Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Cluelessness in action

Or perhaps I should say racism.

I spent a couple hours at the laundromat yesterday. The one I prefer to patronize locally happens to be a KBIC tribal enterprise; it's one of several local businesses owned and operated by the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community. I like using it because it's always clean and it's pretty rare to see an "out of order" sign on any of the equipment.

As it happened, yesterday was one of those rare times. One of the big front loaders was refusing to accept any coins, which is a sign the cash box needs to be emptied. There were customers who had hoped to use that machine so there was a fair amount of griping. And what form did that griping take?

Well, if I'd been over at the other laundromat, the one in L'Anse, I'd have been hearing complaints about a specific individual, whoever the current owner happens to be. But I wasn't. I was at a tribal-owned enterprise. So if the laundromat has a problem is it because whoever is supposed to collect the coins isn't doing it as often as he or she should? Is it the manager's problem? Nope. It's the "damn Indians can't do anything right." This gets said with complete seriousness despite the fact the facility is clean and every other machine in the building is working just fine.

That pronouncement is then followed with a bunch of comments about the "damn Indians," their subsidized housing, the fact tribal members get a discount at the KBIC-owned gas stations, and a litany of other complaints.

And this, dear reader, is what bigotry looks like. When the white-owned laundromat is disgustingly dirty, the front loaders are all out of order, and the dryers rip you off, it's because the owner needs to find a better manager. When one machine isn't working at the KBIC-owned laundromat, it's the whole tribe that's to blame. And not only is the whole tribe to blame, one temporarily out of order machine can serve as justification for criticizing every other enterprise the local Ojibwe have ever undertaken.

Even more depressing, now that I think about it, is that if I were to tell this story to some of my local acquaintances, they wouldn't pick up on the internalized racism at all. They'd agree with the ranter -- one malfunctioning machine is indeed proof that an entire group of people can't do anything right.

Jesus wept.  

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Maybe I've accomplished more than I thought

I spent a few hours at the museum yesterday doing some decluttering and downloading photos and documents from the computer to a flash drive. I'll be doing updates to the museum's Facebook page while we're on the road so need images to work with. I did not think downloading a few files would take long.

I was wrong.

It appears I've been more productive than I thought. The "Cataloging Photos Used 2015" folder had close to 3,000 images in it. And that was just one of several dozen folders I wanted to copy. I ran out of time before I got everything cloned. I was surprised. I'm not sure why. Common sense says that if the Object ID numbers are up over 1,000 in a given year then there's got to be at least double that many images. I try to take at least one picture of everything that goes into PastPerfect, and, depending on the object, can take up to half a dozen. You know, one photo that gives an overall view of the widget and then close-ups of details like a trademark stamp or a particularly nifty piece of machining or stitchery. For sure I'll have a lot to work with when adding photos to the Adventures in Cataloging album on the Facebook page.

In any case, the downloading is only half done. I'll finish it tomorrow. I'll be spending most of the day at the museum making sure all the last minute stuff is done before we disappear over the horizon for a few months. I think it's actually close to done now, but if nothing else, tomorrow I might finally find the bottom of the second giant box of hats.

Today, however, a visit to the laundromat is on the agenda. Fun times.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

A minor literary mystery

I'm reading The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens. I actually started it a couple years ago, got bogged down (or lost patience with the cloying sentimentality) and set it aside. After I returned the most recent batch of library books, I decided to try it again. I needed something to read but didn't want to check out anything from the library when the departure for Arizona is drawing near.

I have a hunch I'm going to set it aside unfinished again, which isn't much of a surprise. The same things that bothered me before are still there. I did pick up on one thing I hadn't thought about, although it's not actually in the book. It was in the accompanying information about Dickens and how wildly popular The Old Curiosity Shop was when it was first published. It came out as a serial, one sickly sentimental or bizarrely grotesque chapter at a time. Readers in both the United Kingdom and the United States were hooked. They were as addicted to the trials and travails of Nell Trent (aka "Little Nell") and her incompetent grandfather* as any modern day Game of Thrones or Walking Dead fan is to his or her favorite show. They waited impatiently for each chapter and then, as the story neared its end, hoped wildly and unrealistically for a happy ending. They hoped in vain. George R. R. Martin wasn't the first author to kill off the characters readers liked the most. Dickens did it back in 1841. After spending the entire book persuading readers to love Little Nell, Dickens has her die. Readers were devastated.

And that's what strikes me as a minor mystery. Why on earth would anyone think Dickens was going to let her live? He spends quite a few pages engaged in foreshadowing -- Nell is described in ethereal terms, she enjoys hanging out in the graveyard next to the church, at one point another character assumes she's already dead, . .. it goes on and on, one clue after another that for all practical purposes Nell is already in a shroud. So why is it a shock when she does finally take the dirt nap? Who knows. Hope springs eternal. . .

The other mystery concerning The Old Curiosity Shop is, of course, whether or not I'll ever actually finish it. I am up to Chapter 55 (out of 71) so it's possible. If I pick it up every time there's a gap in reading material, eventually I'll be able to claim I read the whole thing.

*For those unfamiliar with the plot line, Nell and her grandfather end up wandering the English countryside as beggars thanks to the old dude's gambling addiction. He loses his business (the curiosity shop) and then slips into senile dementia from the stress. Nell exhausts herself taking care of her grandfather; they eventually end up as caretakers at a church where she cleans and helps the sexton with various chores. To add a villainous interest, they're pursued by an evil moneylender who has decided, apparently for the sheer fun of it, to make their lives hell and Nell's no-good uncle, who thinks the grandfather has a hidden fortune. He doesn't, the moneylender knows it, but doesn't bother telling the sleazy uncle that. The moneylender comes to a bad end, of course, because he's so thoroughly repulsive he has to get written into a grave, too, instead of just quietly disappearing from the narrative.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

John Sandford planted an ear worm

Ever since I finished reading Easy Prey this song has been going through my head. Definitely not my usual reaction to one of Sandford's books.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

What's new at the museum, you ask?

Hats. Lots and lots of hats.

I have been going through the giant boxes of hats the S.O. and I took down from the attic last month. Some of the hats are kind of interesting; others are just flat out bizarre.

The gem to the right, for example, definitely falls into the bizarre camp. The astute observer may notice that there is a tag dangling from it. Not surprisingly, that's a price tag and not a museum label. As far as I can tell, the museum got a whole lot of hats that were unsold merchandise from the Skogmos store in L'Anse. I've never been much of a fashionista, but I think it's safe to say that customers for a hat that looks like it's made from recycled trash bags would be few and far between.

Most of the unsold hats, in fact, probably date from about the same time period -- the mid to late 1960s, right about the time ladies hats followed the dodo into the dust bins of history -- and are made from strange, definitely plastic-like materials. Did the use of the such obviously cheap materials contribute to the failure of the hats to move off the shelves? Probably.

Not all the hats are strange. There were some kind of nifty hats in the giant box I've been slowly emptying. The one to the left is a good quality hat. It's covered with feathers that have been dyed teal blue and has some interesting detailing on the crown. I kind of like it. I could see wearing a hat like that if it was 50+ years ago and I was into hats. It was not remaindered from the Skogmo's attic; someone actually wore it. Who exactly that was is, of course, a mystery. As I noted in a previous post, most of the hats fall into the category of "provenance unknown." There must have been a good 3 dozen hats crammed into the cardboard carton. I think one had a note pinned to it indicating that a specific person "wore this hat to church every Sunday."

Of course, the unsold hats are easy. They have Skogmo's price tags so we know for sure they came from a store in L'Anse that is now known as Oralie's. Skogmo's was part of a conglomerate that also included Gambles hardware stores. When the parent corporation went bankrupt in the 1980's, the woman who had the Skogmo's franchise in L'Anse stayed open but changed the name of the store. And it's still open, which always amazes me. It has to be a case of the overhead on the store is so low -- it's been in the same building for over 70 years so odds are there is no mortgage -- that it doesn't take many sales to keep it profitable. I haven't been in that store in several years, though, so for all I know it's packed full of hip and trendy merchandise and business is booming. I doubt it, but one never knows.

There are a few hats that look like they may have been made locally. I've been told that a lady named Bonnie Michels was a milliner. In fact, there were a couple loose index cards in the box saying "Made by Bonnie Michels," but unfortunately those labels weren't attached to any specific hats. Which is a shame. I'd love to know if Mrs. Michels was responsible for a hat that has a snail crawling up one side -- or something that looks a lot like a snail. It didn't come from a factory. It's all hand stitched and there's no union label. All the hats that are obviously factory-made have union labels even if they don't always have designer or company names. 

The snail hat actually comes close to qualifying as a fascinator instead of a hat, but it'll stay on a person's head without help so technically it's a hat. Apparently fascinators can be as substantial as hats but qualify more as giant barrettes. They have to be fastened to the wearer's hair with hair pins or combs or they don't stay on.

The hat to the left is definitely a hat. It's a product of the Merrimac Hat Corporation of Amesbury, Massachusetts. At one time, Merrimac was the largest hat manufacturer in the country. You name the style of hat and they made it, everything from ladies hats to Brownie Scout beanies. Back in the 1940s Elizabeth Taylor did celebrity endorsements for the company. I'm not sure what time period this particular hat is from; when I Googled the company and went looking for images, it became apparent some styles of hats were popular across multiple decades.

I may actually be wrong, too, about when the popularity of hats peaked. According to one website, the best year Merrimac ever had was in 1949. It was downhill from there, and the company closed in the early 1970s.

In any case, I think I've catalogued about 3 dozen hats so far. I'm trying to pack the inventoried ones away a little more carefully than I found them. In an ideal world, like if we were a museum with a huge budget and proper storage, each hat would have its own individual container. As it is, I'm stuffing them with tissue paper to help them hold their shape, wrapping them in more tissue, and then stashing them carefully in fairly small boxes and totes. Theoretically, if they're packed really loose and not stacked on top of each other, they should look a lot better for the next person who looks at them than they did when I found them.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Pulitzer Project: The Collected Stories of Jean Stafford

As I've been working my way up the Pulitzer list, every so often I hit a winner that has me wondering if the Pulitzer committe does lifetime achievement awards. The book that wins isn't particularly good, but the author has been around for decades and has done good work in the past. The Collected Stories of Jean Stafford seems to fall into that category. It's not a bad book, but for sure it doesn't make it on to the really good end of the spectrum.

So what's wrong with it?

Basically, it's incredibly depressing. Stafford writes reasonably well but her characters are all just so unlikable it's impossible to stay interested in what's happening to them. Either that, or if the characters are halfway human, something terrible happens to them for no particular reason. The whole book is one example after another of "Life's a bitch and then you die." A young woman is happily planning her move away from her nosy, interfering elderly relatives, she's barely a week away from her wedding, and then she gets a phone call that her fiance dropped dead that morning from a heart attack. A lonely child finally makes a friend, except the friend turns out to be a manipulative thief who steals things from the kid's house and also manages to get her blamed for shoplifting she didn't do. A woman escapes a bad marriage, is engaged to a decent fellow, ends up having that engagement end abruptly, and then enters into another bad marriage. And so it goes -- every silver lining has a cloud.

Then when you add in the dated language and the not so subtle racism, it's definitely slides towards the "don't bother" end of the scale. In one short story, a little boy who's been orphaned is put a train to go to a government run Indian school in Kansas. When he gets to the school, every Native American he encounters there has a a ridiculous, remarkably offensive name, names that strike me as being a 1950's era attempt at humor but that come across now as just flat out stupid. They might have been appropriate in an episode of "F Troop," a show that spoofed Western cowboys and Indians stereotypes, but dropped in an apparently otherwise dead serious story? Nope. If the story dates from after World War II, Stafford should have known better.

Then again, when most of the characters are drawn from what was apparently Stafford's own milieu, poorly paid intellectuals and writers who muddle along as adjunct faculty or starve in garrets in Paris while feeling smugly superior because they've read Proust, maybe the clunkiness and general dreary tone are understandable. What I don't understand is why the book circulated as much as it did back when the Spies Library in Menominee first accessioned it.

As usual, I had to request the book through Interlibrary Loan. The L'Anse Public Library did not have it in its own collection (and for a change I'll say that was a smart move by whoever was ordering books back in 1969). The back of the book still has the original checkout card pocket with the due dates stamped on it. This book circulated like crazy for about 3 years -- it definitely wasn't gathering dust on the shelves. Then the date stamps stop, and they stop early enough that you can tell interest waned long before libraries went to computerized systems that don't use rubber stamps. (Slight digression: the L'Anse library still stamps due dates in books, but the L'Anse library is small and poor.) I don't recall ever hearing about the book before I saw the title on the Pulitzer list so I am mildly curious about what type of promotion the publisher did. Then again, I hadn't heard of House Made of Dawn either, and back then I was old enough to be paying attention (sort of) to best seller lists and whatever was being pushed by Book of the Month.

So what's my recommendation for this book? Don't bother. Unless you're doing some weird obsessive thing like I am, working your way up or down the Pulitzer fiction winners list, it would be a waste of time.

Next up? Technically, Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner, but it's one I read back in the '70s. So I'll skip over it and hope I can manage to read Eudora Welty's The Optimist's Daughter. Wish me luck. Several friends have recommended Welty over the years, but so far I've found everything of hers that I've tried to be close to unreadable.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Ever wonder what rape culture looks like?

Well, here it is, clearly and vividly personified in Donald Trump. I've heard a lot of excuses and rationalizations for Trump's vulgar remarks -- boys will be boys, all men talk dirty when women aren't around, women can be just as bad when it comes to talking about guys -- but you know what? Most men don't joke about sexual assault. They might comment on how hot a woman looks or speculate about what she might be like in bed, but they don't come right out and say their standard operating procedure is to grope first and talk later. And then to brag about how he can get away with it because he's a celebrity?

As Rolling Stone points out,
Yes, his comments are lewd, but that's irrelevant. What matters is that Trump is talking as if he can do whatever he wants with women, whenever he wants, regardless of their consent. This is rape culture, as clear as day.
Lewd comments are not enough to bring Trump to his ultimate demise; we've been treated to untold examples of him making lewd comments about women this election cycle. But endorsing sexual assault is another matter. That just might do it. And that's the story here.
I would like to believe that having Trump exposed (again) as a total pig would be enough to get most people to change their minds about voting for him, but it won't. Based on what I've been seeing on Facebook over the past 48 hours or so, Trump could sodomize a child on national television and his acolytes would still claim it didn't matter, that somehow Hillary's mishandling of emails was worse.

The stupid, it burns. 

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Why am I awake?

I have no idea what woke me up, but here I am staring at a display screen because I could not go back to sleep. It probably didn't help that I kept mentally going over the list of things we need to remember to pack in the Guppy. It did not have the same effect as counting sheep.

At the rate I keep adding items to that list, by the time we leave for Arizona there won't be room in the RV for us. As usual, I'm trying to plan for every contingency, not to mention fantasizing that I'm going to work on a dozen different projects that I've managed to ignore here at home for the past six months. I've also a good-sized stash of unread books, and, to top it all off when it comes to my personal rich fantasy life, I'm going to drag along the "finding aid" for the museum's archives. It needs a line by line proofreading (the volunteer at the end of August only got through the first 40 pages) as well as some serious re-formatting. I wish I was as ambitious in real life as I am in my dreams.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

A feeble grasp on reality

One of the key themes of this political season has been Donald Trump's repeated assertions that he's going to make America great again, he's going to bring back the manufacturing jobs that vanished overseas, he's going to make it harder for countries like China to export cheap consumer goods to the United States. Polls of his supporters show that something liek 65% of them agree that protective tariffs are a good idea -- we do indeed need to stop the flow of cheap consumer goods ASAP.

Leaving aside some of the other questions most sane people have about Trump's campaign, I've got just one query this morning: just where do all those America First people plan to shop once the shelves in Walmart go bare? The last time I saw a statistic, something like 98% of the merchandise in Walmart came from another country. Ditto Family Dollar, Dollar General, and all the other cheap places to shop.

Actually, I have a second query. Just how loud are these same America First people going to howl when U.S. labor costs are factored into what are now incredibly cheap goods? One reason many businesses moved manufacturing overseas was to keep costs low. What happens when the price of their widgets climbs? Will people still buy them? Will they be self-reflexive enough to realize that they shouldn't be complaining because they got exactly what they asked for?

I doubt it.

I cheerfully predict that if and when Walmart ever ceases to be perceived as bargain central, consumers will howl like wounded banshees and be unbelievably angry that they're now stuck paying for the policies they pushed for. After all, if they truly believed that it's wrong to buy stuff made in China they wouldn't be shopping at Walmart now.