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1 January 1996

1996 Exactly Almost

The British Broadcasting Corporation marked the beginning of 1996 by broadcasting the prerecorded chimes of Big Ben. I started to make this photograph in the last milliseconds of 1995, but due to mechanical delays the shutter wasn't released until the following year. Unfortunately, I failed to note that my watch was five seconds fast, resulting in a photograph that failed to capture the intensity and excitement of the event.

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2 January 1996

The Rite Bite

Giovanni and Umberto Punto's Rite Bite is the only sandwich shop in the small Italian town of Embrochurno. Although the shop's name suggests it is a tourist trap for Americans, it only serves the local community, mostly workers from the nearby mill. The Punto brothers, who became enamored of bad American spelling during a holiday trip to Oklahoma in 1953, thought "Rite Bite" was a clever and exotic name for one of the world's most unusual sandwich shops.

It all began as a joke, when Umberto took a bite out of a piece of bread before putting it on top of a sandwich ordered by a friend. His customer was not amused, so Umberto concocted a story about wanting to make sure the bread was of the highest quality before serving it to one of his most valued customers. Giovanni came to his brother's defense by pointing out that the aperture made it easy to see that he had spread the expensive anchovy and olive filling both generously and evenly. They were so passionate in defense of their "premium" sandwich that soon all the customers wanted the sandwiches with the "right bite."

Giovanni died years ago, but Umberto still uses his late brother's dentures to customize every sandwich.

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3 January 1996

A Thing of Hair & Beauty

In a world of poorly-designed signs set in Times and/or geneva, helvetica, a hand-lettered business announcement can be a thing of beauty.

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4 January 1996

Three Standard Linear Stoppages

G. B. Carnegie & Co. Ltd. Electrical Engineers' almost barren display windows are located approximately halfway between Novosibirsk and New York. Perhaps the electrical engineers are also minimalist electricians. Who else would devote their entire display window on a busy street to three perfect fluorescent light tubes? Their exhibit is absolutely pure, devoid of text, unsullied by even a single price tag.

G. B. Carnegie & Co. Ltd. has turned its back on decadent New York, though; it faces the frigid Russian town of Novosibirsk. Somewhere in Novosibirsk the electricians' Slavic counterparts also have a shop on a busy street; for decades the opaque word "Products" is all a pedestrian has been able to see.

Once, the electricians also displayed a huge metal electrical connector attached a massive cable as thick as a human calf. The cable, cut cleanly in half to reveal fat strands of copper, provided a rare glimpse into the industrial universe of G. B. Carnegie & Co. Ltd. Despite its solid bulk, the heavy industrial cable did not withstand the test of time. Now, only the three white tubes remain, three timeless elegant standard linear stoppages.

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5 January 1996

Fear of Failure

Five days into 1996 my computer tried to commit suicide. Since I knew 801 is police radio shorthand for suicide attempt, the error message "ID=801" was unusually helpful. I spent a couple of hours fixing it, and now it seems as stable as a computer gets.

Five days after starting this notebook I have nothing new to put in it. I was dreading this failure of imagination, so rather than fear failure any longer I'll just fail. Fear of failure is worse than failure.


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6 January 1996

Underwater Cottage

When Gareth Hughes was a boy, he imagined how wonderful it would be if an ice fishing hut sank in the spring. He wasn't a destructive child, quite the opposite. He thought an airtight ice fishing shack would be a wonderful underwater cottage.

As he grew older, he became obsessed with the idea of an underwater cottage. He hiked to remote mountain lakes to find an ideal location. He learned how to scuba dive so he could reach it. And of course he built it.

He began with a heavy steel sea-going cargo container. He welded two thick metal plates near each end to form ballast tanks. Garth planned to have his cottage float a couple meters above the bottom of the lake, yet well below the surface. He would tether the cottage to the bottom of the lake with strong cables, and adjust the ratio of air to water in the ballast tank to achieve the proper buoyancy.

He used a third metal plate to divide the main chamber in half. One room would be used for entering and leaving the cottage through an aperture in the floor; the other half would be the living area. For added safety, Garth installed an emergency exit in the floor of the living area as well as a waterproof door between the two compartments.

He cut dozens of small holes in the ceiling and filled them with thick plexiglass plugs. He made a small buoy to float on the surface above the cottage; it would be connected to the living space by sturdy ventilation tubes. He was almost home.

A logging company pilot offered to illegally fly his underwater cottage to a remote mountain lake using a heavy logging helicopter for $4,000, but Garth turned him down. He could easily have afforded the $4,000, but decided he preferred the concept of an underwater cottage to the reality of one.

He enjoyed looking out the window of his home at his creation for many decades until he died at age 71. And despite legal and logistical difficulties, his daughter honored the only request in his will.

Gareth Hughes is buried in his underwater cottage under almost five miles of water in the Java Trench. There's no reason why the doors shouldn't work.

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7 January 1996

Fifty-One, Not Forty

I've been talking with friends about turning 40. Marge says "my grandmother is 87 and happy as a clam. I saw a story about a political cartoonist today who is still publishing daily at the age of 84. I had dinner Christmas eve with a man who is 74 and still painting daily."

Jim sounds a bit more realistic. "I've heard it said that one really doesn't start living until they're 40. From experience, I would say there is some truth to this myth. It's just that when you wake up in the morning it hurts a little more than it used to. Maybe it's because a person becomes more sensitive to such things as pain, humiliation, and our ultimate demise."

I'll have to accept their reports since I'll never be 40. It's true that I was born four decades ago today on the seventh of January in 1956. As I approached what would have been my 39th birthday, though, I decided to be--and to remain--51 for the next 20 years. I did this because I enjoy beginning a new decade and dislike ending one. Although I don't have any empirical evidence of my nonexistent forties, being 51 is great.

I'm not sure what comes after 51, if anything.

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8 January 1996

Leica Hangover

Cameras cause blindness. Carry a camera and you'll never see anything.

I try to follow regular routes when I walk, so if I find a wall that's been knocked down by a stolen car (or maybe a drunk, or maybe a drunk in a stolen car) I'll be able to return to later to make a photograph. I walked by the site of this accident for days carrying a camera, but it wasn't until I wandered past without a camera that the wall came down.

Walk around with a camera and garlic hanging from your neck and you'll never see a happy accident or a vampire.

I really don't know why I still carry a camera sometimes; it's like a hangover, or perhaps just a habit.

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9 January 1996

Sex and Danger

James Earl Carter amazed the Poles by declaring his lust for Polish people. He said this because his unknowledgeable translator told him that's how to say "warmth in his heart" in Polish.


Jimmy got better local advice before the next leg of his trip brought him to Newcastle. His first words getting off the plane at Newcastle Airport were "Haway the lads!"

"Haway the lads" is a local Geordie phrase used to cheer on the home team, Newcastle United Football Club. The players wear black and white striped jerseys, hence their nickname "Magpies" or "Magpie Rangers." I like "Haway the lads!"--who wouldn't?--but my favorite football chant is:

All my life a Magpie Ranger,
Only live for sex and danger.
Thanks to Jimmy, Atlanta Georgia and Newcastle upon Tyne are "twinned" cities. That part's definitely true, everything else I heard when I was drunk in a pub (although not as drunk as the person who told me).

Haway the lads!

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10 January 1996

A Meditative Matrix

In the executive toilets in a large British financial institution the rectangular toilet stalls are aligned to a different grid than the floor tiles. The architect provided an elegant catalyst for reflective meditation in the building's only private space, but only for the bosses. The less senior employees' toilets are aligned to an unforgiving and uninspiring perpendicular grid.

An artist's best work is often so subtle as not to be consciously noticed.

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11 January 1996

The Best of Times

This is my first collage in a couple decades. (If I have made others they were obviously forgettable.) This one pleases me because I didn't use any tools: no camera, no computer, no scissors, not even any tape. I also stole the idea, so the whole piece took only a few seconds to complete.

I just folded an English ten pound note to unite grim Charles Dickens and dour Queen Elizabeth. They look happy together.

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12 January 1996

Multiple Entry Husband

Her Bearded Majesty's Government has given me "leave to enter the United Kingdom for an indefinite period." This is a good bureaucratic development; I'm glad I should never again get grilled at Heathrow Immigration by the likes of Miss Rug. (That really was her name.)

Sadly, this means I have lost my previous government status as a "Husband Single Entry." (I didn't make that up either.)

Civil servants carry the surrealist fish-torches illuminating the diminishing recesses of brittle empire.

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13 January 1996

Dazza wins!

I don't believe in describing art works as "great," "important," or even "fine." (Fine art is the domain of magistrates and meter maids.)

For the purposes of argument, however, let's say I was kidnapped by the yakuza and taken top a nondescript house in the Nagasaki suburbs. There, massive unemployed sumo wrestlers tortured me with white-hot steel pins thrust under my fingernails until I named what I thought was the greatest, most important and finest art work of the twentieth century.

In this situation, the first and last word to come to mind would be "Monopoly." (I certainly wouldn't name any of my own pieces, being immodest is one of the most unforgivable faux pas one can make in Japan.)

I spend around an hour a day playing Monopoly with my computer. Since these games go very fast with the computer doing the accounting, an average game takes only fifteen minutes. Each game is another window into an exquisitely balanced world of probability, improbability, and chance. (As a bonus, the computer also presents a graph at the end of each game showing each player's fortunes during the course of play.)

After thousands of games, I have concluded that Monopoly has no finite boundaries.

I recently heard that scholars believe the man credited with inventing Monopoly actually plagiarized the idea from a woman who'd invented a very similar game. For me, that was the icing on the conceptual cake.

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14 January 1996

Striped Hexham Trees upon the River Tyne

A year or two ago I photographed these trees and their unexplained white stripes with my Leica. I still haven't developed the film. Today I went on the same walk and photographed all sixty trees with a digital camera. I still haven't developed the film.

All sixty images look more or less the same. It's like Horace said, "Haec decies repetita placebit." (Things which are repeated are pleasing.)

All sixty images look more or less the same. It's like Horace said, "Haec decies repetita placebit." (Things which are repeated are pleasing.)

Sixty Striped Hexham Trees upon the River Tyne is my first completed work of 1996.

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15 January 1996

Bitter, Old Fart

I usually stop drinking alcohol on the first of the year and resume one of my favorite addictions about now. Today proved to be about now. Although I considered going for a year without drinking, I decided asceticism would adversely affect aestheticism. Like Wilhelm Reich said, "The few bad poems which are occasionally created during abstinence are of no great interest."

Yesterday my mother- and father-in-law gave me a selection of beers as a belated birthday present. I drank the bottle of Old Fart first, then a bottle of bitter. I look forward to becoming a cantankerous old curmudgeon, but for now a bitter and Old Fart will do.

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16 January 1996

Ah, Duchamp-san!

Every art history book I've read states with grim certainty that Marcel Duchamp died on Wednesday, 2 October 1968. Today I discovered that he is in fact alive living somewhere in England and/or Japan. He doesn't look bad for 108, if he really is that old. (If researchers had the wrong details of his alleged death they probably don't know if he really was born on 27 July 1887.)

Art history is a collective hallucination.

I discovered the news about Duchamp after a meal in a Japanese restaurant in Edinburgh. Leafing through the Japanese-language weekly Eikoku News Digest, I found a photograph of Duchamp. By turning Japanese, he has cleverly eluded the legions of admirers who hounded him until his "death."

I need to find someone who can read kanji so I can find out what Duchamp has been doing in the last decade or two. After today's experience, I'll be skeptical of the Eikoku News Digest's version of events. You can't always believe what you read or what you see.

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17 January 1996

Fifty-Five Degrees Fifty-Seven Minutes North,
Three Degrees Thirteen Minutes West

I saw the path to reality down a steep stairwell off a busy Edinburgh street. Or maybe I didn't; things are rarely what they're labeled. (I can't remember ever seeing a work marketed as "fine art" that was either fine or art.)

I was very close to discovering the nature of reality, but decided to have a beer instead. It was not a difficult choice.

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18 January 1996


I thought I'd just invented the word xenophilia as a clever antonym to xenophobia, then I discovered the word was born around the same time I was. I should have known better; feeling clever usually foreshadows a fall.

Xenophilia came to mind after I received an invitation to an exhibition of David Byrne's photographs of Indian film posters. I was disappointed with what I saw, especially since I've liked almost everything else he's done in both music and visual media for almost two decades.

It's not that I didn't like the new photographs, I did. How could a xenophiliac not like strange exotic images of a very different culture? I was disappointed because the work was merely good, not much better. Reproducing images from Indian film posters, Mexican album covers or a Chinese circus advertisement is just too easy. Xenophilia clouds judgment.

As Arthur Conan Doyle noted, "It is a mistake to confound strangeness with mystery." Or to confuse mystery with strangeness.

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19 January 1996

Farewell Joe

I just heard today that Joe Folberg died. Damn.

I knew he didn't have long to live, but it still makes me sad. Sad and moribund; I'll be lazy and go back to the last letter I sent him a couple months ago ...

When I first met you, I was impressed by your no-bullshit attitude. Whether you call it candor or bluntness, I always knew exactly where you stood and what you thought. In that same spirit, for this letter I'm going to forgo the polite doublespeak of coded words that generally passes for good manners.

Joe, I'm upset to hear you're dying. I never expected you to live forever, of course, but I was hoping you'd be around long enough to give a good eulogy at my funeral, or at least tell a few raunchy jokes at the wake.

What's made the deaths of friends and relatives bearable in the past is that they haven't left without hearing everything I had to say to them and vice-versa. You've treated me with respect and supported Paul and me when we organized the Photoscape festivals; I was honored. What more could I want?

As for you, I've always admired your spirit and individuality in the grey universe of galleries. Everything you've done--giving unknown (read difficult to sell) artists a space in your gallery, being loyal to your friends, supporting nonprofits like Eye Gallery and Photoscape, helping Jock Sturges when the later-day brownshirts targeted him, et cetera--is all to rare in the insular "art" world. I was also particularly touched by your devotion to Doris and to your son.

Lest this be too somber, let me close with a bad joke ...

[Joe shared my taste for tasteless jokes; the last one I sent him wasn't repeatable.]

That's the end of the joke; this is the end of the letter. I'll always remember you as a true friend, a mentor, and an inspiration. I wish you all the best Joe; I'm going to miss you.

And I do.

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20 January 1996

Japanese Shorthand

Umberto Magnest postulates that the entire Japanese language can be expressed in only forty ideograms. I found Magnest's slim volume New Japanese Shorthand for Beginners quite fascinating. After reading a scathing review in the Times, though, I was disappointed to discover that Magnest's ideograms are used only by a handful of Japanese expatriates living near Honolulu.

I find it curiously sad that such a succinct yet comprehensive system has so far failed to win a larger following. Like L. L. Zamenhof, Magnest is just too advanced for his age.

Forty Japanese Ideograms

These chopsticks look like your cousin made them.

I want to lick your knees.

A cabbage like this is certainly a bargain.

I work harder than my whiskey would suggest.

Your fine lips are forty ukuleles serenely strumming.

Are you sure it is clean?

Tomorrow is the same day after a night.

Stolen pity cannot be hidden.

Fish wait slowly.

My Nikon is larger and much more expensive than your Nikon.

No one can predict what happened when your parents were born.

I hear the smell of money in your pants.

That Godzilla is some hombre!

Your pupils are fragrant pools of soy sauce.

There is no more money in the heavens than is necessary.

Two squids are never alone.

Your nose has many interesting features.

May I eat this if someone else hasn't?

The finest fur makes the weakest teas.

A large nose is rarely empty.

The yen, the dollar, and the mark rarely find the same pocket.

A large empty chamber pot promises more than a full bottle of beer.

Snow is brighter than the mountain below.

It is too Chinese to be seriously considered.

Work is the machinery of a healthy nation.

Both bricks and pearls are at the bottom of the sea.

A sliced cucumber is still a cucumber, sliced.

I desire the room of urination.

May I smoke anything here?

Your spouse is someone to know.

Some holes have no keys.

Your cat is most immodest.

Good soup must have the proper number of ingredients, no more, no less.

All people are the same, yet no two alike.

The rain that cleans can also kill.

A platinum sausage provides no nourishment.

Your shadow contradicts you.

Gambling favors the rich.

All organs are important, but some are overrated.

It's like sticky rice.

Your translation does not agree with mine.

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21 January 1996

Naked Fear

Joe McCarthy saw communists everywhere; modern witch hunters see their own perversions in everyone else. Even nursery rhymes become pornography. It seems that no one is safe from the epidermiphobes.

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22 January 1996

Church of the Plywood Triptych

I have always liked this church because of its strange story.

Twelve years ago the the religious institution that owned this building deconsecrated and sold it. (High church officials lost a fortune speculating on the stock market; the gods were not not on their side.)

The Bartoni family bought the church for almost nothing and moved into the steeple. They had an elegant housekeeping arrangement: they simply threw garbage down into the cavernous building below. They augmented their small income as musicians by also illegally using the church as a dump for industrial solvents. (A trucker bribed them; how could they say no?) Eventually the barrels were buried under a gentle shower of bones and liquor bottles.

The bank evicted the Bartonis after they failed to make regular mortgage payments. The Bartonis lost their home-cum-dump, and the bank gained what government inspectors certified was a toxic waste site.

I once thought the building had no religious significance, but I was mistaken. The three huge plywood rectangles are lovely, especially contrasted against curves that died over a century ago. I worship rectangles.

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23 January 1996

Death Ray Art

How can anyone not like a dead artist? Dying is almost always a good career move. Dead artists are known quantities that rarely disappoint their representatives and their audience.

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24 January 1996

Ugly American

"Americans hate to lose. Especially David."

This is how Beryl explained my stern demeanor during last night's Scrabble game. I was comatose with pasta and beer, and suffering from terribly bad luck. Or, rather, I was until I won the game by getting 72 points on my last turn. (And I didn't even cheat, not even once.)

I gloated uglily. (I may be a bad loser, but I'm a worse winner.)

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25 January 1996

Great Chieftan o' the Puddin-race!

The Scottish poet Robbie Burns died 200 years ago today. Or maybe the Scottish writer Rabbie Burns was born 200 years ago today. Actually, it may have been 300 years. Or something like that.

I can say with some certainty that today is a day to drink whisky to celebrate an inscrutable artist. I can also say, albeit with less certainty, that his love poem To a Haggis makes more sense after a few wee drams ...

"Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face,
Great Chieftan o' the Puddin-race!"

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26 January 1996

The Key to Light

I spent this afternoon in a bar with the vice president of a large German corporation. After lots of whiskey, he explained how large Western businesses work.

"Some people have the keys to the doors. Some people have the keys to the lightbulbs. I have the keys to both."

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27 January 1996

Adult Books

Pornography is one of those popular pursuits like tobacco and gambling that has never interested me.

Actually, that's not entirely true. When I was a boy I was quite fascinated by the naturalists depicted in the minister's son's copies of Helios magazine. (Only in retrospect does it seem curious that all naturalists were buxom young women.)

It is true, however, that I've never been in Sven Adult Books, or any other adult book store. Still, I know exactly what it's like. It has fluorescent lights, racks of magazines and videos, and a dirty linoleum floor. It is a place where pathetic men go to revel in their loneliness and misery. No one is fooled by a Scandinavian name; adult book stores are as American as cheeseburgers and pills.

I know exactly what's inside because Sven Adult Books is a perfect cliché in every detail from the shuttered windows to the three empty bottles of cheap wine on the door step.

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28 January 1996

Cup of Hair

Colleen said she had never seen a cup of hair before. I told her that I couldn't imagine how a civilized person could not have seen a cup of hair. After a long conversation I was astonished to learn that Colleen had never had her hair cut in the bath. Sometimes even close friends can act very strange.

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29 January 1996

Two-headed Snowman

I saw my first two-headed snowman today. It was so beautiful that I could not believe that I had never seen one before. It was so natural that a child must have done it. Above all, it was inspirational: if there are simple elegant new dimensions to snowmen then that must also be true of other media.

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30 January 1996

Bifurcated Banana

Clare heard that gorillas eat their bananas from the middle outward. My linear mind has difficulty understanding this.

I know two gorillas, so I should have empirical evidence to support or refute this improbable proposition. Unfortunately, the gorillas' guardians never let me spend much time with their charges. They wanted Michael to impregnate Koko, but Koko was interested in almost every human male she saw, but not poor Michael. In order to make Michael Koko's only option, her keepers forbade her to see any males except Michael.

The whole exercise was of course futile, as any parent of a teenager could have predicted. The Koko compound, devoid of baby gorilla gurglings and thumpings, is a platinum mine for psychiatrists.

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31 January 1996

The End of January

It's been a bleak January. Of course that's to be expected in the middle of winter after the holiday bacchanalia. (I wonder if my altered ego in New Zealand will be making somber notes in the middle his July winter?)

Still, winter feels like the breath of death, especially with Joe Folberg's passing. Even G. B. Carnegie & Co. and its three standard linear stoppages are gone, replaced by snow and debris.

I am generally happy with this notebook experiment, even in winter. The pressure of doing something daily keeps me out of hibernation, and the necessity of doing something daily takes off the pressure of making Great Art. On good days I think of Oscar Wilde: "I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train." On bad days I think of Enoch Powell: "I do not keep a diary. Never have. To write a diary every day is like returning to one's own vomit."

At least I'm always thinking.

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©1996 David Glenn Rinehart