The Twenty-Sixth Best Email We Wrote This Past Weekend

The Twenty-Sixth Best Email We Wrote This Past Weekend

The Twenty-Sixth Best Email We Wrote This Past Weekend: THE HMM WEEKLY NEWS-LETTER

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Your Captain, Speaking

The pilot, our captain, came out and stood up in the front of the plane, with the intercom talk-box in his hand. We, the passengers, had just finally boarded the flight and settled into our seats, after an hour and a half of waiting—or two hours, or more? Time had grown shapeless and elastic, at the mostly unattended JetBlue gate, with a phantom flight to Boston on the board ahead of us, as dusk fell and the airport barbecue-sandwich place by the gate shut down for the night.

Our captain was tall and brawny, with a clean-shaven head and a snug-fitting uniform shirt. His overall aspect and demeanor were not unlike those of The Rock, and he addressed the passengers with the same weary but light-hearted air that The Rock might have had in the second act of the movie, as things were going badly wrong but not so badly wrong that The Rock doubted, deep down, his ability to make them right.

A lot of the time, he said, when things go wrong with your travel, nobody tells you what is happening, or why. So, our captain said, he wanted to let us know. There was, he said, as we probably did know, he said, some weather.

In this particular place, at RDU, the weather had come and gone, true. But elsewhere, our captain said, all over the place, it was causing problems, which meant it was choking the overall capacity of the airways. It was like a six-lane highway squeezing down to a single lane, he said.

Technically, our captain said, we were not exactly, officially, at the moment, cleared to depart for New York. But he was going to go ahead as if we were, and ask nicely, and see if they would let us go. He got off the intercom and disappeared into the cockpit.

There had been weather the last time I flew out of Raleigh-Durham, too. That trip had been for the baptism of my firstborn nephew, and I'd sat in the terminal through delays upon delays till the airline came around and gave us snack food, then told us there'd be no flight that night. My brother had come back to pick me up and we'd detoured to Target to buy me a clean t-shirt, which I wore on the plane the next day, after sleeping on his couch.

Now I'd flown down for the baptism of my second-born nephew. That same t-shirt was rolled up in my suitcase, in case I might need it. Also I'd brought an extra pair of socks. I'd checked my bag, so if we ended up driving aimlessly around the tarmac for a couple hours and calling it quits, I'd have to wait for it to get un-checked. Our captain had not left me feeling especially hopeful, but at least I felt prepared.

Then we took off. Just like that, with no more fuss or delay than any other flight. Possibly less. The active flight time from RDU to JFK is nothing, a little over an hour, the plane started descending before we were all the way through the beverage and the snack.

When we touched down, the lead flight attendant got on the intercom: there were some people on the plane, she said, who were trying to make tight connections. Someone was trying to get to Paris. Please, the lead flight attendant said, let those people off the plane first.

And everyone did. The whole planeload of passengers, all running late for their own plans, settled in and waited till the people with the connections got clear. Paris! They were young and polite and not at all panicked. We, in turn, were not confused and angry individuals, fighting blindly for our personal interests in an uncaring and unresponsive system. We were all in this together. Our captain had made sure of it.


Here Is a Photograph of the Sky

While we mull over what to serialize next, here's yet another installment of Spam Filter Letters to the Awl, from the 80,000-word collection of dummy-text cover letters I wrote to make sure that when I emailed that site a photograph of the sky, the filters would allow it to go through

Subject: Click click click
To: Awl notes

And the paperclip button does nothing. I leap into the saddle to ride forth against the filters once more, and the saddle is sitting flat on the ground in the dust, horseless, the entire quest reduced to a joke before it begins.

[Restarts browser]

Aha, there we go. And what was being tested there, I wonder? What needed to be proven? Did that feat of compliance make any sort of useful impression?

Here, at last, at any rate, is a sky photograph. The review is in.

Subject: Where do you suppose
To: Awl notes

the things trapped in the filters go, the coffee grounds of the internet? Do they get swept up into their own data-composting bin, to become the stuff on which a different kind of metainformational analysis may grow? Is a computer somewhere modeling what the inhuman and ahuman and unpersuasively human behave like, to find a way to cater to their needs? Is a whole new world emerging outside the city wall made of captchas? What will it be like to be a denizen of this space? Will this amount of text prevent this message--again, a sky photo and the announcement of a draft--from ending up there?

Subject: The bots are performing
To: Awl notes

better than the people, really; the only difference I see between Two Headlines and the regular headlines in my feed is that Two Headlines makes sense more often. Someone no doubt is already training a bot to react to the weather, to characterize it by pulling terms from a word cloud. Automation awaits all of us. And then we can all just stop worrying about how to pretend to be human. Meanwhile here's a photo and notification that the review is in.

Subject: I cannot be responsible
To: Awl notes

for the problems of anyone who chose to live and/or work in Brooklyn, who may have actually regarded yesterday's conditions as something to complain about, because much as I opened my mind to those complaints, it was impossible to find anything the least bit valid in them. The five-star review of yesterday's weather is in the system, and here is one of several photographs I took of the delightful sky. The only thing I can say against yesterday's weather, ultimately, was that it was not today's weather, but today--in its actual flabbergasting perfection--is not a day under review, and at any rate such are the limitations of the strict five-star system, which remains superior to any feeble and equivocating half-star approach.

Moreover the junior critics at the weather desk declared, of yesterday, that it was "six out of five stars" (the older) and "look at the pretty sky look look the water is all blue" (the younger).

Subject: The little microhabitats
To: Awl notes

of ultraluxury one stumbles into are quite unbelievable or unreal. Yesterday's was in "Mima," on 42nd Street, where time and space seemed to have been dislocated. I led Dominic off the elevator into a hallway studded with miniature bullseye reflectors, past two women wearing cocktail dresses at 10:30 in the morning. It emerged at the party that the party-throwers did not actually live in the building, and but that they had been able to rent the room because they ... owned? The coffee shop on the ground floor. Although it may have been part of a portfolio of holdings. It was unclear! Did they "belong" there? Certainly others of the guests did. I sat on a pleated purple satin futon and kept Dominic company as he watched the clown-magician play the recorder with his nose.

Here is a photograph of the sky; the review is in the system.

Subject: The idiot global-warming denier spam
To: Awl notes

is gloating about the weather, because it proves that the Big Lie is a Big Lie, because how can things be surprisingly cool if the climate is warming? Obviously the scheme cannot account for this, although that raises some deeper questions about the nature of the climate-change propaganda conspiracy--because what sort of propaganda conspiracy sets itself up to be so easily disproven by something as readily apparent to the public as the weather outside? What do they think they think they take us for?

Luckily all we have to do with the weather is review it, which has been accomplished yet again, via a review in the system and the attached photograph of the sky.

Subject: In the system
To: Awl notes

is where we all are, a system that requires us to behave according to the rules of the system, rules which are ostensibly designed to facilitate our use of the system, but which serve to redirect our efforts into the things that the system expects us to do, such as for instance sending email messages that are full of words in varied and unpredictable patterns, rather than simple messages that directly communicate the thing that needs to be communicated, that thing in this case being that "in the system" also describes the status of today's draft review of yesterday's weather, and the potential future status of the attached photograph of the sky.



We present here for your continued (we hope) delectation a selection of recipes for archaic but entirely executable sandwiches, found in The Up-To-Date Sandwich Book: 400 Ways to Make a Sandwich, published in 1909 and now in the public domain for all to enjoy, so please, enjoy, and if you have made any of these sandwiches, kindly send a picture to

This week's complication: "Bake in shallow tins."

Chop the meat of a medium sized lobster and a stalk of celery fine, moisten with a little mayonnaise dressing, and place between thin slices of lightly buttered white bread. Garnish with a slice of lemon.

Cream two tablespoonfuls of butter, add three tablespoonfuls of prepared horse-radish, spread between exceedingly thin slices of white bread. Garnish with parsley; serve as soon as made.

Cream four ounces of butter, add gradually four ounces of brown sugar, four ounces of fine flour, four eggs one by one, a squeeze of lemon juice or a tablespoonful of rose water, and lastly a teaspoonful of baking powder. When thoroughly mixed, bake in shallow tins. Whip up till perfectly thick a quarter of a pint of cream, spread this on half the strips and cover with the other sandwich-fashion. Ice these sandwiches over with chocolate icing.

Hmm Daily is, until July 18, 2019, 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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