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#a384 :: Chinese tektite

March 6, 2009

030609So here’s what all the suspense and anticipation was about: A tektite – a lump of molten-then-resolidified glass created when a meteor traveling thousands of miles per hour smashed into China.

You can see impact grooves left by rocks or other particles crashing into it before it cooled hard – all of this took place in a few thousandths of a second.

Amazingly, they’re not that common: (more…)

Filed under: Fetish, Jetsam, Mineral | Comments (0)

#a383 :: Foreign mystery parcel

March 5, 2009

030509Oh, the wonder and menace of an unopened package from a foreign land.

I know exactly what’s inside (I’ll blog it tomorrow) but it’s the promise of what it might contain that always spins me up.

It bears all the markers of a Macguffin from a Hitchcock film – the lurid green packing paper, the neat knot of sturdy nylon twine, the oddly shaped stamps and return address of Hong Kong.

Why, it could be anything in there: A vial of radium. Live insects. An exotic dagger. Contraband hollow-point bullets. Antique hand-blown glass. Stolen South African gold.

Wait, here’s a clue – the customs receipt declaring it as “specimen” …

Filed under: Ephemera, symbol, Tool | Comments (0)

#a382 :: Brass bells

March 4, 2009

030409These have been floating around my parents’ house for as long as I can remember, by the dozens, it seems.

There’s a pair serving as a keyfob, another set tied to a Christmas ornament, it seems, and various bells clinking around amidst their never-ending and unintentional collection of heavy little objects.

I’d guess they came from India, where our family traveled for two intoxicating, culture-shocked weeks when I was 14, and where Dad and Mom returned several times to lecture.

Turn them to the right angle and they become wide-mouthed frogs with wagging, jangling tongues. Then shake them and listen.

Filed under: Adornment, Fetish, Instrument, My father's HLOs | Comments (0)

#a381 :: Flexplay DVD

March 3, 2009

0303091This is one of those freaks of science that will have completely obsolesced within 10 years.

I weep at the sheer volume and depth of technological experimentation and collaboration that culminated in its manufacture – all of it doomed to the landfill and a fascinating footnote in Wikipedia because of FlexPlay‘s very wizardry:

A Flexplay disc is shipped in a vacuum-sealed package. There is a clear dye inside the disc, contained within the bonding resin of the disc, which reacts with oxygen. When the seal is broken on the vacuum-packed disc, the layer changes from clear to black in about 48 hours, rendering the disc unplayable. If unopened, the shelf life of the sealed package is said to be “about a year.” The DVD plastic also has a red dye in it, which prevents penetration of the disc by blue lasers, which would go straight through the oxygen-reactive dye.

You can get some pretty decent movies in this format for like a buck-99 at Staples – provided you’re willing to accept the responsibility for recycling the damn thing, or the guilt from just hucking it into the trash.

We stopped halfway through “The Kite Runner” this evening since it was getting late.

Hope we get to see the rest of it tomorrow night – before the disk goes the hyperaccelerated way of all flesh.

Filed under: Artifact, Ephemera, Jetsam | Comments (0)

#a380 :: Brass dingus

March 2, 2009

030309I should be smarter. I should be able to classify and categorize based on Google findings if nothing else.

But this one eludes me. Dad sent it along, and it seems to be machine-turned brass from India – maybe even with spiritual or religious symbolic significance.

But I’ll be damned if I can figure out what it is.


Filed under: Art, Ephemera, Fetish, My father's HLOs, symbol | Comments (0)

#a379 :: Las Vegas tiki culture artifact

March 1, 2009

030109The Aku-Aku Restaurant opened in 1960 inside the much-fabled Stardust Casino in Las Vegas.

When the Stardust was imploded in 2007, mob-culture journalist Nick Pileggi called it “the Bellagio of its day, the most dazzling casino out there.”

The Aku Aku ran for 20 years.=, a veritable temple of tiki culture (Here’s its appetizer menu).

My step-father-in-law, who has a massive Vegas collection both in cabinets and in his head, very generously gave me this today. (Thanks, Lee!)

I don’t know whether this fellow is laughing or grimacing, but he’s the real deal – a rough-hewn head in wonderfully scratchy ceramic.

He’s now living in a place of honor, among the other shrunken heads.

Filed under: Art, Artifact, Ephemera, Facsimile, Fetish, symbol | Comments (0)

#a378 :: Shaving brush

February 28, 2009

022809Before the age of fluorocarbons and exotic esthers, a man used to scrub his bar of shaving soap into a lather with one of these, daub thge resulting suds onto his face and shave.

I gave this to Dad for Christmas a few years ago, and he sent it along last month in a boxful of HLOs he generously lent to the cause.

Chromed brass, and little used, by the way it’s corroding. Somewhere in the sound stages of Hollywood I imagine a prop man is working very hard to apply this sort of finish to a gilded-age industrial opera.

Filed under: Tool | Comments (0)

#a377 :: Floss capsule

February 27, 2009

022709My mother once began one of her wonderful short stories with the line, “Harry Farmer loved his teeth.”

If I’ve gotten that wrong, I’m sure she’ll correct me here, as she will remind me of its title and which volume to find it in, and remember with me our many misadventures with our (own, not collective) teeth.

Tooth care is not necessarily a family obsession, but we all have our share of caps, crowns, veneers, amalgam fillings and exploratory filings committed by various dentists over the decades. And while we share a healthy disdain for Novocain and spit cups we also hold a grudging respect for good dentistry.

This lovely little gadget came from the office of the good Dr. John T[name redacted] where I learned earlier this week that I may not need that root canal I’ve been dreading. After he filed down a spot that I had take for a bad root, chewing doesn’t hurt quite so much, and we’re now in wait-and-see mode, downgraded from Defcon Aw Fuck.

In any case, I am reminded by such events to floss my teeth. Which I will now go and do.

Filed under: Ephemera, Tool | Comments (0)

#a376 :: Tiny screwdriver kit

February 26, 2009

022709Kikkerland is quite possibly the weirdest little purveyor of HLOs on the planet.

Besides being responsible for the Kosmojetz and Zecar that brought endless hours of fruitless, silly play to my desktop, they make lamps, stationery and barware.

I don’t know which category of modern-living fetishes this falls into, but it’s rather useful – a half-dozen tiny screwdriver bits held captive in a knurled, hollow aluminum handle. Pop the o-ring-sealed end cap, pull out a bit, put it into the magnetic socket on the business end and – hey – you’re screwing.

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#a375 :: Grass frond

February 25, 2009

022509I walked back to the house this morning after dropping the kids at school.

I brushed the foliage outside our house with my hand.

This came loose.

Keeping my rhythm so I could square up head-on with the workday, I stuck it into a clutch of hibernating agapanthus and kept cruising down the front steps (we live on a hill).

Then I envisioned the grass frond drying out and casting its seeds, and fronds of grass growing up through the agapanthus.

So I plucked it out and turned it to a better purpose.

Separating the grass from the plant would have been tedious, and ongoing.

Ars longa. Yardwork longest.

Filed under: Found Object, Jetsam, Life form | Comments (0)

#a374 :: Cookie cutter

February 24, 2009

022409Girl Scout Cookie season is burgeoning, which means a surfeit of Brownietude at our place.

Over the weekend, the kitchen filled with little girls (and a couple of moms) so fully that the boy and I took refuge in errands and a roller skating mission to Perry’s.

When we returned the air smelled rich with baking, the floor beneath the kitchen table bore a film of flower dust and crumbs and a few of these things are still lying around.

Filed under: Tool | Comments (0)

#a373 :: Snowshoe hare

February 23, 2009

022309Two thumbsplats for eyes, slick back his ears, give him an immense tail, and now he’s some sort of steroidal racing bunny-ghost.

My daughter’s latest class project calls for a creature endowed with camouflage. She made this – and several others like it – out of Super Sculpey. It’s so pure, I can almost envision having a tattoo made from it. Almost.

Filed under: Art, Miniature, Model, symbol | Comments (0)

#a372 :: Kaleidoscope

February 22, 2009

022209I think we forget how to see. We’re so absorbed with processing most of the time that we fail to register the weight of anything in front of us.

“Oh, there’s a car.”

Not, “if I could have an exploded-view version of that floating around, I’d really have something.”

This was a Christmas gift at some point in the past 10 years. Hand-inlaid wood wraps a triangular tube of mirrors with a glass marble (or more likely, half-marble) at the end.

It reminds you that you are seeing.

Filed under: Art, Fetish, Instrument, Toy | Comments (0)

#a371 :: Computer glasses

February 21, 2009

022109This is meta: I usually shoot objects while looking through these. If I flip the metaphor, is there a little me down there on the stand running around behind the lenses with a camera, shooting up?

Even spectacles have weird dreams.

Filed under: Adornment, Instrument, Tool | Comments (0)

#a370 :: crushed putty

February 20, 2009

022009a Guest post from my son, 9.

This silly putty was found under my shoe after sitting there for a few days. The long line down the middle is from the shoelace under the shoe. The other part with the ridges is from the pattern on the sole of the shoe. It’s kind of squishy, but not as squishy as play-doh. The other cool part is that putty bounces. I probably haven’t played with it since I was five. I didn’t intentionally avenge the putty by accidentally tearing the shoe to bits playing handball when I wore it to school the next day.

Filed under: Found Object, Jetsam | Comments (0)

#a369 :: Lucky lead pig

February 19, 2009

021909Once upon a time, his paint was perfect.

You can see it on his good side – the bright and chipper eye facing the lucky shamrock dangling from his left jowls – that look that says fortune will smile on us both if you keep me close.

Flip to the other side – the stem of the shamrock – and age has turned him grim.

Chipped paint has flaked away from his face, left him with a patina of jaundice, decay and despair.

He’s sat overseeing my family’s kitchen for decades of happy parties, warm dinners, humdrum suppers and lonely midnight snacks. He’s seen three or four generations of scotties come and go. Watched my brother and sister and me grow up, squabble, chuckle, despair, rave and joke, waited quietly while we went off to school and then work and life beyond the kitchen, and return home there again and again.

And my dad was kind enough to dethrone the little feller long enough to ship him to me to be duly added to this rambling catalog of obsession.

Tomorrow, I’ll ship him back so he can return to his rightful place. And continue his vigil of bemused decay.

Filed under: Artifact, Ephemera, Fetish, Miniature, My father's HLOs, symbol | Comments (0)

#a368 :: Phillippe’s hot mustard

February 18, 2009

021809She peered into the jar, dubious.

“Go on, dolly, put some on your sandwich. It won’t bite ya.”

He was stifling a grin, the louse. She knew he’d take her to a joint like this.

He was a shift-boss at her job at Lockheed, always real sweet to her at quitting time. When she was weak. Always hitting on her. The crumb.

He was an honest guy. But he was all jammed up paying alimony, to a wife who ditched him for some zoot-suiter. So he lived cheap.

They were in production around the clock now. Seven days a week.

The Japs had kicked our keisters hard at Midway. Now it was all hands to battle stations. Double shifts on the fighter-bomber lines. Because by God, air power was going to win this war. Nothing less, the plant manager said, that day in front of the big flag.

So she left her son – who looked just like his Pop – with the Mexican lady on the corner in the evening. And she went to work …


Filed under: Edible, Ephemera, Microfiction | Comments (0)

#a367 :: Pull-tab collection

February 17, 2009

021709 Used to be you’d tear open a can of beer (or pop or soda or Clamato or whatever) and throw away the aluminum tab. Or maybe you’d chuck it inside and risk swallowing it, lacerating your throat or lungs, and winding up a footnote in the New England Journal of Medicine.

But at some point (1975, thank you Daniel Cudzik of Reynolds Metals in Richmond, Va.), industry came up with a better way of sealing cans.

Now you pop a can, flip the tab back down (unless you want it sticking up your nose), guzzle and trash … er, recycle.

These were found deliberately separated from their cans and stuffed into a perspex box outside an antique store in Boulder City, NV as part of some inscrutable community charity fundraising scheme.

Filed under: Jetsam, Tool | Comments (0)

#a366 :: Original copper transmission line – Hoover Dam

February 16, 2009

021609This is almost the holy grail of heavy little objects: a thing with history, patina, functionality, exciting manufacture and moving parts. Jesus, it made me one happy tool-using ape to find this: a chunk of the original copper electrical transmission line installed during construction of the mighty Hoover Dam.

For five bucks you get a gorgeous slice of copper cable – buffed of burrs and still bearing the black corrosion picked up while hanging over the Hoover Dam gorge for more than 7 decades charged with 287,500 hydroelectrically generated volts.

Here’s the background from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation‘s brochure that came with it : (more…)

Filed under: Artifact, Ephemera, Fetish, Jetsam, Part, symbol, Tool | Comments (2)

#a365 :: Lead type

February 15, 2009

021509It’s fitting that I mark the end of my second full year of daily obsession on this blog with such an archetypal handful of heavy little objects:

I found these samples of a truly lovely display font in an antique shop in rural Arizona earlier this week – artifacts of a dead technology going for a buck apiece.

Moveable type remained nearly unchanged for more than 400 years after Gutenberg first puzzled it together – solid blocks shaped into reversed letters, inked to move message to page – until computers blew away all the old technology and the ensuing conflagration began taking with it the newspapers, magazines and other ephemera with which a race has spent centuries defining itself … (more…)

Filed under: Artifact, Ephemera, Jetsam, Objet, symbol, Tool | Comments (2)

#a364 :: Las Vegas thrill tickets

February 14, 2009

021409I work in this office, in my home. It’s a nice office, in a very nice home, but when you’re in a building 24/7, you develop a deep need to get the hell out before your urge to claw your hair out turns too real.

Cabin fever and a three-day weekend conspired to send us to Las Vegas for a couple of nights.

ON the way out, I took the kids on Desperado, a rattling, nasty, brutish roller-coaster at Buffalo Bill’s. Poised at Primm, NV, the huge casino complex is perfectly situated to suck in road-weary Angelenos looking for a respite and an early taste of the thrills in store in Las Vegas proper.

The kids screamed their heads off. My spine reminded me of my age. And yet the chill blast of air, the wicked first plunge at 85mph and something like a 60-degree angle into a tunnel in the ground was just the thing to blow all remaining shreds of stir-crazy from my head … Next morning, I lay on my back on the floor of our Las Vegas hotel room realigning my spine and marveling at two things: (more…)

Filed under: Artifact, Ephemera, Jetsam, symbol | Comments (0)

#a363 :: Bronze and stone sculpture

February 13, 2009

021309It’s rare that an object straddles the razor-fine line between art and camp, between craft and kitsch.

Yet here is a little man of bronze, made to recline in the cup of a water-pocked stone.

His blobby countenance, his Giacomettian proportions keep him from being a thing of manufactured cuteness and maybe lend him a bit of gravitas. Or, he could be just a quaint paperweight. I can’t decide.

This is something my father lent to the cause by way of his collection.

Filed under: Art, Facsimile, My father's HLOs | Comments (0)

#a362 :: Leopard’s victim

February 12, 2009

021109A leopard, savaging a prone man.

The man’s head has snapped off the sculpture, which makes it extra-poignant.

I love the way this is rendered, his spots suggested by little rings of bronze, his tail curled down between the man’s legs and shoulders hunched in a pose of Darwinian dominance.

Fitting, for the week of Charles Darwin‘s 200th birthday.

Filed under: Art, Facsimile | Comments (1)

#a361 :: China napkin rings

February 10, 2009

021009Around our house, I make dinner one of two ways:

  1. Crank something out in a hurry on the stove, slap it down in front of the kids and hope they don’t moan or spill all over their clothes as they forget to use their utensils;
  2. Or grill something big and munchy (think ribs or sesame-garlic chicken with corn on the cob) on the barbecue, hand out plastic utensils and grab a beer.

But somewhere in the world, people are bunching up their good linen napkins in lovely napkin rings for fear of – what, I don’t know – having their napkins look unceremonious.

I appreciate the culture of a good table setting. On our trip to London last summer, we got to tour Windsor Castle’s grand ballroom, where HM the Queen had ordered a state dinner prepared for 150. Picture that in gold dining utensils set aside 150 bone china plates on gold-plated chargers, each with little LED floodlights illuminating a hand-calligraphed nametag beneath this ceiling and you begin to get the picture.

These rings (a loan from Dad) are part of the same Culture of Preciousness, about which I have bloviated a bit in the past.

Precious. When you somehow need to feel special by making your guests feel special.

Filed under: Ephemera, Fetish | Comments (0)

#a360 :: Temperance-era novelty bar tool

February 9, 2009

020909This conflicted fellow was cast in pot-metal and chromed in cheap silver probably more than 100 years ago.

His top-hat is a jigger, his feet end in a spoon, the better to mix you a nice drink and present you with a little moral dilemma in the bargain:

Do you spoon something into your drink, facing the two-headed man’s disapproving snarl and wagging finger of reproach on the front side?

Or do you prefer to see the back, where heedless souse’s happy guffaw uncorks your beer and his little cocktail glass foameth over?

I’m really grateful for this loan from the amazing collection of Dad.

Update – Apparently this comes from the early 20-th century temperance era – see Dad’s comment quoted below. More about Carrie Nation here.

Filed under: Artifact, Ephemera, Facsimile, My father's HLOs, Objet, Tool | Comments (2)