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Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Flophouse is Doomed

Open Culture just posted a link to this 1954 video, The House in the Middle.  It is a scream.

Did you know that poor housekeeping and an untended yard may mean that you and your loved ones may not survive a nuclear attack?

It's true, mes amis, they tested it and then they made this video to spread the word.

If my grandmother were alive and watching with me I'm sure that she would feel vindicated - "No one is ever too poor to pick up his yard!"  No fan of slum-dwellers was she.

Looking at the Flophouse, I'm sure she'd be very disappointed in me.  It's not dirty but it's not exactly one of those brightly painted houses with a perfect picket fence, a golf course quality lawn and order within.  And did I mention the little mouse we caught the other day under the DVD player?  The younger Frenchling trapped it in a Tupperware container and released it in the garden.

And now I learn that my (and perhaps your) slovenly ways are a direct threat to the survival of my little Franco-American family.

Who knew?

There is only one appropriate response to this news as far as I'm concerned:  Surrender.

This means a direct march to the living room where I will grab a book from one of the many piles on the coffee table (thus scattering papers everywhere), pile up the pillows from the floor onto the couch (where I will read in blissful comfort on my covered-with-cat-hair couch) and share a chocolate ice cream cone (crumbs falling on the carpet to feed the mouse if he decides to come back) with my younger Frenchling until the heat of the afternoon passes.  Time enough tomorrow to get out the vacuum cleaner and swamp out the house if I feel like it because as Ed Ricketts once said:

"We must remember three things:
Number one and first in importance, we must have as much fun as we can with what we have.
Number two, we must eat as well as we can, because if we don't we won't have the health and strength to have as much fun as we might.
And number three and third in importance, we must keep the house reasonably in order, wash the dishes and such things. But we will not let the last interfere with the other two."

Ed Ricketts quoted by John Steinbeck in The Log from the Sea of Cortez


Sally said...

it seems to me that this points out that flimsy American houses, foolishly built from flammable materials like wood, are firetraps.

We may be in trouble in an earthquake (crashing cinder blocks) but it's unlikely our house will burn to the ground.

Rosy the Riveter said...

I did my thesis on Steinbeck. What I liked most was his praise of the "noble savage" revisited with the merry bunch at the Palace Flophouse down on Cannery Row. Live for today, don't worry about getting rich, and manage with whatever you can lay your hands on. Their most precious traveling gear consisted of salt, pepper and coffee. Period. The rest would come by itself - the booze included. Long live the Franco-American Flophouse! Ice cream cone crumbs and all ! :-)

Anonymous said...

What Victoria fails to point out is that her family has two models - model one her grandmother and her step-grandmother. Both houses looked like a showroom for good, mid priced furniture. In these houses it was never safe to let your coffee cool because the cup would be snatched up, washed, dried, and returned to the cupboard; sort of like that. The second model was Victoria's French Canadian great grandmother who liked stuff and she had a bunch of it, clean, comfortable house, great but not fussy food, much, much more relaxed. So guess what we chose to follow.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

@Sally, I'm with you. I've learned to love stone. Stays cooler in the summer too.

@Rosy, Oh can I read your thesis? I like their philosophy. What my recent adventures have taught me is that I sure don't want to be the richest person in the cemetery. :-)

@anonymous, This is true. :-)

Marie said...

Ah I love this - thank you! I often feel I am neglecting housework in favor of blogging or writing or doing anything really except the housework. So this truly helped me today :-)

bubblebustin said...

Who wants to survive a nuclear bomb anyway? What's not mentioned is the effect of that much heat all those aerosol cans and Good Housekeeping magazines (not to mention the inhabitants-unless of course they too are well painted).
Is this the 'broken window' theory's predecessor?

Janet said...

The video brought back my childhood fears and nightmares.

I grew up in NYC during the cold war. Almost every school day we had a practice air raid drill which we were told would save us in case the Russians dropped nuclear bombs on NYC.
There were two kinds of drills. "Take Cover" drills which were triggered by the teacher shouting "take cover". For this drill we had to immediately stop whatever we were doing and hide under our desks, with our arms covering our heads and our backs facing the windows. The teacher would tell anyone who was too slow that they would die if they were too slow when the bombs fell.
The second type of drill was the "Advanced Warning" drill. This was a city-wide drill which was triggered by howling air raid sirens. For this drill, our teacher lead us down to a corridor in the school basement where we had to wait until the sirens sounded the "All Clear" signal.

Every school child in NYC was issued a dog tag on which their name, date of birth and address was embossed. We were told these tags would help the authorities reunite us with our parents after a nuclear attack! While checking attendance in the morning,teachers were obligated to also check that each child was wearing their dog tag. I refused to wear my dog tag since I had come to realize that if the Russians did drop a nuclear bomb on NYC neither I nor my parents would still exist. Yes I got into trouble with my teacher and with the school principal but I remained steadfast. Since I was one of their best pupils and normally very well behaved, they finally just ignored the fact that I wasn't wearing my dog tag.

I think this was when I first realized that governments use fear as an instrument to control their citizens.

Years later I met a Russian physicist who had the same date of birth as I do. He was born in Moscow where he grew up and attended school. When we compared our childhoods, he told me the Russian children also had air raid drills to "save" them from a nuclear attack from the Americans!

Before there was the Department of Homeland Security there was the Federal Civil Defense Administration; before the terrorists there were the communists. Fear is a very powerful weapon.

Yesterday noticed one of my father-in-law's books. He was every interested in politics and studied political science after he retired. The title of the book intrigued me so I took off the shelf and leafed through it. The book is "A Nation of Sheep" by William J. Lederer. Mr. Lederer was the co-author of "The Ugly American".
I quote here from the chapter entitled "Secrecy in Government":
'The problem is how much "right to know" can citizens give up in the name of government (and other public affairs) without stepping uncomfortably close to totalitarianism? If free Americans voluntarily elect to reduce their right to know - because an emergency requires it- this,then, is their privilege as members of a free society. But this has not yet occurred. At present we want information, and it is being denied us" This was written in 1961.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

@Marie, Writing is MUCH more important than cleaning house. :-)

@bubblebustin, Not sure where it came from but it was certainly a creative idea - link good housekeeping to surviving a nuclear attack. A stretch but perhaps one that made a weird sort of sense to people in that era.

@Janet, THANK YOU so much for sharing your memories of that time. Amazing. I'm going to get Nation of Sheep - sounds like a good read.