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#295 :: Sweetgum Seed Pod

November 30, 2004

A grand architecture in miniature defines the way generations of the sweetgum tree last into the future. Nature designs the perfect time-travel vessel for every environmental niche – this one is spiked, to deter predators from its cargo; hollow, to float; hard to withstand crushing and plentiful – coming in great clumps to ensure survival. […]

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#294 :: Tiny food

November 29, 2004

Had the tiny humans survived, their cuisine would have evolved beyond pygmy mammoths and Komodo dragons. Had they met us, they might have expressed their size as a cultural fetish, serving giant guests near-microscopic portions of undersized food, meticulously prepared. They could have crafted miniature ceramic tableware for the preparation of itty-bitty delicacies – fairy […]

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#293 :: Pokemon Toy

November 28, 2004

My complete ignorance of Kanji leaves me mystified about the purpose and “function” of this toy in Pokemon mythology. Its plastic clamshell houses a little plastic maze with a tiny steel ball. Its structural genes and coloration sprang from the loins of the Star Trek communicator and the waterproof Walkman. But what does it do […]

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#292 :: Gold

November 27, 2004

This is “the stuff dreams are made of.” This is spilled blood, spoiled relationships, bad business. This is the Incas’ fetish, and their doom. This is number 79 on the periodic table, with an atomic weight 196.96655 (2). This is the inspiration for good movies and bad. This is malleable, ductile, unaffected by air, water […]

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#291 :: Flickering Postcard

November 26, 2004

Eadweard Muybridge began his landmark “Animal Locomotion” studies to settle a bet: Railroad baron (and namesake university founder) Leland Stanford hired him to prove that a galloping horse lifts all four hooves off the ground at once. What unfolded from there was a 3-year-period of scientific and artistic fertility that would prove to be a […]

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#290 :: Fly Reel Tape Measure

November 25, 2004

This looks like kitsch incarnate, but for two things: It would be useful for law-abiding fishermen; and it is exquisitely made, of machined brass and printed vinyl tape. Pull it out to its full 40 inches to measure … whatever. Turn the tiny crank and it reels back in, its internal ratchet clicking softly. A […]

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#289 :: Test Tube

November 24, 2004

A little capsule of glass,corked, filled with potential: The half-made bioweapon. The specimen of pandemic infection. The designer euphoric with a chemical structure not yet illegalized. The drug-tainted urine. Imbalanced blood, malignant cells, or radioactive evidence that suddenly alters the course of your life. Life itself. The cultured stem cell. The plain glass test tube […]

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#288 :: Cap Bomb

November 23, 2004

There was a time when the immorality of toy weapons didn’t seem so plain. I remember cradling a “tommy gun,” pulling the trigger and watching the orange plug in the barrel pump in and out like muzzle fire, rat-tat-tat-tat-tattattat. Suction cup arrows. Pocketknives. Slingshots. Wrist Rocket, surely the wickedest commercial hot-rodding of an “innocent” toy. […]

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#287 :: Turtle Shell

November 22, 2004

A haunted house. A Victorian mansion, perfectly preserved, entry is forbidden to the living, and the dead are barred there too. Just a peek is allowed ‘neath its vault of complex plates, varnished up for the curio shop‘s $7 pricetag. I’m not zoologist enough to identify this species, but it reminds me of mortality, of […]

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#286 :: Classroom Microscope

November 21, 2004

I have this mind’s-eye view of myself, nine or 10 years old, sitting on Phil Helfer’s basement floor watching “The Incredible Shrinking Man” on “Creature Feature.” Grant Williams has just fought off the cat and the tarantula with little more than a sewing needle. He sags against a window screen, his rag-clothes hanging about him […]

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#285 :: Scrabble Tile

November 20, 2004

Depression-born, as iconographic and American, yet universal a pastime as baseball or chess, Scrabble began as hand-stamped wooden tiles. The name means “to grope frantically.” It was patented in 1948. Some history: During the Great Depression, an out-of-work architect named Alfred Mosher Butts decided to invent a board game. He did some market research and […]

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#284 :: Betel Nut Box

November 19, 2004

The cleric waits amiably, hands stuffed into his cassock pockets. His animal face hints at bear, monkey, dog. Tiny buttons of ivory dot his breast, and two more primly anchor the folds at the small of his back, the entirety of which hinges open at his shoulder line to reveal a compartment just big enough […]

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#283 :: X-Men “Cyclops” Patch

November 18, 2004

Marvel pope Jack Kirby was all brute kinetics. His lines surged and pulsed, matter and antimatter collided with hellish force behind burly, godlike (small g) figures, who hurled themselves into explosions, shattered concrete with fists, blasted unholy bolts of energy from their faces. Raw comics mythology flowed from his pen with such vigor as to […]

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#282 :: Surviving Domino Half

November 17, 2004

It has a story to tell. Maybe 20. Data points from a hidden history pop through the scars – the cement park table where the old men slapped it down every Saturday morning, thousands of times. The years it spent in a gravel parking lot, which saw it split in two, soaked in piss, gouged, […]

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#281 :: Nut

November 16, 2004

This nut cheats death. Hard, bitterly hard, it blunts teeth, turns a blade, endures boring by insect and bird. Wild it grows, among the manzanita and chaparral, in a land regularly scoured by wildfire. It is a survival pod for its species, a wild walnut tree that dots Southern California’s scrublands. Like the coconut it […]

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#280 :: Dreidel

November 15, 2004

I choose this object today not because the holiday season looms like a cinnamon-scented thug, ready to bash us all into shambling, paranoid shopping-mad drones. I choose it in near-ignorance of its purpose. I choose it because inserting anyone’s name into my family’s cover version of the happy dreidel-spinning song is instant milk/nose/snort time: Daddy […]

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#279 :: Camera Lens Mechanism

November 14, 2004

Fossil from an ancient era, the 20th century, when mass production gave birth to millions of mechanical devices for capturing light. This might as well be the marvelously preserved ocular bone process of a roving sextuped from a clockwork planet – so foreign is it to the modern world of CCD camera sensors, USB ports […]

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#278 :: Pocket Tombstone for a Dead Car

November 13, 2004

I’ve owned only a few cars in my life. First was the ’75 Vega, already rotten at the rocker panels and sucking a quart of oil per tankful by the time I made it mine in ’80. It had three on the floor, and weighed about 900 pounds, which made it great for high-speed spinouts […]

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#277 :: Coin-silver Cross – Africa

November 12, 2004

My sick affinity for pop culture trivia takes up a frightening amount of already very-limited brain power. The fact that Eddie Deezen plays the geeky kid with a deer rifle holed up at the top of a ferris wheel on guard duty against Japanese invasion in 1941 has completely crowded out more useful information like […]

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#276 :: Mess Kit

November 11, 2004

You’ve been here before: your back to the bricks, outnumbered, outgunned, the truck with your name on it barrelling out of the blackness a split-second from impact, insert your clich&eacute here: A low growl rumbles from the bush. You scrabble in the dark tent for your pants, a flashlight, and one more thing – a […]

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#275 :: Volcanic ash

November 10, 2004

You probably think yourself old. “I’m ancient,” you moan, pulling at wrinkles to flatten them, running fingers through your thinning hair. “I’m *so* OLD.” There are parrots older than you. Hell, there are cameras and cigarette lighters older than many of you. Seconds of your lives tick by – “I’m wasting time!” you shriek, and […]

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#274 :: New York City Subway Token

November 9, 2004

Not too long ago, before flimsy magnetic cards replaced it, this was the only key to another planet. For a single token, you could depart the world of concrete towers and bright skies for safe transit through screeching, Stygian tunnels that bled electricity and fear, for the invigorating thrill of high-speed travel through caverns of […]

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#273 :: Rosary

November 8, 2004

This is hard to write. An Apostles’ Creed, one Our Father, three Hail Marys, one Our Father, ten Hail Marys, one Our Father, ten Hail Marys, one hour farther. Around and around, fingering the totems of devotion you go, praying your way toward grace, the ephemeral currency for which all good Catholics strive. I was […]

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#272 :: Bell & Howell “Filmo” Double-Run Eight

November 7, 2004

Dead tech challenges your understanding of the world. Heft a little 2-pound slab of 1940 equipment for capturing moving images, and close your eyes. Wind its still-smooth clockwork motor with a few pumps of the stiff, fat chrome key on its side. Feel its weight – You’re standing in a place where the internet and […]

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#271 :: “Incredibles” Happy Meal toy

November 6, 2004

I had the great privilege to devour The Incredibles today, a ginormous Superball of thrills, the most gorgeous, exciting, laugh-your-lungs-inside-out-funny and honest superhero movie ever made. Watched it this afternoon with the family, my jaw dangling in my overgreased popcorn bucket the whole time. We would have walked right back in again for the next […]

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