Saturday, March 27, 2010

Sepia Saturday: Uncle Will

Last week I introduced you to "Aunt Carrie", the eccentric great-great-aunt who strolled through the neighborhood late in the night. This is her husband, W.R. "Will" McCarty in May 1865. It was a few weeks after Booth shot Lincoln, Will had likely come home alive and victorious from the Civil War.

This "photo" has always fascinated me since my Great Aunt Goldie pulled it out of a trunk in her spider webbed strewn attic in St. Louis. "Oh, would you want that? It's so old, why would anyone want it?" I've never been brave enough to remove the gold framing and glass to get a better scan of the photo. But perhaps it's more fascinating as a series of shadows, a true ghost. There is a youthful grace to young Will's post, what looks like a light beard and his elegant white shirt and what I assume to be a dark velvet jacket. Was he all dressed up as his family greeted him back home after defeating the racist bastards of the South?
It is also just a few years after Leaves of Grass was published and his future wife, Carrie, was about to begin kindergarten.
Although I feel lucky to be the heir and steward to this heirloom, it makes me a bit sad and reflective that although Carrie and Will apparently had a loving marriage and a daughter, they lost her when she was just eight. So any heirlooms went to no direct descendants. I plan to remain a good steward of this and make sure it stays in the family, but it raises questions I've toiled with in recent years about family and bloodlines.I remember my mother and other relatives worrying that I had reached a point in life where I would never produce my own heirs. There was a fear that by being "alone", I would have a lonely life. Yet I look at the story of Carrie and other relatives who had spouses and children that they lost and when alone were so bereft that they didn't know how to survive. I remember my own father after the loss of my mother and wishing I could pass to him the skill of coping while living alone, that being single was not a state of despair. It was a skill I foolishly thought a child could teach a parent, but it never took.
I wonder what Will was thinking about life and the future at the time of the photo, and why he waited another 25 years before marrying Carrie. We know only tidbits about the two of them, some of it blurred by legend and neglect. What has also been a treasure is the inscription inside by my great grandmother (Carrie's sister-in-law, if I remember correctly) and the imprint for Holmes, Booth and Haydens.


Friday, March 26, 2010

Today in Passive-Aggressive Marketing - For Sale or Not for Sale

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Adventures in Celebrity Baby Sitting

Julia Morgan is working on a big deadline. She asked Grace Slick to drop over to help Edith Head to care for Sonny Angel. We have some concerns, but so far all seems to be going well.

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Thursday, March 25, 2010

Theme Thursday: Signs

We have quite a fondness for signs here at Junk Thief and have featured quite a few of them. However, the best of the best was this one we featured here back in December. Wonder if they work in iPhones too? They did wonders on hemming the pants for that Armani suit.

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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Where Can He Be Now?

Exotic Elda in Evanston stares into the abyss, waiting.
Haughty Hedda in Hartford lets heartfelt tears fall onto her henna locks as she waits.
They both wait for his phone call that has yet to ring in the dark.
His wife Wilma in Wilmington waits numbly, a routine that has rendered her weary.Even lovely lonely Lulu lingers in the nursery.
While her baby brother stares in the dark.
Where can that man be? And why does he torture each of them with this waiting?
Is he off on his latest vehicle?
Or was he drawn to some equestrian dalliance? These questions dance aimlessly in the wind like a winning lottery ticket heading toward the storm drain.

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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

MAGPIE TALES: The Plight of the Screw Head

(Our latest contribution to the Magpie Tales)

"Watch what you're doing. You're wasting nails. Can't you even hit the head straight on?"

Though silenced more than 20 years ago, the voice of Clark's father managed to return at the most inopportune time and around the smallest object, even a nail. It was always there in his head, like the precise beat of a hammer on a nail head that Clark never could master. He knew it wasn't about strength but skill, the proper conveyance of weight.

Clang. Clang. Clang. The nails always bend and demured as if shamed by Clark's inept swing of the hammer head.

"See, now you're not only wasting nails, your wasting wood. Here let me look at that. All banged up with your pesky little taps. Let me show you how to do it right."

His father's hammer swung effortless on the nail head, each hit precisely matching nail and hammer heads like two rams crashing as one slowly was pounded into the ground. Clark tried to imitate the swing, holding his hand ever closer to the hammer head as his swings grew ever more inept and he pulled out the nail and threw it on the ground next to the others that looked like a swarm of metal commas.

"It's all about physics, letting the weight of the hammer head working with you not against you."

All these years later physics still left Clark feeling bereft. The mysterious swing of the hammer never making any sense to him and he preferred to fasten things with screws not nails. Years later, when curiosity prompted him to research the invention of the Phillips screw head, he was comforted by this explanation: "The importance of the crosshead screw design lies in its self-centering property." The words eased his mind until the voice of his father came back to him, "Can't you do anything right, you little self-centered screw head?"


Monday, March 22, 2010

Dirty Funk and Heaven's Butterflies

I've been listening to a number of ladies of soul, R&B and (most importantly) funk from the 1970s. Two have been in heavy rotation.

No one defines dirty funk better than Betty Davis, a woman who never got the praise she deserved even back in her hey day. Compared to Betty Davis, the likes of L'il Kim sound like Marie Osmond. Nearly 40 years on, the dirty, down and ready funk of Betty is still a force to be reckoned with. Though "The Lone Ranger" and "They Say I'm Different" are two of my favorites of Betty's, I offer this little ditty instead.

Betty, for those who don't know, got her last name from her brief marriage to Miles Davis and is credited with introducing him to the sounds of Sly and the Family Stone and having played a role in his transformation that bred "Bitches Brew".

Somewhat related is Mary McCreary who was once a part of the Family Stone but is probably best known as Mrs. Leon Russell and collaborated on one of my favorite guilty pleasures of the late 1970s, "Rainbow in Your Eyes" from "The Wedding Album". The cover art to Leon and Mary's follow-up has to be an image that is high on the scale of regretable photos of the 1970s but fantastic all the same.

Betty, by all reports, came upon hard times after the late 1970s but has been fortunate to have her great records of the three decades back reissued. There have been reports of Mary making a comeback and still somewhere here in her native San Francisco. I hope I have the chance to see her sometime in the future.

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Sunday, March 21, 2010

Saint Jean on a Sunday


Saturday, March 20, 2010

Reed and Richmond in the Mission

When local TV anchorman and legend Dennis Richmond retired two years ago, an artist at 24th and Osage set up a shrine outside his window. He has since added Lou Reed. I felt lucky to catch him at work on his next canvas today while walking by.
(Be sure to "embiggen" the photos by double clicking on them. I'm really amazed by the details in the artist's apartment, including the Bud sign and portrait of the woman behind him.)

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From Needy to Kneady

Further evidence that our little neighborhood is quickly becoming the next Valencia street was this week's arrival of the overly cutely named Local (Mission) Eatery. I'll refrain from passing any judgment until I actually try it, but I wonder if American Apparel is next on 24th Street.

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Sepia Saturday: Saved from the Flames

(Our contribution to Sepia Saturday #13. Check out the other entries. Above is our subject unenhanced and below with a bit of tinkering.)

"I hope you're not planning to pull those out of there."

"I certainly hope you weren't planning to throw them into the dumpster."

"Why not. We don't even know who they are."

That was the dialogue between my aunt and me some 35 years ago as she was sorting through boxes in my grandmother's house shortly after she died. It doesn't take much guess work as to who spoke which line.
Well, I still don't know who these are but have some hunches. We have a photo in a similar frame of my Great-Great-Uncle Will who fought in the war with a Union regiment from New Jersey. He died around 1914, and his wife, Carrie was sort of a family legend whose story was often shared at family reunions. She was often called a "Civil War widow" even though she was only four when the war ended. However, when she was 14 and Will was about 35, they married. It was a second marriage for him since his first wife and their baby died during the birth.

My mother had tales of Carrie coming to live in her household in the mid-1930s when she was likely in her late 60s -- considered incredibly ancient back then but about the same age as Barbara Streisand today. Carrie was described with the catchall phrase of the era of being "senile" or "eccentric". But in an era where Social Security was just a germ of an idea, it was not unusual for the "senile widow" to go live with extended family. Carrie had been widowed for at least 20 years by then, and she lost her only child 35 years before that. Who knows if these events led to her declining mental capacity, but I remember my mother telling stories of how she and her friends made the best of the elderly woman who came to share their household.

"I know it sounds horrible, but my friends and I would play dress up and then go ring the doorbell and tell Carrie that we were some of her old school mates," my mother said. "She would be so excited and would prepare tea and pull out the most fancy cookies that our mother wouldn't let us eat. Then when our mother came home, Carrie would tell her about the wonderful visit she had from her old chums. Mother would look at us as if she knew the real story but never took us to task."

There were also stories of Carrie clutching the drapes and wailing during the fireworks on the Fourth of July crying, "The Confederates are crossing the Potomac! They're going to take Washington!"

She was also a night wanderer, and in that day of no one locking their doors, it was not unusual for the neighbors to be startled in the middle of the night as they saw Carrie at the foot of their bed. They would put on their bathrobes and politely escort her back home.

Could that be Carrie and one of her sisters in the photo? Since it was in the same box as Will's photo, I want to believe it is, making it likely from the late 1860s of early 1870s. I'll probably never know, but even if it's a mysterious stranger with no link to our bloodline I am still glad I saved it from the flames.

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Friday, March 19, 2010

It's Blooming French

If there is one country that evokes the arrival of spring, what would it be? I know that Guatemala is often called the "land of eternal spring" which is fitting, but it stays springlike there, there is not so much the triumph of the arrival of spring after a dark, cold winter.

On Tuesday, a friend and I went out to the avenues for dinner and a pilgrimage to Green Apple Books. Without consciously doing it, I was struck by the theme in the items I was carrying up to the register -- two books by Proust, three books about Proust, a biography of Darius Milhaud and the Criterion DVD of Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast. France = Spring. I've long felt that, and I also notice that I've been listening to a lot of Francis Poulenc lately. (I also have a biography of him that I've been re-reading.) His life as always fascinated me in how he was first an enfant terrible and then sort of found a wonderful balance of the two in his later years.

As spring advances, Poulenc seems like the perfect soundtrack for these days, with Milhaud likely following in late April to early May.

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Thursday, March 18, 2010

Hark! Or Is It Herk?


Theme Thursday: The Search for Catalan Breakfast

(Our contribution to Theme Thursday.)

Is there such a thing as Catalan breakfast? Searching my various Catalan and Spanish cookbooks for such recipes lead me to wonder. This Wikipedia definition seems a bit closer to the truth but not quite there:

In the morning: a very light breakfast, consisting of fruit or fruit juice, milk, coffee, or pa amb tomàquet "bread with tomato". Catalans tend to divide their breakfast into two parts: one early in the morning before going to work or study (first breakfast), and the other one between 10:00 and 12:00 (second breakfast).

I was thinking back to my trip to Barcelona in 2007 and my first morning when, typical of my routine, I was up before 6 a.m., had done journal writing and was ready to head out for breakfast by 7 a.m. The hotel doorman looked at me very grumpily as I roused him from his chair and he unlocked doors and gates and gave me a look as if to say "Didn't get enough last night and going out for more?"

When I stepped out into l'Eixample, the sun was up and there were plenty of people on the street and hustle and bustle, mainly coming from bars and discos that were wrapping up the night. I found a cafe open and it was filled with plenty of diners, obviously sobering up just in case they decided to take a nap, shower and saunter into work around 11.

The Barcelona dinner hour of after 9 p.m. still suits me, but I doubt that I will abandon my rise by 5:45 a.m. sensibility. There have to be some compromises in life

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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

MAGPIE TALES: You Would or You Wood

Your half-clasped hand looks so harmless now, its blow released and quickly becoming an ashy memory.
It's hard to believe how different we were when it all began. Your freshly sanded face held such promise, the springs in your legs never creaking. We felt such synchronicity and complementary hues.
I trusted you without question as I grabbed your hand, ready to be led on an unknown path that I felt confident offered unlimited adventure and compassionate companionship.
How soon we found ourselves in the red room, where the taunting led to pushing, the doubts and dread mounted to be confirmed by your splintering words and creaking drama.
And it ends here, on the dark, lonely street of departure. Your final blow released without regret.

(Read more Magpie Tales by following this link.)


Monday, March 15, 2010

Sonny Angel Is Ready for His Close-Up

Having won their long battle in court to gain legal custody of their child, Sonny Angel, Julia Morgan and Edith Head prepare for his coronation and baptism. The sperm donor and godfather, Louis Sullivan, managed to time travel in order to be a part of this joyous day.

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Sunday, March 14, 2010

Hanging with the Kawaii Stray Dogs

Anything and everything kawaii, fun fabulous and bizarre.

Is that the marketing motto for Junk Thief? It could be, but it's actually the mission statement for New People in Japantown. We went there today to buy a birthday present for Junk Thief's niece who like him loves anything and everything J-Pop. While there, we picked up the video Stray Dog of Tokyo, not to be confused Kurosawa's Stray Dog or Peckinpaw's Straw Dogs.
Stray Dog of Tokyo follows photographer Daido Moriyama who never looks through his viewfinder but simply lets the camera do its magic. That's something of a Junk Thief strategy.

Kimono Day 2010 Highlights

It was Kimono Day in Japantown today.
The weather was perfect, and truly felt like spring had arrived.
Here we see your host crossing the bridge above Geary to enjoy the day.The first performance was very graceful and traditional and sweetly heralded the return of spring.

The kimonos were colorful and springlike.
Then came the second performance which was in a word, bizarre. But in a good way.
I particularly liked this creature.
I have no idea what the creature in red was, but he was fascinating.

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Saturday, March 13, 2010

Sepia Saturday: Among the Hmong

Of all the places I have visited, few have fascinated me as much as Vietnam where I travelled in 1992 and 1995, when going there was still a bit "forbidden" and raised eyebrows when I mentioned it.
Here I am on the right, hard at work taking several hundred black and white images (we'll call them sepia for this entry) and a few less hundred slides. I've been sorting through them and other pre-digital images lately as a part of the never ending digitalizing and sorting process.
All of these were taken in Ha Giang Provence on the China border and populated primarily by ethnic minorities that have long fallen out of the economic and social mainstream. It was one of the poorest places I've ever visited, though not as extreme as Haiti.
Sorry that this is more a visual than written entry, but I have written about travels there here earlier and would love to return.

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