Hmm Weekly for March 10, 2020

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Hmm Weekly for March 10, 2020

Another Week, Another Hmm Weekly

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THE PENNY ALWAYS does require some thought, even in ordinary times. It is free money, and behind the question of whether or not to ignore it is a whole superstitious realm of concerns about what it means to consider yourself above the most minor of good fortune. But also it is so very, very little money. How little? I counted seconds while I did a pretend stoop-and-grab, on the rug indoors, and assuming a prudent stooping speed I figured it took about six seconds to get down and pick up something small and get up again, which works out to $6 an hour, if there were 600 pennies around and you somehow couldn't get more than one per trip. Not a living wage. And also also of course the penny is not on the rug but on the filthy ground, where you have to pick at it with your fingers, and then put it—where? In your pocket with your phone that you handle all the time? Are you going just go around gripping it till you can wash your hands and the penny together? For 20 seconds? Then your hourly wage for penny-picking is more like $1.38. But still, it is money; the world is giving it to you. Questions of luck and questions of hygiene wind around the mind in adjacent grooves, with the needle skittering back and forth between them. You just need a reason to be able to decide: a particularly sticky-looking floor, say, or your hands already being full. Now here was this penny, lying among the bumps of the pedestrian-guiding surface in a crosswalk. It was extremely shiny in the sun, which helped me notice it, and which argued for picking it up. I was close to home.

Then I remembered the coronavirus, and I left it right there.


Everybody, please tell the rest of the Internet about this, thanks!

Dry Stream Dep't.

MAYBE I HEARD a phrase somewhere that set it off, maybe because of the election season? We're dealing with the mysteries of memory here so who knows. But somehow the record spun up out of the depths of the brain-jukebox, whence it hadn't spun in something like 30 years, and the song was back in my head: "So faaaaaar / Away from here, my love / It's so far away..."

There are songs without number down there, songs that were in heavy rotation on a single frequency in a particular band of time: WHFS, the sole weirdo rock station in Maryland, the late '80s. My brother had gone off to college and my parents were at work in Baltimore and after I'd bummed a ride home from high school it was me and the stereo and the weirdo DJs, alone in the woods. Some friends, but not others, might crank the station in the car too. And some of the music pointed the way to albums to buy—Darklands, If I Should Fall From Grace With God, Lovely—and to keep, but other songs were just songs, coming and going. Now and then one comes back, from a long way off. This is what I use Spotify for, if my younger kid isn't hogging the account to listen to whatever he's listening to on his wireless headphones ("How much money is a 'rack'?" he asks). So intercut with action-movie soundtrack hip-hop on the Spotify history is a sprinkling of niche-audience oldies: "Marlene on the Wall," say, or "Reptile."

This one, though—the chorus in my head went "I will persuade you," and I was pretty sure that was the title, and Spotify brought up nothing but podcasts: "Bioengineer: Ideas and Ethics," "Fat Loss Success Stories." I went to the web, and there it was, "I Will Persuade You," by the Huxton Creepers. I could feel the echo of the voice of the afternoon DJ, who went by "Weasel," saying "the Huxton Creepers." Evidently it had had a video:

It was in my ears’ ears, not just my mind’s ears, note for note, exactly as (I now realized) I knew it. Nothing had brought it back before this. The Huxton Creepers were Australian, and I'd been to a wedding involving a bunch of middle-aged Australian surfers where they were playing deep cuts from the era, or at least cuts that were deep cuts in America. They played "Like Wow—Wipeout" by the Hoodoo Gurus ("I kiss the ground on which you walk / I kiss the lips through which you talk / I kiss the City of New Yo-o-ork...") but I didn't hear the Huxton Creepers there. Wikipedia says the band broke up before the decade was over and the drummer went on to clear land mines in Cambodia. The song got to the end, just the way I remembered it getting there, with them playing the riff one last time and then they bashed the final chord and it was over.


Empty Sumo

I ENJOY TELEVISION the way Nature intended, which is to say over-the-air Broadcast Television. You need an antenna for your TV, and you have to care about watching television, because you need to move that goddamn antenna all over the place to catch the digital signal, and then you have to re-scan on your TV and it’s irritating when the signal is thin and you get the digital freezes and g/g///g/glitch/glitchglitch////glitches. Glitches.

The local Public Television carrier runs a channel for NHK World, which is stuff from Japan in English, specifically tailored for American audiences. It’s not subtitled or overdubbed very much, and I think NHK has a bunch of different language flavors. World!

I watch the food shows, and there’s a show where people have lunch, but really it’s about asking the person who they are meeting for lunch about their life and what they do for a living. They have an interesting show about train travel destinations in Japan, lots of small towns and villages, and they have news, info about Japan plus U.S. and world news without the North American angle, kinda like the BBC news. They also have a show about people who make unique craft items, or grow a certain kind of vegetable, or produce a unique foodstuff, and it’s kinda depressing because it always seems like they’re interviewing the very last person in Japan who knows how to weave a basket a certain way or make a distinctive banner in an ancient style, and I think maybe they run the show to maybe connect with the one person out there who will say “I must go to that village and learn how to make that certain kind of tofu that way and devote my life to a centuries-old tradition!” Like I said, it’s a little depressing, but I still watch because whatever they’re making, it’s always fascinating. But then I get sad again, sorry.

I really enjoy watching Grand Sumo Highlights when it’s the season for a tournament. I haven’t figured it all out yet, because Television is a passive activity, and after all the trouble getting my antenna lined up the right way I really don’t want to do anything beyond sit on my couch and watch. It seems like every few months there’s a big tournament, and they show clips of all the matches every night during the meet, and I’m starting to appreciate the subtleties of sumo beyond watching giant dudes bump into each other. There’s all sorts of tradition and technique. It’s a blast, I highly recommend it, plus it’s on free teevee! Cord cutter!

This is how it usually looks, big guys in mawashi trying to knock each other down or push each other outside of the ring while a packed house cheers on the action!

Now, however, owing to the COVID-19, they decided not to let spectators attend the basho, which is being held beginning this week in an empty stadium (broadcasts at 12:30 a.m. EDT)  with only the people needed to make the bouts happen. It’s really weird, they are doing pretty much what they normally do as far as the walk-ons and rituals, which are tied to ancient harvest prayers, but it feels like a dress rehearsal. There’s no big-crowd energy. The joint is silent. The sumo itself, though, is full on. The Emperor’s Cup is at stake!

Sumo in silence has been entertaining because you can really hear the referee without all the crowd noise. He hauntingly hollers each wrestler’s name at the beginning of the bout, and then during the match is constantly yelling referee stuff, and then at the conclusion, in a booming voice, howls the name of the winner.

I sort of wish the TV commentator would talk less so I could hear the ref more, but the announcers provide a lot of important info about the specific category of hold or slap or throw or shifty move employed to decide each match, which enhances my understanding and appreciation of the sport.

You can also watch the tournament online, but I detest watching Television on my computer. Who will carry on my ancient tradition?


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Spring, Part I

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IT SEEMS AS if we will never cease presenting a selection of recipes for ancient but reproducible sandwiches, found in The Up-To-Date Sandwich Book: 400 Ways to Make a Sandwich, by Eva Greene Fuller; 1909; McClurg and Co., Chicago, now in the public domain for the delectation of all.

Cream three tablespoonfuls of butter, add three tablespoonfuls of grated American cheese, one tablespoonful of anchovy essence, a dash of salt and paprika, one-fourth teaspoonful of mustard, and one-fourth cupful of finely chopped olives. Place mixture between thin slices of lightly buttered rye bread.

Cream two tablespoonfuls of butter, add one-fourth cupful of grated American cheese and one teaspoonful of vinegar, and season with salt, paprika, mustard, and anchovy essence. Place mixture between thin slices of white bread. Garnish with a pickle.

Salted cracker slightly toasted, spread with American cheese; serve hot.

Melt a quarter of a pound of American cheese in a sauce pan, add the yolk of one egg beaten with two teaspoonfuls of cream, a dash of salt and red pepper, and half a teaspoonful of Worcestershire sauce. Take from the fire and when cold, spread on thin slices of white or rye bread. Press the two together and cut in strips. Garnish with a pickle.

If you make one of these sandwiches, before you eat it, please send a picture to



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