Friday, December 28, 2012

Mr. Hudson

Upstairs Downstairs vs. Downton Abbey

 The last week I have been watching Downton Abbey, an Upstairs Downstairs-type of series. It is set in the same Edwardian era as the original early 70s show.
The new series is cast well, with high production values. It is more operatic than Upstairs Downstairs was, episodes being more dependent on the  overall narrative. The setting is more romantic, taking place in a large country estate, rather than a London townhouse.

With all the drama between the servants and their masters, butlers and lordships, I cannot help but recall the greatest butler of them all, Gordon Jackson in his role as Mr. Hudson in the original series.  With just a silent shift of his lips, he was able to express concern or disdain. Jackson died eons ago it seems (1990), but the expressions and opinions of the Scottish butler remain indelible and fresh in my mind.

I feel that we know the thoughts of Mr. Hudson far more than those of the butler in the modern series. Is this a tribute to the writers and actors of Upstairs Downstairs, or simply the way things have changed for me as a viewer? I saw the old show over the course of many years, gradually, growing up with it.  The modern show is something seen quickly, over the course of a week or two.

When we consume modern media in such a way, is it no wonder that it does not impress and move us in the same way that earlier works did?

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Charles Bronson, the Quiet One

While watching the wonderful Vincent Price film House of Wax (1953) the other night, I noticed an oddly familiar face playing a deaf mute named Igor, a staff member of a wax museum studio. The face bothered me; darned if it didn't look like Charles Bronson.

When I investigated, sure enough it was the great quiet tough guy, in his very early movie career (then named Charles Buchinski), before he assumed what would be his stage name. As I figured, Bronson has been gone for a while, dying in 2003. He's one of those late actors that you just don't hear about anymore, unlike tough guys Lee Marvin or Robert Mitchum, who, despite being dead, live on as muses or idols for a certain type of musician or artist (Tom Waits, Jim Jarmush, etc.) 

Though a great icon, Bronson fell a bit on the wrong side of the spectrum. His features were unusual; they were rugged but not concurrently seizing in the correct way (a hint of the asiatic perhaps?) His roles tainted him for the young and hip, dark leather-wearing band crowd (for whom a special political perfume is needed.) He had too much the whiff of rightist vigilantism about him, his most famous role being the protagonist in Death Wish.

And by extension, dare I say... Bernie Goetz, the real life vigilante. This type of vigilantism, once the stuff of folk-hero mythos and TIME magazine covers, does seem somewhat dated. It hasn't aged well in the following decades, what with a changed context of "going postal", Oklahoma City, Militia Movement, and a litany that forever grows.

But back to the early Bronson, mute Igor:

Directors of the Vincent Price horror films really had fun. One ingenious trope is that of the living head amid the inanimate, such as Igor holding watch amid wax dummies. Another great use of this was in a much later film, Dr. Phibes Rises Again (1973), wherein death-head scarred Vincent Price coyly watches Egyptoligists in a tomb, camouflaged as he is by lifeless skeletons.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Sandy Duncan, urban-mythic Cyclops

When one can't chart the history of associations that have allowed him to arrive at a thought, it's called the Sandy Duncan Effect. I found this out recently--she just popped into my mind, the same way she has done for fellow bloggers. We don't know why we think of her, we just do.

She is a still-living personality that I seldom consider. This makes her image all the more vivid, lit in front of a David Lynchian purple velvet curtain in the spotlight of the mind's eye.

It could be argued that Peter Falk is the patron saint of this blog. His character Columbo has inspired a great deal of entries, being that the series has compelled me to google a panoply of character actors. I revere Falk. His cyclopian aspect makes him all the more special. His Columbo character has keen insight, Odin-like. He is locked into an archetype, like the original cyclopses, seeds of  Uranus' castration.

I assumed there must be some such aura surrounding Sandy Duncan, one of the first one-eyed celebrities I became aware of. Well I remember the fascination, within the knotty-pined and cane-covered TV world of childhood family rooms, when my mother related to me the story of Duncan's cyclopia. Doubtless Duncan was performing in a variety show, full of sugar-sequined curtains, when mom explained that the actress had had a brain tumor, requiring the removal of her eye, to be replaced by a glass eye. It was astonishing; there must be a divine feminine force that propelled her glass eye into a field of high performance, looking so real. Unlike the expressions of her male counterparts, (think of the glare of Sammy Davis Jr., or Peter Falk's inscrutable, swart pebble under his crusty brow)  Duncan's eye was amazingly life-like.

How do such urban myths evolve? Now I have found out it is hogwash. Sandy Duncan never had a glass eye. We may bemoan much of this digital age, but at least the new access to information makes these urban myths easy to bust. Some of the magic is lost, too.

 I look back to my times in school, hearing the strange pronouncements of teachers, who  sometimes built whole lessons--neigh, whole units-- around pixie dust.
My favorite of these fallen myths is the one woven into my memories of Social Studies, maybe 8th Grade. With the look of a pastor, voice full of awe and portent, our beloved teacher relayed the sad story of  Kitty Genovese, victim of modern society. She screamed for help in the Babylon of New York (remote and dark city of imagination, decadent as the original Babylon of mustached caliphs and sword-dancers.) Her cowardly neighbors lay in bed, callously ignoring her, letting her die. This story has since been shown to be inaccurate.

 Now, parents and authorities have lost their power to myth-shape.
I find that the certainties of childhood have largely fallen through the thin ice. Myths develop because of our wish for certainty, for explanation.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Grandson of Psychoanalysis

You know you've missed something sometime somewhere when you are reading a newspaper of a beloved or at least well-known figure, and there is a steady use of verbs in the past tense. And it's not an obituary--what's going on here...

Such a thing happened to me the other day, when reading about Lucian Freud, the British figure painter known for jarring portraits, obsessively detailed and full of impasto, paradoxically. Included in any  paragraph about the painter, usually set within the first sentence, would be the note that he was Sigmund Freud's grandson. When I wikied him, I didn't feel too weird about his lateness, seeing that he had died only a year ago.

 (It wasn't like others, such as Ed Bradley, 60 minutes newscaster, who had been gone for eons before I found out about it. As an expat I sometimes experience holes of knowledge, being somewhat removed from my culture, even though I am fairly plugged into the world.)

What jarred me, more than missing the younger Freud's death, was reading that he was 88 years old! My word... I had been laboring under the idea that he was part of that younger generation, the rock stars that had reshaped the world--Beatles, David Hockney, that sort--the mod squad. Sure, all of them are getting older, Mick Jaggerish in their leathered skin... but getting up into the late 80s? The upper years, wherein grandmas survive tenaciously? This age seems more fit for Sigmund Freud's son, but his grandson already? Is the father of psychoanalysis so far back there in the grainy era? Are we not still enjoying all the things Freud made possible or informed--Alfred Hitchcock thrillers, cartoons, surrealism, (photoshopping) Sci-Fi B movies... Time is really marching on!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Rodney King

Rodney King takes me back to NY in the early 90s, when a feeling of martial law engulfed the city during one evening. The city was battening down the hatches, as were other cities, fearing contagion of the riots then incinerating LA. It turned out that NY remained calm, with nary a fatality. I seem to remember one Korean shop worker was killed, but that would have been a standard statistic, when the city was a rougher place than it is today (homicide rates were around 3,000 per year.)

The King riots might be the last of the great racial/class riots of the US. Though still breaking out in Europe (remember last summer's U.K. hoody mayhem) this phenomenon has cooled down much stateside, since it began in the 1960s. In one way the King riots signaled the end of an era, but in another way, his video-captured beating brought in a new era.  The ubiquity of camera phones and Youtube have probably altered police behavior.

I was surprised to read of King's death. Just a month or two ago I had heard an interview with him, when he was publicizing his memoir. He seemed a happy man, mellowed by time generously compensated, thanks to a civil suit. His swimming pool death is eerily familiar--seems that many LA celebrities, or their spouses, die this way.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Rich history of childhood ghouls

Recently I read Kirk Demarais' wonderful book, Mail-order Mysteries (Real Stuff from Old Comic Book Ads) and was jolted to see several artifacts long forgotten. Perhaps the best was the Ghoul, a mask not thought of for perhaps 40 years.

This book explains dozens of fascinating things I only imagined--because I was a kid of too modest means, never being able to afford anything in the advertisements at the time. (Heck, I couldn't even afford the comic books in which these ads were printed, relishing the one or two comics my Grandma would buy for me each summer, before a camping trip!)

But some of the things in this book I actually saw and touched in childhood, finding treasures in my grandparents' basement. This place held a tremendous, intoxicating pull for me, for it offered a window into the world of of my uncle and father's childhood or teen years in the 1960s, a rich place. Literally rich, apparently. They evidently had had access to resources enough to have purchased things like this Ghoul Mask in their youth.

I had a good childhood, but in retrospect I see that it was probably more puritan, more modest than the generation before me. (This perhaps steeled me for the age of austerity that grinds on endlessly year after year, thanks to factors of globalization and technology. Are we hapless zombies or potato sack-wearing somnambulists, stumbling in the great "race to the bottom?") 

Not only were my means more modest, I suspect that my mother would have forbade much of the grotesque and muscular expressions, the monsters of the early 60s youth culture. A perfect example is this mask, the Ghoul, made by Topstone Company of Connecticut. Holy Mackerel--can you imagine something like this coming out of CT today?

Though I can't recall the exact moment I discovered this mask in the basement, I can imagine that I probably thought it first a slightly crusty rag, as I withdrew it from the corner of a drawer of closet, sharing the sweet dust of Outer Limits cards or gumball charms. Unfurling the rubber, I would have discovered this thing was a ghastly mask, a magical thing. It was scary enough just to handle, with its texture of mummified skin, in some places flaccid, in others, crusty, the latex aging. I think I scared the bejezuss out of my younger brother when I wore it (or was it the reverse, when he wore it?) Who knows what happened to it?

Thanks to books, the Internet, and eBay, I can see it again, rekindling a moment of wonder and horror long dormant.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Dick Clark

Here's a rare collector's item from yesteryear, inspired by the B-movie spate of "I was a teenage" movies of the 50s/60s.

I heard of Dick Clark's death last week, and was propelled into the multiverse, experiencing Art Bell's  phenomenon of the Nelson Mandela Paradox. (The experience of being sure that such and such a person is dead in one's familiar universe; when hearing that the person is alive, or has just died, it gives you a jolt,  giving question to your firm place in time and space.)

This phenomenon happens most relative to personages with whom you have little strong association--just neutral bits of culture. Such is the case with Clark, representative of tribal youth culture and its  artifacts.

Sunday, April 22, 2012


Above is an illustration I photoshopped just now, after reading that Thomas Kinkade died. I combined one of his typical posters with a waif painted by Keane. Before Kinkade assumed the mantel of kitsch-master sometime in the 1990s, Walt/Margaret Keane had dominated this genre in the U.S.

My illustration serves a few different points that are interesting to me:

  • Kitsch is transitory.  While Kinkade's sugary landscape looks familiar (part of our time, betokening CG films, Disney, etc.) the big-eyed waif looks foreign. Once a staple of popular visual culture (seen in millions of homes, and stacked in any thrift shop or garage sale), the Keane waif stands to be forgotten. Something of her sweetness, however, lives on in the Japanese esthetic for cure big-eyed products. 
  • Kitsch knows borders. Living as I do in Norway, I was startled to hear of Kinkade's death more than a week after it was common knowledge in the U.S. Kinkade is virtually unknown in Europe. His style apparently appeals to a certain conservative puritan attitude only within the US. (Keane assiduously avoided any whiff of natural forces, keeping his scenes free of weather, predation, or nudity.)
Thomas Kinkade was a CEO, a procurer for what the populace wanted. Therefore it fits that we know not his face, but only his style. He's different from the likes of the Keanes, who aired their laundry in the public courts for decades, battling each other like characters in a Tennessee Williams play. In contrast, the Kinkade family is tight-lipped, offering a controlled statement to the press as to the CEO's passing, allowing us to only speculate as to the cause of death at the relatively young age of 54.

It is interesting to study American kitsch relative to other powerful versions, such as Communist Social 
Realism (Soviet, Chinese, N. Korean), or Fascism (German or Italian.) American kitsch is bottom up, the artist procuring for the wants of the masses. The other cited versions of kitsch are more top down, driven by authoritarian didactics, rather than mass market forces.

Norway's most famous living painter, Odd Nerdrum, has yet more interesting ideas on the nature of kitsch.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Governor Gloom Still Alive

When I was in college at the University of Denver in the 1980s, Richard Lamm, governor of the state of Colorado, was making national news. “People who die without having life artificially extended are similar to ''leaves falling off a tree and forming humus for the other plants to grow up”, is an example of one of his frank statements, earning him the nickname, Governor Gloom. I was assuming that he had died, but when I googled him I found he is still very much alive. According to Wikipedia Richard Lamm is currently a professor at my alma mater. He is a novelist and occasionally writes controversial articles. Why haven't I heard about him for so long?

The simple answer is that he no longer holds such a high profile office. But the more interesting answer can be found in the meditation on how times have changed. While Gov. Lamm was unique in his time, doom and gloom has since become the coin of the realm, the standard rhetorical currency of our time. Right or left of the political spectrum, we hear it constantly.

Republican candidate Rick Santorum invokes old-time indignation often. Lucifer is incarnate, his minions eating away the morals in literal ways. Stalinist legislations from the White House force abortion drugs, bought by employers under the onerous, monolithic Obama-care. An evil pall lies over the land, legacy of J.F.K., whose vile speeches are enough to cause Santorum to actually retch.

Less on the explicitly moralistic side, and more on the fiscal side of Gloom and Doom, was last year's great “chicken” game over the rise of the Federal Debt Ceiling. When Republicans took control of the House in the midterm elections they felt empowered to deny Obama's tax increase proposal alongside spending cuts. It looked like the U.S. was about to default on its debt, but at the last minute they agreed on some spending cuts and a debt rise. It was a white-nuckler.

Forever there is a gnawing fear about the astronomically, incomprehensibly high national debt, and what it portends for the future of Social Security and Medicare: an uneasy sense of doom somewhere out ahead. The same uneasiness can be felt in the EU, when similar “chicken games” play out, such as the recent agreement over Greek debt and bond holders' final haircut.

Doom and Gloom is equally important, perhaps even more important, on the left of the political spectrum. Climate Change policy is full of Doom and Gloom. The planets' population spirals forever upward, while resources dry up. Cities and countries crumble and flood, from New Orleans to Haiti, to Fukashima. Tsunamis, rising sea levels, and increasingly volatile weather patterns cause disasters or “reverse miracles” that could have been described in the wrathful prose of the Old Testament.

Back to Governor Gloom, here's an interesting predictive quote: "The U.S. economy will be debt-ridden, with structural unemployment nearing 20 percent. The U.S. will have the lowest percentage of capital investment and lowest growth in productivity and savings of any major industrialized country. The middle class will be wiped out by these inter-related economic predicaments. …”

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Davy Jones

Hey Hey We're the Monkees!
The decade of the 60s hung in the air still, but only in the form of flotsam and jetsam. In the early 70s we kids didn't know what it all meant. Strange chemicals lay as chem trails in the cultural ether--Agent Orange, LSD, PCP, THC--and the ferrous-smelling molecules of recent assassinations, a heavy aerosol of blood droplets from RFK, MLK, Manson, and Kent State. Before Commercial News Network took over, the three old TV network ushered into our family rooms graphic scenes of  the marching carnal house that was Viet Nam, as presidents LBJ and Nixon painted themselves into corners.

Relief was at hand Saturday mornings when The Monkees took over.  Playing in a slot sandwiched by cartoons, this program was a zany adventure featuring a wholesome boy band, whose driving force, apparently, was Davy Jones. The style of filming was inspired by the proto-music videos of Beatles    zaniness. Jones and his Monkees, however, were not as testy as the original four, hardened as they were in habits from the underground years in salty districts of Germany and England.

After interest in 60s psychedelia ebbed, team-player Jones parlayed his career into a successful second phase as a valuable character in Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. Disney's ride at Disney World featured a roller coaster passing through a world of automated skeletons, spawning a model-building craze for the macabre. Concurrently, the works of H.P.Lovecraft gained sway, offering a cosmology lead by the tentacled one, Lord Cthulhu, crypt-keeper of the cosmos.

Medical technology offered Jones an unusual opportunity around the in the early 2000s when cyclosporine, a imminosuppressive drug derived from a Norwegian fungus, was discovered. This allowed Jones to have one of the first human-cephalapod partial facial transplants. He thrived with his new role and look, bringing a prehensile realism to his role in the Pirates movies. Despite his unorthodox look and physical state, his recent death appears to be natural. 

Friday, March 9, 2012


While rooting around in my closet archives last night, looking for Indian artifacts, I found this pastel of my Grandpa, Walter Scott. I'm astonished at how the years have gone by--I did it way back in 1979--33 years ago?!  There's some anatomical awkwardness in the drawing, but it captures his essence well. 

He was a quite serious man, to put it mildly. But he showed a lighter side from time to time, such as during the day he sat for this portrait, wearing a yellow shirt.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Infinite vs. finite

Yves Tanguy was one of those guys whose lifespan is easy to calculate, born in 1900, dying in '55, at the age of 55. When I was young there were a lot of such figures, including my maternal grandfather, who were born around that time. It was always easy to know how old they were when they died. Now it takes better math skills to calculate lifespans.

I hadn't thought of Tanguy for some years, but his paintings were intriguing and important to me early on. Even when I was 7 years I gazed at this enigmatic painting, featured in a small art book:

The title, too, was strange:
"Mama, Papa is Wounded!" (1927)

Why are his paintings so accessible and intriguing to even the youngest minds? Perhaps it is because he used a variety of traditional strategies. He created a real world, full of great detail, sculpted with a uniform light source. Perspective is also uniform and linear, most evident in the shadows of the biometric forms.

This posting is actually inspired by reading an article by the art critic Herbert Reed, who interpreted this era while it was still avant guard. I especially like this photo of him gazing at a strange sculpture.  "Biomorphic form" was big then; we were fascinated by archetypes and the world of Carl Jung and the surrealists. We invented and distilled forms, rather than merely copying and quoting images as we tend to do now, in this post-modern time.

The visual world sure had a lot of bite in those days. The space in paintings looked infinite.  
Alfred Hitchcock was a filmmaker who liked to use artists who mastered this infinite sense of space, as shown here, a backdrop by Salvador Dali. He used backdrops and hanging miniatures to great effect in his films. That they were painted made his films not less real, but more real. The impression was visceral. I have the feeling now, when I look at art or film, that space is not so much infinite, as it is finite: numerical.

Many of the image-makers who come to the forefront now have some keenness as artists, but I have the increasingly common suspicion that they have gotten to their position not through their experience with the painter's palette, but more through their experience with number-crunching and codes. 
For example: the current series Spartacus, despite its wish to impose a visceral feel (certainly enough guts splashed about!), leaves us with a removed, gray feeling. Space is digital, numerical. No longer are video games looking more like movies; movies are looking more like video games!

Friday, February 17, 2012

"Dare Ya" Conrad Still Alive

The other day I watched another beloved early Columbo episode, Exercise in Fatality, 1974. The guest star was the once ubiquitous Robert Conrad, not only a good character actor, but lead role of a few different series, the best being the surreal Wild Wild West.

In the Columbo episode he played a cocky health club owner and money launderer turned murderer. Conrad was perfectly cast, the actor exuding cockiness and vitality. A bit later on he became well known as the guy who "dares ya", to challenge him, sporting a battery on his shoulder.

I wondered if he was still alive. I hadn't heard or seen a scrap about him in decades; such a vital man long silent in the public ether does not portend well. But lo and behold, when I googled him, I found him to be still in the land of the living. Apparently his shyness toward the public eye is due not to age, (of which there is some debate), but to a drunk driving crash in 2003. Driving a jaguar, he veered into a head-on collision. Like the Columbo episode, it turned out to be an exercise in fatality for the other driver, who eventually succumbed to injuries after years (according to his family.) Conrad seems to have recovered. 

I find it strange that I hadn't heard about any of this; Mel Gibson's incident got a huge amount of air time, chatter in the cultural ether, despite being more trivial. Perhaps it was the Iraq War, clanking into top gear that year, that overshadowed the interest.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Ur-prof Kenner

I can't remember the last time I read or heard Hugh Kenner,  the archetypal professor. Some days ago I was hearing some podcast from NPR featuring an author or authority, jogging my memory; something in the speaker's voice recalled Kenner's. There was an unusual quality about it, a sinus irregularity coupled with eccentric wit. 

I wondered if Kenner was still alive? The prognosis was was not too good, being that I may have last seen him 2 decades ago on some program like William F. Buckley's Firing Line. Sure enough, he departed this mortal coil nearly a decade ago, in 2003. Pictured left is how I remember him: classic seersucker and bow tie, with professorial hair.

His field was literature, often a guest on PBS shows. I probably first heard him discuss Waugh on an epilog to the first broadcast of Brideshead Revisted.
Do we still have characters like this in the audio visual public realm?  I tend to doubt it. The newer higher brow (and for that matter, lower brow) pundits are more telegenic.  The topics discussed are more pithy, less idiosyncratic. 

Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Saturday Book

John Hadfield, editor and author, lived up into recent times (1999.)

Here is a bare-bones paragraph from Wikipedia, describing Hadfield's labor of love, and subject of this post:

The Saturday Book was an annual miscellany, published 1941-1975, reaching 34 volumes. (It) provided literary and artistic commentary about life in Great Britain during the Second World War and ensuing decades. It covered a range of arts, including ballet and music. Many writers contributed verse as well as essays.

The above paragraph is perfectly objective and correct, but arid. I am grateful that there is even a wiki entry; it would not have surprised me if the book were entirely unacknowledged in today's world. Its many thousands of beautiful pages have evidently fallen into obscurity.

A typically high-quality photo from the Saturday Book, which accompanied a history and guide to London street markets

I rarely meet a Briton who has heard of The Saturday Book; this seems odd, for the publication looks to be an institution spanning decades (1941-75), printed yearly around Christmas with craft and care as a substantial hardcover book. I have collected it for years, owning about half of the volumes. They are becoming rarer these days, but not overly valuable. Each new acquisition is the subject of anticipation, every page worth poring over.

Respective volumes have loose themes, amply illustrated with line art, photographs, and reproductions of various artifacts both in color and black and white. The books themselves are works of art, the typeface crisp as each engraving, printed with the slight relief of letterpress. Chapters and sections are printed on varying tints and textures of paper; this was the era when a great deal of thought and effort was put into printing.

A photo of a painting by James Pryde, which accompanied a monographic article, by Derek Hudson, on the unusual artist. Such essays were the norm in the Saturday Book, bringing to light forgotten and strange curiosities at each turn of the page, recalling the thrill of turning a corners within a quixotic, private museum.

The name Saturday Book implies leisure, weekend, or something done outside of one's real vocation. The entries seem to be products of extremely competent amateurs—amateurs in the old sense of the word, such as Sherlock Holmes being an Amateur (hence, the best) detective. Eccentricity reigns. Authorities and historians stroll down lanes of memory, opening up to us dear niches. Early cigarette trading cards, seaside paperweights, taxidermic dioramas of nursery rhymes...

What makes the Book so compelling is that it is a nostalgia for a nostalgia. Inevitably the writer will be describing some phenomenon wistfully, thinking of Victorian or regency times, around 1890 or 1912. That does seem to be a span back there, but it is within the living memory of the writer. 

In 1962 he is describing 1912—a scant 50 years previous: the same amount of time that now divides his writing from my reading of it. 

In this way there is a mystery and mysticism within each and every photo and word. The author's nostalgia transfuses into my own nostalgia. I imagine and smell the wooden desk and typewriter of that time, as well as the poignant smells of taffy, cigars and seaside from the earlier time, subject of the author's memory. 

The Saturday Book offers a window into a world that seems whole and wholesome, glazed or preserved not by one nostalgic layer, but two. Double-glazed!

Monday, January 23, 2012


The cold, crispy snows of January in Norway function as a mirror. The antiseptic sheen blankets stimulus from the outside environment, turning the mind inward, grasping for associations, to ancient memories.

So was it just now, when I poked through a shopping cart of remainders from Christmas, in search of goodies for half price. My eyes settled on a small plastic bucket of large, candied cockroach carapaces (or so it seemed.) No, those are... oh yeah, those things that were also hallowed and known in the US during Christmas... Figs--no, that's not what they were... Dates! Dates, that's what they're called.

That's right, hadn't thought of them in a while. I never liked them much, cloyingly sweet things with a crispy, exoskeleton texture on the outside. They were things of tradition, from an era before the world was not awash in processed sweets. My immediate family did not have them, but I associate them with my grandparents, who had an abundance of such traditional things at Christmas.

There, also to be studied and wondered over, examined in wooden bowls, were unusual nuts, never seen before. I didn't particularly like these either, again perhaps due to their skeletal or mummified looks. One strange one recalled a dried peach pit, itself full of pits that looked deep enough to prevent there being much of a nut inside. There was the visceral wall nut, a hard brain, whose flavor was underwhelming after the effort required to crack it, using the finger-pinching, toothy nut-cracking pliers, quick to slide off the smooth, hard shells, plowing into, pinching and gauging finger flesh.

The most grotesque of all these nuts was the swarthy, armored fossil of hardness, the nigger toe (or so my grandpa called it.) Later I learned its more appetizing name, the Brazil nut. I don't go out of my way to find these.

So, did I buy any dates from the half-priced cart? No, that's OK--just seeing them was food for thought. I'll just buy some peanuts and chocolate.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Echo of Gary Coleman

In December I was walking down the street in Milan, window-shopping galleries. What is that strange little canvas?...

What in the world? It looks like a silkscreened face of...

Gary Coleman!
Oddly, this is not the first time I've seen his mug smiling in the Northern Italian city of fashion and art. The face has become a glyph in the lexicon of street art, stenciled mysteriously on the tag-sotted nether quarters of many buildings, along with Andre the Giant's acromegalic grimace (Obey!)

Gary Coleman was a cherub, full of cheer, an early Micky Rooney Puck, a sputtering mirthful spirit, quite different from Andre's bulk and portent. Some writers might be able to dig out psycho-histories involving minstrel shows and such.  

He has become a meme, a sign; put your story in as you like...

There is something going on!

He was very small in stature, but I wouldn't want to have tangled with him. He managed to take on larger people, putting them in the hospital both with his bare hands, and with machines. Throughout his post-cherubic life the tabloid press kept track of his many adventures and misadventures in courts of law.

Numerous health problems dogged him and lead to great financial stress. His coup de grace fell in 2010.

Ecco of Gary Coleman c. 1985 by this blogger
location: lost