Sunday Morning: “Landis: The Story of a Real Man on 42nd Street” by Preston Fassel

Rufus F.

Rufus is an American curmudgeon in Canada. He has a PhD in History, sings in a garage rock band, and does many things. He is the author of the forthcoming book "The Paris Bureau" from Dio Press (early 2021).

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38 Responses

  1. Jaybird
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    I finished watching the Wheel of Time show on the Amazons. 8 episodes to cover the first book.

    I am surrounded by people who have read the books (though I have not).

    My main takeaway from the show is that they’re covering a *LOT* of ground in the first season. Like, a lot a lot. There are interesting characters, interesting bad guys, and vaguely interesting plot points but…

    Remember the first Harry Potter movie? How everybody who read the books said “OH MY GOSH DAVID RADCLIFFE LOOKS JUST LIKE HIM AND HERMIONE IS SPOT ON AND EVERYTHING LOOKS JUST PERFECT” and the people who hadn’t read the books said “what the hell is going on?”

    I’m pretty sure that that’s going on here too. My friends and loved ones who have read the books are watching and seeing OOOH A SWORD WITH A BIRD ON IT! THAT’S A SYMBOL OF THE WESTARIAN THREAD COUNTERS! AND THERE’S THE BRACELET OF MEANING! OH MY GOSH, I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT THEY ACTUALLY SHOWED US THE CRESSTLE!!!!”

    And I’m stuck here saying “So… we like that Perrin guy, huh? The wolf licky guy?”

    That said, I made it through all eight episodes so the show isn’t *BAD*. I’d probably recommend it for people who wanted a PG-13 Game of Thrones.

    (But, seriously, those last two episodes had me complaining that I have seen some hare-brained under-planned endeavors and that particular fictional hare-brained under-planned endeavor has only been outmatched in its hare-brainedness by stuff in real life.)Report

    • Rufus F. in reply to Jaybird
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      Oh, I remember alright. I was married to a huge Harry Potter fan when the movies came out, and honestly I made it through a book and a half before I gave them up in sheer boredom. But she was gaga about the movies and I’m sure is one of the people heartbroken by JK Rowling’s recent crusades. For me, though, no heartbreak- I always though the books were lousy.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Rufus F.
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        They’s kids’ books and, if you ask me, pretty decent kids’ books. But treating them as if they were *ANYTHING* else was a mistake. Hey, you can nudge your kiddo, do you think that that guy is a Slytherin or a Ravenclaw?

        I have a coworker who asks people to take the “Which House Are You?” personality test when they join his team. Just, you know, so he can get a feel for how to talk to them. I refused to take it. “I’m a Hufflepuff”, I told him. I maintained eye contact. “Fine”, he said.

        The Wheel of Time? Well, lemme tell ya, I didn’t leave this season wanting to discuss the morality of any of the characters as much as wanting to discuss the stupidity of them.Report

        • dhex in reply to Jaybird
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          i’d feel a bit boxed in by a job that asked me to do a meyers briggs test, like a low-key cult of zero mysteries or deeper meanings. a harry potter test? how does one respond to that?

          “take this quiz on which character from naked lunch you are”

          (spoiler: they’re all the talking a-hole)

          eta: great post as usual, rufus!Report

          • Jaybird in reply to dhex
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            If asked to take a MB test, I’d just tell them that I’m an INTP except when I’m hungry and then I turn into an INTJ.

            And if they said that they needed me to take the test, I’d get more information from that than they’d get from me taking the test.Report

            • dhex in reply to Jaybird
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              i’ve thankfully never worked in an industry or for an organization which relies upon any kind of non-skills based testing for their interview process. the whole thing is crazy to me.

              i feel like introducing buzzfeed-level “personality” quizzes is bad enough; making it about a children’s book series? c’mon now. you gotta be kidding.

              i’d very much try not to be a jerk to your coworker in a professional context, but i don’t think i’d be able to overcome the loss of respect i’d feel (in both directions) over something like that. talk to me like we’re both adults!

              FWIW i’d feel the same way if it were a “which ulysses character are you” because obviously i’m garryowen and you’d know that if you talked to me like an adult and could then see i was chained to a myopic nationalist.

              tl;dr personality tests are the k-pop of employment – a satanic melange of all the worst things of the past, present, and future, and very popular on twitter.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to dhex
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                I just want to clarify: The organization did not do this. The guy did.

                (Millennials. Sigh.)Report

              • InMD in reply to dhex
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                My perception is that they are pet projects of HR/marketing/recruiting that make work to justify their existence. I worked at a company that did MB. As best as I can tell it never was used in any way. I also noticed that when the company went through a large wave of layoffs none of the people involved in it survived. It was a pretty damning statement about the necessity of what they were doing.Report

              • Michael Cain in reply to dhex
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                A bunch of this got started in long ago days when companies were having to add computers to their back offices, and were desperate to separate the wheat from the chaff before they hired/transferred people to write code for those. Everyone of a certain age in the business has stories about programmers with “negative value”: not only were you paying them, you had to pay another person who basically did nothing but fix their mistakes.Report

              • JS in reply to dhex
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                “i’ve thankfully never worked in an industry or for an organization which relies upon any kind of non-skills based testing for their interview process. the whole thing is crazy to me.”

                Since those sort of things are cheap to do today, a ridiculous number of places have suddenly started using “personality” and “iq” tests as pre-screens.

                Bluntly put, the HR process in America — at the very least — seems to be trending in a very broken direction.

                Automatic filters that are poorly designed — and thus pre-empetively removing qualified candidates in favor of those who worked out how to game the filter (ie: frequent job hoppers). Gaming an automated filter is, I suppose, a skill — but likely not the one they’re hiring for.

                Layers of “Testing” that doesn’t actually test for what they want, and does nothing but randomly winnow the field further.

                Then the interview process — often time layers of interviews, taking multiple days — with weeks in between — when it should be done in hours, with rejection/acceptance being done in a matter of days once the pool has been interviewed.

                Does Ford do this to automotive engineers? “So you’ve been doing this 20 years. Can you tell me what an axel is?” Can you tell me what [obsolete pre-80s emissions control system] is? here’s a car design where the transmission is sticking. Can you come up with a solution and fully document it in the next six weeks so we can fix the design? This is part of the interview, you won’t be paid”

                Also, this personality quiz says you’re not extroverted enough so we’ve gone with Bob who once drove a car from Ohio to Kansas and has a degree in biology and whose work experience is mostly in applying to jobs.Report

    • James K in reply to Jaybird
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      The big problem they had is that after episode 6 they had to go on a shooting hiatus due to COVID, at which point the Actor who played Matt dropped out of the show (breaking his contract) and fell off the face of the Earth as far as anyone knows. Also, part way through making episode 8 they had to cut back on actors and locations, again due to COVID. So the back part of the season was a mess, but I don’t know exactly how much was under their control.

      But yeah, they really needed 10 episodes because that was really compressed.Report

    • DensityDuck in reply to Jaybird
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      I will say it must be amusing to see them go back and retcon all the much-later stuff into the beginning, to answer every reader’s questions about how “if so-and-so was always such a big deal then why are we only finding out about that in Book Six?”Report

  2. Saul Degraw
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    I have a lot of strong and largely negative feelings on the yearning for New York of the 1970s and maybe into the 80s. I get that it seems (and maybe was) like the culture of the time was fast, exciting, new, dangerous, and the city was affordable for artists. Some really lucky ones ended up being inadvertent real estate speculators because they were able to purchase lofts in SOHO and Tribecca on the cheap before those areas became overly expensive (not often said is that the artists who did this often did with help from the bank of mom and dad at the time).

    On the other hand, I don’t think there is anything particularly romantic about being mugged or the victim of another more violent/horrible crime. The idea that “grit” and a hard life on the streets is more authentic and real always struck me as a kind of weird paradox for the left. The purpose of left politics is to provide material comfort for the masses of humanity on this earth and this means good clothing, shelter, healthcare, etc. Then you have people rebel against this because it is “boring” or some such.

    Now having cities be homogeneous and corporate and expensive is not good either but surely it is not an either/or choice of too expensive v. 1970s seedy Times SquareReport

    • Chip Daniels in reply to Saul Degraw
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      I was mentioning elsewhere about how its common to romanticize those gritty lawless environments, only from afar and at a distance in time.

      Like, how the Wild West is seen as exciting and romantic.
      Imagine like, if we woke up in 100 years to find entire theme parks devoted to the Wild Urban Wasteland, where they had re-enactments of urban gang drive-by shootings and drug dealers and crack whores and homeless people pushing shopping carts.

      And of course the gangbangers would all be handsome and secretly noble, and the crackwhores all gorgeous and have deep inner lives and every dispute would end with the good guy pulling out his Glock and blowing away the bad guy with a Glock and really, the entire thing just so exciting and thrilling that every little boy would want to live there.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Chip Daniels
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        I mean I sort of get it because rent was much more affordable and in line with income plus there were exciting things going on with bands and artists that we now see as legendary.

        Now we don’t know what bands of artists from today will be legendary tomorrow but everything does feel much more segmented.

        I don’t think it is the last paragraph that most people want. They just want to know what it was like to see Television and the Talking Heads at CBGBs followed by late night dancing at Danceteria and then maybe a gallery show with relatively affordable paintings.Report

        • Chip Daniels in reply to Saul Degraw
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          Funny anecdote about when the fantasy of “gritty authenticity” meets the real thing.

          In 1979 I fell into the punk scene in a big way and hung out at all the Hollywood clubs where all the bands toured.

          One night at the Starwood I brought a friend whose favorite gag was to flash his phony police badge and impress girls.
          He somehow got into a beef with one of the bouncers, and did his badge thing, and tried to make like he was an undercover LAPD narc.

          Rather than being impressed, suddenly two enormous thugs pick him up and dragged him into the back room where they grilled him for a while demanding to know his name and particulars. Of course they figured it out pretty quick, then physically threw us out of the club.

          Not too much long after that came the Wonderland murders, featuring Eddie Nash, the owner of the Starwood, who was also a major drug dealer and reportedly kept piles of coke in the backrooms of the Starwood.
          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eddie_Nash

          The scenes in Boogie Nights and Wonderland are a fictionalized but apparently very accurate portrayal of the sort of “gritty” and “authentic” underworld sociopath of the sort that say, Charles Bukowski or punk bands might write about.

          In the same way that God watches over drunks and foolish little boys, we had no idea how close we had come to experiencing what gritty street life is actually like.Report

        • LeeEsq in reply to Saul Degraw
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          How many people really see Television, the Talking Heads, and other bands of that era as legendary? At best most people know them as having a few hit songs like Once in Lifetime or Wild Wild Life but they are generally irrelevant to most people even if they were alive and young at the time. Most people listened to mainstream stuff and even at their height of popularity Television and the Talking Heads were not mainstream.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Chip Daniels
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        I think you said it a while ago, people want the candyland version of Charles Bukowski.Report

    • Rufus F. in reply to Saul Degraw
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      Ya know, I think there were two factors for why NYC in the era casts such a long cultural shadow. The first is what everyone notes about the rent being cheap. It was viable for artists from elsewhere to move there and bus tables and make art most of the time. But I feel like we forget the second thing, which is NYC was already a media capital. There was also some pretty amazing art being made in Cleveland, for instance, but it wasn’t making the magazines or televsion shows in anything like the same way. That media attention amplified the idea that NYC was the place to be culturally, while also amplifying the idea it was a dangerous place to be.

      As for the crime, I would agree it’s pernicious to romanticize that, but that also wasn’t exactly unique to NYC either. Besides, people didn’t move there for the crime. I think the real issue is a LOT of people still seem to believe we have to choose between having cheap rent or being safe from crime, and there’s something more pernicious about that idea. It isn’t crime that keeps rents down. It’s a lot of other things. So, anyway, I agree with your last point there that it’s not an either/or choice.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to Rufus F.
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        New York was hit relatively less hard by urban decline compared to other American cities even with the crime. That is New York achieved such great success before World War II that most of the economy, culture, and entertainment remained focused on New York City rather than spreading out to the suburbs. Sure you might have lived in Westchester, Long Island, or northern New Jersey but you still needed to go into the city for work, to visit the Met, do holiday shopping, see a show, etc. while in other cities all of this sprawled out into the suburbs. That allowed New York City to remain legendary despite the 1970s and the crime.Report

      • Greg In Ak in reply to Rufus F.
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        Crime is the gritty parts of NY was going to fall mostly on residents. Many people could visit or enjoy a band or whatever then go back to where they lived which was often safer. Used to go see bands all the time in clubs in the 80’s. Never had a crime issue. Messing with dealers or living in bad areas can lead to problems but relatively few people who enjoyed NY dealt with much of it.Report

        • LeeEsq in reply to Greg In Ak
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          New York didn’t really suburbanize as much as other cities did. Most of the energy was still directed towards Manhattan even if people started to live in Northern New Jersey or Nassau and Suffolk Countries on Long Island. You still had to go into the city to watch a show on Broadway or do your special shopping, go to a museum, etc. In other parts of the country a lot of the job and cultural parts of city life left for the suburbs to.Report

          • Greg In Ak in reply to LeeEsq
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            LI, North NJ and Conn are all suburbs of NY mostly and have been since the 30’s. Heck even eastern PA is a bit of suburb now. Tri state area sub-urbanization is old and has always been a big part of the Manhattan scene. Sure many moved into NY. Even a place like old style Times Square was fueled in large part by people coming ( heh…heh….ewww) to visit the adult theme park part of NY. Same with many of the drug dealing areas like Washington Square park used to be ( or maybe still is idk).Report

            • LeeEsq in reply to Greg In Ak
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              What I meant in most cities outside the North East, the main metropolitan city lost a lot of it’s luster after World War II. People didn’t go to downtown Baltimore, Cleveland, or Pittsburgh and other places because a lot of the jobs and entertainment moved to the suburbs. New York was different because Manhattan retained a lot of power in the region that say downtown Cincinnati or even Los Angeles did not.Report

    • LeeEsq in reply to Saul Degraw
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      Leftist politics always attracted its fair share of Bohemians or austere people as the thinkers of the movements though. This had the effect of glamorizing some aspects of the non-middle class gritty life that has a great appeal to Bohemians because they don’t have to conform to bourgeois values* while having next to no appeal for anybody else.

      *A poster on another blog also pointed out that one of the problems of Communism is that they believed that their enemies were the bourgeois when their real enemies, and where class warfare really works is when you are dealing with strictly hereditary classes rather than anything with a tint of merit. It is easier to get the blood boiling against a hereditary nobility where nobody below them has a chance of hell in burning than a businessperson who anybody can be with a bit of luck and lot of hardworking and even if you don’t get there will sell you cool things. You either need to be a very austere person or rather Bohemian, and these two groups tend to become the leaders of leftist movements, to hate businesspeople.Report

  3. Slade the Leveller
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    I just finished Bob Spitz’ history of Led Zeppelin. It would be hard for any depiction of debauchery to surpass mid-70s Zep. I knew they were hard partiers, but the extent to which they took it is just astounding.Report

  4. LeeEsq
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    I just finished watching. the first episode of the new multinational production of Around the World in 80 Days with David Tenant as Phineas Fogg. Basically imagine the 10th Doctor with a mustache and you get David Tenant’s interpretation of Phineas Fogg. The new adaptation is average but it. is an interesting look at what you need to do to get a 21st century audience into a 19th century book. Besides multicultural casting, they also added a young women to join Fogg and Passpartout in the form of Abigail Fix, a journalist covering the adventure. They also added romance, which is something media adaptations nearly always do in works without romance or sex unless they are aimed at kids and politics that could kind of resonate with liberal well educated upper middle class people.Report

  5. Chris
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    I think New York is still the only city I’ve ever encountered that manages to be inhuman and quaint in equal measures.

    I don’t know what’s going on their now, with Omicron, but I was there in August, when COVID was relatively quiet (and everywhere requiring proof of vaccination), and it was a kind of surreal experience: like someone had taken Manhattan and compressed it into a zip file. The streets weren’t empty, but they weren’t exactly bustling; traveling from the Upper East Side to, say, the Flatiron District, was seamless, quiet, fast, almost comfortable even (subway construction on stops in between the two notwithstanding). COVID has really tamed that place, and the inhuman part felt more like a memory than a present fact.

    Hell, I even found myself thinking, “I could live here [if I had a lot more money than I do; a whole lot more money].”

    We did go to an absolutely ridiculous art exhibit, though, so it’s still up to its old ways in some senses, at least.Report

    • Rufus F. in reply to Chris
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      Part of it for me is just a trick of scale: you enter the city and it feels overwhelmingly massive from a short distance; and then you get close to any store and it’s some family that’s been selling fish since 1876 and you can get the sturgeon but it’s under the counter and you have to know Morty! It is a bit underpopulated at the moment. Like most cities, there are also more than a few unoccupied condos being used a s safety deposit boxes. But I think it’s likely fortunate that my lady has been here in the same apartment since the 90s.Report

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