca, the editor of Hmm Daily, and Joe MacLeod, the creative director.

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