Tuesday, January 29, 2013

18th-Century Gravestone Carvings of New England

We're all going to die! That pops into my head once in awhile—then I make lunch. I took these photos in 1995 in Boston and Bennington, and while they're definitely markers of mortality, I see more. Or I did. It's been a few years since I journeyed with my Canon Sure Shot film camera (once a proud travel item—now a Goodwill staple), on a drizzly, overcast day. I focused on the stone sculpture, not the names and dates. I always focus on the art. Because while we're all headed who-knows-where when we go (not far is my guess), artists keep plugging away.

Check out the no-nonsense, minimalist angels and Edward Gorey-like skull and bones on these gravestones. Grim but endearing.

Oh my goodness

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

"Everything Smells Like Russell" by Not Now

I sincerely debated with myself about putting this 1984 gem out there in the virtual world. The unpracticed musical minimalism, the melancholy tone, the pain it could cause people who are named Russell. Ultimately, I decided that the lack of absurdest music in our current state of pop culture makes it imperative to relive the past, if only to not repeat it. No, I mean, if Nicki Minaj is all we can manage for absurdism these days, then dammit, you can handle Everything Smells Like Russell.

To all who are named Russell, know that this song is pinpointed at a particular Russell who stayed at my shared flat for a week, many years ago. He was very, very strange—scary strange. My roommate knew him from a job she once had at an east coast natural-food commune (I never understood what this place actually was, but she worked there in her early 20s). She told him he could stay at our little San Francisco place while he was traveling through town on his way to...the woods. That's right. He was going to live in the woods somewhere north of us. I didn't understand.

But there he was, in our tiny living room and he smelled. He smelled like unwashed humanity, dirt, mold, and mushrooms. Technically mushrooms are a mold, but he was musty and mushroomy. That's all you need to know about his smell. I don't want to overload you with details. Oh, you also should know that his backpack was filthy and one day I came home and a snail had crawled out of it and into the room. Note that I have a phobia of snails and mollusks in general. It's not rational—what phobia is? But there was a snail, in my house.

Meanwhile, my roommate had skedaddled elsewhere. She stayed with her boyfriend the entire time Russell was at our place. I didn't have a boyfriend. So guess who had to deal with him? Every morning, the smell of Russell would hit me first as I came down the hall on my way to the kitchen. I passed him in the living room where he'd be intensely studying my social-psychology textbook—the dullest reading material in the house.

"Hello, Russell," I'd say, pleasantly.

He would scowl and grunt. He didn't believe in pleasantries, or conversation. He didn't believe in eye contact, washing, or leaving the living room ever. Oh, how I hated having him there. But I was barely 20 and had grown up around thoughtful, sane people. I didn't have the skill-set to combat a foe such as Russell. And I couldn't even ask my roommate when he was leaving because she wasn't around.

One unusually hot day during Russell's tenure, I came home to a new scent: beans. Russell had the biggest soup pot on the stove and it was full of beans, cooking and filling the flat with their smell. San Francisco gets, on average, three 80-degree days a year and no one has air conditioning to deal with it. Russell's plan was to cook from a 20-pound sack of beans every day that week, pack the cooked beans into plastic bags within cardboard boxes, then ship them to "The Woods," where he'd live off them indefinitely. He cooked all day and night.

The next morning they were still cooking. The flat was a bean sauna. I greeted him as usual, he grunted at me, and I sat myself down opposite him. It was time for conversation.

"So, Russell," I said, waiting until he finally made eye contact. "When exactly are you leaving?"

Surprisingly, he got my tone. "Uh, tomorrow...?" he guessed.

I slapped my knees and sprang up, "Excellent. Sounds good!"

The next day, I peeked into the living room and he was gone. Backpack, snail, beans, everything. But of course, the smell...lingered...on. When my roommate finally returned, she wouldn't speak to me for days. I heard from a friend that she was mad that I had been rude to Russell. But that's another story and another song. And now...

Everything Smells Like Russell by Not Now, recorded in 1984 in our friend Michael's attic bedroom with his drum machine. I'm kind of singing while plunking away on a pre-programed synthesizer. Jenny is doing backup vocals and playing a guitar made from a kit with the worst action ever. Thanks to Jim for digitizing this ancient artifact, only available on cassette tape.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Wattstax captures a moment in time

Martin Luther King, Jr. would have been 84 today. Happy birthday, MLK, Jr. I wish you were here.

For an uplifting experience, watch the 2003 DVD reissue of "Wattstax," the 1973 documentary that's called by some "The Black Woodstock." It's so much more. Stax Records' president, Al Bell, sponsored the 1972 concert in Watts, not only to bring the Memphis sound and Stax roster to Los Angeles, but to commemorate the Watts Revolution  (some call it a riot) of 1965. The day-long show was a gift to the neighborhood. Tickets were only a dollar and proceeds went to nonprofit organizations. More than 100,000 people packed The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum the day after a Rams exhibition game.

The Los Angeles Police Department was asked to only employ African American police for security at the show. They complied. The hired security crew was an African American company. The film crew was African American (which included my film professor, Larry Clark, who can be heard on one of the DVD's commentary tracks). Bell, director Mel Stuart, and producer Larry Shaw, felt the resultant concert footage was merely a music film that needed to be something more. So they sent a crew out to interview people around town. Then they filmed Richard Pryor as a narrative voice for maximum stratospheric star power.

The entire film focused on this specific moment in time for the African American experience in Southern California. The Stax soul sound, the casual conversations, the voices supplied by Richard Pryor in multiple-monologue format—these echo a time in American history when change was happening and we were hopeful about it. There are so many supreme moments in this film that still resonate today, as noted by Chuck D. on the second commentary track on the DVD.

The music brings me back to my childhood when my friends and I would be in someone's garage, gathering items to play some make-believe game—house, or hotel, or restaurant. Someone's transistor radio would be on (it was always on) and into the top-40 AM mix, The Staple Singers would come on, or The Dramatics, or Isaac Hayes. Their songs cut through, straight to our inner beings. They spoke to you and told you what to look out for, what to aim for, how to be in the world. They were fabulous and I consider myself lucky to have lived during this musical era when singing from the gut was celebrated and broadcast to the world. And we would start dancing. We'd drop our plans for a few minutes and make up a dance together, like we saw every weekend on "Soul Train." I'm telling you: it was bliss.


The Staple Singers - Respect Yourself with the incomparable Mavis Staples.

Johnnie Taylor - Jody's Got Your Girl and Gone. He moves and sings in excellent form.

The Bar-Kays - Son of Shaft. I can't stop watching this.

Rufus Thomas was 55 when he performed Breakdown and Funky Chicken. A master at kindly crowd control. There is much joyful dancing, plus "the guy with the umbrella."

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Squirrel-proof Birdfeeders for Hours of Entertainment

It's cold, damp and windy outside. There are hungry birds out there—time to fill the feeder. But wait—what's that hairy, vampiric rodent hanging off your bird habitat, sucking down seeds like a shop vac while you curse its persistent existence? It's a squirrel, of course.

If you live in a house surrounded by trees like I do, I bet you've got a lot of pesky squirrels about. And they're tenacious. They'll eat your birdseed, belch, then look at you expectantly for a refill. Why do you think they're hanging around? They're not admiring your pristine landscaping.

I don't care how fluffy their tails are. Squirrels suck. We've had squirrel invaders off and on for the past few years, due to our stupid "open roof" concept. Back in the day, housing developers did not have to supply a sub-roof under roof tile here in sunny California, so there's our ceiling, its beams, some insulation and finally, roof tile between us and the world. Squirrels have figured out that our house is completely penetrable and have taken advantage whenever their invasive natures take over. If I were to hang a feeder, it would be squirrel Armageddon, and those little furry mess-makers are scrabbly in nature. You don't want them in your insulation or wiring, believe me.

But I like birds. I do! I'd love to have some bird feeders around here. In the spring and summer, we've got birds aplenty—no need for feeders, but in the winter, they avoid our yard. Nothing to attract them, I guess. Feeders would be FUN. But squirrels would RUIN the fun. That's what squirrels DO.

I did a little sleuthing to find the best bird feeders for the squirrel-phobic. Here's what I came up with—feeders that whirl and spin! A squirrel-sized thrill ride of foodless oblivion. Not that I'm going to get any of these. Then we'd have to deal with the rats too. So just forget it. Still, if you want to see hysterically spinning squirrels, and who doesn't, just push "play."

This is perhaps the finest spinning-squirrel video on the Internet, in my opinion. It consistently satisfies. See if you don't agree.

There's a lot of slow-mo freaks on YouTube. How many have seen a squirrel spinning in slow-mo? Not many, I'd wager. Well, here you go. Should have been set to dub-step, but that's the breaks.

For sheer tenacity, this squirrel has everyone beat. Look at him/her go! And go! And go. Jeez, stupid squirrel.

In all seriousness (ahem), the following is probably the best feeder for thwarting squirrels: The Squirrel Buster Plus. Its ingenious mechanism (go to 3:00 to see it in action) uses the squirrel's weight to close the feeding holes. So while spinning and tipping feeders are fun-filled for all (except for squirrels, and who knows—maybe they like it, the little bastards), actually closing down the source of food makes the most sense to me. Those whirling feeders are great at whirling seed all over the ground too. The squirrels that hang on the longest get the most seed. Fuckers.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Top Nine Ultramans

Redster Productions put up his nine favorite Ultramans on YouTube. Not ten. Not eight. Nine Ultramans—count 'em! My brother watched Ultraman religiously as a youngster and I teased him relentlessly because of it. Oh, fond memories of sibling torture!

I've been so busy reorganizing my house that I've somewhat neglected my Web duties. Today I cleaned out the hall closet. Where's my medal?! All I receive is the satisfaction of a job well done. And I can find my umbrellas now. So check out Ultraman, in celebration of my more organized world. (I drilled holes today to hang hooks—I'm am not messing around.)

Some of these clips remind me of the 90s rave scene. Make of that what you will. Ultraseven at 2:12 is my personal favorite and will surely bring strange nightmares into your life as well.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Oh, New England Winter Vacation

I'm back! I was visiting family in New England—did you miss me? You didn't notice, did you? That's OK. The holiday season is a busy time. That's why I was completely brain damaged going into my trip last week. What with end-of-school preparations, Christmas shopping (I only have one kid—how did shopping become a full-time job?), my cousin's winter winery wedding (that's a wedding in a winery which is a good way to go, I say), I barely had time to get it together. I returned to a house full of Christmas. Remember childhood, when Mom cleaned all that up? Now I'm Mom.

The horrors of Hurricane Sandy and the Sandy Hook school shooting have hit my east-coast relatives very hard. It's been a hell of a time in the Northeast. It was good to reconnect with everyone and to be thankful for the love we share with one another.

Let's review the wonder that is Southeastern Connecticut.

Wait—this is a Groton Goodwill find. My mother-in-law described it as "someone doing badly in sculpture class." Still, I like this viewpoint. There's a lot of shellfish to be caught and eaten along the Connecticut coast, as reflected in this one-of-a-kind artwork.

Let's just stay at the Goodwill for a moment. We usually find some good stuff here. Like on this visit, someone gave up all their 'NSYNC action figures to the Goodwill. There was the whole crew: Joey and Justin and JC and all those guys. Here's Lance Bass. This makes the Groton Goodwill fisherman sculpture look pretty good, doesn't it?

Although the visible pathos on JC's doll face is quite moving. Dude. It'll be OK.

JC Chasez, singer of Blowin' Me Up (With Her Love)
It took all my powers of inner restraint not to pay $2.99 for this Justin Timberlake 2000 Holiday Ornament. That's what happens when you're middle-aged—you lose your kitsch edge.

Then, as if to test me further, the Goodwill Gods sent down this Justin Timberlake limited edition rare bear. It's a bear, wearing a Justin T-shirt, in the box, mint condition. Will I regret this road not taken? Naah.

There was also a large collection of Osbourne Family bobble heads and talking dolls. Well, to be clear, the talking dolls no longer talk. When you press Sharon and Kelly's tummies, all that could be heard was the woeful toc toc toc of dying batteries. I admit, had they talked, I would have had a difficult time saying no. After all, it is Sharon and Kelly here. Ozzy's bobblehead with colored hair extensions had been moved down into the toy section of the store, where he looked very out of place, yet so right.

I pressed their tummies hard—I got nothing.
Let's get out of here and head outside—get some fresh air.

OMYGOD! It's snowing. What do you do when it snows continuously until the ground is covered with seven inches in one night? Go sledding, of course. Please sled down the hill 100 billion times until snow melts or vacation is over, whichever comes first.

Just keep sledding...



Just keep sledding...
OK, stop. Time for hot chocolate now.
Stonington is one of the oldest towns in the country. People decorate their homes with fish and fish-related items, and that looks just fine by the sea.

Check out the Mystic Seaport, where whaling ships are restored and buildings and their doorways are tiny, to accommodate once-tiny 17th-century colonists.

I feel a Herman Melville quote coming on...

I know not all that may be coming, but be it what it will, I'll go to it laughing.
To balance out the Christmas ham, chowder, pizza, fish & chips, quiche, cupcakes, cookies, pie and chocolate candies, we tried to stay active, but it was hard for us wimpy Californians in the 30-degree weather. The wind-chill—that's the problem. Standing in a North-easterly wind is like saying, "Suffering builds character!" without the character.

It is pretty outside though. I stayed active by hunching my shoulders, shivering, taking a yoga class at the Y, and pulling on a stretchy-band thing once in a while. Now that I'm home, I'll be working on my core. Just thought I'd over-share.

This woman was forced to walk outside due to her dog.
This little bird scoffs at us in our multiple insulating layers and parkas. It's saying, "Ha! This storm is nothing. I didn't even bother to migrate. West coast wimps!"

There were a number of stand-alone window displays showing the industrial nature of Rhode Island at the Providence Airport. This one's motto was "Our Unique Blend," displaying a blender (proudly manufactured in RI), a lobster, a golfer, some sand, seashells and a model Amtrak train, made from wood. That Groton Goodwill fisherman statue just looks better and better, doesn't it?

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to make a lobster-golfer smoothie and hit the sheets—jetlag, you know. It's a balmy 50 degrees in California and today I wore a T-shirt (with jacket over it) to celebrate. Happy New Year to you and yours!

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Herman Melville "Moby-Dick" glass art

"I know not all that may be coming, but be it what it will, I'll go to it laughing" - Herman Melville, Moby-Dick.

Cool glass art hanging in the window of the Mystic Arts Center in Connecticut. Artist unknown, but worthy of attention. Words to live by in the new year.