Hmm Weekly for November 19, 2019

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Hmm Weekly for November 19, 2019

Another Week, Another Hmm Weekly

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A Serial Travelogue, Part 11

The Median

AT CHEYANNE, WITHOUT stopping, we left the two-lane Wyoming roadway and merged onto a full divided interstate. Back in South Dakota, there had been recurring construction zones, where they closed down the whole westbound side and shunted the traffic over to some of the eastbound lanes, or maybe vice versa sometimes, so that the usual one-way lanes became a narrow-seeming two-way road. This had slowly given rise to a conscious sense of how much more effort it took to face oncoming traffic. Logically, you never want to drift out of your lane anyway, but on the two-lane road, it's much more tense and real. But apart from going through the center tube of the Lincoln Tunnel, I hadn't explicitly thought about this through decades of easy interstate driving.

Later, on Facebook, I asked my second-youngest cousin, a long-haul trucker, if he thought about the difference, and he said two-lane roads can be a "little more mental work."

"We do both talk about it and plan according around it," he wrote, "but mostly we basically become accustomed to it especially since that's mostly all we do."
"Plus we also try to focus on surrounding scenery on a 2 lane highway," he wrote.


At last, there were the Rockies, sharp against the sky in the west. We were admiring them, somewhere around Fort Collins, when the thunderstorm hit from the east. I have an occasional nightmare in which I'm on the highway, fully blinded by rain and fog, so that I can't see past the car itself to what I'm driving into, while unreason and momentum make it impossible for me to do anything but grip the wheel and keep going. It's a fairly literal dream, made up of amplified memories of driving an old Honda Civic with a balky air conditioner—and therefore a balky defogger—through the sudden nighttime storms of the humid Maryland summer.

Here the water sluicing over the windshield was even more literal. The ingrained keep-driving impulse of the highway wrestled with the fact of the obscuring downpour, and now there were—were there?—yes, there were solid things, bigger than the huge raindrops, bouncing off the windshield. It was hailing.

Up ahead, some drivers had pulled over and stopped in the shelter of an overpass, and the rest of the traffic was pulling over behind or in front of them, with the imitative force of herd instinct, despite there not being enough overpass to do the rest of us any good. But the vicarious idea of safety was all we could get, and we took it. The Kia sat on the shoulder, with the hail falling thickly and audibly onto it.

The nightmare of the blind windshield pivots on a moment of insight inside the speeding dream car: There is no reason this is going to be OK. Out of frankness or poorly sublimated panic I assured the kids that they were seeing, at their ages of 7 or 12, a bigger hailstorm than I had seen before in my own 47 years. The hail was the size of miniature marshmallows, battering against the metal of the roof. Then it was the size of regular marshmallows. Ponk. Ponkponk. Ponkponkponk.

It slowed and halted. We pulled out from the shoulder and started carefully accelerating along the travel lane. The hail started pounding down again. We stopped again. Another pause, another start, another barrage. The interstate lay on the edge of the storm, and it wasn't moving off. To the right, in the clear, were the mountains; to the left was ragged gray-black. Rainbows rose in the spray of the cars and trucks that dared to try sloshing past us.

We drove again. At last, we'd edged free of the worst of the storm, or it had edged free of us, but the roadway was buried in ice and slush inches deep. The traffic cut paths through it. Down in a low spot, the deluge had carried the ice to gather and drift in an immense slush-lake. The dashboard thermometer, which had been crawling up into triple digits all these days on the road, said 60 degrees—whether from the flash cooling of the storm or ice on the sensor, I couldn't guess.

In metropolitan traffic once more, we pulled off for gas, the last fill-up we'd need before the final top-off on returning the car. The hail had left no visible marks on the Kia, at least by the fading daylight and the lamps over the pumps.

We went into the gas station's convenience store looking for a map, to guide us around the Denver area and as a souvenir for the map-fascinated older boy, but there were no relevant local ones on the map rack, just Nebraska and the Dakotas.

In the dusk, among the weeds by the gas station, a hawk was crouching over something on the ground, wings spread and eyes glaring. It was not a falcon or an accipiter; I tried to take in and memorize its fieldmarks, to look up later what kind of buteo it was, but I'd been looking at too many things for too many days and none of the details stuck.

Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci) and Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro)


The Irishman, directed by Martin Scorsese

I WAS IMMEDIATELY disappointed by this movie in a small way, because while it is a Netflix movie (even though it is playing in movie theaters, it will premiere on Netflix No. 27), at the beginning, there was no Netflix BONGGG-GG. What the heck were they thinking? Netflix!

This is not a Netflix ad, this is just a thing to show you it’s gonna be on Netflix, BONGGGG.

The Irishman is based on a book whose subtitle contains “The Irishman,” however, because I think the rest of the title is kind of a minor spoiler, and I am always invested in people getting the most out of a movie if they decide to take one in, let’s just say the name of the book is The Irishman, and it’s all about a guy who had a career as a corrupt union organizer, among lots of other bad things, and the film is another historical-based-on-true-crimes movie from Martin Scorsese. Watching this movie filled me with End of an Era emotion, because it certainly seems like this is the last time we’re going to see Joe Pesci and Robert De Niro acting like gangsters with each other, and Martin Scorsese’s pushing 80, you know?

It’s good that this is a Netflix movie and you’ll be able to watch it at home, because this thing is three hours and twenty-eight minutes long, no intermission. That’s a long time to sit in a movie theater. I took special steps to make sure I would not have to get up in the middle of the film: large popcorn, small Coke!

Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro), Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino), and Bill Bufalino (Ray Romano)

My mind was completely poisoned by the publicity about the “de-aging” software used for this film, so Joe Pesci and Robert De Niro could play crime boss Russ Buffalino and Sheeran, respectively, as the film carries them from the 1940s through the turn of this century. The younger versions of Pesci and De Niro are middle-aged-looking, they don’t ever really look young, they just look odd and smoothed-over. Robert De Niro got a huge pop in his career by playing a young version of Marlon Brando’s Vito Corleone in The Godfather Part II, but we’re in a different world now and we need to lean on computers for stuff actors used to do.

Peggy Sheeran (Anna Paquin)

Speaking of acting, Al Pacino, as legendary and whereabouts still unknown Teamsters leader Jimmy Hoffa, is at his full Pacino-iest, a midwest Hoffa accent veering all over the map from Indiana to borderline leprechaun, it’s magically delicious. Anna Paquin, as Peggy, one of Sheeran’s daughters, doesn’t get a whole lot to do. Ray Romano, as union lawyer Bill Buffalino, has a long career ahead as Ray Romano (and I mean that in a good way); Bobby Cannavale as Felix “Skinny Razor” DiTullio is always great; Sebastian Maniscalco, a performer I only know from standup comedy, is a standout as “Crazy Joe” Gallo; and the assortment of swarthy mugs assembled for crowds at union and mob-related social scenes is formidable. Oh yeah, Harvey Keitel is in there for a minute.

Angelo Bruno (Harvey Keitel)

As the film jumped around in time periods, the face thing really was a little distracting in the theater as I was compulsively scrutinizing the actors’ faces, looking at micro-bits of Uncanny Valley. It’s still not the greatest special effect, at this point in movie tech, but it didn’t get in the way of a restrained and, in its best moments, a powerfully quiet and sad film. The parts I found compelling weren’t marred by the effects, but I think watching on a smaller home screen might not be a bad thing.


Old and/or Bad Candy

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WE PRESENT 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.

Toast and butter three slices of thinly cut bread; place slices of cold boiled chicken spread lightly with mayonnaise dressing on the lower slice; with a crisp lettuce leaf. Then put another slice of toast on top of that with a slice of ripe tomato spread lightly with mayonnaise dressing, topped by a third slice of toast spread with finely chopped celery that has been mixed with a little mayonnaise dressing. Lay on top of that sweet red peppers cut in ribbons; cut triangular.

Toast and butter three thin slices of white bread; place a lettuce leaf on the lower slice, and on its top put slices of chicken breast. Then put another slice of toast on top of that with another leaf of lettuce, followed by thin slices of broiled breakfast bacon, topped by third slice of toasted bread. Garnish top with small pickles cut in slices lengthwise. Serve as soon as made.

Toast and lightly butter three thin slices of white bread; place a lettuce leaf that has been dipped in mayonnaise dressing on the lower slice. On this, place slices of cold roast fowl, then put another slice of toast on top of that, with another leaf of lettuce, follow by thin slices of broiled ham, topped by a third slice of toasted bread. Garnish top with dill pickle, cut in thin slices lengthwise.

Chop cold boiled ham very fine and rub smooth in a mortar; pass the yolks of four hard-boiled eggs through a sieve and add a little mayonnaise dressing. Cut white bread very thin and lightly butter; on one slice spread the ham, then cover with another slice, and on that spread the egg mixture with a crisp lettuce leaf between, topped by a third slice of lightly buttered bread. Garnish with a pickle.

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