Sunday, July 31, 2011

MAGPIE TALE: The Inventor's Curse

This week's elevated contribution to the Magpie Tales.

And it all began with a windmill...
Hosting friends in their Malibu split level with Les Baxter playing on the Hi Fi, Chauncey and Camille Souder seemed a world away from that windmill that inspired Chauncey's grandfather more than 70 years ago, but it was his inspiration that brought them both their elegant privilege...and paranoia.
That paranoia wasn't evident the following morning, as Chauncey served grand marshal of the Rose Bowl Parade.
There were surely hints of the family trauma as little Leamon IV played with his erector set as he stayed at home with the house keeper. Leamon, of course, was named after his great-grandfather the founder of Souder Vertical Transportation, and generally credited with inventing the escalator. The Souders were set for life with Leamon I's invention, but they were also haunted by the "founder's curse".

They were not the first wealthy family to be haunted by the guilt attached to a family fortune. The most famous of those was Sarah Winchester, widow of the inventor of the rifle, who was forever haunted by the ghosts of those who perished by the bullet flying from her husband's invention and piercing their flesh. While Otis would often claim to be the inventor of the escalator or the "moving staircase" it was Iowa immigrant Leamon Souder who truly invented it, later selling his patent to Otis at a tidy profit. Souder claimed that he got his inspiration by seeing windmills on the plains and had a vision for wheels that would take people "into the clouds".
He would soon be able to make a plush life for his young bride Clarisse. While she greatly enjoyed the privilege, trips to Europe and stable of servants, she was plagued by guilt. As was common among wealthy women, Clarisse hired an alienist to address her manic episodes. When both Leamon and Leamon II died from yellow fever in 1901, she suffered from a series of hysterical episodes.
It was shortly after this that she hired her first alienist, Mr. Schnoopers, and his "interpreters" Frank and Edna Kern. Schnoopers advised her to invest $1.3 million dollars in a real estate scheme that was a rouse by the Kerns who disappeared with the cash and Mr. Schnoopers and were never heard from again.

Two months later, another four-legged alienist in a top hat appeared, Count Black Leg Johnson, who spoke to Clarisse directly instead of through human "interpreters".

Cautious but not cynical after her episode with the Kerns, Clarisse entered into her relationship with the Count slowly. He was patient and respectful, asking for nothing from her in return beside an occasional slice of bacon and a bowl of water.

The Count used birch twigs and ash to do readings about what he saw in the future, not just Clarisse's future but the future of humanity. He was very sad to reveal to her that because of the escalator and elevated transport in general, humanity would become fatter and more sedentary into the 20th and 21st centuries. Though elevated transport alone could not be blamed, it was iconic of society being asked to move faster, and jump higher and become less in touch with their bodies.

This was devastating for Clarisse who would become a vegetarian and strong advocate for exercise among the nation's youth. She would travel around the world with the Count where the two would give lectures on the importance of exercise in diet in the industrialized age.
Souder Mansion in Des Moines, would reflect Clarisse's growing eccentricity, and she built an entire wing just for the Count.
Though Otis would eclipse Souder as the elevated transport industry reach greater heights, but the spirit of Clarisse and The Count is surely there each time circulating stairs raise a pair of legs to the next floor.

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Sunday, July 24, 2011

MAGPIE TALE: Bicycle Thieves

This week's take on the Magpie Tales.

When the elegant Cycles Sirius line was introduced in 1891, it brought an elegant new means of recreation and transportation to the world. Unfortunately, this coveted vehicle also introduced a brand of criminal more vile than horse thieves. Here are a few of them.Ferdinand Freund stole more than 300 bikes from upscale families in Vienna. It so traumatized them that Dr. Freud identified a new psychological condition, "the bicycle bereft".
Kadlec "Snookers" Prager terrorized Prague for over six years, reportedly stealing over 1,300 bikes even though he could have afforded to buy them himself since he came from the wealthy Prager steel fortune. Snookers would enter the priesthood just before the Nazis arrived and found redemption through his service in Jamaica where he is said to have given about more than 3,000 bikes to peasants.

Alfonzo Bronstein of Montevideo had a fetish for unusually crafted, odd bikes. Although his haul was rather small at a couple of dozen bikes, these typically hand-made bikes were beloved by their owners who often fell into deep depression.
The Lovoti-Hauschner gang of Washington D.C.'s Adams Morgan district patrolled the Capital Mall and took standard bikes that they retooled into their trademark "stretch" models that they tend sold on the black market.
Mysterious Mikey of San Bernadino, California, was sometimes referred to as the invisible bandit since he was never captured, and there are no photos of him. Especially fond of Stingrays, he managed to nab them as if they vanished into thin air.
Belfast's O'Reilly brothers are still folk heroes, stealing bike that they sold to help fund the IRA. "The Ballad of Cian and Ryan" is still a popular tune in many an Irish pub around the globe.
Jumpin' Jimmy Jernigan was one of the most heartless and brazen of thieves. He would skate into a playground until he gathered a small audience of thieves, and then would wheel away with five to seven bikes at one time. He was finally apprehended in Utah in 1934.

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Saturday, July 23, 2011

Shaka and Audrey Are Sad to See Their Dad Head Out on a Plane

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Thursday, July 21, 2011

Audrey's Daddy Shamelessly Lures Her with Greenies

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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

From the Days of Wine and Analog

Borders is closing, Kafka is going to the e-reader, and book burnings today would probably involve some corruption of silicon chips. But some may not be aware that for decades before we were here, there was the glorious Junk Thief magazine. Here is one of our favorite issues from 1963.

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Monday, July 18, 2011

¡El suspenso es matanza yo! (The Suspense Is Killing Me!)

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Some Films You May Have Missed

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Sunday, July 17, 2011

MAGPIE TALE: The Vicuna Mask

Another edition of the Magpie Tales.

She was swift.

She was swank.
She carried many a secret to the grave.

And beyond.Too many people seek truth as a commodity. There is no truth in this world. Those who seek truth or reality or balance will meet a horrible fate.
Mystery is the true musk of life or the itch that is beneath each being. Every being has an itch. When a dog scratches, we reach for powders or ointments or high powered cures for the scratching that we often mistake for something that is not there, only to realize the itch we are denying.
There is no seven year itch. The itch is eternal. We just deny it. We are too civilized to scratch or itch or spit or seek root vegetables. We write verse and send text messages and get our chakras in order while denying the obvious, the unknown. The unknown is the eternal vicuna in the room. There is no elephant ever in the room. Only a fool would believe that there could be without explaining how it could get through the door unless one lives in a garage.

A vicuna is just large enough to fill the room and fit through the door. It is filled with mystery but never wears a mask. Look, here comes one now, chewing scrub and ready to fill the room.

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Thursday, July 14, 2011

Certain Tools

Are there certain tools you find you absolutely can't live without? These days it's hard to think of there being tools that aren't electronic, and I have my fair share of those. In general, I am drawn to specific products more than brands. I have never caught the whole "cult of the Apple" though I was fond of the original Macintosh a quarter of a century ago. One of my exes foisted the big, ugly iMacs of the early 1990s on me that were all in gaudy tropical colors. Maybe I was projecting my troubles with him onto the computer, but all I know is that it crashed all the time, took up too much desk space and forever put a bad taste in my mouth for Apple products. I've had few iPods which I use less, and I find their stores really glaringly bright and ugly and their staff are always annoyingly cult-like and unable to solve problems and seem to have drunk too much of the Steve Jobs Koolaid.

But I digress...

In his book Hamlet's Blackberry, William Powers devotes an entire chapter to the cult of the Moleskine, as an alternative to the online life. For a long time I avoided them as being too cultish and fadish as well but have come to enjoy them over the past couple of years. The above represent the first six months of 2011. Not journals, per se, but books where I often make collages, paste in photos or articles I want to come back too or just work out words or thoughts beyond the many other journals I keep that range from ones on food, gardening, dogs, yoga, and topics I won't share publicly as well as a traditional journal that I have been keeping consistently since age eight.I have long used yellow tablets for work, but over the past few years have picked up a habit from my sister of using 5" x 7" yellow Cambridge pads and a Sharpie. There is something about the smaller format and the bolder strokes of a Sharpie that helps make tasks written in this format get done. There is more urgency and manageability to points written here, even if they spill on to another page.

My sister and I used these when caring for our ailing parents a few years ago, and there is always a tinge associated with that when I used them, but also a comforting continuity.
On the topic of family and continuity, this pen was given to me by my sister more than 20 years ago, and I think has forgotten giving it to me, but it has come to be known as the pen, the one I use for my daily list of things that matter the most to me. Not tasks, but those things that confirm I have really lived that day.
And then there are the mechanical pencils. Ah, the mechanical pencil. These are something I could write pages of poetry with and about. I would like to do an entire photos essay on them.

The above are but three of my favorite variations, none of them particularly. The top one is from the local art supply store FLAX, the middle one is a generic Papermate one from Walgreens and the last one is from Daiso, the Japanese dollar store. Its compact, sleek design is half the fun of it.

Mechanical pencils have a near sacred appeal to me, perhaps because they can both document and are erasable, a written masala that could be removed with one swipe of a gum eraser.

And then there are razor point markers....well, that's another post.

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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

We Find the Oddest Things

Indeed, we call this place Junk Thief, and that is a spirit we take. But is it junk thievery if it's discarded junk, just waiting to be rescued? And is it junk? Having two rescue basenjis (who are the opposite of junk), I think about all the treasures out there waiting to be rescued. Some of the most curious items in my home are "pound art" and "shelter furniture". I am forever picking up pieces of paper, discarded baskets and other pieces on the street that often go into collages and assemblages.

Shaka and Audrey often weigh in on my finds, and they realize that just as -- sadly -- there are shelter animals that are not adoptable, the same holds true with junk. The morning after the Fourth of July, we happened upon this oddity. Clearly, Audrey was still stressed from the previous night's fireworks, but she was quite clear that this was one that "will probably have to be put down" and suggested that we just move on.Some days, such as this morning, we happen upon things that are so odd and intriguing, you just wish you knew the whole back story. We came across this triptych on a single sheet that boggles the mind. It starts off a bit morbidly. Is that really a dog or a frog? And was the one on the left scratched out because the one on the right was more realistic?

Okay, now the story gets a lot more upbeat, Though much smaller, I can buy that this really is a dog. Though I hate to quibble, it looks like the dog is not enjoying "a" cookie but four. Or maybe he enjoyed one, and the other three were yucky. We may never know for sure.
And, finally, it gets mystical. I buy that it's a billygoat and that those are rocks. He ponders them? And why? And what happens next?

We may never know the conclusion of this story. We may never know who the artist and author were. (I'm sort of assuming they were the same person.) It's all mysterious, but then it may be next summer's blockbuster movie. But then, I've never been able to stay awake through an entire Star Wars movie and fell asleep during the opening credits of one of the Spidermen movies on a flight to Newark. However, I can sit through five hour documentaries about 12th century Catalan art without blinking an eye.

We do find the darndest things in the Mission.

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Get Him on the Line

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Monday, July 11, 2011

MAGPIE TALE: Move Over Matisse

This week’s contribution to the Magpie Tales.

When Thomas Hart Benton’s People of Chillmark was unveiled in 1920, it was universally praised as being one of his greatest works — a reputation it continued to hold until more than 30 years later when it was discovered by…the people of Chillmark. News, especially news from the art world, traveled much more slowly back then. Needless to say, the populace of Chillmark was outraged, and they felt something needed to be done to repair their reputation.

A community meeting went on for hours with angry outbursts, frustration and people wanting to find a way to track down Benton. This all seemed to go nowhere until Edna Turkinberry stood up and said, “The best way to fight fire is with fire. Let’s paint portraits of the real people of Chillmark!” Edna had taken a correspondence course in painting from an Adventist liberal arts school in Nebraska and was prepared to teach the citizens of Chillmark on how to become artists themselves.

It sounded like a daunting task in a town where few knew the difference between pizza and Picasso, but all admired the sensible self portrait of Edna that hung in her living room. She distributed flyers around town asking people to submit a sample work.

No one was prepared for the volume and quality of work that soon flooded in. Luellen Luis’ portrait of Snoopy was just one example, and soon Edna realized that this would have to be a juried class, and she let in only 12 of the top artists who submitted work. When the Courier-Gazette interviewed her, she said, “In a nutshell, all I can say is that Chillmark has talent.” The classes went all spring, and by the arrival of summer, Edna announced that she would be mounting a show right after Labor Day and she planned to send a personal invitation to Thomas Hart Benton himself so he could see what an injustice he had done to the good people of Chillmark.

The show was mounted at the dining hall of the Cranberry Cottages Lodge and Resort out on Route 17. It was clearly the event of the season. Chillmark’s citizenry came out in droves, and the line to get in backed up nearly half a mile. Visitors were first greeted by a stunning portrait of leading local equestrian Elvira Itchmite and her mare Inky, painted by Rhoda Rashburn Richie.

A serene portrait of retired librarian Agnes Oogleston captured both her grace and fondness for the glorious flora of Chillmark. It even included her wearing her favorite pair of Thom McCanns.

Single mother Tina Travisa charmed everyone with a gloriously vibrant portrait of her with her delightful daughter Shirley. Shirley was a remarkable and bright girl who would graduate high school at age 12 and would win scholarships to Harvard and Cambridge before dropping out at 14 to join an early punk band called the Stool Samples. She would later go on to found her own band, Shirley Pimple and the Pus Cats, that shocked not only the people of Chillmark but even the most radical members of the punk scene. By age 21 she was married, had two daughters and worked the evening shift at a TGIF Friday’s in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

But the sensation of the show was the self portrait by Rhonda Razzdale. Long considered the “Venus of Chillmark” with her swan like neck, flaxen hair and eyes that were once called “the color of a Tuscan summer sky” Rhonda captured her beauty on canvas with an unexpected intensity. Standing at over nine feet high, this portrait left many people stunned, including David Dinkeldorf, an art critic with the Boston Globe who stood in front of it for nearly an hour, his jaw dropped and his eyes transfixed. After taking it in, he silently exited, not saying a word to anyone.

The next day his opinion was heralded in three words at the top of the arts section: “Move over Matisse”. In his review of the show, he praised all of the artists but spotlighted Razzdale as “single-handedly pushing art forward with one painting into the 21st or maybe 22nd century.” Calls soon came in from the Met in New York, museums in Paris and Buenos Aires. That was until they actually saw the work. The following week, Dinkeldorf completely recanted and said his review was written just before he came to terms with a long-standing substance abuse addiction and that he was heading upstate for treatment. “Honestly, I don’t even remember going to that show,” he confessed. “It all came after a 48 hour binge, and I probably would have been charmed by the stains in my kitchen sink.”

The show continued for another month, but the sizzle had obviously diminished. Most of the paintings ended up being sold in garage sales or church auctions. All, that is, except for Razzdale’s portrait which she held on to and still considers to be a masterpiece.

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Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Sour of the Now

There is no such thing as the present tense.

It is an illusion and delusion.

We mistake the present for a series of tableaux

Revealed through the sliding doors of the what was and the hope that we will be alive in a decade.

These two poles are the only true time. We are forever wedged and pulled

Between the unrealized dreams of youth and the undefined

Fate of the future. There is no Now and it has no Power.

A balloon ride over Catalonia in 1877 may have been experienced by

Only a handful but is present as we breath, our nostrils taking in the

Microscopic debris of pterodactyls and giving oxygen to 31st century

Nieces and nephews granded to the 72nd power.

We hear a bird, we see the milky outline of the moon in the early evening sky

And we are uncertain, unwilling to commit to whether this is reality or the dance

Of history and fate. Any lie, told carefully over time, will erase all that

Came before it and become reality.

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