Category Archive 'Americana'
07 Jun 2018

The Lost Jargon of the New York Soda Jerk

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Atlas Obscura:

Soda jerks became known across the country for… esoteric slang. They were often virtuosic wordsmiths, with a gift for puns and riffs. And, at a time when the United States was nuts for all things ice-cream, they were at once “consummate showmen, innovators, and freelance linguists of the drugstore stage,” writes Michael Karl Witzel in The American Drive-In. “America’s soda jerk became the pop culture star of the Gilded Age.” …

In 1936, English professor Harold W. Bentley conducted a full-scale investigation into the cabalistic mumbo-jumbo of these young New Yorkers, publishing his findings in the journal American Speech. They were so semantically inventive, he wrote, that they had become a tourist destination in their own right, skillfully “serving colorfully named concoctions [and] providing an attraction much stronger than stone and concrete piled high. To foreigners in search of local American color, the soda fountains are as good as made to order.” (In fact, soda jerks were slinging lingo all over the country—though many of the terms Bentley described are specific to the Big Apple.)

There was a competitive edge to it too, Bentley explained: “The bright boys behind the marble counters have extended themselves to outdo the other fellow with fantastic, grotesque, or witty labels for the food combinations from the kitchen or the refreshments spouting out of those fascinating faucets which decorate the bar.”

An order of a simple float might yield a shout of “Burn it and let it swim!” A more complex chocolate malted milk with chocolate ice cream: “Burn one all the way.” If you nixed the ice cream and added an egg, your server would “twist it, choke it, and make it cackle.” Coca-Cola flavored with cherry might be “Shoot one in the red,” or the steamier “Make it virtue.” Drinks without ice “held the hail.” Big drinks were “stretched”; small ones were “short.”

The term used in one drugstore might not hold in another. In one soda fountain Bentley visited, an order of “Black and white” meant a chocolate soda with vanilla ice cream. But in another, it signified black coffee with cream—and in yet another, a chocolate malted milk. A simple glass of milk might variously be called “cow juice,” “bovine extract,” or “canned cow,” while water went by everything from “aqua pura” to “city cocktail” to the deeply unappetizing “Hudson River ale.”

Many of these terms were used in only one soda fountain—or two at the most, with terms swapped around and mixed up almost as vigorously as the drinks they described. There was a certain amount of pressure to keep them up-to-date: An order of five small scoops of vanilla ice-cream topped with whipped cream, a maraschino cherry, and crushed fruit had the nickname “The Dionne Surprise,” for the famous Canadian quintuplets born in 1934.

Often, the terms were a cocktail of performance and posturing. They were something for tourists to go out of their way for, and a distraction for Times Square showgirls out for a breather between rehearsals, as they sat on high red upholstered stools and nursed dishes of vanilla ice-cream. There was also something compelling about a kind of indecipherable secret language, where guessable terms (a “Traffic Light Sundae” was three scoops of vanilla, with a cherry of red, white, or green on each) mingled with cryptic ones (anyone for a “Brown Derby”?).

On occasion, the code had a simple, practical purpose. That might be in protecting the privacy of the customer: The name of an order spiked with the laxative magnesium citrate would include Mary Garden “because it makes you sing.” If a customer left without paying, whether by accident or otherwise, it was often easier to shout “95!” than to explain what had happened. “99!” denoted the presence of the big boss or an inspector (soda fountains were notoriously unhygienic and tended not to use soap when washing dishes).

But by the mid-1930s, Bentley observed, the hijinks and fast talk of the soda jerk were already on the wane. Whether or not the audience appreciated it, employers seem to have found the volleying calls of “belch water” and “dog and maggot!” hard to stomach. “Indeed,” he wrote, “the practice is frowned down in many fountains, particularly those owned or operated by large chain organizations or by department stores.”

RTWT

23 May 2018

Female Shooters

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Revolvers! They all look like .38s, and I bet these ladies are shooting Colt Police Positives and Official Police Double Actions, with tuned actions, stocks by Roper or Sanderson, and Dean King’s reflector sights.

21 Feb 2018

1929 Interviews of Elderly Americans

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HT: Karen L. Myers

02 Jan 2018

Life of a High-End Mover

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Finn Murphy makes $250K per annum moving wealthy clients, but gets no respect on the road from fellow long-haul truckers.

Loveland Pass, Colorado, on US Route 6 summits at 11,991 feet. That’s where I’m headed, having decided to skip the congestion at the Eisenhower Tunnel. Going up a steep grade is never as bad as going down, though negotiating thirty-five tons of tractor-trailer around the hairpin turns is a bit of a challenge. I have to use both lanes to keep my 53-foot trailer clear of the ditches on the right side and hope nobody coming down is sending a text or sightseeing.

At the top of the pass, high up in my Freightliner Columbia tractor pulling a spanking-new, fully loaded custom moving van, I reckon I can say I’m at an even 12,000 feet. When I look down, the world disappears into a miasma of fog and wind and snow, even though it’s July. The road signs are clear enough, though— the first one says runaway truck ramp 1.5 miles. Next one: speed limit 35 mph for vehicles with gross weight over 26,000 lbs. Next one: are your brakes cool and adjusted? Next one: all commercial vehicles are required to carry chains september 1—may 31. I run through the checklist in my mind. Let’s see: 1.5 miles to the runaway ramp is too far to do me any good if the worst happens, and 35 miles per hour sounds really fast. My brakes are cool, but adjusted? I hope so, but no mechanic signs off on brake adjustments in these litigious days. Chains? I have chains in my equipment compartment, required or not, but they won’t save my life sitting where they are. Besides, I figure the bad weather will last for only the first thousand feet. The practical aspects of putting on chains in a snowstorm, with no pullover spot, in pitch dark, at 12,000 feet, in a gale, and wearing only a T-shirt, is a prospect Dante never considered in enumerating his circles of hell. The other option is to keep rolling—maybe I’ll be crushed by my truck at the bottom of a scree field, maybe I won’t. I roll. …

I downshift my thirteen-speed transmission to fifth gear, slow to 23 mph, and set my Jake brake to all eight cylinders. A Jake brake is an air-compression inhibitor that turns my engine into the primary braking system. It sounds like a machine gun beneath my feet as it works to keep 70,000 pounds of steel and rubber under control. I watch the tachometer, which tells me my engine speed, and when it redlines at 2,200 rpm I’m at 28 mph. I brush the brakes to bring her back down to 23. If it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen now. My tender touch might cause the heavy trailer to slide away and I’ll be able to read the logo in reverse legend from my mirrors. It’s called a jackknife. Once it starts, you can’t stop it. In a jackknife the trailer comes all the way around, takes both lanes, and crushes against the cab until the whole thing comes to a crashing stop at the bottom of the abyss or against the granite side of the Rockies.

It doesn’t happen, this time, but the weather’s getting worse. I hit 28 again, caress the brake back down to 23, and start the sequence again. Fondle the brake, watch the mirrors, feel the machine, check the tach, listen to the Jake, and watch the air pressure. The air gauge read 120 psi at the summit; now it reads 80. At 60 an alarm will go off, and at 40 the brakes will automatically lock or just give up. Never mind that now, just don’t go past 28 and keep coaxing her back down to 23. I’ll do this twenty or thirty times over the next half an hour, never knowing if the trailer will hit a bit of ice, the air compressor will give up, the Jake will disengage, or someone will slam on the brakes in front of me. My CB radio is on (I usually turn it off on mountain passes), and I can hear the commentary from the big-truck drivers behind me.

“Yo, Joyce Van Lines, first time in the mountains? Get the fuck off the road! I can’t make any money at fifteen miles an hour!” “Yo, Joyce, you from Connecticut? Is that in the Yewnited States? Pull into the fuckin’ runaway ramp, asshole, and let some
men drive.”

“Yo, Joyce, I can smell the mess in your pants from inside my cab.”

I’ve heard this patter many times on big-mountain roads. I’m not entirely impervious to the contempt of the freighthauling cowboys.

Toward the bottom, on the straightaway, they all pass me.

RTWT

24 Nov 2017

Thanksgiving Gun

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John Alden‘s Wheel-lock Carbine

Found in John Alden’s house, built in 1653 using material from an earlier house erected in 1632, at 105 Alden Street in Duxbury, Massachusetts “in a secret protective cubbyhole near the front door of the home” during a 1924 renovation, this wheel-lock bears makers’ marks on the lock and barrel indicating it was made by the Beretta, family of Brescia, Italy, known to have been in business since 1526.

It is the only firearm brought over on the Mayflower known to have survived and it is preserved today in the collection of the National Firearms Museum operated by the NRA.

Kristin Alberts article at Guns.com

HT: Vanderleun.

18 Nov 2017

The Lost World

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“These stories seem at times to be stories of a long-lost world when the city of New York was still filled with a river light, when you heard the Benny Goodman quartets from a radio in the corner stationery store, and when almost everybody wore a hat.”

–John Cheever

HT: The Man in the Green Shirt

07 Sep 2017

Holler Girl

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The West Virginia memories of Amy Gentry illustrated with photography from Travis Dewitz.

link

27 Aug 2017

York Wallpaper Company Was Surprised

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Daily Mail:

A wallpaper company in Pennsylvania was shocked when it received an order from the White House earlier this month.

So shocked, in fact, that the owners at York Wallcoverings actually thought it was some sort of prank, Fox 43 reported.

It wasn’t, and the company quickly realized they had a long day ahead of them – the White House wanted the wallpaper delivered by 7pm that same day.

And to throw another complication into the mix, the print the White House requested, which was hand picked by the President himself, had been discontinued in 2014.

Though it was a difficult task – the company was up for the challenge, as it meant their wallpaper would hang in the Oval Office.

The wallpaper was part of the extensive White House renovation which included an new HVAC system, a paint touch-up and a total replace of all of the carpeting, among other changes, according to CNN.

RTWT

11 Jul 2017

America

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P.J. O’Rourke:

I was having dinner… in London… when eventually he got, as the Europeans always do, to the part about “Your country’s never been invaded.” And so I said, “Let me tell you who those bad guys are. They’re us. WE BE BAD. We’re the baddest-assed sons of bitches that ever jogged in Reeboks. We’re three-quarters grizzly bear and two-thirds car wreck and descended from a stock market crash on our mother’s side. You take your Germany, France, and Spain, roll them all together and it wouldn’t give us room to park our cars. We’re the big boys, Jack, the original, giant, economy-sized, new and improved butt kickers of all time. When we snort coke in Houston, people lose their hats in Cap d’Antibes. And we’ve got an American Express card credit limit higher than your piss-ant metric numbers go. You say our country’s never been invaded? You’re right, little buddy. Because I’d like to see the needle-dicked foreigners who’d have the guts to try. We drink napalm to get our hearts started in the morning. A rape and a mugging is our way of saying ‘Cheerio.’ Hell can’t hold our sock-hops.

We walk taller, talk louder, spit further, fuck longer and buy more things than you know the names of. I’d rather be a junkie in a New York City jail than king, queen, and jack of all Europeans. We eat little countries like this for breakfast and shit them out before lunch.”

From Sarah Hoyt.

17 May 2017

Post-War New York City

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Photo by Elliott Erwitt, 1950.

06 Feb 2017

Death Takes a Holiday

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From Reddit:

Gurrb17 19 hours ago

Sometimes death is busy and just says, “Fuck it, I’ll get them next time.”

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topoftheworldIAM 18 hours ago

In this case death just sat on the grass and wished he was a kid again.

04 Feb 2017

Best Political Speech in Years

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Classic Virginia. Delegate Matt C. Farris (R-Campbell) debates HB 1900, an anti-hunting bill which would impose a $100 fine per dog in cases in which hunting dogs stray onto a property where they are unwelcome. A Virginia fox hunt might go out with several dozen hounds, so you can imagine what a case of accidental trespass by a pack might cost.

No embed, FB link.

02 Oct 2016

From Shorpy’s

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1919copwcoffee
Washington, D.C. Cop gets cup of coffee, 1919.

The older fellow smiling in the automobile looks like he may be the policeman’s father. Note the Salvation Army building in the background.

19 Sep 2016

Welcome to Wisconsin

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wisconsinsign

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