gratuitous image
1 June 1996

And the Smokestacks Have Never Been More Rigid

Today is the first day of summer (even though that won't technically true until 2:40:26 on 21 June). The trees, which have been brittle for months, now sway languidly in the warm air. It is probably safe to walk a few kilometers without carrying an emergency sweater.


gratuitous image
2 June 1996

The Perpetual Strangeness of Washcloths

When visiting a friend, I asked if she had a washcloth. "I don't use them," she said. Responding to my puzzled look, she added "there's no part of my body I feel uncomfortable touching."

I thought this was a strange remark; she thought it strange I thought it strange. We both agreed, however, that it was a remarkable piece of fabric that could generate perpetual strangeness.

gratuitous image
3 June 1996

Ian's Lunch for Breakfast

Ian Breakwell told me that a local restaurant (Mr, [sic] Chef QUICK MEALS) has a fascinating special menu: each day it's the same, yet each day it's different. Something like ...
Pie, chips, peas
Sausage, peas, chips
Eggs, beans, toast
Bacon, eggs, chips
Eggs, chips, beans
... and so on. There's always a slight variation in the cuisine, but the price remains a constant and thrifty pound and a half.

He said he was considering making a piece consisting of three hundred and sixty-five photos of a year's worth of menus. He made it sound like too much work, especially since he prefers a different diet. I was going to plagiarize the idea intact, but it seemed like too much work for me too.

Just when I was worrying that I had become even to lazy to steal a good idea, I saw the same concept illustrated in a single menu at " 'MARKET CAFE' EAT IN OR TAKE AWAY." A fraction of a second later I was done. It's like Mojo Nixon said, "Anyone who's any good steals outright--it's just a matter of inflicting your own personality on the material."

gratuitous image
4 June 1996

Pigeon Art

A Californian curator invited me to meet Geoff Weston, an artist who's preparing an exhibit on pigeons. I gladly agreed (after ascertaining that Geoff was not from anywhere within a thousand miles of Point Lobos).

We had an interesting talk. Pigeons seem to be like bricks or bread: they're such a routine part of our lives that they're rarely consciously examined. Our talk ranged from pigeon fanciers (racers and breeders to general bird lovers) to pigeon haters ("winged rats!") to pigeon lore: why are baby pigeons invisible?

For me, I appreciate the porcelain pigeon signatures seen throughout the city. Not only do pigeon droppings break up the grey monotony of concrete, they also serve as a brilliant critique of public art, especially statues of Great Men.

gratuitous image
5 June 1996

How Planes Fly

Jet née Al Johnson, a commercial airline pilot who was also an early Greenpeace volunteer, once asked me if I knew how planes flew. I didn't know, but guessed it was something to do with air flow creating a vacuum over the wings, or something like that.

Jet, impatient after an interminable and pointless meeting, said I didn't understand. "The pilot's got four stripes on his sleeve, the copilot has three, the navigator has two and the girls don't have any. And that's how planes fly."

They don't make pilots like Jet any more. (Fortunately.)

gratuitous image
6 June 1996

Swastikas in the Attic

When I was in Frankfurt I joined a friend in exploring an Asian import store across the street from the Museum of Modern Art. In the dimly-lit upper floor, I saw an old piece of fabric on display with a familiar pattern. A Buddhist may have seen resignation, a Jain may have interpreted it as the sign of the seventh saint, a Hindu may have read what I saw as night, magic, and Kali. As a visitor to Germany, though, I can't look at a swastika without seeing Nazis.

It's confusing traveling through Germany. I ride around with lovely German friends in a Volkswagen with a Leica bouncing on a stomach full of German beer and sauerkraut, but still I keep thinking about a war that ended over a decade before I was born. It's one of those rare occasions when my emotional self dominates my rational self. I suppose the equally absurd equivalent would be a German wandering around Manhattan in a baseball cap and wondering what the cowboys and Indians may have done there.

I'd guess there are more Nazis in the United States than in Germany, but it's hard to see the present for the long shadows from the past.

gratuitous image
7 June 1996

Cryptic Memorial

At the castle at Schriesheim near Heidelberg someone has written

XI. Olympiade

beneath an air duct.

It's too neatly written to be an impulsive piece of graffiti. And since it's on one of the main passageways, the management has clearly allowed it to remain. What could it mean?

No one can explain its significance. When I think of the 1936 Olympics I remember Jesse Owens and his four gold medals. I wonder what the author was thinking?

gratuitous image
8 June 1996

The Art of Being Ex

Except for the lackluster musicians, Frank and Regina had an excellent wedding reception. My favorite touch, though, was including Andy--one of Regina's old boyfriends--as a guest.

There is a difficult art to being an ex-boyfriend, but Andy pulled it off magnificently. He never once looked disdainful or bitter. He was gregarious, cheerful, and never made a snide remark even when presented with some easy targets. He even clapped with marked enthusiasm at Frank's guitar solos.

Andy managed to look like he was enjoying himself more than the groom or the bride, and perhaps he really was. In any case it was a great performance. I don't know Andy at all, but I wonder: was schadenfreude was his muse?

gratuitous image
9 June 1996

Apfelwein Strategies

When drinking apfelwein, you can easily spot the Frankfurters: they're the ones with their personal ornate silver covers on their glasses. The covers were originally designed to keep insects out of the wine, but now they seem mostly for show.

I put a coaster on top of my glass, but it seemed unnecessary. It was a hot day and I drank the apfelwein before any insects had a chance.

gratuitous image
10 June 1996

Diplomatic Dining

I told our waiter that it seemed sad that an old man and an old woman were having lunch separately at opposite ends of a table. "Maybe you could introduce them," I suggested. "If things work out, you might get a huge tip."

The waiter laughed at my naïve suggestion. "Those are the Müllers; they've been married for almost fifty years. They come here almost every day. She can't stand the small of his fish; the odor from her pork and kraut makes him sick."

The waiter and I agreed that the Müllers enjoy an excellent relationship.

gratuitous image
11 June 1996

Secret Agent Businessman

I surreptitiously looked at a businessman's briefcase on the bus. He had the combination lock set to "007." He looked smugly pleased with himself.

gratuitous image
12 June 1996

Staggeringly Massive Colossal Fever

It's time for Euro 96, and most of the continent of Europe is gripped with football fever. I've done my part with a new piece, Haway the Lads: An Admiring Architectural Appreciation of Sir John Hall's Recently Refurbished Stadium (and its Staggeringly Massive Colossal Phallic Elevator) at Saint James Park in Seventy-Three Particulars. It's available in the PDF format; see the technical bits for more information.

gratuitous image
13 June 1996

Dishonest Toil

I asked Joe why he was playing in a pile of wet dirt without wearing any boots. "I can't be bothered to put them on," he explained. When I brought my camera out, he rubbed dirt on his face to give the impression he had been working hard. At only eight years, Joe knows that perception is stronger than reality.

Joe asked me to wait while he went inside the house to get his camera. I wondered if he was going to take off his muddy socks, but he had a simpler solution: he put on his boots before going inside.

gratuitous image
14 June 1996

Great Road Koan

Peter Mandelson, a local politician and Member of Parliament, gave a brief speech at the launch of Stephen Gec's Buoy. He called it "great road cone of the high seas." With his ability to express complex concepts in simple lay terms, I think Mandelson will go far in politics.

gratuitous image
15 June 1996

Digital Dust

I was excited after developing film for the first time in years. Each Hasselblad negative had perhaps a hundred times the information in my cheap digital camera. It was like falling in love with the subtle visual pleasures of photography all over again after spending the last few years in more conceptual pursuits.

Of course, being reunited with an old lover also reminds one why things didn't work out in the first place. After scanning in a few negatives, I saw something I hadn't seen on an image in a long time: dust. And moiré patterns where the negative touched the scanner's glass. And a water marks and fingerprints. And a scratch. Arf.

It is a very very a long way from the computer to the darkroom.

gratuitous image
16 June 1996

The Spot

Everybody knows X marks the spot where pirates bury their treasure. That's why smugglers anchored a drum with some forty kilograms of cocaine beneath the intersection of two mooring lines. And the police, who read the same pirate books, figured out that's where it was hidden.

gratuitous image
17 June 1996

Roman Burritos

A friend of mine recently suffered gastronomic grief when she ordered a burrito at "The Rat," a rural pub. (According to the pub's menu, there are many explanations of the origin of the establishment's name, but none were recounted. I have personally ruled out any possibility of a correlation with "rathskeller.")

The food object in question--the so-called "burrito"--proved to be the catalyst for a great deal of conjecture. Clearly it had been subjected to a great deal of heat, but from what sources? Broiling? Boiling? Baking? Deep fat frying? What combination in what order?

The truth was, predictably, stranger than any of us ever imagined.

Based on the reports of one of my dinner guests, The Rat was raided by special police from The Bureau of Foodstuffs and Antiquities. Investigators discovered that the burritos sold at The Rat were in fact ancient Roman burritos stolen by grave robbers from the recently exposed ruins of the fort preserved in the Ben Vevo Glacier. As it turned out, the distressed state of the burrito was caused by almost two millennia of freezer burn.

gratuitous image
18 June 1996

The Screech of the Wild Turkey

Today I was entrusted with a timeworn shrine of immense social, cultural and historical significance. Vivia personally delivered after a long circuitous journey of over eight thousand kilometers and untold years.

A rigid Canadian Mountie sits atop a bottle of Le Célèbre Screech de Terre-Neuve, ("Famous Newfoundland Screech"). The Mountie is not alone; he is surrounded by a small constellation of two plastic black cats and two porcelain kangaroos. All the figure are at perfect stasis.

Contrary to the label's assertions, the amber liquid inside the bottle comes from Kentucky, not Puerto Rico. It is in fact Wild Turkey whiskey, 101 proof. The Wild Turkey is going fast, and so am I.

I am becoming caught in the curious altar's orbit. Beauty, eh?

gratuitous image
19 June 1996

The Joy of Photography

While walking through the park, I discovered that a photographer was using an immense hydraulic platform to photograph a sporting event. It was absurdly exaggerated--and thus irrefutable--proof that boys' joys of photography are the toys of photography.

gratuitous image
20 June 1996

Consumer Appliance Falsehoods

Toshiba engineers expect me to believe all forty-one buttons (nine on the box and thirty-two on the remote control) on the V-215B Video Tape Recorder will work as advertised, yet these same technicians couldn't even put their emissary's hand on right.

The Toshiba representative assures readers that the Toshiba V-215B Video Tape Recorder is "easy to use." The bolts-for-brains spokesperson is lying.

gratuitous image
21 June 1996

No Dice

I went to a solstice bonfire on the beach near Glenn Trehenir's remarkable sculpture Futile Dice. It never got dark and the dice never rolled; it was a lovely state.

gratuitous image
22 June 1996

Verdict: Slow Down

I'm sure it seemed like a good idea at the time. Jim Nutting, a British vacationer, decided he'd jump bounce off an inflatable bed onto the edge of a balcony. (It is, after all, the kind of thing one does on a Spanish holiday.) The information I received does not record whether Nutting was an accomplished snooker player, but in this case he spectacularly miscalculated critical trajectories and fell some twenty meters to his death.

I brought Mr. Nutting's demise to the attention of a couple friends. One said he'd heard the story of the bad bounce as an urban myth, "like the story about the Jamaican toothbrushes."

"No," the other corrected him, "the Jamaican toothbrushes story is actually true. It really happened to some friends of mine."

Urban myths aren't fables; each and every one of them are completely true.

gratuitous image
23 June 1996

Jackson Pollock in Scotland

I learned that the maintenance worker at a railway station on Scotland's east coast was sacked after his supervisors noticed he had wasted a substantial amount of expensive reflective paint. His defense was as novel as it was ineffectual: "Jackson Pollock was in me."

His boss, familiar with the laborer's working methods, was not convinced. "Looks to me like the cheap whisky was in you again."

I didn't find the different explanations mutually exclusive; it's too bad they couldn't see things that way.

gratuitous image
24 June 1996

Whale Movement Strategies

There's a man on a bicycle riding around the 48th annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission. He's towing a long narrow trailer with a life-size model of a butchered pilot whale.

I think he's come to Aberdeen from Austria (or maybe Germany?), but I'm nut sure why. The people who oppose whaling certainly don't need their opinions reinforced. My Norwegian whaling friends were similarly unmoved: "You definitely couldn't move that much meat with a bicycle, probably not even with a Harley. It's not at all practical."

There seems to be little--if any--understanding between the opposing camps, and the international situation is desperate as usual.

gratuitous image
25 June 1996

Salamis (Marine and Industrial)

It's hard to make a bad pizza, but it can be done. I had such a pizza at an "Italian" restaurant on the banks of Loch Tavendale. My friends ordered a salami and mushroom pizza; it was inedible. I discovered the secret when, a few days later, I met a worker in the Salamis (Marine and Industrial) factory.

Evidently, Scottish "salamis" are made with "algal and marine byproducts" recovered from the chain lockers of the huge fleet of ships servicing the offshore oil industry. The mixture--glorified pond scum, really--is then mixed with a wretched blend of suet, lard, and Red Dye No. 5. That explains everything.

I wonder if marine and industrial salamis are ever mislabeled and sold as haggis? And if they are, would anyone notice?

gratuitous image
26 June 1996

Deen Seraphim

There are a number of statues throughout Aberdeen of cherubim and seraphim showering beautiful women with wine. It's a lovely idea, although I doubt how efficacious it would be in practice.

Since I saw no such statues in Aberdour, I can only extrapolate that deen means cheerful. Merrily merrily merrily merrily ...

gratuitous image
27 June 1996

Mexico Is Not North of the Fifty-Fifth Parallel

The skeptical diner should be wary of a restaurant purporting to serve Mexican food in a locale over twenty degrees north of Mexico, an ocean away from Mexico, or over a thousand leagues from Mexico. Maximilian's Restaurant set off all three alarms, but when stranded in the "Quality" hotel without a car there is no other practical option. That was the position in which I found myself, a plight shared by the Mexican diplomats dining at an adjacent table.

It was an ugly situation.

Maximilian's menu is bifurcated--arbitrarily, it seemed--between the "Emperor" half and the "Warrior" half. I ordered a spinach dish; it's extraordinarily difficult to make spinach inedible. It's even more challenging to prepare satisfying Mexican food so far away from that country's culture, soul, and natural ingredients. The cooks didn't beat the odds, which was good for me and bad for the Mexicans. The unfortunate representatives of the Mexican government showered their bland dinners with torrents of Tabasco sauce, but no amount of peppers could put the fire into such a tepid meal.

Based on that sad visit to Maximilian's, I can add two caveats to the three I initially cited. Be extremely wary of a "Mexican" restaurant displaying a Three Amigos sombrero. And never ever expect decent Mexican food in a restaurant where the drinks are served by cute anthropomorphized rabbits.

gratuitous image
28 June 1996

A Real Secret Agent

I thought my career as a spy was abruptly terminated when I was ten years old.

I was playing on my cousin's farm; I was throwing rocks at an old tricycle. My cousin was smashing rocks with a heavy sledge hammer. We weren't paying attention to each other, and we both went for the same rock. I reached it a fraction of a second before the hammer dropped.

The blow reduced my right index finger to a pulp that looked like cottage cheese and ketchup, one of Richard Nixon's favorite dishes. It was thus somewhat ironic that the loss of my trigger finger would later eliminate even the remote possibility that I could be forced to fight in Viet Nam. All I could think about at the time, though, was that my promising career as a secret agent was over.

Unless ...

I knew the Mattel Corporation manufactured and sold an Agent Zero-M briefcase. (Agent Zero-M was Mattel's reply to the competition's success marketing Agent 007 gear.) The briefcase contained everything a spy could need: a pistol with a silencer, a hidden camera (that really worked, even when concealed inside the briefcase!), and various other bits that I can't remember. The main attraction of the Agent Zero-M briefcase, though, was the secret button on the side. When pressed, it released the concealed pistol's trigger and fired a plastic bullet from a secret aperture on the side of the briefcase.

My parents, always supportive of my ambitious plans, bought me an Agent Zero-M briefcase. I was back business. It was everything I had hoped for, although I never used in my later espionage work. (As an aside, I should mention that my middle finger proved to be a more than adequate trigger finger.)

I was reminded of the incident when I visited a friend who really is a secret agent. He had four or five briefcases in the back of his car. The cases he opened were full with hidden cameras, bugging devices, tape recorders, and other surveillance equipment. I don't know what was in the others; there are a few questions one doesn't even ask a trusted friend.

He travels around the world investigating the crimes of some of the most ruthless and despicable people imaginable. I fear for his life. My days as a secret agent are clearly over; I have lost my nerve.

gratuitous image
29 June 1996

The Problem with Plaid

Why does every man wearing plaid look like a used car salesman?

gratuitous image
30 June 1996

Living January in June

"The problem with journals," opined Ian, "is that you can get too caught up in maintaining them if you do daily entries. You get behind, then have to take a week off to get caught up. You end up living January in June."

I know what he means. After half a year (one hundred and eighty-two entries entries, but who's counting?) I've managed to keep up to date. I rarely get more than a few days behind with my notes.

Still, there are Cautionary Tales of what can happen when things get out of control, one of which is cited by Chuck Shepherd in his News of the Weird:

According to a Seattle Times feature in March [17 March 1996], Robert Shields, 77, of Dayton, Wash., is the author of perhaps the longest personal diary in history--nearly 38 million words on paper stored in 81 cardboard boxes--covering his last 24 years in five-minute increments. Example: July 25, 1993, 7 a.m.: "I cleaned out the tub and scraped my feet with my fingernails to remove layers of dead skin." 7:05 a.m.: "Passed a large, firm stool, and a pint of urine. Used 5 sheets of paper."

Even though I have no understanding of Freudian psychology, I believe that could accurately be described as anal retentive behavior.

I believe all Cautionary Tales; I'm not going to be eaten alive by my journal. I shall break my perfect 1996 attendance record by not making an entry for 31 June. So there.

last month | index | next month
©1996 David Glenn Rinehart