Thursday, November 13, 2008

Whither Sarah Palin?

Most Democrats are pretty eager to see the celebutard pageant queen with the avant-garde language skills, Sarah Palin, lead the Republican Party off a cliff, but history suggests she won't be in the spotlight much longer, and will not be leading anybody anywhere.

Do you know who the dyspeptic-looking gent above is? That's William L. Dayton, who ran as John Fremont's vice-presidential candidate on the very first Republican ticket in 1856. They lost, to Democrats James Buchanan and John C. Breckenridge. After the election, Dayton, a former senator from New Jersey, held some important jobs, including New Jersey Attorney General and U.S. Minister to France under Abraham Lincoln, but he never attracted so much as a whiff of support for the nomination as president or even vice-president again.

This is pretty typical. Losing veep candidates do not go on to the presidency. Losing presidential candidates can, like Dick Nixon did, but even that's pretty rare. Veeps? Never. Well, there was one, but it took him 12 years to get back on the ticket.

Don't believe me? Here's some more:

Joseph Lane, George Hunt Pendleton, Francis Preston Blair, Jr., B. Gratz Brown, Thomas Andrews, William Hayden English, John Alexander Logan, Allen Granberry Thurman, James Gaven Field, Arthur Sewall, Adlai Ewing Stevenson (grandfather of the later presidential candidate, and himself a former vice president, which isn't the same thing), Henry Gassaway Davis, John Worth Kern, Hiram Johnson and Nicholas Murray Butler, Charles W. Fairbanks, Franklin Delano Roosevelt (our sole exception; lost in 1920, ran again and won, on the top of the ticket this time, in 1932), Charles W. Bryan, Joseph Taylor Robinson, Charles Curtis, Frank Knox, Charles L. McNary, John W. Bricker, Earl Warren (later Supreme Court justice, but don't tell Sarah that!), John Sparkman, Estes Kefauver, Henry Cabot Lodge, William E. Miller, Ed Muskie, Sargent Shriver, Bob Dole (who did later run for president, but was very instructively beaten), Walter Mondale (ditto, and another former veep), Geraldine Ferraro, Lloyd Bentsen, Dan Quayle, Jack Kemp, Joe Lieberman, and John Edwards.

And now Ms. Palin.

I wouldn't get your hopes up.

Besides, if she doesn't shut up soon, I think some of her fellow Republican governors are going to take her out to the pool and drown her.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Credit Crisis and the Bailout

I wrote this originally in an email to my cousin, who lives in Mexico, and doesn't understand "the bailout" issue very well. I don't understand it all that well either, but this is my take on what's happening, in what I hope is simple and straightforward language. Corrections welcome if I've mangled any economic truths here.

Here's the problem: modern economies run on credit. If the baker down the street wants to buy a new mixer so she can make more cookies, she goes to the bank and gets a loan. This is how ALL economic expansion works. Ultimately it goes back to the Federal Reserve, which loans to big banks, who loan to small banks, who loan to people to do stuff. You do the same thing when you take out a mortgage.

The loans are secured by the promise of value. If the bank thinks your house is worth the money, then your mortgage is safe and they'll loan it to you. Ditto the baker's mixer. The loan money is used by the person borrowing it to create some kind of value, and that value is partly used to pay the loan back. There's WAY more money outstanding in loans than anyone can pay back, because you're not expected to pay it all back NOW; you have years to pay it. During those years, you have to grow, or you won't be able to pay it back.

If the baker goes to the bank and the bank says "sorry, we can't loan you anything right now", the baker is screwed. They might say that because they think her business model is bad -- "these cookies taste like crap!", but they also might say that because THEY don't have any money.

This is all highly regulated. The amount banks can lend is tightly controlled, based on how much THEY have borrowed, which depends ultimately on how much the Fed wants to pump in. You might think the Fed could just pump in as much money as they wanted, and everybody'd have all the loans they want, but if those loans exceed the growth rate of the economy, you get inflation -- what they call "printing money". Your money is worth less, because there isn't anymore VALUE going around, just more dollars.

But there's another consequence of loaning too much: if they loan to people who can't pay, they don't get their money back. Remember that they've loaned way more than they actually have, and the banks have to pay their loans back too. Bad loans mean they can't pay, and banks fail. That's what's happening now; there isn't enough value in the country -- all the goods and services and so forth that we make -- to pay the loans. Banks are going tits up.

The problem that leads to is a "crisis in liquidity", which simply means there isn't any money available for new loans; it's all gone out to these bad loans, and the banks don't have enough money to pay their own bills, let alone loan out more. So nobody can get a loan for anything right now, not even good stuff like expanding a really successful business.

A liquidity crisis is bad in many, many ways. As I said, EVERYTHING in this economy depends on loans. Ultimately, that's where economic expansion comes from. Not just bakers buying mixers, but college students getting student loans -- virtually ALL college students today need loans. No loan, no college. That hurts the students, and it also hurts the colleges, which can't pay their bills.

Another example: durable goods. Not too many people go in and buy a car with cash; they get a loan. No loan = no car, which is bad for the car buyer but REALLY bad for the car maker, the dealer, the auto worker, the brake repairman, everybody. If you can't get mortgages, real estate agents and construction workers and carpet salesmen and furniture makers suffer. There are many examples.

So what happens is -- and this has happened MANY MANY TIMES in lots of economies around the world -- you have economic contraction instead of expansion, massive unemployment, government tax revenues fall, all these bad things. Everybody suffers.

So one possible way to forestall this is to bail out the banks.

That's what Congress is trying to do now. The problem is, bailing out the banks -- buying their bad loans so they can lend to good people again, paying off their debts, paying their depositors, etc. etc. -- means giving an absolute TON of money -- they're saying $700 billion but nobody really has any idea, it could be several times that -- to the very same people who got rich off all these bad loans in the first place.

To a lot of people, it looks like rewarding bad behavior. When the guy down the street can't pay his bills, they take his house; when the rich asshole on Wall Street can't pay his bills, he wants Congress to give him billions. That looks like a bad idea to a lot of people.

Unfortunately, there isn't any other choice. You NEED these banks to stay alive to keep the economy going. Without a bailout of some kind, we WILL have a major, major recession, contraction, maybe even a full-blown depression like we haven't seen in almost 80 years. It's by FAR the worst situation we've had in all that time. You just have to look at what happened in Japan during the "lost decade" to see how bad it can be -- we could easily be talking about massive, massive unemployment for ten years or more.

That hurts the entire world. Imagine what happens to Mexico's economy if (a) they are suddenly unable to sell anything to broke Americans; (b) stop having any tourists and (c) have all the migrants stop going to America because there's nothing there for them. In a fragile country like Mexico, a major depression in the US is going to cause a TON of poverty like you've never seen before, African poverty. But even strong economies like the UK, Canada, Germany, etc. will suffer.

Global depression is a bad thing. The people blocking the bailout now are doing so from an understandable position -- why should we bail out these rich assholes who have destroyed themselves -- but the consequences of not bailing them out will be EXTREMELY DIRE.

This is in fact what government is FOR -- floating us through a bad economic time. We used to have these episodes ALL THE TIME in the nineteenth century, but they were short; the Great Depression in the 1930s, though, was long, and something needed to be done, and FDR did it. In addition, all sorts of regulations were put in place to prevent this sort of thing from happening again. Unfortunately, the Republicans (with plenty of help from Democrats as well) have systematically gutted those regulations, so that we are in many ways right back where we were in 1929.

The thing is, these regulations DO hurt the economy a little. But they are NECESSARY; we give up a tiny bit of free expansion, but gain security, because the regulations prevent the economy from overheating and these markets from getting out of control. We can fix things when they break, or could; now we can't, and that's why we're in this fix.

What they SHOULD be doing is talking about rationalizing the deficit by raising taxes on the rich and putting some of the banking regulations like the Glass-Steagall provisions that were gutted in '98 back in place. But Congress is too stupid and pigheaded to do that. So the best we can hope for is this crummy bailout.

Yes, it's crummy, but it's necessary. That's what it boils down to. For once Bush is probably right. Ironically, now the House Republicans are against him. But they don't have any solutions of their own, just "NO!" They're like two year olds, really. Always have been, these damn Republicans.

Right now, it's a game of chicken. We need a bailout, but no one really knows how bad it's going to get without one, and everybody's just sort of waiting for one side to blink. I go back and forth; I think we can do a lot better deal than this one, but we have to do SOMETHING. Unlike the Republicans, I'm not willing to throw away the country for ten years just to spite these Wall Street jerks. Too many people are going to suffer.

ADDENDUM: I go back and forth on this one. I could be happy with this defeat if there was some indication that a better deal was coming. I absolutely do not agree that we can just let these banks fail; the people who would suffer most are not white-shoe Wall Street guys but everyone else, the ordinary people with their investments for retirement. And even more importantly, the forward motion of the economy.

A dead economy is going to have dire effects on lots of other things. Any chance at a rational energy policy, or workable health care, dies too.

But this bill? It stank. But we need something.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Nicky Samuel

For my birthday I would like some boobies, please:

I hope to get away with this because the woman in the picture, Nicky Samuel, is surely in her sixties now.

Nicky Samuel was the wife of Nigel Waymouth, who owned Granny Takes A Trip, probably the grooviest boutique on the King's Road. She was Ossie Clark's best customer, and modeled his clothes. The above picture, taken after Ossie's show at her house at 28 Mallord Street in Chelsea (built for the painter Augustus John, and used as his studio), gives a sense of her irrepressible high spirits. The early seventies were sexy, and Nicky was glowing with it this night.

I can't find any information about her. I know she modeled, and this amazing picture of her in another incredible Celia Birtwell print (shot by Norman Parkinson), appeared in the December 1972 Vogue (British edition):
Just lovely.

Both these pics were taken from Judith Watt, Ossie Clark 1965–74, London: V&A Publications, 2003.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The King of The King's Road

  • Judith Watt. Ossie Clark 1965–74. London: V&A Publications, 2003.
Produced in conjunction with a retrospective exhibition of Ossie Clark’s life and clothes at the Victoria and Albert Museum, which ran from 15 July 2003 to 2 May 2004. The book was designed by Vaughan Oliver at V23 (of 4AD Records renown).

Ossie Clark was an exotic bird. Unjustly forgotten in the roll call of Swinging Sixties fashion designers, he was one of the most significant figures moving the sixties forward into the seventies. Hugely popular with the society set and the rock’n’roll aristocracy in the years leading up to punk, he dressed people like Bianca Jagger, Marianne Faithfull, Jerry Hall, and Gala Mitchell (who appears on the back of Lou Reed’s Transformer), and consorted with the likes of Bryan Ferry, David Hockney, and Anthony Price. Perhaps most notably he designed Mick Jagger's ridiculous white catsuit that he wore during the infamous 1972 US tour.

While Clark's full flowering came in the early 70s, he was a key figure in the mid-sixties as well. Even earlier, as seen here in 1961, as a student in the early part of the decade, at the Royal College of Art in Manchester, he was foreshadowing the decade that hadn't really started yet; his hair is pre-Beatles but her skirt is pure Mary Quant (years before Mary Quant):

Ossie 1

By the mid-sixties Ossie was a superstar, in Alice Pollock's King's Road shop Quorum, and in Vogue, as with this magnificent quilted coat (on Chrissie Shrimpton); as usual, Ossie was quite the visual sensation himself, almost as bold to look at as his clothes:

Ossie 2

But his real genius was not in Swinging London but later, in the Baroque sixties, and well into the Glam Rock seventies, when he started producing his classic flowing bias cuts using the prints made by his wife, Celia Birtwell. Her botanic prints were breathtaking and possibly an even greater achievement than the perfectly-cut garments themselves. Just look at this blouse, from 1969:

Ossie 3

Ossie Clark's story doesn't end well, like a lot of sixties stories; drug abuse, divorce, bankruptcy, exile, and a sad end in 1996, when he was murdered by his male lover. But for this amazing decade, he made some of the prettiest clothes anyone has ever seen. This book is a beautiful tribute.

Next up: a brief look at one of Ossie's friends and favorite models, Nicky Samuel.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Monday, June 16, 2008


Here's what the front page of this blog looks like when run through Wordle.

Monday, June 9, 2008

What eggs are chickens!!

What eggs are chickens!!
Originally uploaded by Tim Kiser
One of my favorite Flickrites is the wry Mr. Kiser, who travels around Middle America unearthing treasures, like this pair of billboards. I could make any number of jokes here, but none of them would approach the wonderfulness of these signs, so I'll just let you enjoy them.

Take an hour and flip through the rest of Tim's stream, too. It's very charming. His grammar is a little shaky at times, but his eye is keen and his perceptions faultless.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

All Dressed Up

  • Jonathon Green. All Dressed Up: The Sixties and the Counterculture.. London: Pimlico, 1999 [1998].

The book was retracted immediately publication when the author was sued (successfully) by George Harrison of The Beatles and Caroline Coon of the charitable group Rescue for stating that the latter had solicited donations from the former with sex. Apparently that's not true. I don't care either way; but I agree with the author when he says in a new introduction to the paperback edition: "too many individuals, famous for fifteen minutes when that cliché was still fresh, have become modern-day Miss Haveshams, clinging forever to their once relevant past." A bit petulant, perhaps (and George had a bit more than fifteen minutes), but true of sixties partisans nonetheless, hanging onto the past.

Ah, but what a past it was. This is an English book, so it's an English, and particularly a London, perspective (with a dash of May 1968 in Paris). Many of the central Sixties ideas and expressions came originally from America, but the English Sixties was quite different than the American one. Their pop music was very different, of course, and they had "Swinging London", and they didn't have the JFK-RFK-MLK assassinations and Kent State and Chicago 1968, except second-hand.

To an American, the English story isn't as well-known; we know about the Beatles, and the Mods and Rockers, but who in the US has ever seen a copy of IT, or has ever heard of the Angry Brigade or Michael (not Malcolm) X?

This book is a comprehensive overview of the English threads that make up that thing called "The Sixties" -- not the actual Sixties, but the Sixties of the mind. I'm still waiting for the book that tells the whole story, wherein the top-selling pop singers are Dean Martin and Englebert Humperdinck, not the Beatles and the Stones; wherein new car models like the Mini and the Ford Falcon matter more than the avant-garde galleries; and wherein the creation of a new mass market of JC Penney clothes and color TV and explicit sex in popular books and movies matter more than what which radical leftist said to which other radical leftist in some dingy commune. This isn't that book.

But "The Sixties" was a real thing, and as Green points out, it still reverberates today -- in 2008 as much as a decade earlier when this book was written. It's not just the familiar names, like Margaret Thatcher (a bluenose art censor from Finchley, among other things), Mary Whitehouse (Christianist loon morals advocate), and Richard Branson (alternative-press hanger-on); it's the whole zeitgeist of the times. It still gets people riled up, as former 60s people are firmly in charge of major institutions on both sides of the Atlantic (and both sides of the intellectual divide). The 60s still matter, and it's this version of the decade that Green covers so well.

He starts by covering the antecedents: starting with the Teddy Boys, who were sort of the Edwardian English version of American bikers without the motorcycles, and the Beats, who were wholly American but had a major impact in England and Scotland. That impact is spelled out here, from Jim Haynes's Edinburgh poetry bookshop to the famous poetry reading at Albert Hall in 1964, which was sort of a coming-out party for all the freaks in London (who quickly made whatever fragments were left of the Beats obsolete). His chapter on the Mods is very good; he's very finely tuned into fashion ideas, and grasps the "three waves" of Mod, with only the last, greatly watered down, being the sort of Mods who made the papers.

This is as good as source as you're likely to find for the main political threads of the decade, beginning with the CND marches in the 1950s, which accomplished little but were a model for all of the street action that followed, including the events in Paris in 1968. He charts the rise of the rather plodding New Left, and its split into various flavors of Revolutionary Socialism on the one hand, and boring, accomodationist left-Labour on the other -- which nonetheless accomplished a great deal of good, through the efforts of Roy Jenkins and Lord Annan in breaking down some of the bleak old morality code. And he also shows how the alternative-society freaks paid little attention to either side, preferring instead to make their own mistakes in the realm of dope, rock and roll, and fucking in the streets.

The art world played a major role in creating the atmosphere of newness and fresh creation, primarily filtered through the galleries of Robert Fraser and Barry Miles. Miles's Indica gallery was as much a part of the London scene as the Scotch of St. James or the UFO Club, and artists like Peter Blake set the visual tone much as did Mary Quant in fashion.

The spread of pot and LSD, the famous censorship trial of Lady Chatterley's Lover, gay rights, women's rights, the growth of the alternative press, and the burgeoning rock scene, so different than the old-school sharkskin-suited promoters like Larry Parnes, with wild-eyed hippies putting on light shows and free (or not so free) festivals on a Woodstock-like scale; it's all in here.

Green covers an astonishing amount of detail here, with dozens of obscure names and movements filling in around the obvious ones. He doesn't shy away from ridiculousness; perhaps the emblematic episode of the 60s in Britain was the utter chaos of Apple, where the biggest pop group of all threw away millions of pounds in spectacularly insane fashion rather than give them to the taxman. The Beatles are of course at the center of many of the stories here, but the more interesting ones are on the periphery, in the offices of IT and the rotting hulks of pirate radio.

Green is good at showing how the impact of the actions of a relatively few innovators (or blowhards) on the wider society. The horror that Carnaby Street almost immediately became (so reminiscent of the Haight-Ashbury, though in very different ways) sprang from the genuine creativity of early tailoring stars:

[...] home of such traditional 'gents outfitters' as Aquascutum and Austin Reed, it was a block down from Newburgh Street where ex-photographer Bill Green, trading as 'Vince', had a decade earlier set up London's first ever outlet for chic young men. His original patrons were the gay musclemen, airing their pecs round the corner at the Marshall Street Baths, but Vince soon found itself selling to a wider market--not the teens (they couldn't afford its prices)--but Peter Sellers, Lionel Bart, John Gielgud and similar showbiz celebs. It was the start of something big. Green's star faded by the late Fifties (he moved into catering) but a replacement did all he had and more. John Stephen, a refugee Glaswegian who learned his trade in the military department of Moss Bros., set up his first business in 1957, working in Beak Street under the name of 'His Clothes'. When His Clothes was accidentally burnt down he shrugged, and moved round the corner to Carnaby Street. And where the older generation still went to Vince, Stephen attracted a new breed: Cliff Richard, Tommy Steele: the pop stars. He undercut Vince, putting immediacy and excitement in the place of traditional tailoring standards. Attuned to the ephemerality of 'youth culture' he drew in the young, including--at first--the Mod exquisites. As Nik Cohn explained 'There were ... ploys, lots of gimmicks and publicity stunts. But this was all embellishment. Underneath the central equation was that every time you walked past a John Stephen window, there was something new and loud in it, and when you counted your money you found you could afford it.' By the end of 1961 Stephen had four shops of his own and his imitators--Donis, Domino Male--had opened in Carnaby Street. They had a new name: the boutique. Originally it had meant a store within a store, dealing the latest fashions. It was a bit Frenchified, a bit camp, but no one objected to this little tribute to Carnaby Street's gay origins.

Carnaby Street truly took off in 1963, the year of Beatlemania, a brief interregnum in which the Establishment believed that it could grab 'youth' and consign its eccentricities to the dump-bins of commercial exploitation. Two years later it was dead, a tacky carnival Midway full of Union Jacks and hucksters, inflated rates fattening the local council coffers, tourists blocking its passage as they searched for the real-life version of what they'd read in Time.

Of course, the Establishment COULD grab youth and consign its eccentricities, etc., and just a couple of years later I was having my mother buy me tragic versions of these fashions, filtered through The Monkees' TV show, at JC Penney and Frederick & Nelson in Bellevue Square. But that's another story. This story is wonderfully told, though, in this book, whatever frigging George Harrison thought. It expands wonderfully upon the brilliant essay that opens Revolution in the Head by Ian MacDonald, and makes a nice sixties companion to Groovy Bob: The Life and Times of Robert Fraser by Harriet Vyner, Quant by Quant by Mary Quant, and the more mainstream period history Run It Down The Flagpole by Bernard Levin (or his later The Pendulum Years), to name a representative sample. I liked it at least as much as I did Shawn Levy's poppier, less political Ready, Steady, Go!. But good luck finding it; I had to get mine through Interlibrary Loan.

The Birth of The New

Doug Englebart using the chord keyboard

On December 9, 1968, a researcher at the Stanford Research Institute named Doug Englebart gave a presentation at the Fall Joint Computer Conference that introduced many of the computing concepts that we now take for granted, fifteen years before anyone in the general public ever heard of them. Englebart and his remote colleagues Don Andrews and Jeff Rulifson in Menlo Park (home of SRI, 30 miles south of San Francisco, where the demo was held) showed the first computer mouse to the public there, the first rasterized (drawing-capable) video monitor, the first live teleconferencing, the first inter-user messaging system (forerunner of email), the first use of hypertext (forerunner of the web) and even a rudimentary form of what became the internet.

Doug Englebart speaking

This demonstration was later called "the mother of all demos" by author Steven Levy, a phrase which has become rather oddly famous, because while it's more or less true, it's also kind of dumb. But nevertheless.

Console with chord device, keyboard, and mouse

Remember, this was before history. The personal computer had been developed; no PC, no Mac. No one on earth had a computer in his or her home; if you wanted to do computing, you went to a computer center at your university or business and sat at a console which probably didn't even have a text-only monitor; your only display was a TTY, a printer with a roll of pin-feed paper. No graphics of any kind, except for early forms of ASCII art (pictures made from typed letters). No windows, no icons, no menus, no nothing except a command line waiting for your typed, punch tape, or punch card input.

I used one of these computers, with punch tape and a TTY, in high school in 1973; I don't remember what model it was, but it was a mainframe belonging to the Dallas School District, and we connected to it via an antique modem at probably 50 baud. We used cartons and cartons of pin-feed paper, writing our stupid little BASIC programs (I remember helping write a not-very-successful bowling game) and printing out our terrible ASCII art. I remember getting yelled at (not too forcefully) for using too much expensive connect time. Of course, there was nothing like an internet nodes anywhere near us then. That was five years AFTER Englebart's demo of technology that was to become so important decades later, but totally unimaginable to us hobbyist fiddlers.

Don Andrews demonstrating the potentiometer mouse; note the cord traveling the wrong way, under the hand

Englebart changed everything on this day. While his vision for computing was ultimately unsuccessful -- he didn't accept the emergence of the PC in the 1970s, for instance -- his ideas were unusually revolutionary and ahead of their time even in an industry marked by rapid advances. The mouse didn't really catch on until the Apple Macintosh in 1984, for instance. The internet, then called ARPANET, didn't come online until 1969, and wasn't opened to the public outside of universities and research companies until the late 1980s. But it was all here at this demo, at least in part.

Programmer Jeff Rulifson

I knew most of this from reading books. What I didn't know is that video exists of this historic event. You can watch it here (streaming Real Audio with good descriptive text) or here (Flash). Finding this video is rather mind-blowing; to me it's like finding video of the apple falling on Newton's head. This is the birth of a new world, even if no one but a thousand geeks knew about it for another decade. It's probably the most boring video in the world to most people, but if you're interested in seeing where all this internet stuff came from, this is the source. At least watch the first mouse segment here if you can.

This post is illustrated with some screenshots I grabbed. This is real nerd action the way it should be!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

My New Favorite Car: Panhard Dyna Z

These were made from 1954 to 1959 in France. Aluminum body! Suicide doors! Front wheel drive. 50 HP from 851cc. More techno-gibberish here at Wikipedia and Citroënnët; really, I just care about the gorgeous streamlined shape of the thing. French cars are so beautiful.

Here's another shot of Dave Bally's friends' car, which he graciously allowed me to share:

Panhard Dyna Z, by Flickr user davidbally
Panhard Dyna Z by David Bally

Saturday, May 24, 2008


I know I haven't been a very good blogger lately. I'm sorry. I'll have some stuff soon.

Today I was emptying the food waste into the yard waste bin and I noticed that one of the young families that frequently park in the neighborhood to go to the zoo had left us a little present in Nancy's beautiful garden:

Two dirty diapers.

Thanks a lot, assholes.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Taking Away Their Toys

I'll just pretend to post this here for the benefit of my readers (uh-huh) who don't read Slog, and not because I'm blowing my own horn again.

You may have heard about the recent NPR broadcast about the little boy who wants to play with dolls and wear pink, whose parents, on the advice of his psychiatrist, have taken a harsh approach to making him behave like a proper little boy and stop with this horrible fag nonsense. It's a heartbreaking story. Dan Savage Slogged it, and as usual I had to comment. My comment was adjudged to be good enough to get another Slog front page. Of course, I'm chuffed, but I also think it bears repeating. I'm proud of what I wrote:

Look, people. The boy isn’t asking to go in and have his willie chopped off. He wants to play with dolls. He wants to identify as a girl for a while. That doesn’t mean that he going to be transgendered when he grows up. Maybe he will, maybe he won’t. Why don’t you deal with that when it comes up—or maybe let HIM deal with it? Then?

Nobody has to make a final, permanent, irrevocable decision when they’re six.

In the meantime, though, torturing him by taking away his toys and, most importantly, implanting in his mind the idea that WHO HE IS IS WRONG, is a really, really bad idea.

Nobody cares if you’re squicked out by gender reassignment surgery. Nobody cares. This isn’t ABOUT gender reassignment surgery. It’s about a little boy who is being turned against himself.

And, really, even if you think the surgery is “as bad as plastic surgery”, the correct response is—as always—”then don’t have it.” Adults who think it’s right for them have the right to have it EVEN IF THEY’RE WRONG. Even if they’re “making a terrible mistake.” It’s none of your damn business. And, you know, there is a large number of people for whom it absolutely WAS the right decision, and if they squick you out, it’s your damn loss, not theirs. I don’t have a problem with it, and I embrace my transgendered friends every bit as much as my gay and straight ones.

But that’s nothing to do with this tragic little boy. Maybe it will be someday. You don’t know, I don’t know, Dr. Mengele there doesn’t know, HE doesn’t know. He’s a little kid. Let him play with his toys.

I didn't say it there, but I'll say it here: if bullies beat up your kid, and you side with the bullies, I don't understand you at all.

Photo of pink child's coffins (by Maurycy Gomulicki) swiped from Pingmag.

Monday, May 5, 2008

They're On To Me

How do they know? It hasn't even happened yet. Way to rub it in, guys. Jeez.

No, I'm not going to send it in!

To top it off, Julio Franco, who was long the only major-league baseball player older than me, retired from professional baseball the other day. He was playing for the Quintana Roo Tigers in the Mexican league, which doesn't count; but last year, in September, he was with the Atlanta Braves, which does. You're not old as long as at least one guy older than you is still playing. Franco was that player for four blessed years, ever since Jesse Orosco hung 'em up in 2003. Thanks, Julio!

Friday, April 18, 2008


Yes, it's sticking. Yes, we (and a hundred other families) have a giant yard sale tomorrow covering hundreds of blocks.

Snow on April 17th is BULLSHIT!

Boston ball grounds - 1912 (panorama #3), 9/28/12 (LOC)

This is part of a panoramic series of pictures of brand-new Fenway Park in Boston in 1912. It's from a glass-plate negative taken by an unidentified photographer for the Bain News Service -- possibly George Grantham Bain himself, I wouldn't know. The Library of Congress has it up on their Flickr page.

This particular view shows the left field bleachers, the little jog next to them, and the famous Green Monster, the biggest wall in baseball, in the days before it was green; it's covered with advertisements.

The bizarre thing about this is the six or seven rows of seats in front of the wall. These must have been insanely dangerous, being closer than 300 feet to the plate (the wall is 304 feet, whatever lie the Red Sox are telling these days), and well within right-handed line drive range.

I'm guessing that's why these seats were removed. I've never seen or heard of them before. Left field at Fenway in front of the wall is famous not for seats but for "Duffy's Cliff", a slope of grass running up to the wall, an unprecedented (and never repeated) ballpark feature that confused and tumbled opposing fielders until 1934 when it was leveled. Duffy Lewis, the master of climbing this mountain, was the left side of Boston's incredible outfield of the teens.

There's a shot of his centerfielder Tris Speaker right after this in the series; Speaker is seriously on the short list of possibly greatest players ever -- a hitter comparable to Ty Cobb, and arguably the greatest defensive centerfielder ever (though I'll argue for Gary Pettis, a player I've actually seen).

There's no better place to watch a baseball game than Fenway Park. I know Safeco Field and all the modern parks have the brick and retro gewgaws that make numbskull traditionalists swoon, plus all the modern amenities like adequate toilets and edible food (or so they claim), but there's nothing like sitting in a hundred-year-old park and seeing the mound that Babe Ruth pitched off of and the grass Speaker and Ted Williams patrolled.

Unlike modern stadiums, the "rake" or angle of the stands is sharp, which raises the fans up but keeps them close. The views at Fenway are incomparable; you simply cannot get that close in a modern ballpark. For comparison, the closest row of seats in New Comiskey ballpark in Chicago is further away from the action than the furthest row at Old Comiskey, built in the same era as Fenway here.

On the downside, all the seats in the right field stands face not towards the plate but towards the field, resulting in about 10,000 cricks in 10,000 necks on a typical day, but hey, you can't have everything. The atmosphere is worth it.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Muscat Grapes Are Here!

My favorite table grapes are finally in stores. Yeah, yeah, they grow them in Chile or someplace and fly them here, but I don't care. They're sweeter and richer than regular grapes, with a honey-flower-citrus ping that I can't get enough of.

These are the same grapes they make Moscatel from, along with loads of other varieties, usually sweet. Asti sparkling wines from Italy are made from muscat grapes. I like 'em right off the stem. Check your supermarket.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

A Fenny For Your Thoughts

I like booze. It's no secret. Love the stuff, and I've tried everything. When I go places I try to find exotic liquors, like the bottle of Suze (a gentian-and-vanilla flavored aperitif) I brought home from Paris, or the Xtabentun (Mayan honey-and-anise liquor) I enjoyed in Mexico.

Today I discovered a new one, from Goa in India. It's called Fenny, or Feni, and it's distilled from the cashew apple.

The cashew apple, as I also discovered today on Slog, is a false fruit that grows behind the true fruit (which bears the seed, or cashew nut as it's called) of the cashew tree.

I've never seen or heard of it before, and I'm quite certain it's never been sold in this God-forsaken state with its repressive licensing laws and state liquor stores. I don't understand why the State of Washington is in the retail business, selling me booze, and telling me what kinds I'm allowed to have and what days I can buy it on; or why the only place within a mile of where I'm sitting that can sell me ANYTHING stronger than beer or wine closes in FIVE MINUTES. Hmm, perhaps that's a rant for another day.

While poking around the web, though, looking for an online seller (whose deliveries would be illegal but unlikely to be traced or stopped) I did discover this Indian exporter, who praises his "Fantasy" brand Fenny with the words "it has been designed to manulise your string of ecstasy" and "you will find it hard to resist howling in to one now and then." Which is exactly what I like to hear.

"Howling into one" doesn't make any sense, but it's the best description of what happens to me and a bottle of 40-proof I've ever heard.

Tickets to Goa are out of my price range. If this was a perfect world, someone would tell me in the comments where I can order this stuff online. I won't hold my breath.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Doing My Part For Global Warming

This afternoon I headed out to the store to get tonight's dinner, and while I was out I decided to sneak into Epilogue Books in Ballard on the way. So I pulled over, put 'er in Park, and hopped out. Epilogue Books was closed. Everything is closed; it's Easter Sunday.

On the way back to the car, cursing Christianity, I reached for my keys. Not there. When I got to the car, I saw them dangling from the ignition. I bent down; yes, the engine was still running. That's a photograph of them up there.

My spare key is in my wallet. I patted my ass; no wallet. No cell phone. The only thing in any of my pockets was a single dirty sock, red.

I know you think that the life of Fnarf must be one of unceasing glamor and fascination, but the reality is this: standing on the corner in the pouring rain, locked out of my running car, penniless and brainless; nothing but the suddenly inadequate jacket on my back.

No coathangers happened to be lying around, but I did spy a chunk of brick in the entry of a nearby building. I could break out my own window! But if someone saw me, how would I prove the car was mine without identification? How would I avoid an expensive ticket for driving without a license?

I walked home. It took me about half an hour, up and over the hill. When I got home, I had a brief meltdown when I couldn't find my wallet there either; could I have locked it in the car? My mental fog was so thick I couldn't rule it out. But no, there it was; but of course no key was inside. Do I even have a spare key? How would I know, I don't have enough brainpower to turn my goddamn car off when I park! I couldn't find my cell phone either (still haven't).

Nancy drove me back down there, and sat patiently with me while I phoned Triple-A with her phone, and we waited for over an hour for the guy in the truck to show up. He had it open in less than five seconds.

Friday, February 29, 2008


Ochres, at Jumped Up Creek, Northern Territory, Australia (from the book).
  • Victoria Finlay. Color: A Natural History of the Palette. New York: Random House Trade Paperbacks. 2004 [2002].
I admit the recent trend towards narrow single-topic histories has struck a resounding chord within me. You know what I mean -- books like Mark Kurlansky's Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World, Salt: A World History, and The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell. These books are like core samples taken at an oblique angle through our world, revealing angles and facets you would never imagine. Now Victoria Finlay has written one. Well, by "now", I mean I've just found it, but since this blog is all about me, I'm going to pretend it's new.

And it is new to me: I know a little art history, not too much, but I've never thought much about the technology of paint. I knew that some of them had funny names, like "burnt sienna" and "carmine lake", but I never thought about what they meant, or what the connection is between what artists do now and what they have done for millennia. Lately, as I've been thinking about aboriginal Australian art, a modern art but also the oldest art tradition on earth, the question of materials starts to appear, and I found this book fascinating.

One story that's not in here, but has echoes in the slapdash work of eighteenth-century British painter Joshua Reynolds, which is, is that of abstract expressionist Mark Rothko. I'd heard how in the forties and fifties he would dash out and buy the cheapest, nastiest paint at Woolworth's, and that now, many of these paintings had faded into uniform browns that, despite the oohs and ahs of some modern viewers, didn't reflect the color glow that he originally had in mind.

Reynolds did the same sort of thing, as told here: he used megilp, a combination of mastic (an evergreen resin) and linseed oil, to give some of his paintings a golden glow that was supposed to evoke the Old Masters, but which has darkened and degraded to the point where people now mistake it for a presage of the Impressionists.

That's just one of the stories in the "Orange" chapter. The entire spectrum is represented here, and the entire history of art, from the first ochre daubs in Australia up to modernists using acrylics colored with artificial dyes made from coal tar.

Given my recent interest, the Australian chapter, the first in the book, was the most interesting to me. Findlay traveled to the Australian outback, including some normally off-limits areas of Arnhem Land in Northern Territory, to see the traditional styles, which are still practiced. Australian rock painting forms an unbroken tradition up as long as 35,000 years in some places, but many of the sites are not historical; they are palimsests, with new paint applied every year, and on many of them you can trace a clear stylistic history all the way to the present day.

This is the question that's been driving me crazy lately, though it's mostly not in this book: how did Australian aborigines arrive at modern art without knowing anything about modern art, without working through the Western tradition that became modern art? Because aboriginal art is emphatically not primitive art, even when it's in a traditional mode, and it transferred seamlessly into a modernist idiom when acrylic paints arrived.

Traditional Australian art is done on rock with ochre. Ochre isn't a single substance, but a range of brown, red, yellow rocks that crumble easily and have the plasticity and easy drawing stroke needed to paint with directly. You just pick up the rock and rub; or you grind it up, and make a paint, or take it in your mouth and spray over a stencil, such as your hand -- a technique used by the Mayans in Central America as well as the Australians. Ochres are found on every continent, but their most developed use is in Australia. Traditional painting is done on bark as well, and much of this work is modern (though in a traditional vein) -- because barks, and canvases, can be carried away by paying customers.

The process by which the aboriginal peoples were introduced to the possibilities of commercial art, and modern materials, like most dealings between the whites and aborigines, is immensely painful to read. The most horrific story, and an act of cultural and artistic vandalism as brutal as the destruction of the enormous Buddhas at Bamiyan, Afghanistan by the Taliban, is the story of the Honey Ant Dreaming at Papunya, in the central desert west of Alice Springs. There, a white man named Geoffrey Bardon taught the locals how to use acrylics, and how, haltingly at first, to find and express their own voice while still using the language of their tribe and ancestors. It is in cultural collisions like this that the modern world is invented.

The elders of the tribe took this new possibility and offered to paint one of their Dreamings on the concrete wall of the school. This was momentous: never before had the black men used the white tools to tell their story, on an equal footing: for the white man to see, but with equal meaning for the black men. The first version of this painting, the Honey Ant Dreaming, was after its completion deemed by the elders to be too revealing; too many secrets were shown. They painted it again. This time, Geoffrey Bardon said no, it has too much of the whitefella in it. They painted it again.
It was probably the first time that symbols had been deliberately swapped in order to show the "blanket" and yet keep the secretes that lay beneath it. In a way it marked the beginning of these dispossessed people finding a way of representing what was esoteric by something that was exoteric -- something that was hidden by something that could be shown.

It was an amazing act of generosity for these men to paint their Dreaming -- the representation of their layered system of knowledge -- on the walls of a whitefellow building, Bardon said. "But few people really appreciated it. Nobody cared what they were doing." In those days he used to joke that with the industrial-strength glue he had provided to bind the colored poster paint, the Honey Ant Dreaming would last a thousand years. But it didn't, it lasted only until 1974, when a maintenance man, on someone's orders, painted over it with acrylics. If it existed today it would be one of Australia's greatest works of art.

In addition to destroying their masterpiece, the whitefellow overlords started to steal their money, taking the proceeds from sales back in Alice Springs before the artists could get their hands on it.

Not every story in this book breaks your heart. Some of it is just weird, like the manufacture of carmine red from crushed cochineal insects living on a particular Mexican cactus; some of it is exciting, like the discovery of the secret of Chinese celadon in sealed-off caves. Saffron yellow, from the stamens of flowers, was once a mainstay of Spanish agriculture, but is now mostly grown in Iran. Findlay visited the fields there, and she went to Afghanistan, where she saw the Bamiyan Buddhas and visited the lapis lazuli mines, still today the source of almost all of this beautiful blue stone, which is ground into ultramarine pigment. Along the way we meet Antonio Stradivari and Michelangelo, shell-divers in Mexico and Lebanon (for their purple), indigo farmers and the stained glass masters who worked in the great medieval cathedrals of Europe.

I'm a bit obsessed with the Australian chapter, but it's a small part of the book. The entire history of art is in here, in terms of the materials they used. It's beautifully written, and works as art history, cultural history, history of technology, and travelogue. I loved it.

The Sound of Young Huddersfield

  • Simon Armitage. All Points North. London: Penguin Books, 1999 [1998].
One can't read pop books all the time. A book I'd bought online after returning from England last fall, but which only arrived in the mail recently (via the slow boat from England), was this little oddball. It's a highlight of the short shelf of (semi) recent books about the North. It's illustrated on the cover by a Martin Parr photograph of an old couple sitting glumly in a cafe, which pretty much sums up my aesthetic worldview. If there were a thousand of these books, I'd read them all. Sadly, there are not.

All Points North (from which this post's title was stolen) is more phlegmatic, more impressionistic than the partisan enthusiasms of John Grundy's Northern Pride: The Very Best of Northern Architecture or Stuart Maconie's seven-eighths-brilliant Pies and Prejudice: In Search of the North. It's about the author's life in insular Yorkshire, starting in Huddersfield and then in a widening ring as he discovers the world. The book thumps with exciting (to me) placenames: Staithes, Emley Moor, Elland, Keighley, Crimble Clough, Ravenscar, Scisset, Penistone, Marsden, Bridlington, eventually across rivers and ranges to places like Rochdale, Manchester, Grimsby, and London.

Armitage is a poet by trade, and has a deep demotic feel for his native region -- which is a bit of a trademark of Northerners; they feel place more acutely than soft southerners, or suburban Americans for that matter. There sure aren't any books like this about my suburbs.

He not only has a good eye for the landscape of trains, motorways, stone walls, terraces, probation offices, and so on, but a keen awareness of the humorous truth of Northern cliche: the grimness, the self-deprecation, the amusing stupidities, the embarrassment, the attitude, the bitter wit. We get amateur theatrics, quail fighting, Alan Bennett, and this: "Inside the building, above the taps, there's a notice saying PLEASE DO NOT WASH FOOTWEAR IN THESE SINKS, signed by the Chief Technical Officer of Ryedale District Council, and above the hand-dryer there's a plaque commemorating the 1989 Loo of the Year Award, presented to Helmsley car park." That's the Britain I love most.

On John Peel:
His comments and quips and mumblings were just as important as the music, as were his technical hitches, which included playing at least two records per night at the wrong speed, and talking at great length about somebody's new single before playing the B-side. Such cock-ups usually ended in Peel apologizing through a burst of laughter as he dragged the needle across the vinyl and flipped the record over, or cranked the turntable up to the right speed. I still can't listen to the twelve-inch version of Atmosphere by Joy Division without anticipating the moment when Ian Curtis changes gear from 33⅓ to 45 r.p.m., about three seconds into the opening line.
At Headingley, watching cricket:
viii) Some bright spark on the Western Terrace shouting, 'I'm Spartacus,' followed by thirty or forty shouts of 'I'm Spartacus' as security guards try to identify the man responsible for throwing a plastic beer bottle on to the field at deep square leg.

ix) The spontaneous chant of, 'Three pounds an hour, you're earning three pounds an hour' to the tune of 'Guantanamera', as security guards move in to eject a man from the Western Terrace for shouting 'Fuck off you Aussie cunt' as Matthew Elliot raised his bat to the sky in celebration of his second Test century.
At a social-services training exercise:
In an exercise designed to put us in touch with our body language, we were all invited to select a sealed envelope that contained a word describing a human emotion. Turning to the colleague on our right we then had to demonstate that emotion usuing facial gestures only. The colleague had to identify the emotion, and then it was his or her turn, and so on.

Finding the word LOVE inside your envelope, you turned to the tall shy man who'd taken the seat next to you, and in the spirit of the occasion, beamed lovingly at him, summoning up all those achingly precious moments of devotion and desire, and shutting out the image of the pale, bespectacled and bewildered man only six inches from your lips. Just at the point where you wondered if you might have to actually kiss him, he nodded his head and asked, 'Is it HATE'?

There was a moment of tense silence, before he further misinterpreted an expression of dumbfoundedness for one of agreement, and went on to announce, 'It is HATE, isn't it? I thought so.'
During a trip to the US:
New York, New York. Internet, the Yorkshire Post. Robert Ancliff of Bradford was left with 'a sour taste in his mouth' when he read the note left by his milkman on his doorstep. The previous day, Mr Ancliff had typed a polite letter of complaint, asking what had happened to the extra pint of milk he had requested. The handwritten reply read: 'I did get your milk delivered. It must have been stolen, so kiss my f****** a***.' The milkman has quit without notice and has not been seen since. A company spokesman has apologized, and Mr Ancliff has been given complimentary milk for his trouble.
This is a very sweet, funny book. I wish there were more like it.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

A Bouquet of Barbed Wire?

I bought this magazine for Zeke Manyika, who was the drummer in Orange Juice. I didn't know who the June Brides were. I still didn't; I didn't pick up one of their records until the "Every Conversation" 12" on Pink about two years later. I missed out; they were done by then. All the while I was sitting in my stupid apartment thinking that Orange Juice was the end of the world, and no pop records would ever be made again, things were happening. I remember buying the LP version of C86 and a Felt record and, I think, "I Heard You The First Time" by the Razorcuts at the same time, in Berkeley, which is when I found out how wrong I was. I bought a lot of records then, which seemed to always suck; but all of a sudden they didn't. I got a Chesterf!elds record right after, and then a Brilliant Corners one, and then a dopey-looking single on something called Sarah Records, and I was down the rabbit hole.

"Bridal Suite" by Mat Snow, New Musical Express, 1 September 1985, p. 14. Photographs by Derek Ridgers.

I wish I'd listened up in 1985. I could have heard a lot more a lot earlier! It seems so bizarre now that the Brides were actually on the cover of a big-time magazine, picked to pop, you could say. Of course they didn't, which is the world's fault, not theirs.

The June Brides played out of tune; that's what everybody said, and it was true, and possibly out of time as well, but they were wonderful too, and all you had to do was cock your head and all the flaws fell into place and the delicacy shone through.

The article here makes some oblique references to Josef K, and you can hear a little Paul Haig in Phil Wilson's reedy, uncertain tenor, but where Josef K scratched and jerked, and kept the listener at a distance, the Brides bounced and popped, and pulled the listener in. What really made it work was the trumpet. God love a trumpet in pop.

I don't hear any Smiths in them, and certainly not any James, though I can see why someone might have in 1985.

My favorite quote from the article:
Jon: "We played a gig in Glasgow and we got up early so we could go to Liverpool, where we had a gig, via the Lake District so we could have a picnic by Lake Windermere. We could have stayed in Glasgow and got drunk down Sauciehall Street, but we didn't!

This is the most genuinely shocking on-the-road story I've ever heard.

You'll have to click on the article text pic and view the large size to read the rest. The pics are magnificent as well!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

An Amazing Connection

A couple of years ago I scanned in an album of my grandfather's photographs, taken in Montana mostly in the 1910s and 20s. The majority of these are from Jordan, a remote town in Garfield County -- the most remote town in the contiguous United States, in fact. I occasionally get comments from Jordan residents or other Jordan genealogical researchers, which is always nice.

But some of the photos are more obscure, like this one. After college, my grandfather taught school in a series of small towns across the northwest, in Montana, Idaho, and Washington. One of these was tiny Camas Prairie, a hamlet on the Flathead Indian Reservation southwest of Glacier National Park.

At Camas Prairie School, in 1924, my grandfather shot the girls high school basketball team, the younger kids playing in the school yard, some young boys displaying their freshly caught fish, the lake they caught them in, and some local Indian children. About all I know of this place is the name and where it is.

Today, out of nowhere, a fellow named Michael Lee Ross found me. It turns out the picture of the girls basketball team features his grandmother, Rose Ross (nee Muster), and her sister!

This is an amazing coincidence, and an amazing find, all the more so if you have ever spent much time looking for your obscure Montana relatives online. I hope Mr. Ross doesn't mind me blogging here my excitement at being found by him.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Edwyn Collins in Smash Hits, 1983.

Edwyn Collins in Smash Hits, 1983
"Flesh of My Flesh" was the follow-up to "Rip It Up", the Juice's only top ten hit, released in May 1983. It was supposed to propel them, and our fresh-faced boy Edwyn here, into the stratosphere, right up there with the likes of Paul Young. God, it's hard to even type that name: Paul Young!

The top ten that month was topped by "True" by Spandau Ballet, followed by Heaven 17's "Temptation", "Dancing Tight" by something called Galaxy featuring Phil Fearon, "(Keep Feeling) Fascination" by Human League. Tears for Fears, Wham!, Bowie, the Police, Culture Club, Yazoo, and the immortal Blancmange. But there was no room for "Flesh", which topped out at 41, and it was all downhill. Malcolm Ross and David McClymont split, Polydor was disillusioned, and further records were promoted less and sold less.

Not that I care. The song's great, with a nice faraway jazz in the next room horn part, and a swinging guitar riff over Zeke Manyika's groove. The long version on the back of the 12" reveals shades of dub things to come.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Glory, Glory Tottenham Hotspur

Congratulations! Tottenham Hotspur defeated Chelsea 2-1 in extra time at Wembley today to win the League Cup (aka the Carling Cup). Nancy and I watched it at the George & Dragon pub in Fremont (Seattle). Bit rough getting out of bed and down to the pub at 7 AM, but a hundred or so people did, about 2/3 Spurs fans by the looks of it. We roared them out of the house when Jonathan Woodgate bumped in the winner, a slow bobbler that came off Petr Cech's and then Woodgate's faces; it bounced once, twice, three times into the net. Spurs' first hardware since the 1999 League Cup.

Now on to the double: the UEFA Cup is next.

Next year we'll win some serious silverware as we return to major-club status. We're too good to sit down at eleventh in the table, and in the lesser cup competitions at home and in Europe.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

I just found these long-forgotten pictures in a drawer. They were taken at the Middle East Cafe in Cambridge. Honestly it's been so long I can't remember, but I think this is downstairs. Or upstairs. Whichever is smaller. I don't think they had an upstairs yet. I imagine the proscenium arch isn't there anymore!

Small Factory were part of a little early-nineties Providence-Washington "Love Rock" axis, along with Honeybunch and Velvet Crush (RI) and Black Tambourine and Velocity Girl (DC). Tsunami and the Simple Machines stuff sort of squeeze into the booth, too. It was an east coast counterpart to Beat Happening and that whole K Records scene; the bridge between the two was Lois Maffeo, the vivacious folk-punk strummer/singer who lived in both Olympia and Washington, DC at various times.

It's funny how at the time it seemed like Boston, where I was living, and New York didn't really seem to have any indiepop to offer; American indiepop has always come mostly from weird, out-of-the-way cities like Providence, Champaign-Urbana, Olympia.... College kids, sure, but Boston's packed with college kids, and in the immediate pre-grunge years none of them was listening to indiepop.

I gather that Seattle was having its little scene explosion around this time, too. The difference is, the music coming out of Providence and Washington wasn't terrible. Take that, grungesters, with your flannel, your chain wallets and your testosterone poisoning!

Quite a few times I took the train down to Providence to see Small Factory or Honeybunch at Club Babyhead or the Church House. This sucked, because there was no way to get home until the morning, so I spent a few late nights hanging out in all-night diners waiting for the trains to start up again at 6 AM or whenever it was.

But occasionally someone would venture up to the Middle East or TT the Bears. Usually that someone was my favorite band, Small Factory.

Alex Kemp played a great big Martin acoustic bass guitar, which gave their music a kind of dry crunchiness underfoot, while Dave Auchenbach strummed and jangled on guitar. The drummer was Phoebe Bluesky Summersquash, a perfectly ridiculous name for a perfectly charming girl, the perky and effervescent life of any party. She was the drill sergeant, too, as Alex frequently needed reminding that his between-song banter needed some songs to go between now and then. Everybody sang, and the harmonies were what you came for; Alex sang most of the sweetly nasal leads but it was when Dave joined in that they started to soar, and when Phoebe made three in the choruses they were zinging. Just pure joy.

By the time I first saw them they had quite a local following in Providence, mostly girls -- always a good sign, boys tend to prefer bands that suck -- who would do a little choreography with hand gestures when they played their big hit "Suggestions". They were FUN, and their songs were bright and cheerful even when they felt like being morose:

Keep your chin up, and I'll watch the highway
While we drive off for someplace cheap and amazing.

It's not so stupid and it's not so dumb
I am only suggesting that we could have more fun
Than we do....

Small Factory - "Suggestions" (mp3)

Small Factory never really came across on records; the "Suggestions" single captures some of the charm, but seems thin, and plods a bit compared to the real thing; and as the other records got better the band was getting worse. Tired, I think; and they tried to rock it up. Alex started playing electric bass, Dave's guitar got louder and fuzzier. It's a funny thing, when bands become better players on their instruments they often drive out the sweetness that drew you to them in the first place. The volume goes up, the drums start to pound, and the next thing you know they're, uh, rocking out, wailing when they used to talk to you. It happened to Small Factory too.

They got an album out, and had a good tour of the UK (with Heavenly) and a crummy one in the US, and they were done, really. There were some good moments, and some good songs, but it was never the same. Another album, another tour, and then Dave split and Alex took over on guitar in the spectacularly dreadful Godrays. The less said.

But man, those early days in Providence were magic.

Friday, February 22, 2008

I'm Sorry, Jane

steve and jane c1963
Originally uploaded by Fnarf
I would like to publicly apologize for torturing my sweet younger sister Jane when we were children. You can see by the hangdog look on her face that I'm about to inflict some kind of unnecessary roughness on her, compounding the torture that our parents have already put her through with the cowgirl outfit. I don't think she liked it much -- the outfit, or the abuse.

I liked it very much indeed. I can still remember the feel of that tin star between my fingers, and mentally checking just how cheap and inauthentic it was -- cheapness and inauthenticity having no bearing on play value, of course. As for the chaps, well, let's just say it's a good thing it was a safe neighborhood, with no older boy bullies around. Because I would have been dead meat.

That's a phrase I remember hearing a lot as a child -- "you're dead meat", following by the pounding of feet and my heart. I was a dweeb. A dork. A geek.

This is about the time I had to be removed from my second-grade class for having pooed in my pants, out of a pathological sense of embarrassment that prevented me from raising my hand. Despite my best efforts I was unable to prevent a few pellets of shame from falling down my pants leg onto the floor. A teacher -- a woman! -- took me to the bathroom and gave me the most horrible thing in the world: a pair of school pants, with an elastic waist. I wanted to die.

I peed my pants all the time too.

Sweet Jane didn't think I was a dweeb, though; she worshiped me. I repaid this devotion by telling her, right about this time, that there was no Santa Claus. That may explain the face in this picture.

I used to do naughty things, like scatter my dad's tools around, or damage them, or damage furniture with them. My dad would attempt to teach us both a lesson about honesty and forthrightness, and ask us each in turn, "did you do this?" I would solemnly shake my head "no", and Jane would just as solemnly nod her head "yes". Our dad was not a fool, and would punish me, not her -- twice, in fact.

This photograph was taken by dad with a Kodak Retina IIa in 1963 or 64 in Magnolia, Seattle, Washington. I recently found it in a tray of my grandfather's slides.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Pump Up The Volume

Hey, ladies! This doc wants to inject collagen into your G-spot to make it bigger:

Mind if I watch?

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Australian Aboriginal Art in the Sixties

Unrecorded Melville Island artist, depicting a shark, sea-snakes, fish, shells, and other features encountered on a canoe journey in Snake Bay, Melville Island; ochre on bark, 28 by 19 inches; collected by C.P. Mountford, 1954.

  • Ronald M. Berndt, ed. Australian Aboriginal Art. With chapters by R. M. Berndt, A. P. Elkin, F. D. McCarthy, C. P. Mountford, T. G. H. Strehlow, J. A. Tuckson. With 73 plates in full color. New York: The Macmillian Company and London: Collier-Macmillan Ltd, 1964.

This book is the earliest general book on Aboriginal art I've been able to find in a Seattle library. (All the pictures in this post are from it). By 1964, the commercial sale of Central Desert paintings in modern media (acrylics on canvas) was starting to get underway, but was still regarded with scorn as a debased product for tourists. There's none of that in this book; this is all traditional artists depicting traditional scenes in traditional media: ochre and other natural pigments applied to bark or wood or stone with traditional implements.

Which is not to say "primitive". Ronald Berndt, who along with his wife Catherine was the most prolific and perceptive anthropologist of the Aboriginal peoples in the 50s and 60s, is careful to point out that, far from being a "primitive survival", as the old-fashioned Herbert Read put it, "the Aboriginal art available to us today is contemporary, or almost so, and no more prehistoric than the people who are responsible for it."

This was a hard idea for people to get their minds around in the 1960s, especially anthropologists; note that they still treat their subject anthropologically, and bury the artists' names deep within the footnotes, if they bother to collect it at all; they are still generalized representatives of an alien primitive culture. And much of the art depicted in the book is not only traditional but traditionally sacred, with ritual and often secretive meaning. It's interpreted in a modern way by modern people, is the conclusion Berndt is striving for, but he's not quite able to make the leap into seeing these artists as people fully involved in the modern world in quite the same way as his fellow researchers back at the University are. But he's getting there.

All the pictures reproduced here are traditional in style; but the root forms of modern styles are visible. Aboriginal art today, almost 50 years later, is a modern art; even if the forms echo the tribal traditions, they are identical to them, and they are market productions. Berndt seems to think, in 1964 at least, that market productions can't be art; he is not yet willing to let these artists be modern (or have names). Such is the state of white thinking in 1950s and 1960s.

I hope to show in some future posts just how wrong he was, and how powerful modern Aboriginal art can be (much more so than the etiolated, often vacuous, culturally starved productions of many civilized modern artists. Much of this art is not sacred, but is mundane and everyday; but it still throbs with power. For just a hint of the electric visual jolt of some of this work, even in the traditional mode, check out this Picasso head, by an artist who had never heard of Picasso; followed by some other favorites:

Joshua Wurungulngul, of the Gunwinggu people in the Oenpelli region of western Arnhem Land; molded ochre head, 6.5 inches tall; collected by R. Berndt, 1950.

Minimini, from Groote Eylandt, barracouta fish; ochre on bark, 36 by 13 inches; collected by F. D. McCarthy, 1948.

Dowdie (b. 1921), Milingimbi, NE Arnhem Land, Julunggul the rock python, protecting her eggs from the Wawalag sisters; ochre on bark, 28.5 by 15 inches; collected by the Methodist Overseas Mission, 1959.

Unknown artist, from Cape Stewart, north-central Arnhem Land, sacred maraiin painting, usually painted on men's bodies during secret rituals; ochre on bark, 20.25 by 11.75 inches; collected by the Welfare Branch of the Northern Territory Administration, 1959?

Monday, February 18, 2008

Sergio! Sergio!

After my eviction from Jennifer's apartment, I was homeless. I went to work that day with a duffel bag and the newspaper, circling ads for rooms. The appearance of a duffel bag in an office always causes a commotion, and this office was pretty well geared for commotion anyways.

I was working on the Upper East Side, barely; we worked out of an apartment house on E. 62nd Street, just east of 3rd Avenue. Two apartments across the hall from each other, packed with telecommunications gear and eight or nine employees. We ran a calling card business; you know, the cards you buy at the corner store or the tacqueria that allow you to call long distance for cheaps. The business model was to buy minutes from AT&T and sell them on the cards. If we paid AT&T 6-and-a-quarter cents per minute, we made a fortune; if we paid six-and-a-half we lost our shirts. The company was run by two brothers, Victor and Raul, Venezuelans. Victor was the handsome, suave one, Raul the dark, funny, dangerous one. They were from one of Venezuela's richest families, and frequented places like "21", which seemed like something out of a dream.

The whole operation seemed shady; there was a closet full of binders of shell companies, maybe a hundred of them, and little stashes of serious cash in various drawers. I got the impression that the cash was there to tempt me, and if I took so much as a single bill I'd spend the rest of my life in a different time zone than my skin.

There was a third brother, Sergio, who was the black sheep of the family. I think that was his job title; all he did all day was sit with his feet up on his desk smoking furiously and reading the newspaper. We all smoked furiously; Victor the boss smoked cigars.

The office was a fire hazard in other ways too. Our primary lighting came from halogen torchieres with wobbly bases. They would fall over and burn the carpet. Once Victor stored a box of supplies on top of the stove in one of the kitchens (these were outfitted as ordinary apartments), only to fill the room with smoke shortly after as the gas pilot light in the burners ignited the box.

Despite the chaos of the office, Victor and Raul were fun to be around and fantastically loyal. The second they saw my duffel, they had their lawyer on speakerphone, who explained to me how stupid I was for vacating the apartment. Alas, it was done. But Victor said, "no, you can stay here until you find a place". So I moved into the apartment, sleeping on the sofa. The only drawback was that I had to be up and showered and dressed before anyone got there in the morning, about six AM.

The neighborhood was lovely; to the east, Madison, Lexington, Central Park and Midtown; to the west, the charming and leafy Upper East Side. I used the laundromat at the end of the block, and drank in the friendly bar on First. It was a lot closer to Brownies and the other clubs I was frequenting than my old place, too, seeing the Magnetic Fields, Holiday, and the Mad Scene play every other night. 125 blocks closer -- a feasible walk, even, from the East Village, which I did many times, either through the lonely wastelands of First Avenue past the United Nations, or the surprisingly varied neighborhoods up Second or Third, Lex or Park.

One day as the office was closing I was introduced to my new cross-hall roommate for the night: Miss Venezuela. She was the most beautiful creature I've ever seen to this day, achingly gorgeous, like a porcelain doll. She was going to be in one of the apartments, I was in the other. When I saw her in the morning I was suffering from a terrible hangover; she was still perfect. I wonder if I terrified her. She terrified me.

After a month of this kind of living the Alves brothers had a proposition: move in with Sergio. Sergio lived in the company apartment and his roommate was leaving. 14th Street between Second and First. My room was a shoebox -- eight feet wide, twelve feet long. Sergio's room was the living room, stood off from the tiny open kitchen and hall with rows of tall bookcases. His room was three times as big as mine.

Sergio lived there with his Japanese girlfriend Yuko, who came to the US for expensive dentistry and found a chainsmoking Venezuelan instead. Yuko was stereotypically Japanese, covering her mouth with her hand when she talked, laboring endlessly in the apartment, cringing before her master and now her master's new roommate. I was unnerved to come home to her scrubbing the floors and apologizing for not doing it well enough.

Sergio's main form of entertainment was watching war documentaries on his large-screen TV. The volume was always turned up. He also liked to engage in loud sex with Yuko, featuring lots of vigorous spanking and crying. I would cower in my room hearing the rumble and roar of thousands of B-17 bombers with the voiceover describing the destruction of Dresden down below, punctuated by loud slaps and Yuko screaming "Oh, Sergio, Oh, Oh, Sergio!" and Sergio himself demonstrating the kind of command and discipline that was denied him at his job. "You've been very BATT!" Whap. "Oh, Sergio! Sergio!" Whap. Grrrarr, boom, boom-boom, boom. WHAP!

New Yorkers spend most of their spare time going out. Now you know why.

Sergio also smoked pot continuously, and he had a little cocaine problem as well. When he and his friends were high, and after inviting me into his side of the apartment to enjoy the evening, he would get paranoid, and push me up against the wall, alternately threatening and cajoling me, don't tell Victor, don't tell Raul, you're not going to tell anyone are you, I swear to God I'll cut you, man, PLEASE don't tell them, here, you want some?

There was an Irish bar on the corner, an old-fashioned workingman's bar, not fancy at all, and cheap. Three dollars for a pint of Guinness, and in the grand New York tradition the barman buys you every third one. I have no idea if this bar or this tradition has survived the relentless gentrification of the city. I hope so. Where else are the telephone linesmen and delivery drivers going to drink? I sat in there for hours most nights, if nothing was going on, sipping the black stuff and reading at the bar, to avoid the seige of Sergio and his bellicose love life.

This was the apartment which Mrs. Fnarf came to visit again, in summer. We were engaged to be married by then. The discussion about where we would be living afterwards was very short. The 100 square foot room with no furniture except a bed and a bookcase, with Yuko and Sergio and his giant TV on the other side of the wall, did not make up for the excitement of having the East Village on my doorstep. On her first night, we walked down First and Avenue A as far as Houston, and when she realized she had to walk fourteen blocks back as well she threw water on me. New York was not to be.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

My New Favorite Car: Citroën Ami 6

Picture of Citroën Ami 6 by Flickr user davidbally, by permission.

I've had many favorite cars over the years -- the Mini, the Isetta (or even better, the French Velam model), the Smart, or the Hillman Minx that I used to own.

Picture of my old Hillman Minx by Flickr user nancyo23, by permission.

But I have a new contender: the Citroën Ami 6 shown above. Dig that crazy reverse-slanting rear window! And the jaunty way the roof flares over it! And the sexy drape of the hood over the headlights!

It also had a classically weird Citroen suspension: check out this lean! These two pictures are from the great Citroenet page.

They were sold from 1961 to 1970. I want one! I want to drive around in tight pants listening to Serge Gainsbourg, Françoise Hardy, France Gall, and Brigitte Bardot.

PS --
I've given up on ever figuring out Blogger's screwed-up HTML implementation. Their "preview" isn't even close to what you actually get.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

English Teams Playing Overseas

The chief executive of the English Premier League, Richard Scudamore, wants every team in his league to play one game a year overseas, presumably in rich countries that don't have top-level soccer leagues of their own, like the USA, Japan, China, and so on.

Much as I'd like to see Tottenham play here in Seattle where I could see them, I think this is a terrible, terrible idea. It will among other things throw the perfect balance of home and away games into the toilet, with some teams gaining an unfair advantage. And, like all schemes of this type, it's only going to be successful for some teams and not others. Huge crowds will turn out for Manchester United anywhere they go (which means it will always be an away game for their opponent), but are you really going to sell a lot of tickets for Derby v. Bolton in St. Louis?

It's just another way for the top clubs to corner even more of the market than they already have. It does nothing for the smaller clubs, nothing for American soccer, and nothing for English football.

Michel Platini, president of UEFA, and Sepp Blatter of FIFA are resisting this idea. Here's my suggestion:

Tell Scudamore he can play his games anywhere he likes, but if he plays them outside of England, Premier League teams will be barred from the Champions League.

End of argument.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Jennifer, Oh Jenny

I moved to New York in the fall of 1995, because I wanted excitement. My first taste of the city the previous year, helping to put on the first Tweefest, had really set my mind ablaze. So when the opportunity arose, I took it.

It turned out the opportunity wasn't there, and my friend Keith Testcard had already promised my room in his Hoboken flat to someone else. But things move fast in New York, and at a party in a restaurant for Sally, an old friend from punk-rock days in Seattle, I met a girl who needed a roommate. Her name was Jenny.

The fact that later that night she took a bunch of ketamine in a club in the East Village -- a club which I stumbled out of at four in the morning, still throbbing away inside, might have told me something about her, but I was desperate. A couple of days later I was on the A train to see the apartment.

It was in Washington Heights, on Fort Washington Avenue at 187th Street. There's a picture of the building on the Wikipedia page for the street; the tall dark six-story block to the right. I got off the subway at 181st, terrified at what slum horrors I might find above, only to come out in a tree-lined street in a lovely old Jewish neighborhood. One thing people who don't know New York don't realize is how close the neighborhoods are to each other, and how abruptly they change; just a block away, down a flight of stairs to upper Broadway, it was solidly and vibrantly Dominican.

The apartment was a shambles. Filthy, matted with dog hair, sloping floors, fifty layers of cheap paint on the doors, no cupboards in the kitchen, only slanting bare wood shelves. Two bedrooms, though, and my room was huge by New York standards, with high ceilings. I would have said yes no matter what it looked like, but it had promise.

Jennifer had promise too. Blonde, blue eyes, short but built like a tank, and brim-full of fire and light, she laughed constantly and deep, and never stopped moving. She was intelligent and well-read, with a case full of Peter Handke and other interesting books. This is not a romance I'm telling, but I'd be lying if I said she wasn't attractive. But there was something else there, too: a kind of recklessness that was also attractive, but dangerous.

I got my first taste of this side of her personality the day I moved my belongings in. I had been keeping them in a storage facility in Hoboken near Keith's apartment. Visiting the place to pay my bill was always interesting; I met an amazing fellow there once who got out of a big black Cadillac, wearing a black pinstripe suit, black shirt, mass of gold medallions in the open neck, and slicked-back hair -- straight out of The Sopranos. I didn't ask him what he was keeping in storage.

Anyways, the day of the move, my friend Keith helped me move the boxes from the sidewalk up to the new apartment. Jennifer didn't help much, but at one point she did spend a great deal of time fixing her hair, topless, with the door open. An opportunity that some little bell inside my brain said "don't take". Keith could hear the same bell. I had met her boyfriend, a six-foot-five black man who, while charming, could have broken me like a toothpick. I think she would have liked that, actually, just for the excitement.

Her old roommate had had to leave when her heroin addiction got out of control and she stopped paying rent. That's the story I was told, at any rate. That's apparently what happened to the cupboards; she'd ripped them from the wall in a violent rage sometime. She may have been dead. I don't know; I didn't want to know. More excitement I didn't want to come near.

Jennifer was a bicycle messenger. Every day she got on her bike and rode 187 blocks and then some down to her lower Manhattan messenger office, rode all day delivering packages, and then rode home. When she got home, she usually stripped off her clothes, put her favorite Madonna record on top volume, mounted her track bike on rollers in the hall, and pedalled furiously until the entire apartment filled with steam. This was not an erotic spectacle; it was explosive and insane. She rode for up to an hour this way, laughing and occasionally screaming out loud; then she'd stop, and jump in the shower. I would be cowering in my room.

Jennifer had a dog, a German Shepherd named Hojo. I never did find out if that was after Howard Johnson, the popular (at the time) New York Met, or Cujo, the Stephen King killer dog. I've never read the book, but Hojo did have some Satanic tendencies. The poor creature was mentally ill; imprisoned in a tiny New York flat all day, he was fiercely, insanely protective of Jennifer. One thing he liked to do was bite shoes; if you put on your shoes, he would bite them while making an unearthly high-pitched throat growl. Jennifer would calm him, but if you made a move toward the door, he'd be up and at your feet again, biting them hard enough to mark your shoes and hurt your feet inside.

Another thing he liked to do was bite people, especially children. He only got a piece of me once or twice, but many times lunged at my hands. Only when Jennifer was there. When she walked him, or when I was roped into doing it, he would lunge and snap at people if they were foolish enough to come close enough to try and pet him. Kids were the worst, because the most keen on petting him. One night Jennifer came racing back into the apartment, slamming and bolting the door. "Hojo bit someone" she said, but nothing more. Later that week, groups of kids would come to the door while Jennifer was out demanding money for the doctor that a young girl had needed to see.

Jennifer had a succession of boyfriends. There was her steady boyfriend, the tall black radical in his army coat; but also a series of fellows she met through cycling or work or wherever, ranging from a nebbishy ponytailed accountant to the city's premier graffiti artist, whose name I wish I could recall. Her dates with him would be across rooftops with backpacks full of paint. She would frequently have sex with these men with the door to her room ajar, Hojo the dog wandering in and out, me in my room trying to drown out their sighs and moans with my latest finds from Other Music or Kim's downtown. Sometimes afterwards we'd sit and drink coffee all together in the tiny kitchen.

Jennifer liked to sit around and talk about her plans for the future. This mostly involved the bicycle trip she wanted to take to Italy. With Hojo, trotting along beside her. Pointing out how disastrous an idea this was, that a dog's feet couldn't possibly stand up to a high-speed run down a thousand miles of paved highway, only made her angry.

Some of our visitors were interesting. Rose, from upstairs, had lived in the building since the 1930s, and had grown up in an orphanage. She was in her eighties by then, and would sit telling stories of working in the garment industry downtown.

For all the dramatic happenings at home, the neighborhood was endlessly interesting. In the Jewish part there was an old-fashioned candy store, which in New York means kind of a combination candy store, newstand, and stationers; an old-fashioned deli, the likes of which had even by then nearly disappeared from most parts of what most people mean when they say "Manhattan", which served the best egg salad sandwiches in the world; and the most decrepit supermarket I have ever seen: an ancient A&P, about a quarter the size of an ordinary Seattle supermarket, with cardboard on the floors all winter long (for the rain and snow), and the most random and meagre selection of goods you could imagine. The produce section was simply appalling, sparse and limp and decaying at the edges, and I don't think anyone ever bought produce from them -- you went to the Koreans for that. The selection of Jewish foods was excellent, though.

A block away, and down to 181st Street, the neighborhood was all Dominican, and had everything you could need -- tiny hardware stores, a grand old Woolworth's with a lunch counter, Seinfeld-style restaurants, and all kinds of shops selling Dominican goods. I loved going into Woolworth's, and outfitted most of my apartment from there. I ate a few grilled cheese sandwiches for $1.15 there too; it was in a time warp. Across the street from Woolworth's was another, similar, but even cheaper five-and-dime store. I can't remember the name of it, but it was huge, and I remember on the top floor the ceiling was caving in and the rain pouring onto the linen section, draped with plastic. It seems grotesque but it was a wonderful place to prowl around, like being transported back to the 1950s -- I swear some of the merchandise dated from then. I wonder if it's still there? The Woolworth's isn't, of course.

One day I decided I was sick of the cockroaches and the filth, so I cleaned the kitchen. I took everything off the shelves and sprayed and cleaned, cleaned and scrubbed, scrubbed and sprayed, until the last of ten thousand roaches had emerged from their last hiding places. The sink was a double sink with a metal lid over one side; when I asked Jennifer why it was always covered, she said only "don't look in there". I looked, and it was pretty nasty, but sparing no amount of Ajax and elbow grease I made it presentable again. It took two entire days, but that kitchen was clean, dammit, and those roaches were gone. I killed thousands of them, literally trash bags full of the bastards. I'm a clean person.

Jennifer's family came to visit once, from Erie, Pennsylvania. Her dad was a pleasant enough guy, and worked for the company that made a lot of the cables and connectors I use in my line of work, so we had something to chat about. Her mother was kind of mousey and worried-looking; and her brother was severely disabled with Down Syndrome -- a cheerful fellow but
obviously a great deal of work. It was apparent that the purpose of the visit was to encourage young Jennifer to abandon her bohemian lifestyle in the city and get back to the college she had abandoned.

One day in late spring, after I'd lived there for six or seven months Jennifer asked to borrow my portable cd player, as she was driving up to see her folks. This turned out to be goodbye, as she then announced that she was packing up and moving out. Everything was taken care of, a friend of her boyfriend's was going to take her place in the apartment. I never saw my cd player again.

A couple of days after she left, the landlord came banging on the door. He was demanding many months of back rent, nearly a year. I had been paying my rent directly to Jennifer, in cash, and it turns out none of it was making its way to the landlord. The nicest part of this was that my future wife was with me then, still in the early stages of deciding if I was reliable enough to be a proper boyfriend, and here I was frantically negotiating with a very angry man in a beard, a black fedora and a long black coat. I had never met him before, but I had seen him and a dozen men who looked just like him going in and out of a special room in the basement of the building.

After a bit of one-sided discussion, during which I discovered that not only had Jennifer not been paying the rent, but that the apartment wasn't in her name but in the name of the heroin addict who preceded me, and I heard a great deal of abuse of her as well. This man wanted me the hell out of there and he wanted me out now.

I learned a bit more about New York rental law in the next few weeks, and it turned out I did a very stupid thing: I moved out. If I'd stayed, as Jennifer had stayed, I couldn't have been evicted, especially if I'd started paying rent; he could come and bang on my door, but the sheriff would never come to put me out as long as I had possession. I also didn't understand at the time how valuable it would have been to have the super on my side. But alas, I knew none of this, and so back into storage all my stuff went, or as much of it as I could get packed up in a day or two. The one thing I left behind that I still miss is my Mussolini atlas -- a huge, beautifully drawn and printed world atlas made at the request of Il Duce in the late 30s, as a particular matter of Italian pride, and especially in the face of the world's best atlas, the Times Atlas of the World, printed in London. Mussolini demanded its equal or better, and he got it -- it was gorgeous, but it was too big to fit in any of my boxes. In a landfill somewhere, I suppose.

And that's the story of Jennifer, my crazy roommate in New York. I never saw her again. Several years later, she found me by email, and after breezily asking "I hope you're not still mad at me?" started sending me emails with pornographic pictures in them, or stories of weird sex with German Shepherds. I told her to stop.