Friday, July 31, 2009

What Isn't Great About Depression?

One topic that is rarely discussed since it is still so volatile today is the level of depression during the Great Depression. The Princeton Institute for the Chronically Bummed Out (PICBO) was not established until 1948 when a branch of the Cabot family (the North Carolina annex of the family who owned Cabot Cabbage and Kiwis) funded it since they didn't want their money going to the tobacco financed Duke University. So there is no hard data on whether or not there was a rise in Depression related depression.

The institute was the first success in the Carolina Cabots previously disastrous legacy in philanthropy and monument building. Hoping to amplify their contribution to the economy of their hometown Lynchdale, North Carolina, in 1926 they commissioned a 70-foot bronze cabbage in front of the court house. Designed by Pierre Parchement-Diaz, it was prone to rusting and had a very poorly welded base. During a 1928 rainstorm, it broke loose, rolled five blocks down Robert E. Lee Avenue and finally crashed through the front wall of the Cracker Box Orphanage. Although all the children were away attending a screening of Birth of a Nation, the potential scale of slaughter did not go unnoticed and the cabbage was replaced by a more appropriately modest fountain with a cherub urinating into the mouth of a Tennessee Sea Bass.

Hoping to restore their image and show their altruistic concern for children, the Cabots funded an enormous amusement park on the north side of town with a ferris wheel that resembled Scarlet O'Hara's skirt lifted sideways, log rides, a three headed llama and the educational "Our Confederate Heritage" museum. Choosing to be low key about putting their own name on the park, the Cabots opted to borrow from the name of their own city and called it Lynch Land.

When the northern press pointed out that some parts of southern society might be less than enamored with the name, they rushed to rechristen the place as The Heart of Dixie weeks before opening. But the rushed revamp didn't work, and opening day on December 7, 1941, brought paltry crowds, and the place eventually was retooled as the largest salvage yard in the Carolinas.

Matriarch Cornelia Sidwell Cabot had long wanted to support an institute that documented the impact of depression, having grappled with it for years. She saw a therapist for more than 30 years who finally concluded that the main reason for her chronic blue demons was due to the undeniable fact that she was "a royal bitch".

Though rarely talked about publicly during the 1930s, depression was ever the eternal elephant in the room. Confusing the issue greater was whether The Depression and depression were the same thing. Sort like not knowing if funny ha ha and funny strange are the same or feeding off each other.

Lithium did start showing up on the black market during these years, but there was also a sometimes uneasy celebration of bum and hobo culture. No one lauded this more than radio star Mable Cohn, known to millions of children as Aunty Depressant who had her 20 minute broadcast on NBC at 4:40 every weekday just before the national news. Aunty Depressant would read happy stories about hobos hopping the rails and eating rusty nails and worm stew. "When things are scarce, we learn to improvise," Aunty Depressant would advise. "Ain't no reason for worries; just whistle your woes away!"

When television arrived in the wake of the Second World War, Mable Cohn's career suffered greatly as her wart infested nose didn't transfer easily to the new visual medium, and her bromides were equally out of step with the new times. She did manage to land a few small supporting roles in lower budget film noirs, typically playing tough spirited land lady or crusty bar maids in run down waterfront gin joints.

Mabel did eventually go on to find modest success in television in the 1960s doing voice overs for commercials, primarily for dog food, motor oil and as the distinctive "Lava soap lady" with her now raspy, gravelly, gender ambiguous baritone.

In an odd irony, in 1970 Mabel and Cornelia Cabot were seated next to each other in coach on a Branniff flight from Bakersfield to Reno. Oblivious to the others identity, these now quite elderly women exchanged tips on which hotel had the best prime rib buffet and which slot machines they felt were rigged.

Cornelia died in July of 1972 from a heart attack when she witnessed Sammy Davis, Jr. hugging Richard Nixon on the campaign trail. In a tragic turn of events, Mabel died the following January during the Nixon inaugural when she was trampled by a mob of "Dick Addicts", the Nixon youth corps, overcome in a frenzy as they caught a glimpse of the commander in chief waving from his limo.

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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Interactive Wednesday: Sittin' Around, Hangin' Out, Doin' Our Thang

What do you think is happening in today's tableaux? (Use a second sheet if needed.)

We suggest that you embiggen the image. It's kinda special

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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Tonight on the Fabric Channel

As part of its award winning series Wild Weaves: Behind the Cloth, The Fabric Channel Worldwide (FCW) presents: Gabardine - A Stitch Apart.

1654 - After their ill-fated peach wine venture the previous summer that mutated a stomach virus that claimed 834 lives, the Brothers of Gabardina start experimenting with local cottons grown on the slopes and sheep (whom they previously did not know provided services other than companionship).

1658 - Following several awkward false starts, the brothers put on a fashion show of their new robes that draws attendees from the five surrounding valleys.

1661 - Two years of great success and demand for the fabric come crashing to a halt when locusts deplete the season's cotton harvest, and the monks begin making box wine. Die Schwestern von Bitternberg, an obscure Austrian alpine order, buy their few remaining fabrics, spinning wheels and looms.
1813 - Having created what is now the third largest industry in the nation, gabardine must now be used in all Austrian flags.

1893 - Dr. Sigmund Freud is photographed by the International Herald Tribune in a gabardine suit.

1903 - Considered an odd cross between the salsa, Turkey Trot and the Can-Can, La Gabarina floods from the obscure dance halls of Havana to the cabarets of New York, Shanghai and Berlin.

1921 - Though an initial hit with its guests, the felted gabardine sheets at Sonoma County's Bohemian Club cause President Harding to break out in hives and experience shortness of breath. When he dies suddenly months later, speculation about the role of gabardine is whispered throughout the chambers of Washington, D.C.

1928 - In between acting in and directing films at UFA, Leni Riefenstahl secretly begins working on Gabardiniad: Shroud of the Fatherland.

1936 - Hidden cameras at the World Fair are installed by MIT, capturing the weave of men's trousers and jackets. More than 85% are gabardine.
1939 - A test screening of a short excerpt from Gabardiniad in Hamburg sends the crowd into an anti-Semitic fury. Goebels writes a check for seven million marks for the completion of the film now rumored to be seven hours long.

1943 - As the war rages on, desperate families trade milk and chicken ration stamps 10 to 1 for the precious gabardine stamps that also start showing up on the black market.

1945 - Having word of the Allied forces advancing towards Berlin, Riefenstahl burns all prints of Gabardiniad. When captured in her pied-à-terre she is found listening to Kate Smith and working on a script about the adventures of two Alpine fauns. She claims she had been so engrossed in her work for the past six years she had no idea that there had been a war going on and thought it was just her noisy Jewish neighbors arguing.

1954 - As a part of the "Let's Just Get Over It" campaign, President Eisenhower is photographed for the cover of The Saturday Evening Post behind the wheel of a Volkswagen drinking a Heineken and wearing a gabardine suit.
1972 - While being photographed on a visit to the White House with his sister Karen, Richard Carpenter is visibly alarmed in some photos when President Nixon grabs the seat of his black cotton-polyester gabardine trousers and purrs, "Oooh, what a nice tight blend."

1977 - Famously headstrong Barbra Streisand teams with diminutive Paul Williams to pen the love theme for the critically lambasted yet bizarrely lucrative remake of A Star Is Born. Originally titled "Gabardine," Streisand finally relinquishes to retitle it "Evergreen". Though smiling upon winning Oscars and Grammys, she is heard mumbling, "I liked it a lot better when it was named after that sexy fabric and not that #$#@(*&$ tree!"

1979 - Clocking in at over 18 minutes, the tune "Gabardine" recorded by Belgian chanteuse Pikki tops the dance charts in Ibiza, Fire Island, Tokyo and Paris for six solid weeks. Speaking virtually no English and pitifully little French, Pikki repeats the single word "Gabardine" with such sexual gusto that the tune is banned by the Vatican, the LDS and the emerging Christian Coalition.

2007 - A pristine print of Gabardiniad is discovered in Tierra de Fuego. Criterion Collection announces that it will release a 32-DVD reissue in time for Christmas 2012.

Coming in August on the Fabric Channel - Poplin: The Populist Silk

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Saturday, July 25, 2009

This Baby Looks Like It Can Do It

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Thursday, July 23, 2009

What Are You Looking At? Nuthin'!

There are movies, and then there is Rent-a-Cop.

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The Skinny on Manhattan

Manhattan is the center of the thinnest county in the state of New York, according to this article in today's Times. And they say hard-hitting investigative reporting is dead!

The Times has certainly come a long way over the past 40 years, I am usually not one to shriek and point at mild comments that I consider to be homophobic. However, I must say I was given pause when I read this paragraph:

"Beyond that, Manhattan is the national capital of disparate subcultures of the skinny: Aspiring models. Nightclubbing hipsters. Gay men with the time and money to chisel their physiques at the gym. Park Avenue society matrons who remain preternaturally slender into their 70s, the 'social X-rays' satirized by Tom Wolfe."

I can't say that I have an excess of time and money on my hands and, even if I did, that I would necessarily invest it the way this article suggests. And to think Park Avenue society matrons are maligned in the same paragraph.

Then again, I live in San Francisco where I do see my fair share of overweight people but probably not what you'd see in rural Mississippi. How's the waistline in your zip code?

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

What We're Seeing in the Mission

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The Proper Preposition Makes All the Difference

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The Princess and the Tom

There is always a bit of theater and drama here at the Junkplex.
Bow, sometimes called the Duchess of York Street, thinks she's a bit higher up on the scale of royalty as her "charmed to meet you" limp paw demonstrates.
Lately, Sam, the peeping Tom from next door, has become braver about spending time in Bow's garden though never brave enough to be out there while she's there. Fortunately the two have yet to meet face to face.

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Sunday, July 19, 2009

When One Name Is Enough

Much as I adore women with a single, dramatic name, I must admit it's been a downward spiral from Nazimova to the horror that is Fergie over the past nine or ten decades. But this morning I was lucky to see some of the best ones of the previous century when I joined Bryce Digdug and went to the Richard Avedon exhibit at SFMOMA. (There was also one for Ansel Adams and Georgia O'Keefe, but I don't go to museums to see postcards.)

At first I was sort of luke warm about going. And the exhibit started with his most recent works that were interesting in their own way, including the political portraits that often looked like mugshots with expressions of deers caught in the headlights. Only in San Francisco would a father point to a portrait of Henry Kissinger and tell his four-year-old daughter, "That man was one of the most horrible war criminals of the 20th Century, and he is still at large!"

Things kept getting better as we made our way to the increasingly older portraits until we arrived at his 1950s fashion portraits. There were Dovima, Verushka, Twiggy -- those great women of single titular identities.

There was also Suzy Parker whom I first fell in love with in The Best of Everything where she played a boy named Gregg. In case you've never heard it, here is the Beatles (who looked great in 1967 Avedon portraits) tribute to her.

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What We're Seeing in the Mission

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Friday, July 17, 2009

Meditations in an Emergency

Oddly, I fiercely remember my first moment on a stage, 47 years ago in a first grade play during the Cuban-US missile crisis. Inevitable doom loomed, something that seems true now. Yet, I think our class had no clue what the reality was. We were to put on a global, musical kaleidoscope of the world. Darla Cosgrove was the tiny geisha from Kyoto. Danny Hardage was the gaucho from the Argentinian pampas. I got preposterous on the Bosphorus.

My mother made me harem paints, and I constructed my own headgear out of red felt and cardboard. Oddly, I recall every line I sang on the stage:
I am a little Turkish boy,
My home is near a missile base.
I wear a fez upon my head.
And with Russia I keep pace

Some memories, I wish, would just fade. I only want to recall that any emergency eventually dims with or without meditation.

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Imagine My Horror When a Night on the Town Turned Ugly

On top of that, their building in Baltimore is on Gay Street.

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Thursday, July 16, 2009

Gentrification Still Not Fully Complete

The St. Francis Fountain around the corner was picked as one of the new Google Favorite Places complete with that big tea kettle. And, true to the classy tone of this neighborhood, it got tagged within 24 hours of being installed.

Ah, well. At least now they will have a new target instead of the Sushi Bistro going in next door.

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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Just Get On With It

I've been watching episodes of Mad Men, Season Two back to back, absorbing an era when people dressed incredibly well, lived and played hard, died by the time they were 62, kept their emotions to themselves, and did not go to 12-step programs or at least did not talk about them in public. If something horrible happened in their lives they would act as if it never occurred and would just get on with it. Has our society advanced? Some questions don't need to be answered.

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Yes, But What About Bow?

Since several people ask now and then, I thought I'd share an update about Bow. We've been asked to guest blog the first Wednesday of the month for BRAT (Basenji Rescue and Transport). Here is our first entry.

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Monday, July 13, 2009

Can You Hear the Difference Between K and G?

The oddest thing about the passage of time and the accumulation of experience is not what is forgotten but what is remembered. For some unknown reason, this morning I started thinking about Professor Alfons Fritz who taught my course on 19th and early 20th Century European theater. Besides reading every play of Shaw that semester, we also studied and read all the major Scandinavian playwrights of that era who were, fortunately, less prolific. I think we covered Chekov during one intense two week block in February.

Professor Fritz was fond of quoting some of his worst student essays in his 45 years of teaching. One of his favorites was a junior musing on T.S. Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats: "Cats, cats. They is cats everywhere."

His all time favorite was when he gave an impromptu assignment, verbally asking the class to write a 300 word reflection on the contributions of Henrik Ibsen to literature. A student wrote: "Not only does Henry Gibson manage to play a great straight man on Laugh In, he is also one of the most accomplished poets of the late 20th century."

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Sunday, July 12, 2009

Fancy Running into You Here, Leonard Maltin

Yesterday I caught two films at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival -- The Wild Rose (1932) and and Underworld (1927).

The Wild Rose is supposedly one of China's most popular films of all time, and it was not surprisingly very nationalistic but surprisingly filled with a lot of giddy slapstick. It also broke from the norm by having a female lead who was a strong-willed country girl who was anything bu fragile but cute and a male lead who was pretty, artsy and cultured. There were some great art deco sets in plush homes of 1930s Shanghai.
Underworld by contrast featured very manly man leads whose names were Buck and Bull. The fourth feature of Josef von Sternberg, it had plenty of characteristic excess and was an example of why blonde women did not come into vogue until the advent of sound. Is there something about peroxide that simply didn't mix with melodramatic gestures and inter-titles.

Von Sternberg has always been one of my favorite examples of glorious pretense and self invention. Sometimes I think about following his lead and renaming the blog Dieb von Trödels.

As always it was a well presented slate of films, and there were several I wished afterwards that I'd seen. This year, I passed perennial speaker and viewer Leonard Maltin several times. There's something odd about seeing such a familiar face standing in line with the masses to wait for his turn in the men's room.


Friday, July 10, 2009

Answers to Questions Youth Must Understand

Last night I watched Zabriskie Point for about the twelfth time. I catch it every three to four years, and it seems a little less pretentious to me each time. It played an important part in my formative years, like something peaked at through a key hole since my parents would not respond to my demands that they take me to see it. (My amazingly hip grandmother, who took me to see The Boys in the Band the same year, would not cave in on this one.)

One afternoon in 1969, I came home from middle school to find the above copy of Look magazine with the image of Mark Frechette on the right answered a question that hadn't been all that mysterious to me anyway. It certainly cleared up any doubt about why I had no interest in going to the honor society banquet with Darla in my civics class.

Frechette is not exactly a one hit wonder since he did two other movies afterwards, albeit in Italy. As far as I know, he's the only guy to star in a movie and then be put in jail for holding up a bank to garner funds for a commune. He died in prison at 27 when 150 pound barbells he was lifting choked him to death. Someday I will have to track down the documentary on his life, Death Valley Superstar.

Two years later, I moved on from my obsession with Mark Frechette to Mark Spitz. (It's fittingly ironic that the below clip is from the same episode of the Dick Cavett Show that I posted a couple of weeks ago.)

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Thursday, July 09, 2009

What Was Your Aunt Barbara Like?

Thanks to the trail of two Joe bloggers, I am glad to meet Aunt Barbara. It's eerie that not only did I have an Aunt Barbara but just as Barbara has a sidekick named Helen that too was my mother's name. Further evidence that the best drag queens are in suburbia.

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Wednesday, July 08, 2009

San Francisco's Breakfast of Champions

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One Man and the Clothing of Many Women

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Tip of the Day

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Monday, July 06, 2009

What We're Seeing in the Mission

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