Hmm Weekly for March 24, 2020

Only two more Tuesdays until Easter

Another Week, Another Hmm Weekly

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CORRESPONDENCE DEP’T.


HERE IN REMOTE, rural Colorado we appear to have the same lunch issues as you folks in civilization do. Also, sheltering in place has not helped my 12-year-old expand his meal choice beyond fried chicken in all its forms. My ex-husband is having to learn that we expect him to stay home in HIS OWN BIG, EMPTY, THREE-BATHROOM, HOUSE for a bit. And use that one roll of toilet paper he actually thought to procure ahead of time. Finally, it was a Pyrrhic victory when the City Council here actually caved to my demand that we the media be allowed in to attend their latest excruciatingly tedious meeting in person despite a pandemic-induced ban on the public. The other reporter who benefited from my request did not seem especially thrilled either. Thank you to the HMM Weekly for making us feel less alone!

C. Switzer, Montrose, Colorado

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Mural at a former Kenny Rogers Roasters restaurant somewhere on Rt. 40 in Delaware

STARING AT THE DARKNESS DEP'T.

THERE WERE TWO strange things about Kenny Rogers calling himself "The Gambler." One, which I'd either forgotten or failed to learn, was that Rogers didn't write "The Gambler" himself; he crossed over onto '70s pop radio complete with a shaggy mane-and-beard combo that made him seem like all the moody singer-songwriters on there, but he was singing a bleak little character sketch by someone else—Don Schlitz, who came up with it at age 23 and who is still alive. The other thing, which I did always keep in mind, is that the Gambler, of the song, was not exactly an aspirational figure to build a persona around. 

The Gambler persona spun out by Rogers—a suave, family-friendly outlaw-lite—had nothing but an occupation in common with the Gambler he sang about. Not only is the Gambler not Kenny Rogers (the narrator of the song is singing about meeting the Gambler on a train, not about being the Gambler), but the endlessly sung-along-to advice of the chorus is more or less worthless, as professional gambling advice: "You gotta know when to hold 'em / Know when to fold 'em"? Thanks, I'll file that alongside "Buy low, sell high" and "Cut away the parts of the stone that don't look like the statue." The Gambler of the chorus is a bullshitter.

The Gambler of the verses is something more bleak than that. The strange counterpoint to the bottomless grimness of '70s music is how sometimes everyone involved decided not to hear it. (Something something, Vietnam? something something.) Jimmy Buffett built a good-times lifestyle brand out of a song about stumbling around in lonesome drunken failure; when it's not on the belt-it-out chorus, "The Gambler" is a mordantly observed account of a man who only craves oblivion. 

To young ears, everything on hit radio seems like it must be the canon, but the writing holds up in the new century: the wry joke of "We were both too tired to sleep"; the ominous, doubly (or triply) significant "his face lost all expression"; and the true final lesson for which the hold-'em-fold-'em business is just a cheery bluff: 

'Cause every hand's a winner
And every hand's a loser
And the best that you can hope for
Is to die in your sleep

When I heard Rogers had died, I went back to listen to it, and was startled to discover that, through some kind of Mandela Effect, I'd been carrying two slightly incorrect lines with me all these years. In my head, I have a pristine master recording in which Rogers unquestionably sings "the boredom overcome us," rather than "overtook us," and the Gambler's first words are "Son, I've made a living / Reading people's faces," rather than "Son, I've made a life / Out of reading people's faces." I even checked it against his performance on The Muppet Show, to see if it was different there, but I was just wrong about it. 

There are some textual differences, though, between Rogers and Schlitz. Rogers, or someone in the studio with him, did a deft and gentle edit: A "just like" disappeared from the "every hand's a loser" line; "commenced to speak" became "began to speak." And in a beautifully understated act of gag-polishing, Schlitz's "And then he bummed a cigarette / And then he bummed a light" becomes the immortal "Then he bummed a cigarette / And asked me for a light." It's still the same concept, but Kenny Rogers held a little something back, and he played it for the jackpot.

Illustration by Ben Claassen III


THOUGHT DEP’T.

Here is a thought from W.N. Vann of Columbus, Ohio:

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DIAGNOSIS IS MURDER DEP’T.

My Current Persistent Delusion About How I Beat COVID-19

WARNING: CONTAINS MILDLY DISGUSTING DESCRIPTIONS OF ILLNESS

BACK IN LATE November and early December of 2019 (the Before Times), I came down with what I thought was a bad cold. I had a maddeningly parched and scratchy throat that kept me awake in bed, plus an intermittently uncontrollable dry, hacky, non-productive cough along with an odd heaviness in my lungs. It really knocked me down, made me the kind of sick where you just sit in a room and exist. No interests, no motivation to do or think anything; you’re just a stationary living thing with no interior life, no hopes, no future.

After nearly two weeks of this condition ebbing and flowing but not dissipating, I went to my Forty-Dollar Copay Primary Care Physician and he was like, “Yeah it’s a nasty virus that’s going around, I can give you something for the cough.” I was so profoundly ill I couldn’t even embrace the possible narcotic sport of a few days worth of prescription cough syrup. Sizzurp!

I stayed on my established DayQuil/NyQuil Möbius strip, and after three weeks I started to feel better, but then the illness mutated to bestow upon me a set of sludgy, congested lungs. I’ve had bronchitis enough to recognize it. I had a horrible, burning, productive cough, definitely approaching pneumonia. I’m not in favor of antibiotics unless I know that’s the only thing left to do, so I fought the new state of sick with lots of fluids, rest, acetaminophen, strategic doses of the respective Qs, and loud, revolting bouts of searingly painful racking coughs in a hot steamy shower every morning, resulting in the ejection of globs of yellow phlegm, sometimes on the cusp of dull green, with the odd streak of blood. Very satisfying to get that stuff out! Yuck!

Of course my wife ended up catching my initial illness and it did the same thing to her, scratchy throat, nonproductive cough, it wiped her out, she was in bed for two days, and it took her three weeks to get near normal. We went to New Orleans for a week in late December because we had longstanding plans for her 50th birthday. We took our state of health seriously, we were agreed that if one of us felt like it was too much, we would cancel the trip, we did not push it, were in much better shape and took it very easy, but at least once a day one of us would cough briefly but gruesomely. We had a great time and we recovered completely.

About a week ago, in my capacity as a not-doctor and not-scientist, I began to develop the hypothesis that we maybe we had experienced the COVID-19, and while we had it, we got sick with other stuff, opportunistically. I don’t have anything to back this idea up, and so I can’t say we did, and I’m no Celebrity, nobody’s gonna indulge me and test my wife and me behind this tale, but now I kinda think we did.

We didn’t!

But I kinda think we did.

My wife and I are symptom-free and in good health, practicing Government-mandated prophylaxis in our daily activities and will not research my theory (which my Bride has bought into a li’l bit) by tempting fate via exposure to possible infection (RE-infection?!?) but part of me thinks maybe we had it. But of course we did not.

But maybe.

UPDATE! DELUSION REINFORCED: Famous star Debi Mazar reported that her family got sick over a month ago and didn’t know what was going on, then they “recovered” after about three weeks, and then got sick again, this time def with the COVID-19. Celebrities: They’re just like us!


VISUAL CONSCIOUSNESS DEP’T.

Spring, Part 3

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RECIPES DEP’T.

IT SEEMS AS if we will never cease presenting a selection of recipes for ancient but reproducible sandwiches, found in The Up-To-Date Sandwich Book: 400 Ways to Make a Sandwich, by Eva Greene Fuller; 1909; McClurg and Co., Chicago, now in the public domain for the delectation of all.

PARTY SANDWICH ROLLS
Fresh bread is used for these sandwiches. Cut the slices as thin as possible and remove the crusts. Lay crisp lettuce leaves that have been dipped in mayonnaise dressing on the slices; on top of that place thin shavings of cold boiled ham; roll the slices very closely and fasten with a toothpick or ribbon. Pile on a serving dish and garnish with pickles and radishes.

CHICKEN AND GREEN PEPPER SANDWICH
Run enough chicken through the meat chopper to make two cupfuls; cut out the stem ends and remove the seeds from three large sweet peppers; run them through the meat chopper; mix the chicken and pepper together; season with half a teaspoonful of salt, and two tablespoonfuls of sweet cream. Place between thin slices of lightly buttered white bread. Cut in triangles. Serve on lettuce leaf.

HAM SANDWICH NO. 4 
One pound of cold boiled ham run through fine knife or meat chopper, one-half cup strained lemon juice, mix with a little mayonnaise dressing, spread on thin slices of lightly buttered white bread, with a crisp lettuce leaf between.

If you make one of these sandwiches, before you eat it, please send a picture to hmmweekly@substack.com


HMM WEEKLY IS written by Tom Scocca, editor, and Joe MacRoasters, creative director. If you enjoy Hmm Weekly, please 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, and any time you want, email us at hmmweekly@substack.com.