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#225 :: 5-yen Coin

September 21, 2004

The hole is said to be lucky, the characters (identified by my good and knowledgeable friends on the WELL as spelling out the mint date (1988) and the words “go-en” which mean “5 yen” and also sound like the word “fate,” according to

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#224 :: Magnolia Pod

September 20, 2004

It’s autumn, and these plummet from the sky like alien landing craft. They lie dormant on the earth for a few weeks, benignly green and pine-coneish. But the Santa Ana winds seem to trigger a rot from within that transforms their pulp to flesh, which twists grotesquely and begins squeezing out vermillion seeds like so […]

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#223 :: Ramune bottle

September 19, 2004

Ramune soda itself is nothing remarkable – a pleasant, ineffectual carbonated citrus drink, as clear and forgettable as Sierra Mist, 7-Up and their ilk. But the bottle – a patented marvel of modernized glass-blowing – is a wonderful toy, souvenir and conversation piece. The glass marble waits seated in a rubber collar in the bottle’s […]

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#222 :: Music box

September 18, 2004

Exquisite little clockwork instrument, complex of make, simple of mind: It requires no talent to play, and yet rewards with a tinkly, plinky little rendition of Brahms’ “Moonlight Sonata.” Crank it fast or slow, as is your mood, but you have no more control over its workings than over the behavior of a mousetrap. Use […]

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#221 :: Coconut

September 17, 2004

Proof that evolution is a stern taskmaster: Take a coastal tree species, beat it repeatedly with hurricanes, blistering heat and pounding surf, shove it repeatedly into salty, sandy soil where little else that is green can grow, and eventually you come up with this: The perfect vault for life. This coconut came from a Filipino […]

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#220 :: Future Tunnel Puzzle

September 16, 2004

Tiny black plastic cars. Color-litho futurescape, printed twice. Cut overpass from second one, fold it, glue it up protruding from the first. Seal it in a tiny, cylindrical aluminum box, lidded with clear plastic. Repeat 3,947 times. Sell to exporters, grocers, gas stations, street vendors. Return home. Enjoy laughter of children. Sorry this entry is […]

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#219 :: Party Bottles

September 15, 2004

These behave with a relentless molecular certainty. Pick them up and drop them at random, as if casting bones for a fortune, and they self-group – bottles with bottles, fish with fish. Their physics is as predictable as that of soap bubbles and sand grains, oil and water. Do it over and over again. Clutch […]

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#218 :: Tarantula clock

September 14, 2004

My father painted this, in tribute to a short horror story my mother wrote in the 60s – about (as best I can remember, having read it once in my teens) a young tarantula with a case of tragically unrequited interspecies lust. Borne by banana boat from South America to the big city and carried […]

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#217 :: Gunslinger

September 13, 2004

Easy indicators ping the eyes in a semaphore of popcult semiotics, a whirlwind sartorial tour of 30 or 40 raw, fertile, fucked-up years in American history (and arent’ they all) as expressed in a single Britons toy: Bandanna, waistcoat, slouch hat, Colt repeater. So many unanswered questions: Did his inside jacket pocket hold stolen mine […]

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#216 :: Nepalese Iron Lock

September 12, 2004

This wouldn’t keep out a crackhead with a crowbar. It’s crudely hammered iron, cold-forged (but for the hasp) and pickable with a couple of well-placed screwdrivers. But in old Kathmandu, where they paint the great Swayambanath stupa with ghee and chant to honor Buddha, it’s probably big and gnarly-looking enough to do the job. The […]

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#215 :: Wrist-Sized Plastic Engagment Ring

September 11, 2004

The size of a sequoia he was, with a big gleam in his large eye. He whistled that day on his way through the neck-high woods, his gentlest trudge rippling the pond, startling the fish. He fumbled in his suitcase-sized pocket, afraid he had lost it through an ill-darned hole. No, there – he clenched […]

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#214 :: Blood cupping glass

September 10, 2004

The copper kettle had simmered 10 minutes long now. The nurse took a hook, dredged up the basket. Jaw set primly, she emptied it, steaming, onto a towel on the instrument table with a little tinkling clatter. One by one, the doctor’s tongs dipped and retrieved the hot cups, waving them expectantly in the air […]

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#213 :: “Chato,” the Homies Pit Bull

September 9, 2004

Homies, the fetishistic plasticizing of Latino-American gang members by some enterprising toymaker, grew only more famous and desirable once they were denounced by the Latino “establishment” for sugarcoating thug life. Legions of little Homies lurk on the shelves of L.A.’s toy stores, frontin’, representin’ and dissin’ their little resin hearts out. Chato appears to be […]

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#212 :: F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Water Closet Handle

September 8, 2004

At some point, Fitzgerald settled in Towson, Maryland (the years 1932 and 1933, to be precise) to rent a house called “La Paix.” At some point a couple of decades later, my folks were fun-loving college kids, and the house was being torn down. They made off with the pull-handle from his water-closet, and my […]

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#211 :: Commemorative Meat-Pot

September 7, 2004

This is a very, very early example of mass-produced, full-color graphic design – a ceramic container for potted meat produced some time just after the mid-19th century. (From my father’s collection). Rubberstamped and then handcolored, glazed and fired, battalions of British soldiers arrive by warship and landing boat at the Crimea, to fend off Russian […]

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#210 :: Volvo Speedo Head

September 6, 2004

I spent the better part of five or six years, and more than $6,000 trying to keep a malevolent old Volvo 142 on the road. I rebuilt the engine twice, replaced the gearbox, the seats, exhaust, carbs, steering, brakes, electrical system and stereo, had it Bondo’d and re-undercoated and painted. I kept pouring money and […]

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#209 :: Harpoon

September 5, 2004

You can take the hard route as I did, and slog through Melville’s brilliant, infuriatingly turgid and ultimately genius Moby-Dick twice, (once in college, and once during the go-go days of the dotcom era entirely in airport lounges on a PDA). Or you can understand man’s conquest and slaughter of whales by hefting this harpoon […]

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#207 :: Anthropomorphic Stapler

September 4, 2004

Squatting on its cast-iron haunches, its steel tail coiled with ready staples, this artifact of turn-of-the-last-century industrial design awaits a punch on the head. It is about eight inches long, and five high. Though it looks like a prop from an Edward Gorey book, its origins are a complete mystery, lost in that fathomless bog […]

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#208 :: Contents of a Small Boy’s Pockets

September 3, 2004

So we packed light for this vacation, figuring we’ll do a load of wash at my parents’ place while visiting, to save having to lug all the extra clothes that we would otherwise wear once before repacking them. And a few minutes after moving the load to the dryer, the machine starts making this horrendous […]

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#206 :: Husk Tomatoes

September 2, 2004

When I was 6 or 8 or 10, we used to travel to Long Island to visit family friends on Shelter Island. The flat green rush of trees and fields past our car window, beneath the unending blue field of cirrus and cumulus clouds formed the tranquil reaches of my personal geography, the promise of […]

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#205 :: Bronze life cast of Walt Whitman’s hand

September 1, 2004

Vacation. A return to the old family sod in Connecticut, to that magic last hour of lush August sun and before autumn’s alarming kaleidoscope of decay cools it to a brown land of mud and slush. We are staying with my parents in the big, old clapboard house where I grew up, its interior festooned […]

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#204 :: Discarded flasher lenses

August 31, 2004

The Museum of Modern Art Store is a glittering beach of industrial design where seaglass gems pile up, exquisite of design and function. A stroboscopic hazard flasher bought there just across from the museum a decade ago served a good 9 years, keeping Kenworths from eating me and my bike in the predawn murk. One […]

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#203 :: Holographic badge

August 30, 2004

The 50s-retro-chic flavor skein floating through the 80s oozed from many media. Sci-fi costume jewelry included. Television’s rabbit-eared, 1:66 Cyclopean eye follows you around the room from atop a doll’s body in an explosion of gears. The chunk of holographic plastic is filed and buffed along the edges, complementing the Googie-trapezoidal shape and aesthetic. It’s […]

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#202 :: Silver bead

August 29, 2004

Tibet, Indonesia, India, Pakistan – points east. Silver is hammered, pierced, drawn and twisted, orbited with wire and augmented with tiny balls of solder to the point where – alone – it hums with the import of an alien craft. Strung together with others, it loses all significance, retaining just the dull luster of metal […]

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#201 :: Chop

August 28, 2004

This is a facsimile of a thing of honor. Being not of the culture, but in the country, I had this traditional stone seal for imprinting my name made at a Hong Kong shop. The chop signifies dignity and integrity to those who use it correctly and understand its worth. For me, it was like […]

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