Thursday, December 31, 2015

Saturday, December 26, 2015

dark humor to lighten the mood

Harhar! Check out The Christmas Card, a cutout animation made by Terry Gilliam in 1968.  He photocopied Victorian cards to make the film for the show Do Not Adjust Your Stocking.

Friday, December 25, 2015

peculiar perpendicularity!

This amazing aqueduct that goes over Cooks Creek is one of nine along the Delaware Canal. It is at Lock No.21 in a series of 23 lift locks which had let coal-carrying boats go from Bristol to Easton, PA.  The entire 60 miles of the canal and mule path is now Delaware Canal State Park.

Friday, December 18, 2015

remedy for aching ears

If you've ever had an earache that won't go away, it could be from an issue that isn't in your ear at all. Under stress, you can grit or grind your teeth without knowing it and make your jaw ache at its hinge.  To fix this, say nah nah nah (rhymes with doo-wop music group Sha Na Na) out loud, raising and lowering your lower jaw over and over.  The motion and vibration of the intonation loosens the muscles and cured my month-long "earache" after a day of chanting.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

love those postcards

My friend Steve Angelique is quite adventurous and has traveled to some crazy nooks and crannies on this planet.  He worked as a professor of English in Korea followed by several years in Japan as a columnist and traveling lecturer in the Philippines, Taiwan, Thailand and Korea. He studied engineering at Norwalk Polytech, then Anthropology at Harvard doing fieldwork in South America, and later Professional Writing at UMass. Steve tells great stories both verbally and written, and I've had the privilege of reading most of the thirty-five chapters of his travel book, Postcards from Planet X: Around the World in 80 Months. Here below is the first chapter, or postcard, from a list including other intriguing titles like "Lost Peoples of the Clouds",  "Bees, Bats & Samurai", and "The Train that Wouldn't Stop."  

Postcard #1

One night in Bangkok makes a hard man humble
One night in Bangkok and the world's your oyster The bars are temples but the pearls ain't free You'll find a god in every golden cloister And if you're lucky then the god's a she I can feel an angel sliding up to me
(Murray Head)

LOVE HOTEL AT THE END OF THE WORLD
I stumbled onto a nice outdoor bar—just a rectangle, stools with a thatched roof. That’s stumbled as in a ten-inch piece of the concrete sidewalk was missing and it was all I could do to keep from splatting prostrate on the ground like a mosquito on a windscreen. The inelegance no doubt forgiven, the bartender looked to see how many broken bones I had.
“It been that way for years,” she bleeped matter-of-factly.
A sign reading LUCKY’S BAR looked down at me as I managed my recovery to dignity and an upright position. The bar had just opened up and the bartender carefully splashed small amounts of water around the perimeter, as is the custom, to deter animistic entities of some sort, presumably evil spirits.
Singha Gold, the best beer available (and easily better than the Saigon beer I’d had yesterday in Hue), ran less than half a Euro, about 75 cents American. Most stools were soon taken and I could hear some of the patrons speaking. I recognized the language—German. I nodded hello, but said nothing since I had never bothered to learn German. I nursed that cool Singha in the insufferable afternoon heat as if it had cost 20 bucks, and played with my cameras and lenses.
A sorry young man, whose cheap Mekong Whiskey smell preceded him, bothered a German speaker and then passed behind an alter of beer and spirits bottles to bother me. Using fair English he showed me several Rolex watches on a velvet board and another two on his wrists. He yapped on about a bargain, $250 for a new Wrorex, blah, blah.
“I didn’t know the Rolex company had a salesman in this area,” I said with no attempt to hide the sarcasm.
“Yes, yes, Wrorex best watch…”
“See this?” I said showing my wrist as German eyes watched to see if I’d fall for his scam, “Tells time perfectly, and good to 300 meters underwater.”
“Oh, Mister, you need Wrorex too!”
“Special discount price... today only!”
“Today only? Wow. No wonder this place is called Lucky’s!”
Tiring of the game, I spoke what I expected to be the last of our conversation, “Look, buddy, it would only tell me the same time I already know.”
Discouraged, but not yet defeated, and with not only his demeanor, but now his hand pushing on my shoulder, he proceeded to explain about various dials and diamonds and things on the watches. It crossed my mind to teach him a lesson. To know when to fold ‘em, as it were. But I pitied him his sorrowful lot in life enough to put up with him a bit longer. (Besides, there were witnesses—although they might have clapped.)
“Set here this one to alarm when rains will come…”
He did finally give up and move on, but a very young girl selling gum replaced him. I bought a few packs from her. In this sort of arrangement I knew, she worked for someone, as an indentured servant of one sort or another, and would have had a quota to sell. She worked her way around the bar and upon finishing signaled someone up on an elephant passing by.
“Hey, what’s your name?” I called out.
“Moon, I am.”
I put two of the packs of chewing gum back into her hand, curling her fingers around them. “Here, I don’t like gum so much. You sell these two again and keep the money for yourself.”
With a shocked look on her face that graduated to contemplation and then to a smile, she tucked away the gum and disappeared into the zigzagging chain saw-driven tuk-tuks and dust clouds of the street. She likely would have a tough life here with no education and a cleft pallet as well. In later times, passing through this way, I learned she was 12 years old, and we did the same buy-give back routine every time.
One or two at a time, customers wandered off. That was not surprising, but no one else came to take their places, which was surprising. By five local time, I was the last person.
“You goes home soon thinks me. Rain-rain come,” the bartender warned in fluent Tai-glish, “Come soon-soon.”
Feeling empowered by the cleverness of how I handled the hawkers, I chuckled, and pulled out my collapsible umbrella. She just laughed and began putting things away. She then pulled down some sort of palm frond shutters and began roping them in position.
Suddenly the banal sky switched to full black. Thunder roared in earnest. I stood up to head for my hotel and opened up my umbrella against the angry gods. People ran about the street as if some medieval dragon was about to attack. And then it came--not mere rain, but an avalanche of water coming down like nails. My umbrella was summarily destroyed and not a square centimeter of me remained dry.
I soldiered my way through the darkness worried mostly about my cameras. “No photos—no story,” my editor at Essence magazine had made a point of saying.
My hotel was only three blocks away, but the streets were flooded and black water, moving like a river, reached my knees. As the rains pissed down on me, maybe I should have bought that Rolex that would alarm when the rains were coming, I thought. But where is hindsight when you need it?
*
Ralph was a bit unusual. He was a jet-setter from Belgium who always traveled alone. If there was a party somewhere in the world, he’d be there. With old money in the bank, he never had to work. He drank a lot, sailed a lot, and chased pretty ladies around a few bars from time to time. Wherever Ralph was, the action was almost as if he was a magnet attracting it.
Ralph travels between the famous Amsterdam speakeasies and Carnival in Rio, to hot air balloon launches in New Mexico, to the summer Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, to New Year celebrations in the streets of Hong Kong—anywhere there’s a bash worth attending. In his own words, he is a serial partier. One time Ralph hooked up with a sexy young half Japanese girl at a beer garden somewhere in Bangkok and flew her south for the notorious full moon party on the tropical island resort of Samui (which ironically means cold island in Japanese). He bought her ticket and drinks and focused on her, and she on him. There was quite a commotion in his hotel room subsequently, however, when he discovered she was a (hermaphroditic) lady-boy. Lady-boys are considered by Thais to be the third sex. Ralph, however, had planned on her only being the second sex. He adamantly refuses to relate further details of the matter and tends to blush red at the very mention of anything to do with it.
I met him in Bangkok in an underground after-hours club run, curiously, by Thai policemen. (So that’s what they do with the bribes!) It was the only happening place around that opened up at 3 AM when most other places were closing up. How the hell did Ralph know about it from Belgium? Come to think of it, how did I know about it? I don’t really remember.
It was my first time here and I wrote out a handful of postcards at breakfast around 9AM. I asked someone who spoke a bit of English where the post office might be found. She pointed down the street saying “Five minutes,” just as Bajans quote distances only in time, never in blocks as New Yorkers do or kilometers as in most of the world. But on balance, it usually works out just as well.
I pointed to my watch and tapped it. “What time does it open?”
“Thai time,” she replied.
“What?”
I walked along the street as close to the buildings as possible. This was not as easy as it sounds since there was clutter, groups of loiterers, and an abundance of street vendors clogging up the works. I tried to be invisible, but saw that I’d already been discovered. All the usual suspects would be on me fast.
Tuk-tuks shot at random angles across the busy, already-dangerous street.
“Ride Mister? Ride Mister?”
Pregnant with urgency, they were all but fist fighting with each other to get to me first. Even in my short time here I had come to really dislike these reckless, rapacious scoundrels. A common scam is the quotation for a price from point A to B when the ride begins. When it ends, however, the price is higher—often double, and they argue that it’s what was quoted. The only way I found to avert this illicit fate is to write down the quote as it’s given and show it to the driver. Then leave it in plain view so that there won’t be an accusation of having altered it.
“No. Get lost.”
I had said no and kept up my walking pace, but they followed along like so many puppy dogs.
“Ride mister? Best price in Thailand!”
I imagined a whole world filled with shoddy tuk-tuk taxies and me the only potential customer on the planet. How lucky I was to be offered a ride at the lowest price in the whole country!
“Ride mister?”
“No thanks.”
“Hey, where you go, mister? I take you.”
What a persistent one he was. “No. but fuck you very much for the offer.”
Finally they spotted another hapless victim and in a mushroom cloud of two-cycle CO and grayish dust, they were off. And I had come the specified two blocks through the tuk-tuk gauntlet. And the post office? There was no post office.
I couldn’t speak any Thai, but I figured showing the unstamped addressed postcards and a big question mark expression on my face might get the job done. It did.
“Yes, yes, po-offiiiii you like?”
“Yes,” I made the standard Southeast Asian symbol for thank you with all my fingers pointing to my nose in an inverted V shape.
“Thai time,” she said.
“What?”
“Thai time.”
“What the...?”
This got me nowhere fast, so I walked around a bit hoping to spot the place. I asked a young man selling T-shirts on the sidewalk. After struggling through a good deal of back and forth on whether or not I wanted to buy a T-shirt at the “best price in Thailand,” we finally got to my question. But the answer was still Thai time.
Finally, in a triumph of success, I made a courageous business deal that might make even Donald Trump envious, I would buy a T-shirt and its seller would bring me to the stubbornly elusive post office. After receiving my shirt and paying, plus two sticks of gum, the young man picked up a very long pole with a hook on the end. He proceeded to snatch and remove shirts hanging from a security fence across the dingy face of the building. Underneath all the shirts was the post office, all closed up.
“Why is it closed?” I demanded.
“Maybe went fishing. Po-offiii people likes river caafish.”
“Catfish? And you’re not kidding are you?”
“Open up Thai time.”
Most often, and whenever not otherwise specified, things happened Thai time, which, in actual practice simply means sometime during the decade. It was thus I learned about the relaxed view of time that people here enjoy as a lifestyle. Often, amongst themselves, they set times of appointments specifying Thai time (whenever), American time (close to as agreed), or Swiss time (at a precise time on a clock—to the second).
The next morning, life seemed back to normal—or more precisely, back to usual. Normal is not a word likely ever come to mind about this planet. With an early hotel breakfast quickly squared away, I began the trip. Scheduled first, visit a gigantic Buddha in a coastal jungle spot east near Cambodia, then leave Thailand by sea and sneak into Cambodia to photo yet another big Buddha. The tricky thing was that to be a foreigner caught by remnants of the Khmer Rouge government with a visa stamp from the new government, could mean execution. The penalty the other way around would be just a fine and a scolding of bad words probably in some indiscernible language.
And these remnants of the Khmer Rouge soldiers are to be taken with grim sobriety. They must be regarded as no less brutal than their earlier “comrades.” While spending much time just being afraid hardly seemed helpful, I sure wasn’t going to eat lunch with any of them.
Three Khmer Rouge guerillas dined pleasantly with UN peacekeepers before opening fire at the end of the meal and killing three Bulgarians in what the United Nations called a “cold-blooded” execution. The method was reminiscent of Khmer Rouge purges ...when cadres considered to be traitors were recalled to the capital for “meetings,” then feted with banquets and gifts before being surprised with execution at the end of the meal (Wurlitzer, Hard Travel to Sacred Places 124).
My Thai boatman held a likable enough persona although ever nervous about pirates should we go too far north or too far out. He kept trying to get me to speak Thai, but I knew not a single word in that language. Apparently he had worried about pirates enough to know that word in English quite well. I discovered he knew Japanese. He claimed, in Japanese, to have worked on a Japanese merchant ship which traveled between Bangkok and Kyushu. Since his Japanese seemed to be good, I believed his story and we managed well enough, although without the ease or precision either of us would have commanded in our respective native languages. There were words he used that I didn’t understand and figured them to be variously curse words and slang. I learned my language not from sailors, but in classrooms. Consequently, I knew none of the extra color he was adding.
I wasn’t too worried about pirates, but instead about the condition of the boat itself. I couldn’t imagine any authority allowing the shaky thing to be registered back in the world. He also had an annoying habit of picking his crooked nose whenever he thought I wasn’t looking. This went on for hours.
“This isn’t a boat. It’s a damn piece of driftwood!” I said in English (not knowing how to say it in Japanese).
His eyes spoke a lack of understanding. “Daijobu,” (It’s okay, never mind).
To which he responded in English, “You a man after me own heart.”
The origin of his Irish-style English caught me by surprise. Although I never found out where he acquired it, it seems fair to presume he’d spent some time with, or working for, an Irishman. In any event, he proceeded to use the phrase at every opportunity.
“You, man after me own heart!”
In the distance the breaking of fish above the water caught my eye. I first thought tuna, but the up and down and again motion held true to dolphin style.
“Dorupin desu,” stated the boatman confidently. I hadn’t known the Japanese word for dolphin, but could see it was the same word as in English, simply adapted to the Japanese pronunciation style. “Tsuri mi eeii dokoro,” (good fishing) he continued. At first I thought he meant we should go fishing for the dolphins, a no-go for me, but more likely he meant the area was good for fishing generally (and perhaps the presence of dolphins correlated with fish being there.) His Japanese was very good but vagueness to the point of imprecision is built into the language. Asaka Mochizuki, Japanese language teacher and author wrote, there is an “inherent ambiguity of the language itself” (Spinning 16).
After some four hours of bouncing through waves of gradually increasing size, I stepped onto a rocky shore in Cambodia, checked GPS coordinates, confirmed a meeting at dusk, and foraged off into the bush. It’s always a problem ensuring transport will reappear when it’s supposed to. I learned that the hard way once in a Guatemalan jungle. If you pay in advance, a shady operator has little incentive to return. If you agree to pay later and the operator finds a new customer with cash in hand, he’ll never be seen again. I decided to pay extra, $100 instead of $75 for the return trip. But I carefully tore a $100 bill in half and gave a half to my boatman. This way, he knew I’d pay since I had already made my $100 unusable to myself, and he knew he’d have to return to receive that other half.
The coast was rocky so he used care, and I have to say, skill to get us to shore. The boat rocked as the surf hit it and a magazine flew onto my feet.
“Watashino zashi (my magazine),” he stated as I handed it to him.
“Eigo wa des ka ne! (This is in English!)”
“Hai, wakarimasu yo (Yes, I understand it),” he insisted.
“So you speak English?”
“Yes, of course, sir.”
Jesus, we could have been using English all along!
On shore were the usual acrobatic arboreal monkeys, a few ordinary snakes, and a fair share of oversized bugs, but fortunately no sign of Khmer Rouge, a more dangerous creature by far. I knew what remained of them were mostly holed up in the Cardamom Mountains. (Or maybe they were so well hidden in the endless green that I couldn’t see them.) Most of all, there was the oppressive heat and 100 percent humidity. I found what I went for, got my camera shots, and headed back, sweat-soaked.
Oh shit, I thought as I froze in place. A piercing jolt of electricity raced through me. The unmistakable shape stood up from the foliage--dark brown and, in monastic silence, barely moving. He was eyeing me. I slowly put on my sun glasses. Cobras can spit poison into the eyes. Not this time. He’d have to actually strike me. If the eyes are, as has been said, the window to the soul, then his soul and mine were connected. It was creepy. He was ugly and beautiful at the same time. But he’d be less ugly and more beautiful if farther away. The only way around him was to walk through the bush. I had to decide between passing within his striking range or doing a Tarzan thing through the land-mined bush. I needed this choice like I needed a pogo stick in quicksand. I chose the former, hesitantly. But I promised myself, if he were to bite me, regardless of my lack of venomous fangs, I would bite him back, and hard, before I fell. Fair is fair.
Hell, maybe he had no way of knowing whether I had venom also. I gathered my nerve. In Bali people eat cobras. Maybe I was here to have him for dinner. In fact he needed a bit of Balinese mattatta (filing down of teeth) on those fangs. How would he know? I could be Bali’s most notorious cobra killer!
Slowly, I moved my camera case and pack between myself and the monster. I couldn’t see most of him under the green, but I figured he might be twelve feet in all. Snakes are said to slither. In this case I did the slithering. His eyes followed me as I passed by and then, inadvertently, I wound up taking a fork in the trail.
I saw a short bald man across a sandy road bending over his motor scooter. He was pouring a liter of whiskey into the gas tank. Wait, I thought, that made no sense. More likely he was feeding the scooter with gasoline carried in a used whiskey bottle.
My cotton safari shirt was stuck, perhaps permanently, to my body. Sweat rolled down into my eyes and stung. Somehow I wasn’t exactly retracing my steps, but I wasn’t worried. I could see the bush thinning, the occasional palm trees increasing in number, and I could smell salt in the heavy air. And the damn snake was behind me. Through a row of coconut trees and bamboo clumps I spotted a small purple-colored building, a hotel, a cynosure of a hotel. I wondered why a hotel would be needed here where there was no more than a dusty dirt road and a few LAND MINE AREA - KEEP BACK signs with clear skull and crossbones painted on each. And a big snake. These Chinese mines are not designed primarily to kill. If they were, then, when stepped on, each would kill one soldier. They are designed to blow the lower leg off. In doing this, each removes one man from battle plus two more who have to carry him off. The Viets had driven the KR fighters out of the capital and all important cities, the battles had died down, but the ubiquitous land mines just wait. And they care not who is a soldier and who is a simple child. Installed by an army that no longer exists, to harm an enemy that never existed, everywhere in Cambodia, in Phnom Penh especially, people hobbling around on crutches attest to their sinister nature.
I pressed a doorbell button and a buzzer went off with a hellish rattle. Then a solenoid pulled back and the door unlocked with a loud click. With fine dark hair and a suspicious look from rodent-shaped eyes, the middle-aged woman greeted me. I walked in and fans were blowing air everywhere. Of course they didn’t lower the temperature, but it beat the oppressive, stale heat outside.
“You room 40,000 Riel (Cambodian dollars),” she barked, still with a suspicious stare.
“I just need it a short time, less than one hour.”
“Short time? Okay, give 40,000 Riel. Baht okay too.”
I pointed to the handwritten sign on the wall. It clearly stated 20,000 Riel (about four U.S. dollars) for a two-hour stay.
“You bring girl here… 40,000 Riel,” she griped in an austere tone.
“Look lady, I am alone. I want to have a shower, that’s all.” I motion with my hands the water of a shower coming down on me.
“You no has girl?”
“No, girl.”
“No girl wids you?”
“NO GIRL!”
“Okay, you pay 60,000 Riel, good, good price. Girl very sexiful.”
I handed her the 40,000, the price, apparently for two in a room. “Here’s forty. I don’t need you to find me a girl today, okay?”
Finally up in the room, I sorted through my cameras and gear and hit the shower. It may have been the best shower I ever had. I was refreshed and invigorated and it was time to get to the shore and look for the boat.
I stopped at the desk to check out. It had been only ten or at most, fourteen minutes.
“Checking out…”
Surprised, she admonished me, “Too quick! Not good for girl!”
She looked over my shoulder and down the hall, straining to see my girl. “Too quick you! Girl no likes.”
“What the? Look, I told you, I just came for a shower. I don’t know about...”
“I check room now, check any damages.”
Following her back up the stairs I griped, “Damages? In ten minutes?”
The bathroom was set up in a style common to Asia. There was no tub or shower stall. The water simply sprayed all over the place, even onto the sink. A drain in the center of the tile-floor room drew away the water. The toilet was in another, closet-like room. So this made trying to use the sink, say to brush teeth, with bottled drinking water of course, somewhat dangerous since the water made the floor slippery—very slippery (Of course if you fall and get hurt it’s your own fault, not that of the hotel. Chalk one up for litigious societies.)
We entered my tiny hotel room and not a thing lay disturbed except towels I’d left on the wet bathroom floor, and the toilet paper roll. (This was hard to deal with anyway since there were no perforations for tearing. Chalk one up for competitive free markets.) The bed sat untouched—which clearly surprised her. She took a quick look into the shower room, either for damages, or for the unseen girl.
“No girl here,” she mumbled, apparently on the cusp of embarrassment.
Back at the check-in desk, unabashed, she handed back the extra 20,000 Cambodian dollars. The extent of her perception, indeed the very ethos of being a purple love hotel proprietor, simply held no paradigm of a man renting a hotel room just to have a shower. Perhaps Cambodians don’t take showers or at least not at irregular times. Perhaps they’re fully accustomed to the sticky heat, or they only use the river. Who knows?
Smiling (for the first time) as she pointed the way to the ocean, she said one last thing, “Come back again soon-soon, I hopes.”
“Yes indeed,” I responded, (not really meaning it) “You’re a lady after me own heart.”

Sunday, December 13, 2015

verrrry inspiring!

Beauty is Embarrassing is an inspiring and fun movie about prolific artist Wayne White who is probably best known for designing sets for Pee-wee's Playhouse TV show.  Wayne has incredible talents, styles, and humor, and he never runs out of ideas for puppets, drawings, paintings, and animations. He has been very lucky to land jobs that let him do what he does best.  The documentary shows lots of his amazing projects over the span of his creative career to date, and it inspires me to continue to do similar things that I love.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

cardboard and cloth

I framed these pictures with cloth-covered book covers, most of which I then stamped.  It was fun to save old book pictures and turn them into lil shabby chic Christmas gifts.  Thanks to Susan for selling them all!

merry messages

Susan's cat on a wee envelope for Sweet Pea's Christmas card

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Monday, December 7, 2015

eat drink and be merry

Tis the season to eat well, and I am lucky to live with amazing cooks, James Feehan and Susan Roseman, who make every meal a healthy homemade work of art!

Thursday, December 3, 2015

nice nibs

If you've invested thousands of dollars in excellent Wacom products like I have, you should spend five more bucks and try their awesome felt nibs.  The plastic ones that come with the styluses slide across glass and plastic too fast prompting tricks like putting vellum over the laptop screen to get some tooth in the tip while drawing. These felt nibs more closely simulate the feel of drawing on paper and are a huge improvement to the stylus.