The Waiting Game

Eventually I found a good place to wait, a rural corner store closed for the day. I was suddenly nervous. I had every reason to be anxious, but up to that point I had been too busy to let it come out.

I went through a practiced routine of exercises to kill the butterflies and settle my mind. I smoked a cigarette, too, but I would have done that anyway.

I thought about getting shot down by Angela Vickers in sixth grade. I thought about getting shot for real behind an underground casino in Newark. I thought about the current situation and decided everything that could be done to control my situation had been done. I was at peace. If things went badly it was just dumb luck.


“I tame Hellcats!”

One can find thousands of vintage war time print ads which people have scanned so we can poke fun at them later. A popular format was the multi-panel story, in this case in straight-up comic book style.

Until late in World War Two, flight schools in the U.S. were chronically short of the need for combat pilots, which had to be men. Women filled the ranks doing everything short of front line missions, including patently dangerous jobs like initial flight testing or long-range ferry service over the vast Pacific.

On this page for Camel, Ms. Teddy Kenyon (no rank given), puts a Navy fighter through its paces. But the repeated message is that Camel is the men’s favorite. It just happens to also be easy on the lady’s throat.


Gray Gold teaser – April 16, 1943; Tucson, Arizona

I skimmed the main headline stories while eating. Fighting in north Africa. Fighting in the Solomons. Federal intervention in another strike. Over a cigarette and second cup of coffee I got into my usual chore of working through the inside pages. A kitchen fire with no casualties but loss of the entire house. A war bond event coming up. A war bond event total from two days ago. A boring weather forecast.

I took my time over the classifieds. I wasn’t in the market, but used car ads said much about conditions in any city. At the beginning of rubber rationing, every car ad claimed ‘good new tires’ if it could. Very few made the claim any more. It was a cinch that the wheels of those cars were shod in ratty old shoes. The lucky ones would have gummy cheap retreads.

As I came across space-for-rent listings, I circled some and took a few notes. I needed a more permanent place to live, and a small office would be ok if it could be had cheaply enough. Just into the last paper, the Tucson Citizen afternoon edition from the day before, a short story jumped out at me.

Prominent in section B, on the front page under the fold, was the headline “Another War Truck Hijacked on NM Highways”. The article mentioned the Zelatoff company, that it was a critically needed load of copper wire and plate, and that the entire vehicle was taken. Thankfully my name wasn’t mentioned, just that, “a hired armed escort was overcome entirely by the brigands and did not even observe the direction of their escape.” I thought it was a hatchet job, but wasn’t about to call in and complain.


For Whom the Booze Tolls

Liquor production for civilian use was greatly curtailed during World War II. By 1945, with the end in sight, big money was lining up to push old and new brands in front of post-war consumers. It was expected to be a wet gold rush.

ad Schlitz beer 1945

ad Shenley whisky 1945


Research Done Right

Hemingway spent years in Spain during the revolution before writing For Whom the Bell Tolls. Fleming went through and deep into every place James Bond worked. The American Southwest is the setting for Gray Gold and its likely sequels.

A trip through New Mexico, Arizona, and southern California was essential to this author before trying to bring alive breathing characters in those challenging deserts and bountiful orchards.

A sharp eyed reader will recognize the arrangement of this shot from the real Fort Selden, in Radium Springs, New Mexico.

The ship yards of San Diego are likely to turn up in print also.

One certain thing is that Nick Guyon spends a lot of time on the open road.


Fact, Fiction, and Real Probabilities

“I suppose,” I remarked, “that, homely as it looks, this [hat] has some deadly story linked on to it — that it is the clue which will guide you in the solution of some mystery and the punishment of some crime.”

“No, no, No crime,” said Sherlock Holmes, laughing. “Only one of those whimsical little incidents which will happen when you have four million human beings all jostling each other within the space of a few square miles. Amid the action and reaction of so dense a swarm of humanity, every possible combination of events may be expected to take place, and many a little problem will be presented which may be striking and bizarre without being criminal. We have already had experience of such.”

– The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle, A. Conan Doyle.


Those Infernal Effusive Ineffable Adjectives

[cross-posted from]

Lately we are reading the last book from Alistair Cooke, which is also one of his first. “The American Home Front” was completed as a manuscript in 1946, based on Cooke’s road trip around The USA in late 1941 through 1942. It was rediscovered just before his (timely) death in 2004 and published in 2006. This charming anachronistic gleaming gem is of great interest to the Bureau of the Impertinently Inane, as much of his tour neatly parallels a research trip planned by one of our associates for forthcoming material.

Cooke faced a dilemma, one faced by any diligent earnest long-serving writer. If, in previous writing, one has given up all the most grand, magnanimous, and superlative adjectives to something remarkable, and then met its superior… well then what?

“There is a special disadvantage that weighs on anyone living in America who would try to describe what the Greeks coolly labeled ‘sublime’. Our addiction to grandiose adjectives makes grandeur ultimately indescribable. In reading most pieces of American writing on the war, whether it is a statistical summary of airplane production or a color piece on migrant labor, the reader’s admiration is staked out for him by the recurrent adjectives: vast, huge, enormous, tremendous magnificent, immense, and the like. If you have already pinned the word ‘magnificent’ on the mountain country of the East, on the Green Mountains, say, or the Appalachians, what words are left to describe the Rockies, the High Sierras, the Coast Range, the Cascades, and the Bitterroots? There is a more elemental difficulty over nouns we share with England, the nouns that describe the simple configuration of the earth at our doorstep. A ‘big tree’ in England would be a copper beech, in Texas it might be a healthy cottonwood. What simple noun and adjective shall we use, then, to celebrate Sequoia sempervirens? Something Miltonic is demanded, but even if the supply of Miltons were not strictly limited, Milton used his epic vocabulary on the hills and lakes of pretty Italy and on fantasies he would have been shocked to see as the actualities of the Carlsbad Caverns (the natural setting for the Inferno), the Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce, the Great American Desert, and the shaggy forests of the Northwest.”

But the immutable inestimable skillful Cooke does not leave the reader in intractable dank hapless despair – he has a way out. As a veteran writer, he always has another duplicitous rhetorical device. Instead of painting the scene literally with adjectives, he brings the reader through an evocative experience which draws up similar emotions:

“The Bitterroots are, then, not to be described, at least not by me. I can merely say that once again the innumerable spires of great firs, and the solemn hush of entering a high world of impenetrable evergreens, gave me the sense of coming out of a pressing world of little facts into a cathedral.”

In the current context, we will call his writing “good”. Also, as a firm solid rule going forward we will not use more than two adjectives at once.

[p.s. Since we know you’re thinking of it, ]
Alistair Cookie



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