HMM WEEKLY for September 10, 2019
Hmm Weekly Is Weekly
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THE DESTINATION IS THE JOURNEY DEP'T.
A Serial Travelogue, Part Three
THE-SEVEN-YEAR-old woke up in Madison with a fever, in the middle of an early morning thunderstorm. Our destination for the day was Sioux Falls, South Dakota, six and a half hours and 440 miles away. There was no children's fever medicine in the emergency convenience shelves down off the lobby of the Sheraton Madison. Nor was there a pharmacy in the cluster of hotels off the highway, where the Sheraton was located. I'd thought every highway cluster had one.
Google Maps said the nearest pharmacy was several minutes' drive away. I started running through the rain to the Kia, but while the Sheraton Madison had many virtues, parking-lot drainage was not one of them, so it was dryer overall to get rained on while picking my way through the puddles than to go sloshing through at top speed.
The gray and rain-lashed back roads led to a Walgreen's, as Google had said they would, and the Walgreen's had ibuprofen and acetaminophen; it also had a three-location thermometer that came with a stack of fussy little one-use soft plastic protector sleeves, like they use at the doctor's office. Back at the hotel, the thermometer's mouth reading said the boy had a real fever; the armpit reading was close enough that it seemed unnecessary to mess around any more with the plastic sleeves.
The ailing child got his medicine, and I kept him company in the rain-darkened hotel room while his mother and brother went out to a nice breakfast place to meet our friends, and brought some food back. By then, the seven-year-old felt good enough to tuck into a stack of blueberry pancakes.
A little more than half an hour outside Madison, with six hours of drive to go, the seven-year-old woke up and announced he needed a barf bag. Remembering the carsickness threat on the way out of Chicago, I had made a point when we were packing of setting aside the Walgreen's shopping bags for this contingency. Then I had put the bags inside the children's backpack, and then, focused on the topological puzzle of the Kia's cargo space, I had packed the backpack in the rear, on top of the smaller suitcase, out of reach.
There was no time to undo that mistake before the blueberry pancakes—another mistake, obviously, a dumb rookie mistake we had had more than a decade's worth of experience as parents to warn us against—came rushing up and spewing out everywhere. NEXT EXIT 14 miles, a sign said, just then. We could not ride 14 miles before doing something. I pulled the Kia over onto the shoulder, a little bit onto the grass, too much onto the grass, so it yawed wildly, adding nothing to anyone's enjoyment of the moment.
When the children were babies, we traveled with wipes, towels, bags, a full arsenal of cleaning supplies. Now we'd mistaken the children for adults; we had nothing. A few wipes in my wife's backpack, one more wipe in a crumpled pack in my jacket pocket. The seven-year-old's clothes were destroyed. His anorak, everything he had on, sodden and reeking. I broke into the big suitcase, tore into the bag of laundry there in the open rear of the Kia. "I don't feel amazing," the child sobbed. Highway traffic boomed by, blowing things around and making it impossible for us to hear one another.
I found the dirty t-shirt I'd worn the day before. It was a soft, thick one that I'd found on sale at Muji not long before, in a navy and gray stripe that had looked, in the store, as if it would go with anything. In practice the gray turned out to do that thing some grays do, where it over-matched with everything, so with gray or tan pants alike it ended up looking like a pajama set. What mattered at the moment was that it was absorbent.
We got the kid roughly wiped down and dressed in new clothes, sprayed him with water from his drinking bottle for a quick rinse, and bagged up the t-shirt with his puke-drenched clothing. We had a plastic bag for that, at least.
At the end of the 14 miles, there was a Walmart. Google Maps found it, when we thought to check, after we'd been blundering around the outskirts of the Wisconsin Dells looking frantically out the windows of the Kia for a drugstore, a laundry, a hose. I took the seven-year-old to the Walmart men's room to clean him up more, and then we got a cart and rounded up paper towels, disinfectant wipes, a jug of water, Ziploc gallon bags—everything we could have used 14 miles before.
The different things were in different parts of the big box and it was hard to keep track of them all. We ended up making multiple and occasionally redundant trips, shuttling from the Kia to the store and back again. It was my wife who remembered that Febreze existed and came back with a spray bottle of it. I'd been digging blueberry vomit-paste out of the inner workings of the seatbelt buckle and the holes in the grille of the speaker in the rear door, attacking every surface with Clorox wipes. I lost a few wipes thrusting them down the seat crack and had to go around and unpack the rear of the Kia and lift out the bottom liner of the cargo space to find them and get them out again. Finally there was nothing left to wipe, so we soaked it all down with the Febreze and laid a fluffy new bright-white towel down over it for him to sit on.
I took the younger boy in to use the restroom one last time. On the way out, I wanted to get him a bottle of Powerade, which he always asks for as a treat even when he's healthy. We picked a blue one out of a cold case and took it over to the self-checkout section, which I'd been avoiding till this time.
Signs above the automated self-service stations announced that Walmart was creating jobs. This was less untrue than it seemed; the jobs were for people to go around the overcrowded self-checkout area, helping all the customers as they struggled to operate the registers. Frustration seethed in the air, not least my own, as I clutched a single beverage bottle behind people clogging the registers with cartloads of stuff. At one point, as an nigh-elderly white couple labored to ring up their pile of would-be purchases, the man whistled—whistled!—to summon one of the young black Walmart workers. She shared a look with a colleague and went over to help them.
There was no way things would not have gone faster and been less degrading if Walmart had simply been paying the same staffers to ring up all the customer directly, the way normal cashiers used to do, when hiring people to do jobs was how normal companies operated. Instead there was this hateful theater of austerity, leaving everyone out of sorts, with low-wage workers and no-wage workers getting in each other's way.
The Febreze had added a midrange note of "bamboo scent" to what was still a sharp, vehicle-filling reek of blueberry vomit. The sun was baking down on it. A printout in the hotel elevator had said it would be 88 and humid, and below was a quote from Henry James: "Summer afternoon, summer afternoon: to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language." We'd looked at it—the next two days were 90 and humid—and wondered if the Sheraton Madison had meant to be sardonic. Henry James seemed to have been sincere, at least according to Edith Wharton, who recorded the quote. Her version, unlike the hotel's, had an em dash in place of the first comma, but James himself spoke it aloud, although it's not completely unimaginable that Henry James might have specified the punctuation.
It was well into our own summer afternoon, anyway, by the time we sat the boy down on the fluffy towel, with big Ziploc bags in reach, and started moving again. We had five and a half hours still to go, including the entire breadth of the state of Minnesota.
VISUAL CONSCIOUSNESS DEP’T.
A visit to the 2019 Maryland State Fair
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DEP’T OF HYGIENE
Touching and Going
THE GRIM REALITY of venturing out into The World means at some point you will need to avail yourself of a Porcelain Convenience in the Necessary Room. It doesn’t matter how nice the establishment or home is, chances are someone has been in there right before you and they’ve committed any one of a number of crimes or misdemeanors, from annoying or revolting. I’m not going to get into the details, we all know the details, I simply want to discuss one aspect of a visit to any new-to-you lavatory; adjusting the toilet seat.
Let’s say you’re visiting a restroom and the seat is not in the position you require. You might grab the seat with your hand, move the seat with your foot, wrap a bunch of toilet paper around your hand and/or foot and use that to adjust the seat—there are lots of options and none of them are completely satisfying in terms of personal hygiene.
Look, I’m not a germophobe or anything, but I’m not a germophile either, you know? I don’t want to touch the toilet seat. I know I’m not gonna die if I do, and I know I should wash my hands after, and I know all the retorts about how there’s way more bacteria in all sorts of not-the-bathroom places, and bacteria make you tough, from resisting and fighting bacteria, but it’s disgusting, I don’t want to touch the toilet seat, and I'll never do enough yoga to be able to “perch” reliably. I think maybe it’s an Ego thing, you are in the can after somebody else, and they disrespect you with their inconsiderate actions and inactions, and it puts you in a subordinate position, Ego-wise. But also it’s just disgusting, and the great Inventors of our age agree, and they have devised simple and clever innovations to ameliorate the disgust. Behold, this thing:
Look at that, isn’t that something? I don’t know what it’s called technically, other than a “toilet seat lifter” or a “toilet seat handle,” but I recently encountered one of these, and I would like to award the Nobel Prize or something to this sort of practical permutation. It’s just a sight appurtenance, but it’s all that is needed to make the reality of toilet seat adjustment a little less toilet-y!
Detail of underside of public toilet seat featuring toilet seat lifter-handle.
I looked around and noticed there are many aftermarket products out there allowing the average consumer to modify their toilet seat and facilitate the same goal of adjustment with minimal contact.
The majority of the reviews for this product, the Sani-Mani Antimicrobial Toilet Seat Lifter/Handle, are effusive:
I mean, the above Satisfied Customer bought a new seat to receive their new handle-lifter-seat-toucher thing! This next review from an also-satisfied customer claims a 10 percent reduction in stress, even though they still refuse to use their hand, although it may be possible this reviewer does not have the use of their hands, in which case this is a bonus benefit, being able to move the seat more easily with a toe!
I am going to shop around a bit before I purchase an add-on toilet seat lifter-toucher-mover, but I am grateful to live in an age of science and invention, and I know that no matter what product I end up with to solve our Personal National Nightmare, it still means I’m touching the toilet seat and there’s a kabillion bacteria.
Epilogue: Not that you asked, but the correct resting or starting position for a toilet seat is simple to figure out. The seat should be down, because somebody might sit on it without looking or being able to see that it’s up. Just think about your experience of anecdotally reported seat-up mishaps versus any reported seat-down experiences. The seat cover should also be down, that is, covering the seat. That’s why there’s a seat cover, and it’s not a cover, it’s a door to the watery deep!
WE PRESENT FOR your amusement, delectation, and possible degustation a selection of recipes for antique but entirely reproducible 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 email@example.com.
Chop cold boiled mutton fine, add a dash of tabasco sauce, a teaspoonful of olive oil or melted butter, a tablespoonful of vinegar, and a pinch of salt. Spread on lightly buttered white bread. Serve with a pickle.
MUTTON SANDWICH NO. 2
Chop cold cooked mutton very fine; to each pint add one teaspoonful of salt, one tablespoonful of capers, one teaspoonful of chopped mint, a dash of pepper, and one teaspoonful of lemon juice. Spread this thickly over whole wheat bread. Cover with another slice and serve on lettuce leaves.
MUTTON AND PEA SANDWICH
Butter slices of white bread lightly and lay on them thin slices of cold boiled mutton. Mix together half a pint of cooked peas that have been seasoned with salt, pepper, a little butter, and a teaspoonful of capers. Place a layer of peas over the mutton, then a crisp lettuce leaf, then cover with another slice of buttered bread, and cut into triangles.
Cut white bread into rounds with a cake cutter and lightly butter. Chop one-half pound of cold boiled mutton fine; add two tablespoonfuls of melted butter, and a dash of salt and pepper. Peel four tomatoes, cut these into rather thick slices and remove the seeds from the centre. Place a lettuce leaf that has been lightly dipped in mayonnaise dressing on a slice of toast, and put a slice of tomato on top of that. Fill the space from which you have taken the seeds with the mutton mixture. Put on top another slice of toasted and lightly buttered bread, and press the two slices firmly together.
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.