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#349 :: Miniature Flour Mortar

January 24, 2005

Resisting too hard the temptation to imagine mice milling a single grain of corn in it with itty-bitty pestles, he blows a metaphorical gasket and slides into it feet-first, to a Bizarro dimension of workaday rodents. There, on their teensy little Internet, one particularly hunched-over and graying mouse, fancying himself still younger than his years, pecks away at computer keys the size of pinheads, his foreclaws all tick-a-tack-a. He is blogging about his collection of stolen tool models, and wondering about the mammoth hands, the telephone-pole-sized pestle that pounds corn in that huge lava-stone mortar on yon high counter. Tick-a-tack-a-tackty-tick he pecks away, publishing his tiny reverie to the teensy-weensy LAN that runs through the house on fiber optics the size of mouse hairs, powered by routers and microchips no bigger than the huge grains of corn flour littering the floor beneath the counter. His brain, now compressed to an underpowered pellet of graymatter weighing no more than half a gram, can no longer sustain the overblown metaphor, and his head explodes with a little “plip” before he can regain purchase in his own dimension. Another day, another pointless experiment in textual self-gratification. Another heavy little object.

Filed under: Artifact, symbol, Tool | Comments (1)

#348 :: Juego de Lucha Libre

January 23, 2005

Announcing a CONTEST. It’s been quite a while since I last offered a prize to those of you who visit HEAVY LITTLE OBJECTS on a regular basis, but with post 350 approaching (and the end of the one-year commitment I promised myself I’d give to this project) it seemed an appropriate time to do it again. (My family members are exempt from winning, but most welcome to play).

So: Tell me what you can about the career of this Mexican wrestler: Why did he get into this line of work? Who are the identities he puts on with his snap-on masks? And late at night, while he’s nursing his bruises and trying to imagine a better line of work, what life does he yearn for the most?

The best entry between now and #365 (just over 2 weeks from now) gets el Juego de Lucha Libre, plus one considerably-more-extraordinary HLO of my choosing. Post a comment or three. Don’t hold back. Have fun.

Filed under: General | Comments (7)

#347 :: Sugar Skulls

January 22, 2005

These are sold traditionally on Dia de los Muertos, Mexico’s Day of the Dead celebration in October. Until I found them in Los Angeles last week at a Mexican curio shop, they existed f0r me only in the imagination, as drawn in a Ray Bradbury story about two dissolute tourists trying to sort out their feelings on vacation to this exotic, alienating place:

In the market, the remainder of candy skulls from the Death Fiesta were sold from flimsy little tables. Women hung with black rebozos sat quietly, now and then speaking one word to each other, the sweet sugar skeletons, the saccharine corpses and white candy skulls at their elbows. Each skull had a name on top in gold candy curlicue; Jose or Carmen or Ramon or Tena or Guiermo or Rosa. They sold cheap. The Death Festival was gone. Joseph paid a peso and got two candy skulls.

Marie stood in the narrow street. She saw the candy skulls and Joseph and the dark ladies who put the skulls in a bag.

“Not really,” said Marie.

“Why not?” said Joseph.

“Not after just now,” she said.

“In the catacombs?”

She nodded.

He said, “But these are good.”

“They look poisonous.”

“Just because they’re skull-shaped?”

“No. The sugar itself looks raw, how do you know what kind of people made them, they might have the colic.”

“My dear Marie, all people in Mexico have colic,” he said.

“You can eat them both,” she said.

“Alas, poor Yorick,” he said, peeking into the bag.

Filed under: Artifact, Edible, symbol | Comments (1)

#346 :: Dress

January 21, 2005

I’m a man. If it weren’t obvious by now, this should make it so: I love women. Undeniable, ravishing, mysterious, unsolvable and glorious in every respect, they enthrall me past all reason. For me, the dress – in general – has deep symbolic weight: container, protection, enhancement, embodiment. If clothes make the man, so can a good dress turn a woman into someone she is not – and everything she is, simultaneously. Men are simple as bricks, women fractally complex. The tie is the single expression of individuality in man’s traditional wardrobe. For women, it is the shift, frock, cocktail, hoopskirt and a thousand variations beyond. This little rubber number fits a doll in the collection of my daughter, who at 3 is already as complicated as her 5-year-old brother – if not more so. I look forward to spending the next 50 years trying to figure her out.

Filed under: symbol, Toy | Comments (0)

#345 :: Fossils

January 20, 2005

Imagine you are conscious until the final period of this post. You eat dead sloths, mammoths – whatever you can find. You drink from a pondful of acrid-smelling water, thirstily, stepping into the water, you find your forepaws mired in asphalt. Gingerly you tiptoe back, but your paws go in deeper, and soon your up to your hindquarters in the stuff, unable to struggle out. Slowly you are sucked under, drowning in few inches of surface water that hid the broad pond of tar, before your carcass sinks inexorably down to rest atop the carcasses of hundreds, thousands of animals that made the same mistake before you. You’re still conscious. Your flesh is dissolved into the tar. Your bones blacken – the exotic petrochemical stew staining the porous bone cells brownish black while your enamel-hard teeth remain white. It takes Tens. Of Thousands. Of Years. Layers upon layers of more hapless animals – birds, marsupials, rodents, more dire wolves like you, settle down on top of you. And you wait.

A city rises up around your grave.

Construction workers lose equipment into the pitful of tar and bones, and they begin to dig it up. Bone by bone, they disassemble the sediment, scrape and steam away the tar to reveal your skull. They pull it out, take it back to a lab, lay calipers and ruler against it and set it on a scale, collecting numbers that mark the extent of your growth, the solidity of your death. Eventually, they mount you on a backlit plexiglass wall at the Page Museum, surrounded by 449 other skulls like yours. There you sit now, more than 20,000 years later, sixth from the top, on the rightmost column of six vertical ranks, being gawked at. You are dire wolf, the largest canid that ever lived.

Filed under: Artifact, Objet, symbol | Comments (0)

#344 :: Pepper

January 19, 2005

Edward Weston did one of these in 1930. The color of this glorious vegetable really snaps your head back, the finish like something with 12 turbocharged cylinders and leather interior. ‘Nuf said.

Filed under: Edible, symbol | Comments (2)

#343 :: Incense

January 18, 2005

The perfect expression of the ephemera of the olfactory world: a matchboxful of stamped, pressed incense. You break off one of the 16 sticks, stand it in a tiny glass receptacle in the box lid, and light it. It burns for about 10 minutes, breathing a scent more aromatic and intelligent in smoke form than the flowery ponk it gives off unlit. The label says Flower of India. Made from Sandal Wood Powder, Herbs with Essential Oils. Free from Chemical Toxins.

Filed under: symbol | Comments (0)

#342 :: Finger Rosary

January 17, 2005

I’m not a particularly parochial guy, but then again, I’m not the most well-traveled, either. The foreign cities I’ve visited glitter for me, a chain of diamond-hard memories lush as the foetid jungles around the Red Fort in Agra, crisp as the calligraphy in the silicon hive of Tokyo’s Akihabara – and full and distinct as the mingling plume of perfume, wok oil and scooter smoke drifting on a Beijing breeze. But the list is far shorter than my wish list, which includes Venice, Sydney, Jakarta, McMurdo Station, Berlin, St. Petersburg, Mecca, Brasilia, Phnom Penh, Athens, Johannesburg, Jerusalem, Osaka and unspools enldessly, on and on across this planet and on to the next. Still, you’d think a Catholic pack rat – even a lapsed one, by now would have spotted one of these things. It’s the religious equipment of a thumb drive – an Italian-made hyper-compression of the ritual of the rosary into a clean, sharp little form factor that can be hung close to one’s bosom or slipped into a pocket. Pray, spin, pray, spin, pray, spin – and on around, a circuit of faith no bigger than a 50-cent piece.

Filed under: symbol | Comments (0)

#341 :: Mexican Glass Eye

January 16, 2005

George Carlin has this beautiful riff about possessions. At times, my obsession for nifty little things begins to remind me of the passage that goes:

That’s what your house is, a place to keep your stuff while you go out and get…more stuff!

Sometimes you gotta move, gotta get a bigger house. Why? No room for your stuff anymore.

I have little boxes and big boxes. Bags and baggies. Piles and drifts of heavy little objects overflow the light box in my little studio, to the point where I have to box them up to make room for the new ones, to keep the desktop clear so I can get decent pictures of them all. Every time I think I’ll get a few minutes to assemble a few of them into an intriguing still life (I’ve mislaid the one with the raccooon skull, the spiky silicone keychain, the freshman, the strobing ball and a half dozen other things) the rest of my life intrudes and the thought of clarity is washed away in the ceaseless, crashing surf of stuff.

This trifle is a souvenir of my trip to the curio shops of Olvera Street, something a glassblower could turn out in dozens by the minute, a pinched bead of white glass decorated with concentric dots of black and amber. It has a powerful iconic gravity about it, an unquestionable magnetism that makes one need to stare back until someone … finally … blinks.

Filed under: Objet, symbol | Comments (0)

#340 :: Painted Tin Mirror

January 15, 2005

This festive little tin vortex reminds me of the stupid amount of money I spent playing arcade games in college. One that comes to mind is Tempest, a crabwalking dance with paranoia and the chaos of alien battle. I’m making it sound more complicated and less dramatic than it was. You stared down a vortex at wireframe “monsters” and “bombs” that zoomed up at you, and you spun a knob that aimed a crab-like “shooter” at your targets, hoping to obliterate them before they reached you. They multiplied logarithmically with each level, until there was literally no way to kill them all.

I must have spent a good $300 or $400 in student wages (huge amounts in those days) playing Defender and Missile Command and truly weirdball games like Targ and Qix before I had to settle down and work for a living.

This was a little gift for the kids. There’s just enough room in the glass to look into your own eye.

Filed under: General | Comments (0)

#339 :: Pre WW II Samurai

January 14, 2005

My father‘s father gave these fine gentlemen to him I believe, but I don’t recall the history beyond that. I emailed Dad, who made a gift of them to me couple of years ago, to see what more could be told. They are both samurai, with bodies of straw and heads of china, turned out in silk pantaloons and armor of laquered paper and thread. They would have been fine toys for a Japanese boy – or perhaps more likely ornaments for the home of a retired military man or history lover. I don’t know their relationship, but the milder-looking chap might be lord or page to the gruff warrior with the beard and the scowl. Their stance speaks of well-tested readiness and their eyes of calm in the face of peril.

Dad replies:

Dear Mack, My father, Wayne Reed, was a Red Cross Field Director on troop
emergency service in the Pacific and very early to Japan. Once there, I
think to Sendai, he was the recipient of many presents, among which were
these figures from sets of various date, the oldest apparently late 18th
or early 19th century. Mack Reed and Ko Maruyama each have been gifted
with some of these.

Filed under: Artifact, Objet, symbol, Toy | Comments (0)

#338 :: Miniature Hacksaw

January 13, 2005

How do I approach each heavy little object? Where do I begin to write? Which toggle switch in my simple brain gets thrown, and which blathering subroutine will it trigger before I emerge on the other side thinking, “Man, that sucked, but it’s late and I’m too damn tired to do anything about it. The next one will be better.” Categories: (Adornment. Art. Artifact. Edible. Found Object. General. Instrument (musical, medical or measuring). Jetsam. Objet. Part. Symbol. Tool. Toy.) Real or metaphorical heaviness: (Brass, symbolism, comparison). Size: (Choice of diminutive adjective in the title. Measurement. Value-per-pound. Comparison to other little objects.) Anecdote: (Somebody had one of these once. History tells us that this thing was used by these people. Here’s a funny/poignant/personal/lame/irrelevant story.) Dread: (Self recrimination: “That was stupid. You can’t say that. Who reads this site, anyway?” Quick scurry to the logs to verify that somebody‘s still reading it. More abuse: “Come on, you did that three entries ago. This is a dumb object. Why did I pick it tonight? God, if I don’t do this now, and do it right, I’ll have to do two tomorrow night …” etc. etc. ) Fiction: (Use of the object. Harm by the object. Fetishizing of the object. The object as mute witness, fly on the wall, hapless prop.) Fetish: (What breed of geeky otaku would be obsessed by the object? What other fetishes does it compare to). Meta: (This object is to X as Y is to Z). On and on, the style options tick, almost a whirring contextual set of property selectors that spin like fruit in a slot machine until two or more slide into place together and I begin writing.) Desperation/devil-may-care: (Just write whatever damn fool thing pours off the top of my head and decide 60 or 100 words in whether it’s good or utter bullshit (old deadline newspapering trick to break writer’s block). Constant internal monologue: (Revise, revise, revise. Don’t be afraid to pound “delete” on a regular interval. Don’t be afraid, they’re only words about pictures of little things. There were a couple good posts, maybe a month ago, you do get comments sometimes, and sometimes from the same people. There should be enough here for a very slim book but who the hell would publish it.)) More self doubt: (Keep writing, man. It’s late and this is the best idea you’re going to get on this one). Resignation: (Well, at least that’s done.)

This comes from Puebla, Mexico. Its blade is functional. It is perfect for severing toothpicks.

Filed under: Objet, symbol | Comments (3)

#337 :: Hot Wheels

January 12, 2005

I grew up a car nut in the late 60s and early 70s, awash in STP stickers, borrowed issues of Hot Rod and a hardcore lust for muscle cars. I still dream of a lime-green ’74 Hemi ‘Cuda or a ’67 Shelby Cobra Mustang riding on glittering Cragars. I collected Hot Wheels and raced them on those slick plastic tracks (my favorite setup was the dual-loop dragstrip, gravity fed from the starting gate clamped to a table down to the loops and finish line on the floor). Vibrant neon-pink and metallic copper dazzled me, and I wondered who got to design all those cars – it always seemed the most romantic job in the world. Turns out it was one lucky genius.

I just rediscovered Bruce Springsteen’s “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” probably my favorite album of his back in the late 70s. Text won’t quite do it justice, but the beauty of this song is just staggering:

RACIN’ IN THE STREET
I got a sixty-nine Chevy with a 396
Fuelie heads and a Hurst on the floor
She’s waiting tonight down in the parking lot
Outside the Seven-Eleven store
Me and my partner Sonny built her straight out of scratch
And he rides with me from town to town
We only run for the money got no strings attached
We shut `em up and then we shut `em down

Tonight, tonight the strip’s just right
I wanna blow `em off in my first heat
Summer’s here and the time is right
For goin’ racin’ in the street

We take all the action we can meet
And we cover all the northeast state
When the strip shuts down we run `em in the street
From the fire roads to the interstate
Some guys they just give up living
And start dying little by little, piece by piece
Some guys come home from work and wash up
And go racin’ in the street

Tonight, tonight the strip’s just right
I wanna blow `em all out of their seats
Calling out around the world, we’re going racin’ in the street

I met her on the strip three years ago
In a Camaro with this dude from L.A.
I blew that Camaro off my back and drove that little girl away
But now there’s wrinkles around my baby’s eyes
And she cries herself to sleep at night
When I come home the house is dark
She sighs “Baby did you make it all right”
She sits on the porch of her daddy’s house
But all her pretty dreams are torn
She stares off alone into the night
With the eyes of one who hates for just being born
For all the shut down strangers and hot rod angels
Rumbling through this promised land
Tonight my baby and me we’re gonna ride to the sea
And wash these sins off our hands

Tonight tonight the highway’s bright
Out of our way mister you best keep
`Cause summer’s here and the time is right
For goin’ racin’ in the street

Filed under: Artifact, Objet, symbol, Toy | Comments (0)

#336 :: Plastic animals

January 11, 2005

At some point – midway between the Playskool block-sorting drum and the Thomas the Tank Engine fetish, we began to sort our two young children’s toys. Bricks, gears, stuffed animals, dress-up clothes – all were assigned translucent plastic bins in a pine toy rack – and my wife would spend a happy, idle hour every week or three sorting. Broken toys are banished. New alliances arise – the Monsters, Inc. figures with scale-model doors are grouped first with cheap toys, then building toys, then action heroes – and sundered at a whim. A constant surf of toys and parts batters the rack, rising and falling over days, hours, minutes. One of my favorites is the animal box, a mad, mis-scaled menagerie gathered from countless birthday party goodie bags, Christmas stockings and some mysterious wormhole that exists in parts of the house unknown and admits animals while inhaling socks.

Just now, I have imagined a flood from the nearby bathroom, my son frantically building a Lego ark amid the rising waters, and all these marvelous one-of-a-kind species perishing upon reaching dry land in the absence of mates.

Filed under: Objet, symbol, Toy | Comments (0)

#335 :: Wallpaper Print Block

January 10, 2005

The oil lamp guttered and went out in a little puff of soot.

She sat, thumbs a-fidget, not wanting to stick her finger with the needle, but unable to keep still, with her sewing on the lap of her crinoline hoopskirt, in the dark.

“I’m done being pleasant about this, ma’am,” Mr. Quimby had muttered, through twisted, disgusted lips, his greased handlebar mustache a-twitch. “You just be out o’ here in the morning with your brat and I’ll see to it Tom comes round with the cart to take your things wherever you’ve a mind to go.”

She straightened, put her petitpoint needle into the heather blossom on the sampler she had been sewing, and carefully set the hoop frame and the spools of yarn into the wicker basket beside her. A deep breath eased the frown from her face. Well, it’s all one can do, isn’t it. One does what one can, and it’s all one can do.

Rain hammered on the roof. Gertrude slept fitfully, making little piglike snorts beneath the counterpane, and rain hammered the shake roof with a hissing roar. Three weeks now the storms had been battering them, off and on, three weeks since her August was taken – finally returned to his Lord by the fever that had wracked him since the accident with the surrey, three weeks alone in this godless mining town in northern California, surrounded by ruffians and drunkards and women of loose character, and the claim August had staked was nowhere to be found in the records and Mr. Quimby had finally had enough excuses, he had a load of Chinamen he needed to house and the railroad was willing to pay double what August had been paying so what can one do.

It’s all one can do.

She stared around her through the gloom. Flickering shadows from the streetlight outside skittered across the floral wallpaper, which hung in great festoons from the wall now, its glue undone by the relentless rain. She bit her lip.

She walked across the room, tore off a piece of it, stuck it into her mouth and began to chew. Bitter, bitter and sticky with mold. She chewed harder, but kept her eyes dry as she began to pack.

(A note tacked to this block by the seller says:

Hand-carved, labor intensive wallpaper print block. Circa 1840-1880. Note square nails and peg construction. Each is a unique piece of art; no two are alike.” It has hand-grooves gouged into its flanks, and the print surface feels velvety, soft. On its end are very old white numerals that some printmaker painted by hand: 2866.)

Filed under: General, Microfiction | Comments (0)

#334 :: Digital Press Kit

January 9, 2005

Science holds that birds have magnetic brains. Tiny though they are, little chunks of avian gray matter gravitate toward the correct pole (depending on the season) based on a sensitivity to their position in the magnetosphere:

*Some birds have their own “compasses” built into their brains and orient according to magnetic north. In one of the oddest experiments, researchers put little magnetic caps on homing pigeons that reversed magnetic polarity atop the birds heads. They flew the exact opposite direction that they would have flown when released.

This may or may not explain my love of HLOs – particularly metallic ones – and my uncontrollably juvenile lust for cars. I blogged the 2004 L.A. Auto Show, I blogged the 2005 concept cars and I blogged the 2005 L.A. Auto Show which more or less entailed lurching all over the L.A. Convention Center with a camera, panting, shooting stupid quantities of digipix and trying not to drool.

This 100% synthetic object contains only a little metal, but also quite a bit of data on the Venturi Fetish, about which I blathered:

[It’s] an electric sports car, only 25 of which will be built in Monaco, of all places, for sale to the stupid-rich at $660,000. But hey, it’ll have a 217-mile range, which makes it a wee bit better than the doomed EV-1 (which leased at about 5% of that cost)

I’m blogging about CD-ROMs and electric cars.

I am such a hopeless geek.

Filed under: General | Comments (0)

#333 :: Glass Insulators

January 8, 2005

Electric current is a powerful, brittle force. Carried safely to its destination it can warm homes, chase the darkness, demolish mountains and launch a nuclear war. Put something in its path – water, wood, flesh or any less-than-perfect conductor – and it flies apart, electrons scattered, their headlong rush of purpose derailed. Glass insulators have shown power a path for more than 150 years, according to the encyclopedic, dizzying Insulators.com. I couldn’t find these two in its catalog, but they were neither the less than a buck variety nor the crown jewels that sell for more than $7,000 to the keepers of insulator arcana. These are a Hemingray No. 9 (aqua) and a Hemingray clear 38-41. I have no idea what they’re worth, and I don’t care. They’re wonderfully heavy, and vibrate with refracted light.

Filed under: Artifact | Comments (0)

#332 :: C-3PO Pez Dispenser

January 7, 2005

Modern man has a relentless, hardwired hunger for the institutionalized fetish. We worship computers, guns and stuffed animals with the same fervor reserved for prophets and rockstars. We commercialize our obsessions. We build our very obsessions into fetishes. Physical objects give meaning to the otherwise baffling ethereality of daily life. Unable to find enough mutual souls to return the fathomless love we have to give, we give love to things. That about sums up HEAVY LITTLE OBJECTS in a nutshell.

This thing merges two fetishes: a cultural phenomenon and a certain ingeniously designed candy-spitting toy – another phenomenon in its own right. The Pez dispenser has been imitated, but never rivalled. Collected but never mastered. The man who managed to collect every Pez dispenser ever made would likely kill himself in despair once the TV interviews ended, his reason for living extinguished.

Filed under: General | Comments (3)

#331 :: Oil Can

January 6, 2005

Hang around cars long enough, and you gain a reverence for lubrication. For want of a few drops of oil, the gears of the world could grind into stillness, and cool to dead silence. Which might or might not be a bad thing, depending upon how much you listen to your inner Ted Kasczynski.

This Industrial Age artifact brings cinematic images to mind – Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times, slaves to the machines in Metropolis, Danny Kaye’s little daydreams from The Secret Life of Walter Mitty which, of course, sprangfrom this wonderful passage from James Thurber’s short story:

“We are going through”. The Commanders voice was like thin ice breaking. He wore his full-dress uniform with the heavily braided white cap pulled down rakishly over one cold gray eye. “We can’t make it sir. It’s spoiling for a hurricane, if you ask me.” “I’m not asking you, Lieutenant Berg,” said the Commander. “Throw on the power lights! Rev her up to 8,500! We’re going through!” The pounding of the cylinders increased; tapocketa-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa. The Commander stared at the ice forming on the pilot window. He walked over and twisted a row of complicated dials. “Switch on No. 8 auxiliary!” he shouted. “Switch on No. 8 auxiliary!” repeated Lieutenant Berg. “Full strength in No. 3 turret!” shouted the Commander. “Full strength in No. 3 turret!” The crew, bending to their various tasks in the huge, hurtling eight-engined Navy hydroplane, looked at each other and grinned. “The Old Man’ll get us through,” they said to one another. “The Old Man ain’t afraid of Hell!”…
ӡӡӡӡ”Not so fast! You’re driving too fast!” said Mrs. Mitty. “What are you driving so fast for?”
ӡӡӡӡ”Hmm?” said Walter Mitty. He looked at his wife, in the seat beside him, with shocked astonishment. She seemed grossly unfamiliar, like a strange woman who had yelled at him in a crowd. “You were up to fifty-five,” she said. “You know I don’t like to go more than forty. You were up to fifty-five.” Walter Mitty drove on toward Waterbury in silence, the roaring of the SN-202 through the worst storm in twenty years of Navy flying fading in the remote, intimate airways of his mind. “You’re tensed up again,” said Mrs. Mitty. “It’s one of your days. I wish you’d let Dr. Renshaw look you over.”

The movie’s to be remade with (gack!) Jim Carrey.

Filed under: Artifact, Tool | Comments (0)

#330 :: Automotive Logo – Print Slug

January 4, 2005

My grandfather was a newsman. He helped the St. Petersburg Times get started, and in later years he ran a Linotype. A story and a half high, the huge machine with its weird keyboard (ETAOIN SHRDLU instead of QWERT YUIOP) let the operator bang out lines of hot metal type in a few seconds instead of hand-setting them letter by letter. When I was a sprout, a school field trip took me to the composing room of the Hartford Courant, which – as much as any other experience – doomed me to a lifetime addiction to journalism in one form or another. I remember the roar of the presses and the Braille-like experience of touching a fiber-board plate offset printing plate that had been embossed by lines of type. This little chunk of history is a carmaker’s logo rendered for use on the press, in etched zinc mounted on wood. There’s a box of these at the Great American Antiques Mall in Bakersfield (mentioned yesterday) for 50 cents apiece. It’s a reminder of how we used to communicate before Tim Berners-Lee went and caused all this damn trouble.

Filed under: Artifact, General, Part, symbol, Tool | Comments (5)

#329 :: Rook, Knight

January 3, 2005

The game set has not yet been invented, but the pieces are constantly in play and the rules subject to random, violent and sudden change: The King moves in bold strokes across the spherical, blue board at will and at random, heedless to cries from his own Pawns. The Handlers and the Blind Pawns give him power. The Manipulator assigns the King’s moves, and calculates the moves the King’s Puppet and the Numb General must make in order to transit the board and claim territory without risking that Blind Pawns will become Seeing Pawns … This is tedious, isn’t it. Too bad that while I can re-edit the whole self-indulgent exercise in seconds, we have to wait four years to change the real thing.

These two noble figures come from a game forged in a different era of power and sacrifice, and, ultimately, from the greatest antique store in Southern California. Swirled, pearlescent plastic lends gravitas to their prideful faces. They are, perhaps, secret lovers from warring houses, the swift, crafty knight and his blunt, fast-moving maiden in the tower. They came from a bin of about three dozen random chess pieces, only one or two more of which belonged to their set. I can’t place the design or the period, but I’d guess they have visual roots in facial studies by NC Wyeth and his fellow travelers.

(Ed.: I just switched the site to WordPress, since the otherwise stellar Movable Type was causing me untold problems with comment spam. You’re now welcome to post comments once again. As you can see, I’m still fussing with the stylesheet, but I thought it was time to make the move anyway. Thanks for being so patient.)

Filed under: symbol, Toy | Comments (0)

# 328 :: 75-Foot Tape Measure

January 2, 2005

At a certain size, you start letting the experts do the measuring. Boats – believe the manufacturer. Homes? Your realtor’s bonded. Anything over 50 feet or s0, you’d rather see a pair of guys in hazard-orange tunics and hardhats fiddling with lasers than trust your own wits and tools. Mis-measured real estate lands in court, and poorly calculated building-materials orders leave you with either holes in your house or an extra truckload of fancy firewood. This is a tool for settling disputes, a spring-steel peacemaker on a reel, clad in leatherette and trimmed in chrome. It’s a Keuffel & Esser Co. Favorite Wyteface (Reg. U.S. Pat. Off.) They go for about $10 on eBay, which is a damn sight cheaper than you’ll pay for a new Stanley that size.

Filed under: Instrument, Tool | Comments (1)

#327 :: Indonesian slide whistle

January 1, 2005

Pairs attract me: Magnets. epoxy resins. Fornicatin’ keychains. And this delicately handcrafted dual slide whistle barely 8 inches long, which puts out a ripping din. To the man or child who carved this, and his countrymen, and to anyone reading this: blessings for strength and solace in 2005. It can only improve upon 2004.

Tech note: Spambots (and a stern host) have forced me to shut off comments. Please bear with me over the next few days, while I move to a different blog platform, and thanks for reading this thing all last year. Your interest and comments (when working) have been a stout anchor for me.

Filed under: Instrument | Comments (0)

#336 :: Brass Bells

December 31, 2004

Chiseled, hammered brass, given a round volume and a ringing edge, stamped or engraved with religious symbols. Three for a dollar, here, labeled “Xmas bells” – and nothing farther from the truth. Banged out they were in India, sweated over for more than a few seconds each and tossed into a basket, upmarketed, shipped, distributed and displayed in another basket on the floor of a shop. The ugliest, most deformed of them made the deepest tones, while the smaller, finer ones sound tinny and the biggest, finest of them give a sort of castrato * c l i n k *. Like this.

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#325 :: “Buzzing” magnets

December 30, 2004

In your mind, banish all tension. Sign a binding, planetwide truce to end war. Master genetics and cure all disease. Solve poverty and end hunger and illiteracy. Eliminate pollution and extinction. You’re omnipotent. Go ahead. The planet is safe and happy in your care. Now that you’ve given everyone on earth everything they need, you’re left with 9 billion people who still want, who desire, who manufacture needs to give their lives purpose. What happens? War and crime return to restore equilibrium. Now, return to reality’s yin/yang balance, to the natural tension that keeps us circling each other, giving and taking, punishing and rewarding, destroying and creating, warring and reconciling. John Lennon’s “Imagine” is a lovely, unrealistic pipe dream. We live in conflict.

A pair of powerful ellipsoidal hematite magnets, their poles aligned through their narrow circumfrences, allow you to demonstrate the constant tension and readjustment of power in the universe. Throw them into the air about six inches apart, and they fly together, wrestling for equilibrium in a clattering, buzzing collision until they land at rest, centered and quiet in your cupped hand. They sound like this, and they can be bought online.

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