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Stays Quizzical In Milk.

Once upon a time lazy summer mornings meant sleeping late and lingering over a bowl of cold cereal, oblivious to the problems of the wider world. Maybe there’d be a toy in the bottom of the box of cereal. Back in 1947 a national brand of cereal gave away a million spinthariscope rings so kids could put a sample of radioactive polonium right up their eye, but that’s another story. After breakfast there’d be time for a barefoot walk through the tall grass, far away from the urgent ringing of a phone. Then back home for a tuna fish sandwich and my boss yelling, “WHERE THE HELL HAVE YOU BEEN? THE SHAREHOLDERS ARE EXPECTING THE QUARTERLY EARNINGS REPORT!”

In memory of those bygone halcyon days of last week when summer mornings were long and leisurely here’s a pop quiz:

Breakfast Cereal Or Subatomic Particle?

1. Zings
2. Muesli
3. Pion
4. Quark
5. Quisp
6. Baryon
7. Freakies
8. Positron
9. Neutrino
10. Chex
11. Kix
12. Trix
13. Asterix
14. Lepton
15. Maypo

Scoring:

13-15: You’ve used the CERN Large Hadron Collider to make oatmeal.

10-12: Neutrons are part of your complete breakfast.

7-9: You’ve used a spinthariscope to make toast.

3-5: You know you can’t put too much water in a nuclear reactor.

1-2: You should be kept away from smoke alarms and sharp objects like spoons.

 

 

Pride In The Street.

Source: YouTube

Cities around the country are decorating their crosswalks with the rainbow colors of the LGBTQ Pride Flag for the month of June. Crosswalks in Britain are called “zebra crossings”, but that’s a horse of another color, or colour if your dictionary is Oxford instead of Webster. Anyway this is a very groovy public art project and an important one right now since the advances in LGBTQ rights could so easily be rolled back, but that becomes more difficult when cities show support for the whole spectrum of their citizens. The example above is from Maplewood, New Jersey, the first in its state, but it joins others from around the United States and around the world that have put permanent rainbow stripes on their crosswalks.
The crosswalks on two sides of the building where I work are sticking with the usual white stripes, but I thought this would be a good chance to review the rules of crosswalks because it’s a weekly, sometimes even daily problem for me that the crosswalk brings out many shades of stupid. Here’s a helpful diagram using a picture of the building where I work:

In this diagram if I (M) am standing on the sidewalk and a car (A) is coming then that car has the right of way. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been waiting for cars to pass so I can cross the street only to have them come to a screeching halt right in front of me. Then the drivers give me a condescending little “go ahead” wave. And it’s even more annoying when there are cars in the other two lanes speeding by. Not that the drivers are the only ones with the problem. I’ve seen other pedestrians step right out into the street without looking, forcing oncoming cars to come to a screeching halt.
On the other side of the street there’s also a bus stop (B) and sometimes when I’m standing there and cars come to a screeching halt in front of me I want to ask, How do you know I’m not waiting for the bus? And if you know I’m not waiting for the bus can you read my mind? And if you can why are you here and not in Vegas?
And (A) can also represent where delivery trucks–FedEx, UPS, USPS, food deliveries–often park, right in front of the front door of the building. Did I mention that the street in front of the building has three lanes? When a delivery truck is parked in one of those lanes that makes it even harder for pedestrians and drivers because those trucks block the view of oncoming traffic. That brings me to (1) because I arbitrarily switched to numbers and which is on the much less busy side street which is where the smarter delivery truck drivers park.
Knowing how to deal with a crosswalk is another thing we could all take pride in.

Fire!

Source: Artsy

Have you ever wondered why Harpo Marx never talked? There’s a story a friend told me, although I’ve never heard it anywhere else, that when the Marx Brothers were just getting their start in show business their first manager took their money and lost it at the racetrack. Harpo said, “I hope you go down in flames!” The next day the manager’s house burned and the other brothers decided it would be for the best if Harpo kept his mouth shut.

Years later when Groucho, Chico, and Harpo got together one last time to make A Night In Casablanca the studio wanted the silent partner to yell one word so they could put “Harpo speaks!” in the ad copy, but Harpo refused and they dropped the scene where he was supposed to yell “Fire!”

That’s what I thought about when I read that the opening of an exhibit by the South Korean artist Lee Bul at London’s Hayward Gallery was delayed because the art burst into flames.

The work called Majestic Splendour consists of fish—real fish—covered with sequins and plastic beads and because the smell of rotting fish made visitors sick at previous exhibitions the gallery added potassium permanganate to the fish.

Potassium permanganate, which, by the way, you can buy at hardware stores, is sometimes used to hide odors. I didn’t know this when I was a kid and added it to glycerin which, by the way, you can buy at hardware stores, and it would burst into flames which, by the way, is really cool to watch and you should do it with your kids, but that’s another story.

Apparently potassium permanganate can also burst into flames when added to rotting fish.

I know this is the sort of thing that prompts a lot of cheap jokes about modern art but making art and putting out there to the public, trying to make a statement, is a risky thing. It takes guts and sometimes those guts burst into flames and I’m not sure where I’m going with that, but I like Lee Bul’s work. One of her others, a silver zeppelin called Willing To Be Vulnerable is oddly eerie, suspended over a silver floor that blurrily reflects it.

Source: Artnet News

I like the fish too. Suspended in mylar bags and decorated with beads they speak to me of the environment, the contrast between the rapidly rotting fish and the staying power of plastic. They’re also beautiful to me, and I never really noticed before how much a fish’s eye looks like a bead. Even the fire seems like a statement: heat can turn fish into food and plastic into toxic fumes.

So be careful about making cheap jokes about avant garde art because you just might go up in flames and, by the way, did you know Harpo Marx was a painter and an art collector?

One Thing In Common.

Source: From Old Books

A man stood at a large window overlooking London’s Kew Gardens. He was stout and bald, except for a thatch of hair on top and a little around the sides. Once copper-colored his hair and neatly trimmed beard had gone salt and pepper. As he turned and walked across the room he was joined by a thin white-haired man with glasses and a moustache.

“Well,” said the second man, his voice a deep melodious bass, “did you have a holly, jolly Christmas last year, Mr. Ives?”

Mr. Ives chuckled. “I did, and my children greatly enjoyed your singing ‘You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch’.”

As they approached an elegantly carved bar at the far end of the room they were joined by a third man with a deeply lined face and a rough, grizzled beard. He wore a black Stetson.

“Mr. Ravenscroft,” Mr. Ives said to the man he’d just been speaking to, “have you by any chance met Mr. Haggard?”

“I haven’t had the pleasure,” said Mr. Ravenscroft and he and Mr. Haggard shook hands then turned to order drinks.

“HOW-DEE!”

The loud voice from across the room made all three men turn. The woman who’d just shouted a greeting wore a bright flowered dress. Her hair was pulled back in a bun, and a paper price tag dangled from the straw hat perched atop her head.

“Gentlemen,” said Mr. Haggard as the woman joined them at the bar, “allow me to introduce Mrs. Cannon.”

She took a playful swipe at him and said, “Now you know me well enough to call me Minnie.” She then addressed the bartender. “Could we get some ice cream please? Vanilla with a fudge—“

“None for me,” Mr. Ravenscroft interrupted politely. “I’m afraid I’m lactose intolerant and that will make me—“

“Another whiskey, please,” said Mr. Haggard. “Very fine stuff, not like the moonshine my granddaddy used to brew that would make your hair—“

“Imagine,” said Mr. Ives, “all of us being here at once.”

Mrs. Cannon said, “Indeed! It makes me feel like a young—“

She did a pirouette on one foot and added, “It’s not every day a body gets to attend the elevation of a former viscount to the next level of English peerage just below a marquis.”

All those assembled nodded thoughtfully.

 

Pursued.

The bus was late and it was crowded. Maybe it was late because it was crowded, because there were so many people getting on. Or maybe it was crowded because it was late, all these people having missed a different bus. It’s one of those chicken-and-egg questions although chickens and eggs aren’t allowed on the bus. The bus stopped and a woman sitting opposite me got off. She’d been sitting right on the aisle even though the window seat next to her was, I thought, empty. After she got off I looked over and there was a purse, gold with maroon polka dots, in the window seat. And I hesitated, which I still regret. The thought Hey, she went off and left her purse, went through my head, but I didn’t jump up and yell “Stop the bus!” and maybe that’s a good thing because the bus wasn’t moving. When I looked out I saw the woman walking away with a big purse slung over her shoulder. So it wasn’t her purse, but it was someone’s purse.
I watched a man get on and take her seat, next to the purse, leaving it its own seat as though it were another passenger.
Then he got off and the purse stayed behind. I wondered if I should pick it up. Men don’t usually carry purses although I’ve noticed more and more guys with messenger bags or shoulder bags. I have one with a raven on it composed of words from Poe’s poem and it’s sparked a few conversations, but that’s another story. Anyway I wasn’t going to take the purse off the bus—it clashed with my outfit—but I did think about going through it to see if I could find any identification, some way to get it back to its owner. There were still a lot of people on the bus. Would they get what I was doing? And I even wondered if we were on camera, if this was a test to see what people would do. And what should I do?
In the end I moved the purse up to the spot next to the door where people often leave bags of groceries, umbrellas, and other things and told the driver someone left it behind. She said she’d keep an eye on it. I left and yet even now I wonder if there was something more I could have done.

 

Message Received.

When I first started studying art I was taught that paintings have specific meanings. Often this “meaning”, whatever it was, would be the artist’s intent, or at least what critics or historians thought the artist’s intent was. This whole idea of “meaning” was treated as though it was something specific and objectively knowable and fixed, and it doesn’t take much thought to realize that’s pretty goofy. What a work of art “means” is in the eye of the beholder even if, when talking about art, it’s generally convenient to have some idea most of us can agree on. Or not. I’m not really sure what specific meaning I’m trying to get across here and if you think, hey, he’s making kind of a meta-comment on the nature of meaning and how flexible it is I’m just going to say, yeah, let’s all agree that I really am that smart.

Anyway that brings me to this:

I’m just amazed by how this artist has turned a postal delivery label into a work of art, into something that sends out their message. Every artist, whether they think about it or not, works within certain limitations: limitations of time, materials, space. For graffiti this is usually true in spades. Artists who tag buildings or spots on the street have to work fast, although they often have large spaces to work with. Here the work is confined to a small space, so small you might miss it, but it’s so vivid and so well done. That’s probably in part because the artist wasn’t as limited by time—whoever made this didn’t have to worry about getting busted by the cops.

Here’s another one that may be by the same artist.

I liked these so much I was tempted to pull them off and take them home with me but then I realized that whatever the message is it was meant for everyone. If I removed these pieces I’d change and limit the meaning, and I don’t think that was the artist’s intent.

It’s Party Time!

No child’s party is complete without a theme and Partytown Central Depotville—your celebration destination location station for any occasion or situation—has over 1000 party themes available for rent or purchase no matter your festival jubilee merrymaking carnival gala needs!

-from the PCD website

 

 

 

 

 

 

Selections From Partytown Central Depotville’s List Of Children’s Party Themes

Environmentally Sustainable Entertainment Options

Public Domain Fairy Tale Characters

Mortgage Refinancing Negotiation

Earn A Junior Business Degree

Let’s Clean The House!

My Dad Versus Your Dad (Betting optional)

Cowboys and Federal Regulators

Choose Your Own Stock Trading Internship

Birthday Parties In My Day (Parent/Grandparent/Great Grandparent/Victorian Era)

Learn About Waivers

Astounding Sea Monkey Cosplay

Creative Accounting

15th Century Flemish Painting

Victim Blaming

Fun With Reupholstering

Build A Gnome Workshop

Night At The Recycling Center

Chicken Nuggets: From Egg To Box To Landfill

Big Love.

There’s a generally held idea that art that’s overly sentimental, that plays a little too loudly on the heartstrings, is bad art. I think this is a relatively new idea that traces its origins back to 18th century neoclassicism which admired ancient works of art and architecture for their subtlety and lack of color, not realizing that back when they were made those works were brightly painted, but that’s another story. Anyway, yeah, I agree, anything that overdoes the weepiness or, worse, cynically tries to reduce us to a sobbing puddle as an excuse to pry a few extra dollars out of us is bad art. Not feeling, or pretending not to feel, though, can be just as bad. Ray Romano has a joke about how when he goes to buy an anniversary card for his wife he looks for one that says what he would say if he were drunk. It’s funny but also sad that too many of us, especially men, feel uncomfortable with expressing powerful emotions.

That brings me to this:

It’s appropriate that this was done as a mural, that it’s big because the emotions it evokes are so large and so powerful. And yet at the same time it hits that perfect balance. The color palette is subdued and the narrative force, while strong, isn’t over the top.

It’s dramatic without being melodramatic, and while effective at a distance becomes even more so up close where the subtler details reveal themselves.

If my analysis seems somewhat cold and unfeeling, I can say, in my defense, that I feel it’s important for critical purposes to maintain a certain distance, to not be so overcome by emotion that I lose sight of what makes a work like this good. However I’d be perfectly comfortable expressing just how this mural makes me feel if I were drunk.

 

The Party’s Over. [Part 2 Of 2.]

Read Part 1 here.

When we got to Dale’s house my parents let me out while they went to park the car. As I was trying to cross the driveway unnoticed a tall blonde girl spotted me and said, “What is HE doing here?” There were only a few kids outside and they ignored her and me. I went into the house to try and find a secluded perch.
Dale was somewhere in the party, moving around with an entourage. I didn’t try to talk to him, just tried to stay out of everyone’s way. There was no place to sit, no place I could disappear to. It seemed like the only kids from school who weren’t at Dale’s house were ones I’d want to talk to. I hadn’t eaten because of nerves and the belief that there’d be food at the party, and there was food in the kitchen, but the entire football, basketball, baseball, soccer, and golf teams were between me and it. That was a grand total of just nine guys—small school–but the kitchen was crowded and they were hungry and there was still no way I could grab a sandwich without losing a hand. Eventually they moved on to the den to graze on cheerleaders. I sat down next to a basket of tortilla chips and a fondue pot of cheese dip. A guy with a mullet and a wispy moustache sat down and slapped me on the back. “You like nachos?” he yelled, then pointed at me. “Hey, dude’s all right! Dude likes nachos!” And I thought, hey, if this is all it takes to fit in I could have done it years ago.
I couldn’t eat nachos forever–well, I could, but the athletic department was working its way back–so I drifted off to a spot on the stairs where I stayed until Dale’s stepmother, who was nice and always seemed to zero in on me with some idea for getting me “involved”, asked if I’d go upstairs and choose some music. In Dale’s room there was a setup with a turntable and speakers that leaned out the window toward the patio below. I played some of Rush’s 2112, “Burning Down The House”, then switched to “Mr. Roboto”, really digging being a DJ. During the long version of “The Safety Dance” I dug through Dale’s milk crate full of vinyl and found an old recording of “The Hokey Pokey”. I thought that would be fun in an ironic way and danced happily by myself until a guy with a mullet and a wispy moustache, not Nacho Man but a different one, told me to get out.
For a long time I sat at a picnic table in the backyard sipping Kool-Aid. While the evening darkened and the multi-colored party lights strung around the patio grew brighter I watched couples who’d been blocked from the bedrooms disappear behind the toolshed at the back of the yard.
A pretty girl who ignored me at school sat down and said hi to me.
“Have you seen Stevie Wonder’s new car?” I asked.
She shook her head.
“Neither has he.”
She laughed and put out her hand then slapped the table between us.
“You’re a smart guy. Maybe you can help me. I took my mom’s boyfriend’s car out the other night, you know? Anyway I dented the the right front fender and my mom’s boyfriend is gonna kick my ass when he finds out. What should I do?”
I didn’t even know where to begin since “Why were you driving your mother’s boyfriend’s car when you haven’t even even got a learner’s permit?” seemed like a bad way to start. Besides, I thought, we all make mistakes, we all do things we wish we could take back. It wasn’t advice, but that didn’t matter. Horns were honking in the driveway and parents were coming out to point and snap their fingers. The party was ending.
That summer there was a growing schism in the church with my parents on one side, Dale’s father on the other, and most of their mutual friends uninterested in taking sides.  The big gatherings where our parents got together and that had been, for most of our lives, the times when Dale and I would get together, stopped happening. And even when our parents did get together we were both getting too old to tag along.
Most Sundays Dale brought some new friends he’d made in his new neighborhood, or occasionally Keith, to church with him. I was never invited to join these groups. Neither of us played soccer anymore, he’d dropped out of the Scouts, and I’d lost interest in the church youth group. When we passed we rarely said more than “Hey” to each other. In the fall, even though we went to the same high school, it was a much bigger school, and we rarely saw each other, and moved in different circles, although his circles were so much bigger. I was still so awkward, an outsider, alone most of the time, although I’d gotten good at blending in, wearing jeans and an Oxford cloth shirt. Sometimes Dale would walk by me in the hall and not even see me. One night a month into our freshman year my parents went to Dale’s house and I went along. Dale was alone in his room and for several awkward minutes I was alone with him. Then for some reason I started to spill about my latest obsession, interstellar travel, and how much I wanted to get off this planet. I rambled about wormholes and warping space, and I thought I sounded like the biggest dork in the universe, but I couldn’t shut up which made it even worse. Dale didn’t say anything until I finished and flopped into the beanbag chair.
“If you find a way,” he said, “take me with you.” It was a simple, quiet request, and I thought, what problems does Dale have that he wants to escape? And I thought, how could we possibly have this in common? Neither of us said anything after that. It wasn’t awkward, just the airless silence of two people who have nothing to say.
Dale and I would never be alone again after that. My parents left the church and a lot of their friends. Dale and I, I thought, who had so little in common, were only friends because circumstances forced us together. When those dissolved so did the friendship, but after years of feeling I was being pushed away there was that moment when Dale admitted he didn’t want to let go. At school I found friends, friends who were more like me, friends I chose. And yet I realized that you never really replace friends you’ve lost; new ones will never quite fill the void the old ones left.

This story doesn’t have a clear ending. If I could go back, if I could do it over, would I give it one? Would I do something differently, would I do everything differently? Maybe this is the ending it needs, to fray in different directions that will trace out their own paths, like people leaving a party.

 

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