The Eighth Best Email We Wrote This Past Weekend

The Eighth Best Email We Wrote This Past Weekend

The Eighth Best Email We Wrote This Past Weekend: HMM WEEKLY PREMIUM

Good morning! This is the latest edition of what is now the SUBSCRIBERS ONLY Hmm Weekly Premium Newsletter, distributed exclusively to our paying members, supporters, and patrons. Thank you very, very much for your interest and support. If you're feeling even more generous of spirit, please share this message with your uninitiated or laggard friends, so that they too can take the opportunity to join us!



It started as a fragment of memory, accidentally jarred loose for no identifiable reason on the long and uneven slide toward sleep: there had been these little games, tabletop arcade games, that...ran on water? Clear vertical tanks, with little plastic bits swimming in them. You mashed a button and a jet of water moved things around.

There were. These things. It had been more than 30 years since they had ever crossed my mind. I couldn't quite recall what the little plastic bits had been, or where the water was supposed to make them go, but my right thumb could remember exactly the feeling of the button: the way it might slew sideways or give a false, loose press before you really caught the rhythm and started driving the water with full force.

My wife remembered them too, but to no greater extent. They were around; they were the sort of thing you would play with over at somebody else's house. On the landscape of childhood, at the time, nothing seems contingent: AM news-and-music radio, disposable coffee cups with reusable handles, record players, conversion vans, flash cubes, home intercoms. The normal world is made up of these things, and then history moves along and you stop encountering them. The after arrives without your ever having marked down that you were living in the before.

Now, to make up for this process, we have prosthetic memory—incomplete and unreliable, but existent. What was this thing, back in the 1970s, this...water jet game. No, wait, wasn't it a water jet ring toss? Yes, there, one image, from Pinterest, the pattern-recognition circuits locking in on the red base and white button, a tomy waterful. This is what it was like. It was the Tomy Waterful.

Here is what it is like, now: I followed the prosthetic memory trail from Google Images of waterful ring toss game to a web page about it, on something called liketotally80s dot com. The copy was chipper and almost plausible, except for getting the decade wrong and collapsing multiple entertainment ecosystems into one mass:

So many toys from the 80s that I loved so much…board games, (Trouble!, Trivial Pursuit) electronic games, (Speak & Spell, Merlin), and video games (anything you could play on the Atari), but there’s one game that stands out for its simplicity, its one-player challenge and for its use of water.

It went on, in uncanny voice:

The goal of the Waterful Ring-Toss is to press the button which shoots out a jet propulsion of water, trying to maneuver the bright red, green, yellow and blue rings onto the two little plastic sticks.

And then, as I tried to let light and air through the dusty corridors of nine-tenths-forgotten childhood, the site tried to download a bunch of files without permission. It was, unquestionably, like totally 2010s.


Hmm Daily has two more installments of our “Here is Pretty Much Everything James Bond Ate and Drank” exercise in Culinary Vicariousness to run, before we exhaust our supply of authentic Ian Fleming James Bond writings. So there are only two more times we'll have to generate imagery for the “Featured Art” at the top of each blog post.

The thing that has always impressed me about Fleming’s fabulist 007 novels is the attention to detail where food is concerned. Fleming was writing what he knew, or thought he knew, so along with the Cold War politics, and casual sexism and racism of the era, he injected a lot of detail about dining, fine and otherwise. I wanted to present the food items in each novel with some context, and our editor wisely insisted on presenting as little context as possible short of a plain list.

The James Bond novels have always inspired a lot of top-drawer art direction, but I was depending on random cheapo used book purchases for my uneven collection of source material. I figured I’d just use each book cover as-is, but our Featured Art format is a proportion of about 16 wide to 9 tall. I wanted something to tie the posts together that would work horizontally, but the books are vertical, so for the background image accompanying each book I included a sort of wallpapered food element inspired by whatever stuck out the most in my mind as I tallied each tale’s bill of fare. Casino Royale, the very first story, has more than one appearance of scrambled eggs, an item which turns out to be the most popular foodstuff in James Bond’s life over the entirety of the series. The second book, Live and Let Die, contained a preponderance of orange juice, and the third book, Moonraker, featured chauvinism regarding Scottish Highland smoked salmon, the best in the world, according to super spy James Bond / author Ian Fleming, who did not appreciate the Norwegian or North American varieties.

This week was a slight variation, since the number one thing 007 does in You Only Live Twice (at this point in the series peaking as an alcoholic) is drink tumbler after tumbler of sake, which is not particularly photogenic on its own. I had a nice-looking black bottle of sake on hand and tried some pictures, but then I noticed it was made in USA, and for me, it seemed inappropriate to not use sake made in Japan, so I picked up what I could at the closest liquor store and used the label as the background pattern.

Please tune in next week for the conclusion of menus from the novels, “Here is Pretty Much Everything James Bond Ate and Drank in Ian Fleming’s The Man with The Golden Gun," which will be followed by an epilogue, “Here is Pretty Much Everything James Bond Ate and Drank in Ian Fleming’s 'Octopussy' and 'The Living Daylights,'” two short stories.


[Illustration by Jim Cooke]

8. The Discontented Butterfly

A butterfly lived in a meadow in a clearing on a mountainside, below the slopes where a dragon had its lair. Whenever the dragon emerged and took flight, its shadow falling over the meadow, the butterfly would stop flitting from flower to flower and gaze up at the vast and smoldering form as it passed.

"Ah," it sighed. "If only I could be a mighty dragon, instead of a tiny and fragile butterfly, even for a single day."

One morning, as the dragon was gliding in for a landing, its keen ears picked up the faintly whispered lament from below. It banked and wheeled down toward the clearing, settling with surprising gentleness on the grass. The butterfly, clinging to an aster, was too terrified even to hide.

"You wish to be a dragon?" the beast asked, in a thrumming voice that made the butterfly's wings wobble tympanically. The roiling greens and golds of its eye scrutinized the tiny insect. "Perhaps," the dragon said, "you might not trade places with me, if it could be so."

Somehow, in its shock, the butterfly found courage welling up in its tiny chest. "I would," it said, meeting the dragon's gaze. "I certainly would."

A sardonic curl of smoke drifted from one cavernous nostril. "You wish to feel the weight of centuries? To move about veiled a cloud of dread and panic? You wish to stir the envy and hatred of men, so that they come against you unbidden, with sword and lance?"

"I do," said the butterfly.

The dragon bowed its head. "Try, then." A shudder passed over the butterfly, and a great wind and darkness swept over the meadow. When the butterfly recovered its vision, it seemed to be looking from a great height at a world traced by molten flame. Its insect eyes had always been able to see the secret ultraviolet markings of flowers, but now strange hidden colors of things showed themselves everywhere. It could see every leaf for miles—every leaf and everything behind the leaves, the tiniest hidden crawling things. It let out its breath, and smoke rose before its eyes.

Down below its gaze, a butterfly flexed its delicate wings. "There," it said, in a thin but still somehow haughty voice. "Now I shall drink some nectar, and we will meet again tomorrow."

A thrill ran through the original butterfly, who was now anything but a butterfly. It turned its head to peer down at itself: the gleaming scales, the shocking talons, the simple unimagined expansiveness of the body stretching up the meadow. The distant, lashing tail! The butterfly-turned-dragon lashed it on purpose, and the tail tip sliced through a seedling pine. It stretched—

Its wings! Pinions like filled sails, if the butterfly had ever seen a ship to know one. Regardless, it could feel the volume of air. One push and the weight ebbed from its body. Another and it was off the ground and up to the treetops. It flapped again, and again, and the meadow—the whole known world—fell away.

How long the butterfly-dragon spent aloft, lost in the sensation of it, it could never recall. At some point, swooping down from frosty heights to low above rolling country, it became aware of a disturbance and clamor on the ground. The birds and wild animals and livestock, everything alive, scattered in all directions like dust blown by its wings. A spark of hunger or cruelty came into its mind, and it overtook and reached down to seize a madly galloping ram. Horns and bone and life were crushed in a single snap of the jaws, and the creature that had been a butterfly tasted hot streaming blood on its tongue. It swallowed and gave a triumphal roar, and a gust of fire came out. Things would burn.

Burn they did, tree and haystack and barn, as the dragon-butterfly turned its powers against the land. Scorch marks blackened the earth for furlongs at a stretch. Hogs, cattle, and deer were ridden down and devoured, and men too, probably, the creature quite beyond caring or counting its destruction. Most of the afternoon was gone before the wild joy subsided to contentment, and the dragon-butterfly turned its wings back toward the mountain.

The mouth of its lair was round and wide, so that the dragon-butterfly could sail right into it before coming to a landing. The talons gripped the floor and the tunnel went straight and a little downward, the cold mountain stone beginning to press pleasantly against the hot dragon-muscle as the way went deeper and deeper. At the end was the den proper, high-ceilinged and carpeted with a shimmering hoard of golden treasure. The dragon-butterfly lowered its shoulder and rolled over, wallowing in the precious metal, feeling coins stream over its flanks. An unspeakable vigor coursed through its limbs, and then it relaxed.

Before nightfall, the warriors came, as they had to. The dragon-butterfly heard the hoofbeats miles off and the clinking of armor, and as the sound drew near, with a sort of giddy anticipation, it uncoiled itself and went up the tunnel. It had no sooner poked its head out than a blow from a lance caught the side of its neck. Well struck it was, hard enough to pierce the scales. It came nowhere near a vein or the windpipe; for a dragon, it was equivalent to nothing more than a person being stabbed with a needle.

Being stabbed with a needle, in the neck, is however not an inconsequential sensation. Beyond the pain, which was considerable, the dragon-butterfly felt a sickening terror, the terror of vulnerability to a body alive for ages. Its shoulders cleared the cave mouth and its talons lashed out at the first assailant. The lance splintered, the armor crumpled, the little body went limp and was tossed away.

And now a mob of them advanced, steel flashing in the late light, blades and spear-points. The dragon-butterfly coughed a ball of fire toward them, struck out with its claws, flicked its tail with deadly force. Another man went hurtling down the slope, a horse screamed and fell. A sword slashed across a scaly knuckle, drawing blood. The dragon-butterfly had pushed aside its disgust and was elated. It broke the ranks of the warriors, pinning some of them against the mountainside and sending the others scrambling downslope. It belched fire again, bit through steel.

The men sang strange brave songs and called down oaths on the dragon, even as they fell. One ran headlong at the creature with no fear and no plan, slicing three gashes in a forelimb before the teeth closed around him. It was well after dark before the dragon (who felt not at all like a butterfly anymore) had finished slaying the best of them and driving off the others. The cave mouth was littered with their broken weapons and bodies. Wearily, and with a limp, the dragon that had been a butterfly crawled back inside and flopped down on the gold.

It awoke to the gentle but insistent flutter of wings. A distant glow of morning reached down into its cave. There, on a doubloon, perched a butterfly. "Well?" it said. "You have had your day, and I trust you had enough of it."

"Enough?" said the dragon. "I have been stabbed, hacked, and battered. I am hounded and sore. Is that what you mean? But I am victorious, implacable, awful. Power beyond imagination, power from the deep currents of the earth, is in my bones. I can soar to heights that would kill a bird. The strongest works of men break in my grasp. No one could ever have enough."

"Be that as it may," the butterfly said, "time is up." And again darkness swept over them, and when it passed, the original butterfly was a butterfly again. The world was dim before its eyes, and its wings felt feeble and fragile.

"Be off," said the dragon, in its deadly dragon-voice, "and if you have not learned to appreciate what is yours, do not trouble me further about it." Sullenly, the butterfly flapped up out of the tunnel, which was now a long, laborious flight for it. It flew back down to the meadow, and there it passed the rest of its days, the remaining weeks of summer, in misery and rage.

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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