American Graffiti.

Some people call it ugly. Some people call it art. I call it urban enhancement.

Beware Of The Flowers.

It’s spring which means boxes of Venus flytraps are springing up in the garden sections and next to the checkouts at hardware stores everywhere. I took that picture just a couple of days ago at a certain big box hardware store—blue or orange, take your pick—and I was pretty surprised that the plants looked like they were in good shape. And this is right after I read about two people charged with stealing nearly six-hundred Venus flytraps from the wild, which, for so many reasons, is a really stupid crime to commit. About the only smart thing they did was pick the time of year when Venus flytraps typically put up flowers which makes them easy to spot. Now let me get to just some of the reasons I can think of why stealing plants from the wild is a boneheaded thing to do:

-Venus flytraps are cheap. The small boxes in the picture above were five dollars. The large boxes were seven. I’m not sure why there was a difference since you’re getting the same plant either way. Of course a major retailer is going to buy plants for a lot less than that so once you figure the costs of getting to the plants, carrying them out, packaging them, then trying to unload them at a hardware store or nursery I don’t see how they could make a profit. Or how showing up at a garden center with a truckload of plants isn’t going to prompt as many questions as someone walking into a pawn shop with a box of brand new Rolexes.

-Venus flytraps are easy to propagate if you know what you’re doing. There are lots of plant sellers that specialize in carnivorous plants—California Carnivores is one of my favorites—and none of them sell wild-harvested Venus flytraps. For one thing it’s a felony to take the plants out of the wild. For another professionals have mastered cultivating the plants and have even produced cool varieties like the dark ‘Red Dragon’ so there’s no need to take plants out of the wild. Besides…

-Venus flytraps are really popular but they aren’t that easy to grow. They need a winter dormancy, they need extremely pure water, and they like a lot of sunlight. A cultivated plant grown in a nursery, though, is going to be hardier and better adapted to being grown on a windowsill or in a home garden. Wild plants, on the other hand, are more likely to die when transplanted. This is true of almost any wild plant. Even if you’re a professional chances are you’ll have a lot of trouble recreating the exact conditions it’s used to. If you’re some amateur who goes and digs up a wild plant in a protected area all you’ve done is destroyed someone else’s chances of seeing a natural wonder. Congratulations, asshole.

So there’s my annual public service announcement: leave the wilderness as it is and if you want a Venus flytrap buy one from an established nursery. Or go with the original.

Source: Medium

Know Your Stuff.

Source: Reddit

Several years ago I was taking some pictures of graffiti and met a guy who was painting over some of it. I talked to him a little bit and he said, “I don’t know why they keep doing it, they just make me have to come out and paint over it again.” He seemed annoyed so I didn’t say anything snarky about how taggers were providing him with job security, or that it was on a temporary wall that was around a construction site so it was eventually going to be torn down anyway so it didn’t make sense that he felt a need to paint over a few scribbled tags.

A friend shared the “What kind of paint are you using to paint over this?” with me because he knew I’d find it funny. I like the cleverness of it and the understanding of materials. My wife paints some—mostly with watercolors—and when I go with her to the art store I just get overwhelmed by how many options there are just for painting. There’s watercolor, oils, latex, tempera, even encaustic paints, and probably other types I’m missing. It always makes me think about how the effect an artist wants to achieve often depends on the medium they’ve chosen.

It also reminds me of the time I tried painting and I decided to use oils because that was a traditional medium. I didn’t realize that oils take forever to dry, or that they require thinning—if you just squeeze them out of a tube onto your palette and start painting with them they’re thick and show the brushstrokes. That’s fine if it’s the look you want but it wasn’t what I was trying to achieve. What I ended up with was thick impasto works, very much a Van Gogh style without the talent, but I wanted a smoother look. Also pizza boxes are not a great canvas for oil painting. I ended up selling the oil paints to my roommate who, unlike me, was taking art classes and had a better idea of how to use oil paints.

Here’s another fun cover-up effort.

Source: imgur

A Spoonful Of Sprinkles.

Source: ARTnews

So much has already been said about Willy’s Chocolate Experience in Glasgow, an obvious and apparently cheap knockoff of the Willy Wonka universe, that saying anything about it just feels like piling on. Yes, the “sad Oompa Loompa” compared to a Manet painting made me laugh more than it should have, although I’ve never thought of the woman in the original painting as sad and the woman playing the Oompa Loompa, well, in that picture she just got caught at a bad moment. She described the experience as “trying to be the sprinkles on shit” but that’s something I want to focus on: she was trying her best to take something bad, something that was far beyond her control, and make it enjoyable. She also said,

I didn’t want to let the people around me down. The actors I was working with are amazing people, and this has got nothing to do with them. So I just thought, I’m going to make the best of this.

I’m sad the whole thing was such a poorly planned fiasco that even the company that organized it has admitted they should have cancelled the whole thing instead of trying to make the best of it, and I get why the adults were upset. Paying £35 per ticket to go into a poorly decorated warehouse with a bouncy castle is ridiculous. I even understand that the kids were upset that it wasn’t all I’m sure they were told it was going to be and that in the end all they got was a handful of jellybeans and a small cup of lemonade.

I also have memories of going to something like it when I was a kid, only in my case it wasn’t nearly as terrible for several reasons. I was, I think, only four or five, and my aunt took me to the Cain-Sloan store downtown. I don’t remember if she told me why we were going—if she did I don’t think I understood that it was something special. It helped that there was nothing to anticipate. When we got there we joined a small group that was led through an Alice In Wonderland-themed tunnel. It used pictures from the 1951 Disney film, which I hadn’t seen and I didn’t know the story at that time. What I remember is that we went through a dark room decorated with pictures of things the cartoon Alice sees as she descends down the rabbit hole and a woman in a department store uniform recited a script, saying, “She fell and fell and fell.” I thought, who is she? Because I’d missed the entire introduction. Also I was only four or five and experiencing sensory overload. The woman’s performance wasn’t especially dramatic but I think she was probably just a cashier who got roped into being a tour guide/narrator and did the best she could.

Then we were led into what, in my memory, was probably an employee break room poorly decorated with paper cutouts, and folding tables scattered with pages from coloring books, loose crayons, and a few cups of candy. I think both Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny came in, but they stayed up on a stage at one end of the room and we weren’t allowed to actually talk to them.

I recognize now that it was bad but I had an okay time. Maybe it was free—a promotional event to boost sales—which would have kept the complaints down. I also think that, as a kid I didn’t have the critical awareness to recognize just how bad it was. I didn’t have any experiences to compare it to so I was just able to take it in and enjoy it.

I don’t know if parents putting on a positive attitude in front of their kids would have helped save Willy’s Chocolate Experience. Maybe even the youngest, most unaware kids saw it for the trashy money grab it was, but when I’ve done things with friends’ kids I’ve tried to be aware that, when you’re young, everything is new. Kids grow up so fast and will have most of their lives to be cynical, sarcastic, and bitter. During that brief time when the world is still new and strange then I’m glad some adults try to be the sprinkles on the shit.

Cold As Ice.

There was a mix-up with our new refrigerator and the delivery company had to reschedule, which is fine—they’ve given us a new date and reassured us it will be delivered between nine and St. Patrick’s Day. So for a little while at least we’re going through the perishables like it’s a blackout and I’m buying ice like it’s that episode of The Twilight Zone where the Earth has moved too close to the sun and the temperature just keeps rising. And because of that I’m thinking a lot about ice. It’s really an amazing thing. Less than two hundred years ago ice was a luxury, unless you lived in a really cold climate. The only way to get it in the lower latitudes was to have it cut from winter lakes, covered with sawdust, and shipped south in insulated trains. There’s a Three Stooges short I remember seeing as a kid where they’re delivering ice. Curley starts out carrying a giant block up a set of stairs and by the time he gets to the top…

Source: Tenor

 

Now ice is something we take for granted. Almost every refrigerator spits it out from a dispenser in the door, and if you need more you can buy bags of ice. And even that’s a big change. I remember when we had to carefully fill trays with water and stick them in the freezer to get cubes of ice. There are cocktail drinkers who swear spherical ice is the only way to go—the lack of edges providing a more even melting that doesn’t interfere so much with the taste of whatever spirit they’re imbibing. A coworker once said offhandedly that he never understood why some ice cubes are clear and some are cloudy. I said it was because of impurities in the ice—the same nucleation sites that create bubbles in boiling water.

There are ice hotels, people sculpt ice—a wonderfully ephemeral medium—and so many parents have endured hours and hours of talk about Elsa, one of the heroes of Frozen. Most of the water that we know of in the solar system—outside of Earth, that is—is ice. There are vast oceans of diamond-hard ice under the surface of the Moon and Mars, and Europa and Enceladus are icy worlds that may have oceans underneath. Here on Earth Sonic Drive-Ins have special ice machines that produce “nugget ice” that some people think is better for cooling beverages and easy to chew, if crunching ice is your thing–it’s not mine and I prefer a higher beverage-to-ice ratio myself, but it works for them, and it’s better than McDonald’s where the ice cream machines don’t even work most of the time.

So, yes, I’ve been thinking entirely too much about how cool ice is. The one thing I’m not doing right now is re-reading Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle because—spoiler alert—the idea of the world being destroyed by ice isn’t something I want to think about right now.  Not that it’s something I worry too much about—if anything I’m concerned about warming because here it is, late February, and this is what I find:

Where Are We?

The first time someone ever showed me a smartphone one of the apps on it was a compass. I said that was really cool and asked how well it worked if you were out in the wilderness where there was no cell service or wifi.

“Oh, it won’t work if you don’t have wifi,” he said. That made it seem a lot less cool because the time you need a compass the most is when you’re out in the wilderness somewhere far from any technology. Maybe something’s changed since then, or maybe the iPhone has always had an interior gyroscope and he didn’t know that, but the iPhone compass will work anywhere. There are also lots of astronomy apps that will identify the stars above you, around you, even below you–sometimes I point my tablet at the floor just to see what’s on the far side of the Earth. And now someone has written an app that will point you to the center of our galaxy. I think so, anyway–because I can’t really see the center of the galaxy, in spite of it being really, really, really big. From where I am it points roughly west–although direction is kind of meaningless because of the distance.

The app is a little weird, too, in that it has to be resting flat to show me where the center of the galaxy is. It’s a little like a real compass in that regard, which is why I once had an assistant Scoutmaster tell me that compasses don’t work when you’re on a hill. He was a bonehead, of course, but fortunately there was another Scoutmaster who knew how to read a compass.

I do think it’s really interesting to have something that gives a sense of where we are in our own extremely large galaxy, which leads to thoughts about how many other galaxies there are out there. The universe we live in is a very, very, very big place, and we are so extremely small.

Just for a little added perspective I pointed the SkyView app on my phone in the direction of the center of the universe and clustered in the southwest, just about the horizon, were Mercury, Mars, Venus, and Pluto. All so distant but, in comparison, they seemed so close.

 

Happy Valentine’s Day.

A public proposal, like any grand gesture, can only go one of two ways: really well or really badly. That’s why there’s the saying Aim for the Moon. Even if you fail you’ll fall among the stars. Which, depending on your perspective, either means you’ll go out in a blaze of glory or you’ll freeze in the cold, dark void, taunted by tiny points of light that are many orders of magnitude more distant than your intended target.

The fact that it’s either utter humiliation or grand celebration, the Lady or the Tiger, is what makes the public proposal so romantic but also challenging both for the giver and the receiver. I feel especially sympathetic toward anyone getting a surprise, and very public, proposal because not everyone wants that much attention, even if they’re absolutely certain. And if they’re not absolutely certain…

At least this one went well.

These two pictures were taken about a week apart but I don’t know when exactly the affirmative was added. I like to think that the person who accepted didn’t take long to say so but I appreciate that they gave me enough time to document before and happily ever after.

Public And Private.

I just took that picture of flowers attached to a lamppost a few days ago but it’s not the first time I’ve seen flowers in that same spot. It’s near where my dentist is so I’ve seen flowers there before. I have a previous picture I took a year ago although, at the time, the flowers were looking a little shabby. They were plastic but still the elements had taken their toll. Why were they there, though? And this time they’d been freshened with a new more elegant cord wrapped around the lamppost. Someone’s keeping them up but who? It makes me sad to think this is probably a memorial, that someone died in that spot, or nearby, and someone who cared for that person, who loved them, is putting these flowers there as a tribute, and a way of dealing with their own grief.

And I don’t want to know who that person is. They’ve never left any information, nothing that says what happened. I sometimes see homemade roadside markers where people have been killed in accidents, and many of them have names. This one doesn’t and I respect that the person who made this memorial wishes to remain anonymous.

It reminded me of the “Poe Toaster”, a mysterious figure who, every year on January 19th, would leave roses and a bottle of cognac at Edgar Allan Poe’s grave. The figure was first noticed in 1949, one hundred years after Poe’s death, and in 1999 a note left at the grave said the original person had passed away but that the tradition would continue.

The person, or persons, who took over, however, treated the tradition as a joke, making a Superbowl prediction in 2001 (which would be wrong) and a snide remark about the French in 2004 (Poe is more respected in France than the U.S., earning praise from none other than Charles Baudelaire, who’d also lead a turbulent and tragically short life). The Poe Toaster stopped appearing in 2010, which was a good thing. It was fitting–after all 2009 was the 200th anniversary of Poe’s birth–but also the torch should never have been passed. The person(s) who took over didn’t take the responsibility seriously and never should have carried on.

The tradition was revived by the Maryland Historical Society which held “auditions” in 2015, and while I think it’s nice that it’s being carried on it started as something deeply personal, meaningful in ways we’ll never know—in ways I don’t really want to know. A memorial may be in a public place but the privacy should still be respected.

Here’s the earlier picture of flowers in the same spot:

Independent Study.

Source: Reddit

A friend shared this social media post of an essay and I thought it was hilarious. He didn’t tell me where it was from so I assumed it was recent, and because I was inspired to write about it I decided to go looking for the original source—specifically seeing if I could find Mr. Pereira. That’s when I found that (1) it’s almost three years old (February 10th, 2020, and don’t get me started on how far away that feels, was the 80th anniversary of Tom and Jerry) and (2) the whole thing was a joke. Alexis Pereira is a comedian and actor and somehow I missed that, at the time he posted it, the “essay” went viral and he got bombarded with responses, mostly from people who thought it was real. That’s got to be a blow to any performer’s ego to tell a joke and even other comedians take it seriously. And here I am three years later just rubbing salt in the wound. Granted I thought it might not be real but I wasn’t sure, at least partly because I really wanted it to be real. I want to believe there are still teachers who will take a printed copy of a student’s paper and write corrections all over it with a red pen. And who gives enough points for creativity and sheer moxie that a completely off-topic paper still gets by with a passing grade.

I had a high school English teacher like that, Coach Peters. Maybe not exactly like that—I don’t think he would have allowed something like this to pass even though he would have found it funny as hell. I didn’t really appreciate it at the time but he really challenged us to think about what we were reading. Up to that point most of my English classes had focused on “reading comprehension”—meaning we’d read something and then have to fill in the blanks or answer multiple choice questions about specific events. Maybe we’d have to identify the simile. When Coach Peters gave us a test on A Separate Peace the first question was, “Is the sunrise on the beach foreshadowing or symbolic of something else?”

I wasn’t prepared to offer an opinion and I had trouble adjusting to his teaching style until he read an essay that a student in another class had written. Coach Peters assigned the other class to write about “What’s that got to do with the price of tea in China?” The student filled at least three single-spaced pages with the influence of numerous factors on the sale of tea, bringing in “What’s that got to do with the price of eggs in China?” and how chicken guano was used to fertilize tea fields, all of it made up, of course.

That’s when it really clicked for me what Coach Peters was really trying to do: he wasn’t interested in making us memorize and repeat facts. He wanted us to consider the implications of what we were reading and to use our imaginations. He was the best kind of teacher.

At least that’s what I think.

Take It With A Grain Of Salt.

Some friends and I got into a discussion of tea drinking when an American scientist suggested adding a pinch of salt to tea, and ambassadors scrambled to issue a statement to calm our friends across the pond, saying, “The US embassy will continue to make tea in the proper way – by microwaving it.”

I said I was surprised George Orwell hadn’t been brought up since he wrote an essay outlining his very specific views on how tea should be prepared and served, and he even had a word to say about salt—after he tore into those who add sugar to their tea.

I know very well that I am in a minority here. But still, how can you call yourself a true tea-lover if you destroy the flavour of your tea by putting sugar in it? It would be equally reasonable to put in pepper or salt. Tea is meant to be bitter, just as beer is meant to be bitter. If you sweeten it, you are no longer tasting the tea, you are merely tasting the sugar; you could make a very similar drink by dissolving sugar in plain hot water.

Now I’d never accuse old George of being tasteless but I’ve had tea with sugar and I still get a distinct tea flavor. Most of the time, though, I don’t add sugar to my tea because I like to nibble on something sweet, and I just realized I could set off a whole new international incident over what’s truly a “biscuit”, and if you should put gravy on it. And my opinion is that if you like sugar in your tea go for it. If you like milk, cream, lemon, whatever—put it in there. Add salt and pepper if that’s your jam—or even jam. Or drink something other than tea. I know “Do whatever you like” is a strong statement but I’m sticking by it.

I also pulled out this collection of oolong tea bags from Taiwan with funny animal characters that someone gave me and decided to try each one.

First up was the monkey. Right away I realized the design is very clever—they allow the tea bag to sit at the top of your cup while steeping and then you just pull it out. Also if you’re serving tea to five people each one gets their own animal. According to the card it’s a Formosan Macaque. Would the tea taste like banana, or monkey? I was relieved it just tasted like tea.

Next was the Black-faced Spoonbill. Would it taste like a spoon? Or a bill? Or chicken? No, it tasted like tea.

The Panda made me think of the Kung Fu Panda movies, although those have a lot more and different animals and are set in China. I was still relieved the tea tasted like tea and not Jack Black.

Next was the Formosan Sika Deer and I really like how it was just chilling as it sat in hot water.

I saved the best for last—the Formosan Black Bear, voted the representative animal of Taiwan. It lets you know it’s only going down with a mighty roar and that you should be prepared. For tea.