HMM WEEKLY for October 8, 2019

From the Makers of HMM DAILY

HMM WEEKLY for October 8, 2019

Another Week, Another Hmm Weekly

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A Serial Travelogue, Part Six

The Akta Lakota Museum

WITH THE CORN Palace behind us, the billboards on I-90 began promoting the Akta Lakota Museum and Cultural Center. Somewhere between the second and fourth sign, we decided to go. The navigation was easy and error-free, up through the town of Chamberlain and across a stretch of water I thought at first was the Missouri River but which dead-ended off to the east, revealing itself to be a fat stubby spur off the real river. The map said its name was American Creek.

The museum was on the campus of St. Joseph's Indian School, and the campus was so thoroughly deserted it felt as if maybe we'd taken a wrong turn after all. But the empty roadways bent around and delivered us to the not-quite-empty museum parking lot. The sunlight and heat were immense. Linden trees drooped with their burden of little faded-orange flowers, and the perfume of them saturated the air. Swifts or swallows flicked overhead.

Through the lobby and out the back of the building was a circular garden, with an inscription on the wall dedicating it to "healing and reconciliation especially for those who carry painful memories from their school days." Everywhere you go, one way or another, you're walking on a crime scene. (Manhattan, for sure.) In the near distance, across a stretch of lawn and a roadway, lay the real Missouri River, gray-blue and wide. The Wikipedia page for St. Joseph's Indian School dedicates four paragraphs to a "Fundraising" section that describes aggressive mail solicitations built on "offers of made in China dreamcatchers and fictional, emotional letters from nonexistent students."

Indoors, at the near end of the main exhibit hall, a dead stuffed eagle arched its wings in a vitrine. More cases and dioramas showed off implements of daily life: hide scrapers, knives, beadwork, children's games. The seven-year-old was very taken by the concept of coup sticks, of facing and touching the enemy without killing them, as a sign of mastery in combat.

Some of the clothing and equipment, the caption cards explained, were reconstructions taken from the props and costumes of Dances With Wolves. The genuine articles included scenes of warfare with the United States Army painted on buffalo skin. Placards described the terms of treaties and how and when they had been broken. The opposite of counting coup would be to harm people at a distance, without confronting them, and then trying not to talk or think about it, or being embarrassed when you do. When we got to the gift shop, the seven-year-old got an arrowhead necklace on a soft leather thong. It came with a certificate of authenticity, guaranteeing it to be the genuine work of a Navajo artisan.

Wall Drug

Wall Drug, I had been vaguely aware of before we even thought about going to South Dakota. It was a tourist trap famous for being a tourist trap, and that was the whole idea. The World's Only Corn Palace was devoted to corn, which is a crop of international significance, and if you chose the right time to go to the Corn Palace, you could watch a basketball game there, but stopping at Wall Drug would only be a matter of stopping at Wall Drug.

And so even the advertising signs heralding Wall Drug were acutely aware of their status as the advertising signs heralding Wall Drug. There were more of them than could possibly be necessary to inform a motorist that Wall Drug was in the vicinity; that was part of the gag. In the absence of anything else around, the signifiers were tuned to reverberate with themselves. It was disappointing to see some of the signs make their appeals to outside authority: to call it Wall Drug, as seen on the Today Show, was to peg the local currency of attention to a known outside standard.

The philosophical case for not stopping seemed stronger than the case for stopping. But the practical case was that we had used up the day and were low on dinnertime options, and pressing on to Rapid City didn't seem likely to solve dinner any better. We pulled off and parked in one of the Wall Drug parking lots.

Despite the size of the Wall Drug complex—a full block of interconnected small-town downtown shops functioning like a mall, or a mall set up as a small-town downtown—we found the cafe straight off. It was the 7 p.m. hour and already thinning out; they were out of roast beef and other entrees, along with most of the cooked vegetable options. We got burgers and a chicken sandwich, and a salad to try to make it a balanced meal.

The walls of our dining room were densely covered in Western-themed art, hung salon-style. It brought me back to the now-long-defunct Haussner's German restaurant in Baltimore, where Romantic oil paintings and sculpture had crowded around the diner, an effect more characteristic and memorable than any of the individual works could have been.

But at Haussner's, the meals were characteristic too. There was no clear reason why the Wall Drug food couldn't have been as good as a Cracker Barrel, but it wasn't. The brochures were written with thought and care, though, combining the mythic origin story of Wall Drug—a free ice-water promotion on the way to Mount Rushmore that started a feedback loop of getting travelers to stop because travelers were stopping there—with a concise geological history of the nearby Badlands. It left the reader feeling wiser in the choice to have come to South Dakota, if not to Wall Drug.

Before leaving, we found the bookstore. This turned out to be delightful, in its own narrow way. Its specific mission seemed to be to supply information about, roughly speaking, cowboys and Indians, with some monographs on roadside geology to fill out the picture of the state. The older boy picked out a Dakota dictionary. The other shop-units were already locking up by the time we left, though the lowering sun still shone on Main Street. Someone else's child was having a tantrum while being towed along in a cart, a howling and sobbing tantrum as loud as any I could ever recall hearing, while the mother told the child she would never take it anywhere again.

Rapid City

Shadows thickened in the roadside grass and clover and became twilight. In the distance, a cloud like a lion or a foo dog, tipped with pink alpenglow, stood high and unlike anything else in the whole rest of the sky. It looked like the plume from some calamitous explosion. As we closed in on the lights of Rapid City, passing now-unreadable billboards in the dark, we understood that what we were seeing was the heat print of the city itself written on the air, the excess temperatures from the pavement and other human works boiling up into cumulus at the end of another too-hot day.


Horror, Renewed

YUCK! EARWAX HOLDS a funny place on the disgust scale. Rationally it shouldn't be Pure Horror compared to, like, bacteria-laden digestive secretions, but Pure Horror is not rational. Take these “renewed” Apple AirPods, for instance; to save $30, would you buy a used thing with holes in it that was in some stranger’s ear-hole? Urrrrgh!


Gemini Man, directed by Ang Lee, in theaters Oct. 11

Director Ang Lee and Will Smith on the set of Gemini Man from Paramount Pictures, Skydance and Jerry Bruckheimer Films. Photo: Ben Rosenstein © 2019 PARAMOUNT PICTURES. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

I’M STILL MAD at Ang Lee about Hulk, the comic book movie he did in 2003. They were busting up the frames into comic-book panels and stuff, and then they gave up and it just sort of collapsed under its own weight and the thing shambled on to a conclusion. Wow, that flick was 16 years ago, and I know, I know, Ang Lee has made lots of good movies, some cinema, even. Still mad!

This movie, though, Gemini Man, starring Will Smith as a U.S. Government hit man who is gettin’ too old for this shit, this is a movie I’ll look forward to finding on cable teevee (I’m betting TBS) some weekend afternoon when I have work to do and need three hours and a half hours of fight scenes interrupted by a bad movie and a buncha commercials to provide some ambient background noise while I concentrate, bleah.

What we have here is some Bourne Identity/Supremacy/Whatever-y stuff going on with hand-to-hand combat and shooting guns, and then it gets kinda sciency because somebody cloned the hit man and the hit man’s clone is a hit man whose mission is to hit the hit man, and since it’s a clone, the makers of the film decided they were gonna employ the de-aging effects that have been used in flicks such as Tron: Legacy and Ant-Man and The Wasp on Will Smith’s killer clone, and except for one halfway decent fight sequence in a dimly-lit subterranean chamber, this shit is just not there yet, it was hard to look at the special effects de-aged Will Smith! I think that might be why there are so few publicity images available for this film, effects tend to look bad in stills, and bad effects look worse.

Like lots of weak movies, this could have been stronger if someone decided to make it be more about something in one direction or the other—more super-spy-movie violent and cold-blooded? It’s a Jerry Bruckheimer film, so way more explosions and/or funnier? People in the audience sure were laughing, but in the wrong places.

This movie made me wonder about the future of movies. As soon as this facial construction visual effect is perfected, who needs actors?

Will Smith AND WAIT WHO IS THAT BEHIND HIM?!?!?! in Gemini Man from Paramount Pictures, Skydance and Jerry Bruckheimer Films. Paramount Pictures © 2019 PARAMOUNT PICTURES. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.


William Castle would be proud.


Pizza We Have Known and Loved

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WE PRESENT A selection of recipes for anachronistic but entirely executable sandwiches, found in The Up-To-Date Sandwich Book: 400 Ways to Make a Sandwich, by Eva Green Fuller; 1909; McClurg and co, Chicago, now in the public domain for the delectation of all.

Equal quantities of breast of cold boiled chicken and tongue, put through food chopper; season with celery salt, cayenne, anchovy paste, and mayonnaise. Please mixture between slices of lightly buttered white bread with crisp lettuce leaf that has been dipped in tarragon vinegar.

One cupful of cold boiled chicken chopped fine, two tablespoonfuls of green pepper that has been par-boiled and chopped fine. Add a dash of salt, and a teaspoonful of chopped parsley; moisten with a little mayonnaise dressing and place between thin slices of lightly buttered white bread. Garnish with an olive.

Roll biscuit dough very thin, about like piecrust, and spread with butter, then roll another and put on top of this; cut out and bake in quick oven. When done, pull apart and spread with this mixture while warm. Take equal parts of chicken and ham, run through the meat chopper, season with celery salt and cayenne pepper; moisten with mayonnaise dressing.

One cupful of cold boiled chicken chopped fine, a teaspoonful of finely chopped onion, a half teaspoonful of finely chopped chives. Salt and pepper to taste, moisten with a little mayonnaise dressing, mix well, and spread on thin slices of toasted bread. Cover with another slice of toasted bread, cut in halves, and garnish with a radish.


Amazon Apologizes

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