Monday, June 27, 2011

Weird Cars of the 70s

Hello. Today we're exploring the weird world of 1970s cars. Why? Because--they were so entertaining. Well into the mid-80s, these cars were still surviving on California's temperate-climate roads. But now they're only viewable in the windmills of our minds--unless a neighbor happens to have one of these in the driveway (usually not driven much). Then it's a flashback to a strange, inventive time, where experimental, affordable vehicles were treated as viable transportation.

The AMC Pacer was wide. How wide? This wide:

This supposedly made it more stable, comfortable and cool. Unfortunately no one thought it was cool, except for my Aunt Maris, who had the wagon with the wood insets. It made a wide impression when she came to visit.

We would call this her "flying saucer" car. Because it looked almost as wide as long. This bummed her out, but we actually liked her Pacer. It is cool to try something new, even if it's extra wide. AutoMoments has an intriguing and thorough history of the Pacer here.

AMC again. This time it's the Gremlin. The Gremlin was infamous for looking like a piece of garbage on wheels. But it had a distinct little gremlin mascot logo, and as kids--we liked that. The car your kids want is probably not the car you should get. But they were cheap--real cheap. Don't see these much anymore (because they have all since disintegrated). They were once a fixture on California roads for many years, especially in lime green for some reason.

The Ford Pinto makes this TWO shitty cars in one commercial.

The Volkswagen Thing. You could change it up: take the top off, the doors and windows off, fold the windshield down. It seemed like more of Matchbox toy than an actual road-worthy vehicle. Still popular in Mexico and among collectors in Europe and the U.S.

For reasons known only to him, my dad once bought a turquoise Volkswagen Dasher station wagon. Although marketed as an affordable "family car," the back seat had metal springs that my brother and I could feel poking into our backs through the vinyl seats--like sitting against an old junkyard mattress. It had a permanent rattle too, resembling the sound of an open case of beer with the cans rolling around at all times.

My dad eventually gifted this car to me when I moved to San Francisco and having dealt with the corrupt Muni bus system at all hours of the day and night for two years straight, even the Dasher was an improvement. That permanent rattle was my entry into the wonderful world of car ownership. Eventually it couldn't pass a smog test, so I couldn't legally register it. I sold it to my friend Bill, who told me he had always wanted to buy a car for $100 even. That Dasher made his consumer dream come true.

This will give you an idea of the best-forgotten legacy of the VW Dasher. Tagline: "Volkswagen Does It Again." Yes, they certainly have.

Here's a manual wagon with the AM/FM stereo option in the much sought-after "crusty-egg yolk" color scheme. Apparently someone forgot it was in their garage because it only has 22,000 miles on it.

I'm going to get an angry comment for this, but the 70s-era Chevy El Camino car-truck is still completely weird-looking to me. Why make a truck with the body of a car? Just admit you're driving a truck, confused car-consumer. There's a solid-brown one of these in a driveway near my kid's school and every morning when I pass by, I think: that's one weird utility-vehicle concept. Anyway, I kind of like these too because the resemble a child's model-car experiment gone awry--except they're REAL.

Update: Took the kid to see "Cars 2" today. Imagine our surprise to find a lime-green Pacer, a tangerine Gremlin and a much-maligned Hugo all have prominent roles in the Pixar sequel. John Lassiter remembers the 70s well.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

New Santigold will be here any minute now

OK--well, actually Santigold has promised to release her second album in the fall. And so we patiently wait. New release (featuring Karen O):

This calls for a celebratory Santigold dance party!

I'm not going to lie. I completely stole all this information from ONTD, a main source of entertainment news.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Marta Thoma Hall - Journey of a Bottle at the Walnut Creek Library

This amazing sculpture by Marta Thoma Hall resides in the stairwell of the new library in Walnut Creek, California. It is always enriching to look up as you climb the stairs to see how the bottles capture the wonderful East Bay light from the wall of windows nearby (can there be a "wall" of windows?). I took many shots for a class I'm taking and I thought I'd share. The library has other really fine artwork too and is a fabulous place to hang out and obsessively-compulsively read, if you like that sort of thing.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Robert Reich explains our problematic economy in 2 minutes

I can handle economic news in two-minute increments. Can you? Thank you Robert Reich for making it so.

He is absolutely right about schools and roads. My kid's third-grade class has 32 kids in it. The teacher depends on a teacher's aid to keep all those kids in line and learning, but aid-budgeting has been cut for the last two years. We parents are begged to contribute to a seemingly insurmountable fund to pay aids' salaries. This, after multiple fundraisers throughout the year to pay for music, physical education, art and other "extras."

It takes the "public" out of the public school system when you're constantly being asked to pay for education on top of all the taxes paid each year. And what happens to schools that are not located in solidly middle-class neighborhoods? You can understand the problem but can you offer a solution? Neither can I.

And roads. There is a stretch along Telegraph Avenue in Oakland, CA that is so utterly wretched and destroyed that I almost thought of four-wheelin' it the other day. Like one of those 1990s' SUV TV ads where the vehicle ultimately plows through a creek-bed among the redwoods by commercial's end. Always with the SUV through a creek, destroying nature and wildlife endlessly in those thoughtless, nitwitted commercials. And America bought it, but that's another tale to tell.

Anyway, Telegraph is a major travel artery in Oakland and no one in the city sees fit to fix it. I can't imagine what it costs city dwellers each year in auto repairs, simply trying to get from point A to B. And yes, there are bicycles, but there are also a lot of bicycle accidents in Oakland, and not everyone can afford decent health insurance (or even a decent bike--they're hella expensive now).

I will end this rant by saying the economy does drastically affect all our lives, even if it's in the future when kids graduate from schools that can barely hold it together from year to year. And no one can afford to rent or buy a home because there are few jobs and even fewer well-paying jobs. And this is something that's been going on for decades now, dot-com and housing booms and busts aside. Take it from me, a long-time struggling slacker/low-wage earner. And while you're pondering quality-of-life issues, try not to plow through any delicate creek-beds with your aging SUV, please.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Simple Things In Life

It's summer! Unless you're in Australia. But here, it's summer! Time for sipping lemonade at the local garage sale while ladies fan themselves with junk mail and talk about network-marketing moisturizing parties. When did it all get so COMPLICATED? Here's to the simple things in life.



Part 2
Part 3


Frog song!


Friday, June 10, 2011

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

The Monsters of Big Man Japan

Comedian/writer/director Hitoshi Matsumoto's satirical cult monster-movie, Big Man Japan, is set to be remade by an American think-tank conglomerate. Due to the cultural references particular to Japan vs. the U.S., I for one can't wait to not see this. Although there's always a very outside chance it could have some merit. But I'm not hopeful.

Anyway, back to Big Man Japan. I got this DVD for three dollars at a closing Blockbuster video store (remember those?) and I think it was worth every penny and then some. There are pacing problems. The first rule of screenwriting class—show don't tell, is completely ignored here. And American audiences tend to freak out when scenes go on for more than five minutes and there's too much exposition. But the boring documentary-style interviews with slow-witted, middle-aged monster fighter Masaru Daisato actually echo the Japanese monster-movie format—boring ineffectual people set up the scenes that lead to excellent and cheesy monster fighting. So fast-forward to the monster fights like a traditionalist if you want. That's what I do.

Modern Japanese culture gets skewered, and some of it might be transferable to our disposable, commercialised U.S. shores. Daisato is considered a pest more than a hero and is nearly obsolete due to lack of monsters and interest by the Japanese reality-TV audience. Unlike his popular grandfather, the monster-fighting "Fourth," he has no servants and lives in poverty, sadly sprinkling dehydrated seaweed upon his lonely meals. His wife and child have left him. The public despises and blames him for ruined infrastructure and environmental damage. He's not much of a fighter either, tubby and cautious, more often accidentally killing the oddball assortment of monsters who seem to exist to torment him within barren landscapes devoid of screaming crowds.

I debated whether to post images of the bizarre and entertaining CG monsters (most of whom, like Big Man, come across as pear-shaped, middle-aged, and not too sharp), not wanting to spoil it for everyone. But with this new remake announcement, I figure you're all going to be looking at the monsters anyway, especially YOU, Hollywood. If you don't want to see the weirdness, look away! I promise not to reveal the ending, which is truly amazing and requires some mind-bending thought processes to integrate within the weird world Matsumoto has culled together. And now:

Big Man Japan (tattooed with a corporate-sponsor logo--make note, film studios).

The Strangling Monster lives to flip his comb-over after happily toppling buildings and then--well, I'm not sure what he's doing to the building sites afterwards. Like a lot of these creatures, it's a weird brew of grotesque sexual pleasure, and I don't know what else. I'll leave it for you to decide when you watch the film.

The Fourth was considered a true hero in Japanese society, surrounded by adoring crowds who paid for his every living expense. Quite a contrast to the modern Big Man Japan lifestyle of neglect and non-self-reflexive ennui.

Leaping Monster only wants to leap while yelping, "Sei!" Fans of Yokai Monsters will not find these creatures all together incomprehensible. Everyone else: prepare to be deeply perplexed.

Evil Stare Monster is extremely perverse in its fighting methods. Kind of like a really bad stage act at the Exotic Erotic Ball.

Stink Monster is one smelly bitch in heat. Big Man Japan tries reasoning with this mysterious hot-house flower to, of course, no avail.

The Child Monster is helpless yet potentially threatening. Kind of like real children.

Evil Red Menace with his glowing eyes actually knows how to fight. That could definitely be problematic.


Saturday, June 04, 2011

Scott Weaver's San Francisco toothpick sculpture - Rolling Through the Bay

Roger Ebert's twitter pointed me to this today and it's so epic, amazing and charming I thought I'd share. Scott Weaver spent the past 35 years building a model of the San Francisco Bay Area with more than 100,000 toothpicks. Best of all, it's kinetic. Beautiful, unreal and fun--just like the real place it depicts.

Scott Weaver's Rolling through the Bay from The Tinkering Studio on Vimeo.

On display now at the Exploratorium's Tinkering Studio through June 19th.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Wholesome Pole Dancing

Pole dancing! The fitness sensation that's sweeping the nation! It's not just for strippers anymore! Need proof? Read on:

Pole fitness for Jesus done to upbeat contemporary Christian music.

Martha Stewart embraces the pole, looking perfectly comfortable and natural while doing so.

Not to be outdone, Ellen De Generes tries her hand in her awesome custom-made androgyny-wear. (Ellen is my favorite fashion icon. Even more so since whenever she speaks I think of Dorie the lovably brain-damaged Fish from "Finding Nemo.")

In a show of pole-dancing equality, Ellen features a bare-chested male pole dancer. The suspenders make it wholesome.

I hope you're up for an emotional open-shirted pole-dancing experience. The confetti rain washes away any lingering impurities.