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#250 :: Filipino Pornographic Keychain

October 15, 2004

LARGER IMAGE NOT SAFE FOR WORK. Somewhere in a hut or a cinderblock workroom in the heart of Manila, he sits, pouring molten pot-metal into a mold, from a little iron ladle he has just pulled from his small oven. He pops the cooling pieces out of the molds, and goes to work with the punch, hand-making grommet holes at the points where the man’s hips and knees and wrists and ankles move the most. He twists on a cheap-metal key ring, and tosses the linked pair of grotesque fornicators into the cardboard box, maybe lights up another Silk Cut, hoists the box onto his shoulders and shuffles down the row of tourist shops, peddling his wares. IN 1992, we made our way to visit my wife’s family in the Phillippines, and I picked up a number of HLOs, this being among the “best.” Wiggle the little tabs under each figure, and be reminded of the essential crudeness of lust. WARNING- FULL-SIZED VERSION (CLICK THUMBNAIL) is a slow-load (large animated gif) and IS DEFINITELY NOT SAFE FOR WORK.

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#249 :: WD-40

October 14, 2004

For want of a nail, the shoe was lost. For want of a shoe, the horse was lost. For want of a horse the rider was lost. For want of a rider the message was lost. For want of a message the kingdom was lost. For want of a nail. It’s a happy little Todd Rundgren tune about the work ethic and fate. Smooth operation is a squirt away. Use the little tiny red plastic extension straw that comes with each can to lube the really tricky bits. Imagine its history – 50 years of civilian service born of military testing:

It took them 40 attempts to get the water displacing formula worked out. But they must have been really good, because the original secret formula for WD-40which stands for Water Displacement perfected on the 40th tryis still in use today.

Convair, an aerospace contractor, first used WD-40 to protect the outer skin of the Atlas Missile from rust and corrosion. The product actually worked so well that several employees snuck some WD-40 cans out of the plant to use at home.

A few years following WD-40’s first industrial use, Rocket Chemical Company founder Norm Larsen experimented with putting WD-40 into aerosol cans, reasoning that consumers might find a use for the product at home as some of the employees had. The product made its first appearance on store shelves in San Diego in 1958.

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#248 :: Acoma Clay Vessel

October 13, 2004

Close your eyes. You’re at the center of a broad, rough valley ringed by steep cliffs. Breathe deep. Exhale hard. Now, levitate 367 feet. You hover there, where brisk breezes riffle your hair. Your shirt flutters and snaps. Your eyes remain closed. The stony earth rumbles beneath you, shoves a pillar of rock skyward from the center of the valley floor, straight up, to stop just there at the seat of your pants, and support you again. You are no longer levitating. You are in Acoma, N.M.. Open your eyes now: Around the mesa where you sit stand multi-storied adobe houses with lodgepole ladders reaching for the upper floors. Here and there hunker low, domed kilns of fire-hardened clay. This is the oldest continuously inhabited community in North America, Sky City, a supremely defensible village that has hummed with life for more than nine centuries. Potters have worked here for hundreds of years. You pick up one of their later works. This is a simple piece, of porcelain. Hands shaped and glazed it a few weeks ago, in ways that have not, in any substantial sense, changed. Ever. You can blow out your clutch driving up the steep access road to the summit, spend too much on souvenirs and snacks, and marvel at the “normal” signs of a rez like any other – cars and trailers, occasional trash in the streets, tourists gaping just like you. But close your eyes again. You’re on a high, sharp-sided mesa of stone thrust up from the ancient sedimentary rock floor of a mile-wide valley, beneath piercing blue skies. Draw deep lungfuls of crisp desert air. Exhale. You’re a human of indeterminate age, somewhere on earth, at some time. Somehow spiritualized.

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#247 :: Tiny Plastic Baby

October 12, 2004

What do babies mean? Take this question one of three ways: What purpose do they serve? What symbolic weight do they carry? or What are they trying to tell us. The semiotics of babies is a bottomless valley with slippery sides, a high, crumbling precipice poised over a roiling pit of chaos theory, bathos, eugenics, metaphysics, kitsch and corn, near which most wise souls never stray. They’re cute. They’re icky. They’re the future of the world. They’re a pain in the ass. They’re miniature people, beloved fruit of the loins, little dividends, ball-and-chain. They’re evidence. They’re fate. They’re just kids. You have your operator’s manuals, your cause for insomnia, your accessories, your maudlin crap. You have two kinds of people in this world – those who’ll never come anywhere near babies and enter old age childless with nary a shred of guilt, and those whose deep genetic flaw (the reproductive urge) causes their love, guilt, biology or bad luck to bestow them with a child. And then you have this half-inch-long baby, molded in pink thermoplastic, lying on a cold steel countertop, its back encrusted with clots of contact cement that until recently glued it to a novelty picture frame.

How does it make you feel?

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#246 :: Clockwork Mayhem

October 11, 2004

The disembodied hand threatens, amuses, horrifies – and keeps popping up in pop culture. The Addams Family’s Thing, Dr. Strangeloves’s rogue prosthesis, the alien-morphed hand-crab in John Carpenter’s The Thing and one of my favorite Creature Feature features – the sort of thing you watch in your neighbor’s basement at age 9 that causes spontaneously recurring nightmares months later – The Five Fingers of Fate. The windup, bloodied plastic hopping hand – with gold ring – falls on either the funny or the sick side of morbid – or it bounces merrily along the median, in that queasy space where it’s not labelable, but disturbingly evocative of the real thing.

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#245 :: Rotring “Lava” Trio Pen

October 10, 2004

Back when I was a newspaper reporter, I worked with a pad and a pen – whatever cheesy, throwaway ballpoint was in stock in the newsroom supply closet. The Bic Stic, the Papermate Flair – I’d blow through three or four a month. I would lose them, forget them, chew the caps ragged, and occasionally just write ’em dry. When I moved into online content and quit taking so damn many notes, I splurged once and bought a really ridiculously handsome pen (a Pininfarina-designed spaceship in neon-green anodized aluminum). And because I spent more than 29 cents on it, I hung onto it. Never lost it, rarely dropped it, and many times wrote the cartridge dry. At some point the clip fell off (metal fatigue) and I moved on to something more practical, if no less dramatic-looking. The Rotring Trio lets you select red ink, black ink or .7mm mechanical pencil, depending on which way you hold the barrel while pushing the plunger. I take notes in black, proofread in red, and sketch in graphite (a tiny eraser hides under the cap). I paid a stupid amount of money for it, but it’s the only pen I’ve owned now for almost four years.

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#244 :: Stock Car Mint Tin

October 9, 2004

Pop-culture ephemera lives on the broad cusp between usefulness and pointlessness, between necessity and completely disposable trash. We value, purchase and cherish unnecessary items – gimme caps, baseball posters, desktop figurines – based solely upon our affinity for the fantasy world they represent. NASCAR spreads like a pan-species virus through American commerce-culture, mutating to adapt to market needs, and accrete in places that are likely gravity wells for disposable income: convenience stores, smoke shops, supermarket checkouts. These places are vectors for infection – jostling waypoints, where myriad vortexes suck spare change from your pockets, and spare devil-may-care dollars from your wallet. Lou Reed once wrote, “Does anybody really need a $60,000 car?” Does anybody really need a tiny lithographed tin shaped like a stock car and filled with dull-average mints?

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#243 :: Mexican Miniature Tableau

October 8, 2004

The tiny tableaux of artisans in Mexico speak in brightly-painted clay, a pithy, sharp medium for statements on religion, politics, mortality. Skeletons for the Día de los Muertos are the best-known, but most pungent and engaging are the political-cartoon dioramas.

The PRI (Partido Revolucionario Institucional) has dominated Mexican politics for decades, sort of the political answer to the joke about where the 800-pound gorilla sits – anywhere it wants to. Vicente Fox ended PRI’s 75-year stranglehold on Mexico in July, 2000. This little anti-PRI piece was a gift from a friend about 12 years ago when the party was still in power. The way I read it, the priest in the confessional is you, taking confession from the party (at left) and the opposition party of the moment (its avatar missing a limb here since they’re made from clay and shit happens) at the right. The serpent at your feet might be politics, might be Satan, who knows. It’s faded and dusty, and I can still barely make out this bit of advice/protest, inscribed in roller-ball ink on the tiny paper banners: Vota por el partido que diga a tu conciencia, y ya si gana el PRI, no es culpa tuya. Vote for the party that speaks to your conscience, and then if PRI wins, it’s not your fault.

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#242 :: Dummy Round

October 7, 2004

Eager in the way of the gun, we have built this nation on a foundation of weaponry and a steady diet of blood. It’s arguable that this aboriginal tribes did not have to be slaughtered, that the first wave of white Anglo immigrants could have coexisted peacefully with the Naragansett, the Mohicans, the Seminole, had they but tried. But powder and musket ball felt just, and the trigger like God’s own sword – the right tools for taming a lush land populated only by wild heathens. So we loaded, cocked and fired. We quarreled and warred amongst ourselves in the 1860s over the right to own human beings. We loaded, cocked and fired – and killed ourselves by the hundred-thousands. And we’ve spent much of the past 50 years picking gunfights with enemies real and manufactured. This is the way of it, and we continue today (a fact protested most gorgeously in this video), unabated, unabashed, too many of us unashamed. Our local army-surplus store sold me this: it has a green resin tip, air in the chromed shell casing where the powder should be, and no firing pin. A practice round, maybe for loading or cleaning, or otherwise loving your rifle. A blank. An empty promise not to harm.

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#241 :: Cheese with Mouse

October 6, 2004

The brains of alcoholics are porous, they say – holes develop from the constant pickling, holes that absorb life, intelligence, sense, common decency, self-respect, sanity. About nine months ago, a former best friend destroyed his holes in a head-on collision on a dark road in the Connecticut night. Scott ended 25 years of hard living, bad choices and nearly constant addiction to whatever was at hand – booze, coke, pot, heroin, crack, self-pity – intentionally, I think. My oldest friend in the world (6th grade AV club) and I surmise that Scott pulled his unregistered cheesebox car into the passing lane, saw the oncoming lights not too late, and decided, “Aaahhh, fuck it.” So ended the life of a sharp, witty, well-read, talented musician and career fuckup whom we couldn’t love any more. We had written him off a few years ago – after repeated vain attempts to help boost him into sobriety – but that wasn’t what was eating him. Psychosis ran in the family, and he was too smart for his own good and dead-set on destruction long before we left. I skipped the funeral. Random synapse-sparks connected that … with this – a lovely toy that occupied my son when he was about 2½. A wedge of pine, cross-drilled like a cubist brake disc, anchors a nylon cord attached to a decorated dowel. The game is to guide the mouse through as many holes as possible before the string comes out, and then rescue him, pulling him back the way he came. Scott never figured out the second part of the game.

Addiction sucks.

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#240 :: Random-Color Pencils

October 5, 2004

Good tools brook no question of trust. Pick up a 9mm box-end Craftsman hex wrench and you expect it will turn even the most badly seized 9mm nut with brute efficiency. If it fails – ever – you can get a refund. A tool generally does what it’s designed for, at the very least, and if you’re lucky, can be used for other purposes. But what of the untrustworthy tools – the ones that don’t reveal the precise outcome of their use until tried – random-number generators, the Spirograph, fractal software, tie-dying, the raku glazing process for pottery, the random actions of Cosmojetz. Okay, two of these are toys, which brings me to tonight’s objects: You simply cannot rely on a single color to emerge from these tools. They are prone to chaos – or, more positively, they embrace it. Thick, heavy, crammed with quadra-colored leads, they invite play. Surrendering to the outcome is an act of faith: This’ll be neat. And for that reason, they are precision instruments.

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#239 :: Stereopticon view – oil fields

October 4, 2004

This image of manifest destiny seems appropriate, as we consider ending the tenure of the most rapacious, wilfull and heedless administration this nation has ever known. This stereopticon card is another (see earlier) in my small collection of early 20th-century Keystone views of industry and nature.


Petroleum, sometimes called mineral oil or rock oil, has long been known in various parts of the world. The first mention of it in America was made in 1635 by a missionary who refers to springs found in the region that is now southwestern New York and northwestern Pennsylvania. In 1901 oil was discovered in the Beaumont district, in Texas. The fist well put down in the field yielded seventy-five thousand barrels of oil in a day. The liquid spouted in a column 160 feet high and continued flowing for nine day.

In drilling wells the most common outfit is known as the derrick. The derrick is about twenty feet square at the base and from seventy to one hundred feet high. It is built of either timber or steel. This picture shows a regular forest of these derricks in the oil fields of Texas, on the banks of Goose Creek. One such field has produced a million barrels of oil from two acres, but with so many wells the average amount for each well is less than where the wells are more scattering (sic).

Once an engine for pumping was a part of the equipment of each well. Now the more economical plan is followed of having a central pumping station for ten or more wells. When started, the gasoline engine will continue the work; and one may pass a long distance among wells without seeing a single person though on all sides is heard the creak of machinery magicallly bringing hidden wealth to the surface.

We still have seventy barrels left for each individual, but we have used an alarming proportion, and America must in a few years, at this rate, depend upon foreign fields.

Even then, they knew. Even then.

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#238 :: OoogieBoogie pin

October 3, 2004

From the sublime (yesterday) to the ridiculous: A piece of Disney ephemera that actually delights rather than insulting the intellect. Disney barely laid a creative glove on “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” preferring instead to make money from lucrative licensing deals, and official memorabilia. This pin is a single chunky slab of pot-metal, in the shape of Oogie Boogie, rather handsomely cloisonnéed with glow-in-the-dark bugs and worms. It spins on a little axle when you flick it.

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#237 :: Authentic manufactured maritime artifact

October 2, 2004

Clad in tiny bands of iron, this barrel only hints at its history. It bears a little engraved plaque: “HMS Victory.” The very ship on which British naval Captain Horatio Nelson commanded 27 warships in the huge battle against 33 French and Spanish ships at Trafalgar, off the coast of Spain.

Because of exceptionally light winds, it took more than a full day for the smaller British fleet to close in on its adversaries. As his ships moved towards battle, Nelson ran up a 31-flag signal that would forever after be associated with stalwart naval courage: “England,” the flags read, “expects that every man will do his duty.” Dividing his force, Nelson broke the Spanish line at two points, forcing the larger enemy fleet into smaller, fragmented engagements. On HMS Victory, his flagship, the commander attacked the French flagship Beaucentaure, crippling it in a single broadside volley.

Shortly after, the Victory ran up against the French Redoutable, whose crew had special training in small arms fire. With their masts locked together, the two vessels were entangled long enough for Redoutable’s crew to take advantage of its skills–and one notable casualty was Nelson himself. The shot entered his shoulder, pierced his lung, and lodged in the base of his spine. It was a fatal wound, but Nelson lived long enough to learn that Trafalgar was a decisive victory.

At the end of the day, the British had captured 20 French ships while losing none. The damaged Victory, with Nelson’s body aboard, was towed to Gibraltar, its arrival marking the beginning of more than a century of unchallenged British naval dominance of the world.

This barrel was fashioned from wood taken from the Victory. You could stick a stack of quarters into it, but little else.

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#236 :: Last resort

October 1, 2004

And now, something I have to do. This is the grim saga of this. It was the worst pain of my life, and the most hellacious 3-month round of shopping for a cure I’ve ever endured, but you should duck out if you bore easily. You’ve been warned.

My summer trip to Hell began on the July 4 trip to Yosemite, at the very moment I tore the bike racks off the car.

Instant stress. By the time I had blown through three bike shops and wasted two hours on the road and spent two more on the mountainside corkscrew hairpins into Yosemite with bughouse kids and carsick wife, I had a roaring headache. I thought nothing of it at the time, just, “Oh. This too. Great. Gottagettocamp.”

Next day, a duller version of the headache persisted as I wrestled with rebuilding my thrashed wheel rim beneath the redwoods. Popped a couple aspirin, it subsided a bit.

Next day, another headache. Now it’s getting weird. Stress, I tell myself. it’ll even out once you’ve stuck your feet in the river and hear the sough of wind through the pines for a few more hours …

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#235 :: Shalom bracelet

September 30, 2004

So much of faith is expressed in symbolism. This logo or that ritual, those laws to follow, these hands to wash beforehand. True belief takes such a leap of … faith that entire sects, churches, religions, nations, races engage in regular obeisance to symbolic propriety to reinforce their oneness, their righteousness, their might, and their identity as followers of the true way, the one God. Their temple. Their book. Their eyes cast heavenward and their hearts beating forward in visceral, passionate progress toward fulfillment of that way are the greatest testament to their dedication to their faith. In the greatest and gravest cases, the symbolism of faith becomes physical, curdles to disrespect, insult, bloodshed, war. And some wars have gone on as long as the faiths themselves, which have turned from codes of humanity and spirituality to mandates for genocide.

How do you symbolize faith in peace? The symbols are far fewer, less legitimized, hardly noticeable at all in human culture. One man’s peace symbol is another’s “footprint of the American chicken,” as they used to call it in the 60s. Lately, movements religious and otherwise are adopting bracelets as symbols. In a different era, it might have been hair shirts or amulets or tattoos. For the past 10 years it’s been a smug little slapfight of bumper-mounted metallic fish. But these days, it’s bracelets.

The Israeli Consulate in Los Angeles is trying out this object – a simple blue strap of elastic, tin-crimped to form a hoop, silkscreened with a few words in Hebrew. My good friend Yael Swerdlow, Press Officer for the consulate, explains:

It says Shalom in Hebrew, which means “Peace”.

The message we at the Consulate created it for is “Israel wants peace.” It’s nonpolitical, not aligned to any person or policy or specific population— Israel is a multicultural and diverse democracy, with over twenty percent Arab, Bedouin and Druze, and people of different faiths, Christians, Moslems, and they want peace just as much so this is not just Jewish, it’s just Israel wants Peace.

Because of the way the consulate is chartered, they cannot use the bracelets for fundraising, Swerdlow says. So they’re still working out exactly how they want to distribute the “shalom bracelet” but it will probably be via something like SASE so that anyone who wants one will be able to order it.

Bracelets can be ordered by sending a self-addressed, stamped envelope to:

Consulate General of Israel
6380 Wilshire Blvd Suite 1700, LA 90048
Attention: Yariv Ovadia, Consul for Communications and Public Affairs.

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#234 :: Z-Cardz

September 29, 2004

Z-Cardz are nifty. Z-Cardz are stupid. Z-Cardz are collectible. Z-Cardz are 3D DIY models that start as 2D cards. Z-Cardz come five to a box. Z-Cardz might be laser-cut. Z-Cardz might be water-cut. Z-Cardz manufacturing methods don’t show up easily in Google. Or A9. Z-Cardz are boats. Z-Cardz are animals. Z-Cardz are airplanes. Z-Cardz are spaceships. Z-Cardz are now, just two years after their introdution, some ridiculously elaborate game. Z-Cardz are a bore. Z-Cardz are more delightful when you put the pieces back into the cards, stick them on the shelf and forget about them until two years later when you suddenly stumble upon them and have to build them all over again. Z-Cardz are serious irritainment.

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#233 :: Wheel-O

September 28, 2004

Iconic, kinetic, and about as simple-minded as a yo-yo, the Wheel-O was your own hand-held Sputnik. The red wheel spins on axle-tips of magnetized metal that cling to the wire frame. Tip the frame back and forth, and it spins faster as it rolls around the frame. Get good enough at it, you can get it up to around 500 rpm, and more than two complete “orbits” per second. It’s the perfect desk toy – the quiet whir of magnets on steel, the whipping action of your wrist, the circular/linear motion always seem to relieve stress and restore focus when the project I’ve been staring at for far too long has begun to numb my wits. Sadly, there’s not much to be found on the Web, even on Amazon’s still-in-beta A9 search engine (which seems a bit unreliable, but has plenty of entertaining bells and whistles). Search results are far better for the still-in-mass-production Superball (“made of amazing Zectron(tm)!”), which is a heavy little object in its own right – though arguably not so elegant as Wheel-O. eBay is disappointing, offering only this ferociously ugly and overengineered knock-off. Dig deep enough, and you’ll find some true believers still selling this space-age delight, along with Sea Monkeys, Etch-a-Sketch and Wooly Willy.

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#232 :: Box Cutter

September 27, 2004

Now available for the first time, you can own a piece of the darkest hour of modern American history! This museum-quality replica of the very weapon that launched America’s War on Terror(TM) is meticulously rendered in vinyl-clad stamped steel, with a razor-like blade and a terrorist-approved pedigree. Made here in the U.S.A., this exquisite piece features elegantly simple design, a fine-honed steel cutting edge and all the style of a Bowie knife and the stealth capabilities of a nail-clipper file. Small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, yet powerful enough to carve a hole right in the Constitution, this piece is being issued in a limited edition, and available through this site only. Act now, and get yours!

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#231 :: Scale Motorcycle Model

September 27, 2004

(Penance round, for repeating myself last night): What matters is not that this is a precision 1:24 scale model of a 1942 Harley-Davidson “knucklehead” bike, in black and chrome. Nor that every tiny detail – from the leather seat rivets to the clutch-case bolts was hand-wrought on (probably) an Asian assembly-line by meticulous craftspeople with sable-hair brushes, religiously following a wholesaler’s paint chart. No, what matters is that I can park the thing on my desk, pick it up to tinker with it and spin the wheels every hour or so, and enjoy it without the whole dodging-traffic-astride-a-raucous-unreliable- widowmaker-of-a-conveyance-that-could-leave-me-a- quadriplegic-vegetable-and-my-kids-orphans-because-some- tweaker’s- too-busy-futzing-with-his-cellphone-to-pay-attention bit. Then the other half of me says, “Shut the fuck up and save your bucks or you’ll never ride anything remotely this wicked before you die.”

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#230 :: Folding Ruler

September 26, 2004

I’ve had this for years. It came out of one of those “hip” tchotchke shops that sprang up in the mid-late 80s, the ones with tattooed young proprietresses in vintage lorgnettes and Bettie Page-black hairdos and 30-hole Docs and poodle skirts, the ones that sold boxing nuns and wind-up spark-spitting Godzillas and milagros and Dia de los Muertos figurines. You’d sort of shuffle from one end of these stores to the other, your eyes precisely 34 inches from the cornucopiac wall of weird, delightful things, thinking, “God, I’ll never be as cool as these people, maybe if I buy something cool I can try …” And being a poor freelancer boho at the time, I could never conscion buying anything that wasn’t practical. Thus, this elegant little anodized aluminum folding ruler. Having escaped my 20s and never really achieving that coolness, I kept acquiring neat little objets, and the stores became common as Starbucks in some neighborhoods. But I use the ruler at least once or twice a week, if not to measure something, then to fiddle, folding and unfolding it with one hand in a vain attempt to clear my cluttered thoughts.

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#229 :: Old Sign

September 25, 2004

Estate sales are gloomy experiences. I rarely check them out, and when I do, I am always reminded of why that is: it’s not that dead people’s things are for sale. It’s that 50 or 60 years from now, someone else will fondling objects at my estate sale. It’s not a someone-just-walked-over-my-grave feeling. It’s resentment. Why are these fleshly vehicles ours for a limited time only? We take so long and work so hard building the people we become – or trying to figure out what the hell it is that we’re building, that our bodies begin failing us before the job is finished and just as we’re starting to get the hang of it. Mortality’s a right skullfuck. You can keep going on momentum or faith, or comfort in your progeny, or the durability of one or two things you’ve created in life. But this vital glimmer – the pattering sound and feel of these keys beneath my fingers, the whisper of the CPU fan, the screen’s flat glow, the animal flow of thought – doesn’t belong to me in the long run. I’m just renting it.

Not intending tonight to be a rant on the fragility of life, but my skull hurts where the tooth lived until yesterday afternoon. And this enameled metal sign, an estate sale find, kicked some of the sand out of my gears. The hole drilled in the middle of its top edge lets it be hung from a chain or string behind the glass door of a shop and flipped to tell the world whether to come in or try again later. The letters, in a gorgeous, blocky font, are laid on in reflectorized paint. It lives over our dining room door, always declaring, “OPEN.”

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#228 :: Wisdom tooth # 2

September 24, 2004

This came home today in a little box. It used to be in my head. I am now a few grams lighter. Having it removed was far more painful and unpleasant than this one four years ago. I’ll tell you the whole story another time – there’s rather a long one behind an upcoming object. I don’t really want to talk about it right now.

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#227 :: Limited Edition Movie Script

September 23, 2004

Hollywood has an alien economy that couldn’t exist outside its own borders: Flowing through the town is a rich, ceaseless tide of favor and artifice and expense and and gifts that Industry types omehow feel is necessary to sustain the real work – making movies that make money to allow the making of more movies. Among these is the sort of opulent, multi-part schwag kit sent out in a completely guileful attempt to curry favor from members of various guilds and unions and academies whose collective power bestows the Oscars (among other awards). This is the screenplay for Road to Perdition, illustrated with drawings from the comic by Max Alan Collins, and printed in the format of Big Little Books of the 1930s. If this thing never existed, the movie would still be slow (if beautiful) the people who brought it to life would still have earned their screen credits and paychecks, and it still would not have won any awards. This is an unnecessary object. But you still have to sort of gawp at it, and riffle through it. It exists almost purely for its own sake, despite the taint of capitalism and marketing. It’s fun to read.

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#226 :: Ersatz Astrolabe

September 22, 2004

The spherical rhythm of astronomic instruments seduces the eye. Ignorant of its real function, you fall into it, sucked deep by a vortex of repeating rings of mysterious meaning. It’s not the power of the instrument to divine the movement of the stars, but the power of the cool thing made of interlocking circles, the desire to pick it up and spin it, see if it looks different when you reorient its geometry. I made this for my then-new wife a few years back – banged together concentric needlework hoop-frames on brass machine-screw pivots, and at its heart stationed a sun, made by punching push-pins into a cedar ball I had fished from the bottom of the closet. I was never mathematical – Cs and B-minuses through high school – and had no hope of ever really having the patience to understand the markings on a real astrolabe. But I wanted to be able to hold one. In the end, it’s really just a cargo cult fetish.

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