HMM WEEKLY for September 3, 2019

HMM WEEKLY for September 3, 2019

Hmm Weekly is still Hmm Weekly

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A Serial Travelogue, Part Two

The Loop

WE HAD ONE day, or most of a day, to spend in Chicago, while we waited for the conference to end and the real road trip to begin. The children and I went out to get donuts; two distinguishing features of Chicago seemed to be the coffee-and-donut shops and the hair-replacement billboards starring local sports celebrities. A panhandler outside the donut shop asked if we could get him a donut, which was too simple to possibly say no to. We brought him the donut and sat at a sidewalk table to eat ours, facing the dark, hulking Daley Center, as the Chicago wind kept trying to blow all our napkins and wrappers away.

The coffee with my donut was too hot to drink under its lid. It wasn't till the donuts were gone and we'd walked back to the hotel that it had cooled down to merely scorching, so I could notice it tasted terrible and understand the problem: the person at the donut counter had asked me if I wanted milk and sugar, and I'd said yes, and then they'd served it black. It had seemed so clear and straightforward at the time. I wondered how we'd misunderstood each other.

We decided to wander over to see Lake Michigan, and so we set off through blinding sun, along shadeless sidewalks and through the stark open spaces of Millennium Park. The Gehry curves of the metal bandshell was too bright to look at. The shiny metal bean we somehow missed altogether; we would see images of it or references to it around the tourist zones without ever understanding we'd been right there by it. I had given up on the coffee and was aching for caffeine; the seven-year-old started whining about being thirsty. There was nowhere to get a drink, or a snack, or anything, until we'd trudged across a fully inhuman stretch of roadways to finally, belatedly, reach the water and a stand selling juice and smoothies.

We bumbled up the shore, sometimes being forced inland or backwards or up into the darkness of the elevated expressway, till we got to the Navy Pier. After eating a mediocre lunch, we tried the Children's Museum, and were happy to have done it. In celebration of Chicago's architecture and engineering, there was a cooperative building station, where we almost finished building one story of a skyscraper before the timer ran out.

As a former child, I was personally captivated by the gallery where, in an outsider-art-meets-curation project, someone had sorted various accumulations of tiny objects into series of tagged museum collections: dice, buttons, Lego figures, whatever. There were little rounded wooden things which made me remember, for the first time in 30 if not 40 years, the bag of assorted unfinished knobs and balls and pawnlike woodworking objects my godfather gave me to play with when I was at loose ends. But that was the sort of thing I'd ended up doing in lieu of seeing the American landscape, really, and the seven-year-old was intensely bored and desperate to do everything else in the museum.

Under the older boy's guidance, we figured out how to take a bus to the subway to get back to the vicinity of the hotel, which left us with an hour to spend. So, at his behest, we rode the Loop.

Here is his account of the ride, in his capacity as Hmm Weekly’s transit reporter:

Eventually, through vague suggestions about how much time we had left and why weren’t we doing something, I got through about how we should ride the Chicago “L” Loop through (around?) downtown. According to what I know, and what the search results said, there is no line that simply goes around the Loop, so we would have to go partway around, exit the Loop, and reverse direction somewhere just outside so we could complete the circuit. We decided to take the Brown Line around and turn around immediately once it left the Loop.

We started at State/Lake station, and got on a train within a few minutes. I would like to note that the hotel we stayed in had countdown clocks for the trains in the lobby. True to the name of the “L,” the Loop (and in fact all lines, with the exception of segments of the Red and Blue) is entirely elevated. The first Brown Line stop off the Loop is Merchandise Mart, quite possibly the most hilariously named station ever, and where we had to reverse. What merchandise does the mart the station is named after sell?

After reversing at Merchandise Mart, we entered the rest of the Loop, still on the Brown Line because as it wasn’t rush hour, no other line was going there. The fact that the Loop is right over the street and the buildings are visible reminds me of my friend’s prospective idea for an “Icon Tramway,” an elevated train that would pass quite close to the buildings on the settlements on his planned (possibly artificial, which might actually make it easier) island. It hasn’t been built yet and probably won’t be, but that’s what it reminded me of. There was one station right in front of an important library (Harold Washington Library) and one that had only copperplate-style 1880s signs (Quincy). I don’t think it passed right in front of any iconic buildings other than the library, though. Soon, we got off at State/Lake again, with enough time to relax but not to do much more.

The driving was going to be a short leg, up to Madison for dinnertime. Our Madison friends had told us about a Hmong restaurant they said was good. The Kia got out of the garage and onto the road and right back into Chicago's end-of-day rush hour. Once again the turns were not quite where the map said they would be, but by overruling Google a time or two and rerouting ourselves on our own, we got onto the expressway. Chicago transit trains went sliding smoothly by as we lurched our way out of the city, a few yards at a time. The older boy said the stop and go was making him feel carsick, but we had no plastic bags on hand for him to throw up in if it came to that.

I drove as gently as I could until we got at last unclogged, and before long the voice of the Google app, speaking accurately, had gotten us out on an open uneventful highway, de-urbanizing by the mile in the extended summer light. The Hmong restaurant was going to close at nine, and the estimated time of arrival stayed just on the right side of that, all the rest of the way, through the quiet streets of Madison and along the causeway and right up to an open curbside parking space at 8:45. I got catfish with dill and lemongrass, wrapped in banana leaves and stewed to melting softness. The night outside was gentle, and our bellies were full. The real trip was underway, and under control.


A visit to the Neon Boneyard in Las Vegas, NV.

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I Involuntarily Participated in Interactive Television

A COUPLE-FEW weeks ago I had a less-than-satisfying stay in a Boutique Motel in Saratoga Springs, New York, which I went on about at length in the previous edition of Hmm Weekly. In the interest of brevity (har!) I held back on what for me was the cherry on the ice-cream sundae of the entire visit to the Downtowner motel, which was that I could not get the goddamn TV to work.

Last time on Hmm Weekly

The first thing I do in a hotel room is turn on the TV, because I enjoy any sort of local programming, especially a dedicated “hotel channel,” where they tell you all about the amenities and, in the case of the Wynn in Las Vegas, the blowhard owner of the hotel had a segment where he talked about how great the hotel was. Also, in New York City there’s a cable channel called NY1, which is my favorite because they talk about stories that are in the morning newspapers and they hold up the newspapers for the camera. Newspapers on the teevee! Hyper-local television!

So I’m in our hotel room in Saratoga and I get the TV going. It’s some sorta weird proprietary service and it seems to be all streaming channels, it’s not cable or satellite. I flip around a little bit before finding a channel that works—some comedy channel with people talking about comedy—but I just figured the service at this hotel only got a few channels, because I was rapidly coming to the conclusion that the Boutique Hotel I was staying in was just a cheapo motel. We left the room pretty fast after we checked in and went out for an enjoyable day and evening in Saratoga.

That night when we got back to the room, I flopped into bed, flipped the TV on and couldn’t get even one channel. I made a little collage of some channels that wouldn’t load.

On the right, see those little circles? That’s the animation the system uses to show you that the channel is loading. It’s some colored dots inside a gray circle and they go around in a loop. Even though I was in a pretty great mood after a full day and evening, ready to peep some TV to soften me up for slumberland, I got mad at that little animation pretty quick.

I’ve heard of Sports Illustrated and USA Today, but I had never been aware of most of these channels. I sure did want to see what was going on over at the FAIL ARMY channel, though. There was a CBS news channel I kept going back to in hopes that it would come in, because the news is a thing that makes me drowsy, and the channel would load, but then it would crap out.

CBS news for like, five, 10 seconds, then nothing. What’s with all the Nazi crap?

Another thing that kept happening was some very brief programs would come in loud and clear. These programs are typically called “commercials.”

I hope everybody who wanted to had a great CRABFEST, and I definitely have a feeling that I missed out, but on the other hand, after seeing his TV spot load about 20 times, I feel like automobile dealer Tony Mangino is now a personal friend, albeit a personal friend who keeps interrupting you while you’re trying to watch television in your hotel room and fall asleep.

So, lying in the dark on my Boutique Hotel bed, I got into a rhythm with the flipping of the channels and the little dots going in a circle and then the moment of anticipation when a channel would load, and sometimes the channel would come in for like three seconds but instead of being a program it would be a menu offering me a bunch of options. Dammit, I didn’t want EVEN MORE, I wanted the thing before more! Could I please just watch the Nurses Who Kill program on the AMMO channel?

Then it would hang on the options and eventually completely sputter out with a technical-looking error message.

For “help and support,” I think I was supposed to go on the Internet and do something, but I just kept restarting the TV and flipping the channels, and my attempts to overcome the malfunction became an effective form of pre-sleepy-time Entertainment. The power of Television!


Gene Simmons is 70 Years Old

I ATTENDED AN installment of the KISS END OF THE ROAD farewell tour, which is supposed to last two years and I guess rake in one more big spurt of cash for Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, and the other people in the band who replaced the Cat Guy and the Space Ace.

Besides the music, which was Greatest Hits, the show provided all the stuff you want KISS to do: fire-eating, fake-blood spitting, flying around on wires, shooting flares out of a guitar, great gouts of pyrotechnic flames shooting up from the stage, and a big drum solo so Gene could rest. Seriously, he is 70 years old.

Seeing this show, it didn’t make me feel old, it made me feel good, it was a blast, but it made me understand something about being old, which is that at some point there’s nobody out there doing the stuff you grew up on the way you used to see it done. You can evolve and grow and enjoy contemporary things all you want, but there’s a certain core of Your Stuff that is no longer available the way it was when it was alive.


WE PRESENT FOR our continued amusement, delectation, and possible degustation a selection of recipes for anachronistic but entirely achievable 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, enjoy, and if you make any of these sandwiches, kindly send a picture to

Between thin slices of lightly buttered brown bread place a lettuce leaf that has been dipped in mayonnaise dressing.

Chop four hard-boiled eggs and three boned sardines fine, add a teaspoonful of melted butter and rub to a paste; season with pepper and salt and a little mayonnaise dressing; cut in slender strips. Garnish with parsley and an olive.

Chop hard-boiled eggs fine, add a few minced olives, season with lemon juice; mix with butter, creamed. Spread on thin slices of white bread.

Chop fine six slices of uncooked bacon, add two green peppers (seeds removed) chopped fine, three onions the size of an egg chopped fine, season with pepper and salt. Fry the above mixture until the bacon is done, then scramble in two eggs. Place between two slices of lightly buttered white bread. Garnish with a radish.

HMM WEEKLY IS written by Tom Scocca, editor, and  Joe MacLeod, creative director. If you enjoy Hmm Weekly, let a friend  know about it, and if you're reading this because someone forwarded it  to you, go ahead and sign up for a copy of your own right now. Thanks  for reading.