Tag Archives: The American Home Front

Desert Heat

[Nick Guyon put thought and experience into the kit of tools he took out on jobs.]

I double checked that the pull bar to the carbs was yanked full out to max efficiency. The mechanic who installed it promised the engine would sip fuel like a nun at a whisky bar that way, but if I pushed it in, he had it set to open up wide and give me a good twenty horses over the stock setup.

After I’d bought that rig and tried it out, with a big grin showing, the greasy wrench showed me a bulletin about oiling problems on the aging Ford V-12 design. I was out another sixty bucks for him to fit a secondary oil pump, but I had a hot motor that could outrun and outlast anything on the road.
I’d made a few other changes to the car, but nothing that mattered on a simple escort job like this. All I had to do was keep the truck in front of me, and scare off anyone who approached it. I couldn’t imagine anything getting it its way but a skittish road runner. But since I was technically on detail, I had a few appropriate tools.

The PI-standard snub-nose .38 revolver sat in its usual place, in a pocket holster locked in the glove box. I didn’t like anything about it, but some places that license private investigators actually insist that a .38 revolver is the only piece they carry. Go figure. Anyway, it looks harmless enough that most people aren’t put off by it.

More to my liking, and usually closer to me, was a Canadian-made 9 mm pistol. A lot of guys swear by the big fat .45 caliber rounds, but I had a baseball bat in the trunk which is about as useful for close-range slugging. Plus, when working alone I liked to bring a lot of friends with me, and the 9 mm stacks thirteen rounds under the barrel.

A classic Remington pump shotgun shared the trunk with the bat. It wasn’t real smooth, partly because I’d notched parts of it to make more noise when racking. The noise of a shotgun being pumped is enough to make a mob change its mind, sometimes.

A little food and water, besides what the other driver had handed me, a good flashlight, and an overcoat for the desert night completed my kit.


“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.


Those Infernal Effusive Ineffable Adjectives

[cross-posted from riverratsc.wordpress.com]

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