Archive for June, 2006

a sense of hummer

My heart flooded with optimism at the sight of its gleaming blue-gray flanks—the color of the early morning sky over the Rockies. The word “Independence,” emblazoned on the passenger-side door, glinted even in the dim afternoon. The mass of it overwhelmed me; its ingenuity awed me. These rhino bars, this trailer hitch, those massive wheels rolling impassively over the pavement—surely here stood the glittering epitome of America’s technological success; surely this was the worthy capstone of the past century’s automotive progress.

And how could this vehicle—which neither mountain crags, nor gulches, nor barren dunes can constrain—how could it allow itself to be bullied by bureaucrats, planners, construction workers, and parking enforcement officers who saw fit to delineate the frontier—to pave it and draw lines on it, and thereby circumscribe that freedom that our forefathers fought so hard to protect—the freedom that this very vehicle celebrates? The answer is: It could not. It did not. In parking it—in posing it on the street corner to impress the world—she placed it in not one parking space, but two.

She! That icon of womanhood! That princess of automotive freedom! When she immerged from her metal steed, it became clear to me that she represented not the dowdy, downtrodden driveresses that populate our tattered byways, but some higher ideal—some butter-haired icon of driverly beauty—some all-American vision of the freedom of the roads!

Imagine my surprise at her entrance to my humble place of business. Imagine the joy I felt at upon realizing that hers was no paltry natural beauty, no improbable exception of age and physique, but a shrine to the triumph of science! Her hair golden long past its natural ability; her skin suntanned and smoothed in no way even nature could devise; her figure girlish years—decades—beyond any deservance on her own part to be called so: I marveled at these, even blessed myself that I should live in an age, in a nation, where such miracles transpire.

That the first words to flit from her lips should ask, “Do you buy old frames?” transported my delight to ecstasy. Here, embodied before me, stood the American Spirit in toto. Not content in her evident riches—not content in her mighty wheels and meticulous bod—she yet felt within her the American yearning to achieve wealth—nay, glory!—to market, to barter, to dicker, yea—to vend!

“My family used to own an antique shop,” quoth she—but how she spoke! With a disinterested nasality that murmured a frustration with the present, suserrated a desire to run free, to seek the future, whatever be its forms. So overcome was I, nary a word could I speak, not even in the interest of the frames, for verily they seemed hideous.

My eye watched her with patriotic zeal
As she walked out and climbed behind the wheel;
And I looked on from stodgy world of art
As she and Hummer boldy did depart!

T is for totally awesome

One of the perks of being a carpenter is that you make friends with lots of grateful people who have interesting toys.

I am not a carpenter. My friend (Zack)'s dad (Alan) is, however. And he has interesting clients. For example:

Last night I got a phone call. Zack said that one of Alan's customers had, in honor of Alan's fifty-somethingth birthday, lent Alan his 1923 Model-T Ford convertible. Did I want a ride? Yes I did.

So this morning, my parents and I stopped by and climbed into an unrestored Model-T roadster. If you know about Model-Ts, you may remember that they start with a crank. This one, however, has an aftermarket electric starter. To operate, simply flip the toggle switch on the dashboard (causing a loud buzzing somewhere beneath you), advance the spark, and depress the floor-mounted starter switch until engine fires up. Then adjust the throttle, engage gear, and begin steering.

"Engage gear" is a deceptive phrase though. Like any manual-transmission car, the Model-T has three pedals beneath the steering wheel. You would think that, from left to right, these are the 1.) clutch, 2.) brake, and 3.) accelerator. You would be wrong.

In fact, the Model-T predates any standardized arrangement of automobile controls. From left to right, the pedals are actually 1.) gear selector (down=low, halfway=neutral, up=high), 2.) reverse, and 3.) brake. Where's the accelerator? It's a lever on the right-hand side of the steering column, slightly above the horn—where you'd expect to find the windshield wipers on a Volvo, or the gear-shift on most American cars.

Make sense? Right. We started off by riding a slow circuit around the cemetery next to Zack's house—Alan driving. It occured to me that we were probably driving OVER people who knew much more about the car than we did, but it did not feel macabre: the day was brilliant and the cemetery leafy.

On to the road. In first gear, the Model-T sounds like a tractor: the engine blusters and the drivetrain makes yawning noises. (In fact, they were so rugged that, when they went out of fashion, people actually used them as tractors.) Second (high) gear is a different story. The ratio gap is so great that, when the car is spooled up like a biplane in low gear, shifting to high reduces engine speed to an idle. Hills require downshifts. All hills.

We idled through the little two-store, two-church village near Zack's house, then drove out a narrow road along the shore. Since it's right on the water, the sides of the road have sprouted trophy homes the way a basement sprouts fungus; we ogled them from a car older than the road itself.

It's certainly the best way to see the coast. You sit higher up than you do in most SUVs; the seats feel surprisingly comfortable; and you have an unobstructed view on all sides: even the windshield opens. If you don't mind the vibration and the noise and the smoke coming out of the dashboard—and you don't—it's the best ride you've ever had. A neighbor even handed us a loaf of her banana bread as we rolled by.

Something happened between 1923 and whenever I started to be aware of cars. I've always loved them, but I've never thought of automobiles as anything but necessary tools—rolling appliances—that can occasionally double as toys. To ride through a familiar place in a car like the Model-T is a revelation: here, for a change, is a car that is not ashamed of itself—a car that does not hide its noise and smoke, or the bumps over which it rattles, or the air through which it moves. Here is a car that takes pride from being a car, not a car that apologizes for it—sorry!—muffles and dampens its car-ness, and masquerades as a leather lounge suite with SurroundSound.

It is a car—the very car, in fact—that made ordinary people first want cars—before they had cars, that is—before they realized they needed cars to do all those other important things. A car made before cars themselves, in the face of all those other important things, quietly took a back seat.

a la cart

The local family-owned grocery store in my town now makes its home in a small shopping plaza about half a mile from the downtown area. Formerly, it lived right on Main street, which was awesome, but it moved to better compete with Hannaford's (c.f. Stop & Shop).

The shopping plaza is about fifteen years old. Fifteen year-old humans exhibit a wide range of characteristics. Some are still childlike, fresh-faced, and innocent. Others are pudgy little grease-balls, gorging themselves on tobacco, alcohol, drugs, sex, goth clothes, and fast food.

You could use the latter as a crass analogy for the Coastal Marketplace Shopping Plaza at its present age. You'd just have to be careful not to confuse the analogy with the clientele.

Although it seems like they just built it a few years ago (in a swamp), the floor of the place already sags. A lot. In one direction. This leads to some interesting potential scenarios.

1. "Honey, where do you suppose they keep the pickles? I can't seem to find…HEY where's the cart?"

2. "Oh I…I'm sorry Mr. Man-a-ger. I…I was just stopping to look at the…at the a-dult hy-gine products but…but I must have for-gotten to set the…to set the brake on my wheel-chair. Oh I'm so sorry. Oh I'm…I do ho…I do hope it wasn't ex…ex-pen-sive."

3. "Dude, why is that coke bottle running away?"

Not all of these are as funny as you think. I'm a firm believer in supporting local businesses. In fact, I think all local people should buy their art locally, since local art dealers desperately need their support. And I would ordinarily love to support my local grocery store too.

But when the soda is flatter than the floor—when the ground tuna at the fish counter looks more colorful and more alive than the lady selling it—when the Red Sox get a clean sweep more frequently than the floors—you know that it's time—that perhaps local-family ownership has stopped caring (or never cared to begin with), and that maybe you don't have to care anymore either. Maybe it's now OK to patronize Supermarketus maximus down the road, which has, conveniently, just added two additional square miles of floorspace and an atrium that could swallow trees.

Perhaps at fifteen, the local store is just the tatty, pockmarked younger sister of the shiny new supermarket with which it tries to compete. Perhaps the glassy new atrium is a sign of the future—a physical premonition of the way the local store will—someday—look. After, of course, it kicks the butts and the booze, scrubs the grease, and, more importantly, finds some more flattering fish.

I hope it hurries up. Boosterism is tough.

In defense of culture

Oh my god is this really what I think it is? Oh please. Realist photo paintings are bad enough, but of GOLF COURSES? Where's my…I have a barf bag somewhere…

She sells them for WHAT? Oh my god. I mean, it's one thing to sell to tourists—sure. And it would be OK—acceptable, I guess—to make prints of these and maybe sell them to motels, provided they hung the same prints in every room.

But TWO HUNDRED THOUSAND DOLLARS? For THOSE? Jesus F. Christ. Do you know what you could buy with two hundred thousand dollars? Never mind HOUSING THE HOMELESS or SAVING THE RAINFOREST. For two hundred thousand dollars you could buy real art—decent paintings by the Impressionists, the Ashcan school, the Regionalists, the expressionists—not their best works, maybe, but a bloody great deal better than "8th Hole Pebble Beach" could ever be in its wildest, wettest dreams.

How can we possibly take anyone seriously whose patrons say things like:

"I don't think you can be an abstract painter or a painter with abstract tendencies and paint a golf hole," Mr. _______ explained. "You simply can't get that level of detail."

I mean—these people need help! They need counseling, education, therapy! No of bloody course you can't paint an abstract golf hole. And that's too bad because I can't think of anything any self-respecting abstractionist should want to paint more!

We must do something. Intelligent people have an obligation to defend the world against this sort of thing. Wait—wait—did you feel it? Just then? That's it, baby—that's what it feels like when civilization crumbles!

Today I have been

1. A sympathetic art lover. I tried to explain to her about Canadian painters—about how they're as good as American Impressionists and Group of Eight but cheaper. And then she started on about this lovely show she'd just been to at the Florence Griswold by this artist whom you've obviously heard of. She was always so busy and ran her own business for many years and never had time to go. And her mother wanted to go too but always had something wrong. Anyways she finally got around to going but they were renovating the museum so there was only one room open with maybe ten paintings and she was disappointed. But she bought the book anyway, and she'll be going back. When she has time.

2. A cowboy. She was a gangly doll with strawb'ry blond hair an' blue jeans pulled up way too high. He was a crusty ol' critter with one a them fancy blazers 'n prob'ly some kinda yacht club pin-doohickey 'tatched to it. He said 'howdy' as they passed through. Jus lookin, seemed. Had to squint awful hard.

3. A helpful local. I just reserved rooms for August at the Millpond Inn—have you stayed there before? Well of course not because you LIVE here! Well, I'm looking forward to canoeing but I'm really a sailor at heart. What do I sail? Nothing much—used to have a thirty-six foot Catalina, but when you live in Amherst like I do it's too hard to drive two hours to Narraganset just to go out for the day. Is there anywhere around here to go sailing? Really? Where's that?

4. An interested businessman. Well I used to work in the New York State Juvenile Corrections Department for thirty years and I was working with the worst kids in New York City so that means I was working with the worst kids in the world murderers drug dealers rapists and my dad he had this painting by blahblahblah and he gave it to me in 1978 and it was worth only five thousand dollars but I got it reappraised in 1990 for eight but then my lawyer said he seen one of these for ten times that so I took it to this other guy who appraised it for eighty thousand and offered me seventy and I said no but then in 1997 I got in this car accident and almost got killed and had serious brain trauma see here's the scar and I had two daughters to put through college and so I sold it for ninety-five thousand but I wish I hadn't because now it's worth like four hundred thousand yeah I like buying and selling paintings sold some to blahblahblah down the way he's got a blahblahblah that's really nice I live outside of Portland yeah got a nice view of back bay and everything but my wife won't let me hang my science fiction illustrations in my old house I had a room for them but this one's too small and I got this nice big canvas by blahblahblah that I got down in wherever and he was painting things like this all his well nice talking to you bye.

5. A bloggist.

6. Asleep?

heard in the art world

This just in:

Q: What do Cher and the coast of Maine have in common?

A: They're not fucking sonny any more.

(NOTE: This is only funny if said out loud.)

And the blog was without form, and void

Having run out of blog puns, we've moved on to half-assed misquotations of religious texts.

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