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1 August 1996


I wonder how people ate popcorn a century ago-- before the movies were invented.

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2 August 1996

Insecure Documentation

A security guard in an art museum told me I couldn't photograph Andy Goldsworthy's pile of slate. "Even if I don't use a flash?" I asked. (I smiled as I pressed the shutter release.)

"Even if you don't use a flash," she admonished.

I'm grateful to the confused guard: she turned a forgettable image into a memorable one. It's like Mark Twain's watermelon: "the sweetest one I ever had was stolen."

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3 August 1996


The curator of a local gallery asked me why I was photographing the corner of the courtyard "where everyone pisses when they're legless." ("Legless" is a local euphemism for being drunk.)

I told her I wasn't aware of that. (It had recently rained.) I explained I was impressed that someone had found a use for a three-legged chair. Leglessness can be overcome.

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4 August 1996

Feline Reverse Peristalsis Considerations

This morning an observer on the radio noted that losing a lover and having a cat vomit on the carpet were calamities of similar magnitude, except that the latter took longer to get over. Experiences here at my secret mountain laboratory with Senior Research Associate Dirk and Señor Research Associate Darran confirm this hypothesis.

Some time ago we had a salmon party and Darran suffered a case of reverse peristalsis in his alimentary canal; the carpet still smells a bit like New Jersey. Today we had another salmon party, and when things started to get out of control Dirk and Darran were sent to the NetherLab. Salmon once again went upstream, but this time the damage was easily isolated.

Darran and Dirk were soon back at their posts. I wasn't surprised: I knew they were party animals when I hired them.

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5 August 1996

Under My Thumb

My pillow has a map of the world. In a case of life imitating art, the fabric of the Soviet Union is coming apart. Last night in my sleep I put my thumb through the fabric between Ufa and Samara (or Kuybyshev as it was called between 1935 and 1991).

It is hard to hard to survey the damage without thinking of all the cold war rhetoric of my youth. All the talk of coming under the CCCP's totalitarian yoke never came to pass; the USSR is now under my thumb. And since I don't sew, I am afraid it is now time to consign the pillowcase to the dustbin of history.

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6 August 1996

Best Kept Street of 1984

It's been twelve years since the North Tyneside Borough declared Andrinton Road to be its "Best Kept Street." (It was rumored at the time that someone must have pulled some strings to have a road declared the "Best Kept Street," but no one ever substantiated the rumor that Mistress Hattersly had a tawdry affair with one of the judges.)

A dozen years is a long time in real estate: the trees are growing upside down and the only thing blossoming are the FOR SALE signs. There goes the 'hood.

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7 August 1996

Surrounded by Martians

President Clinton announced today that government scientists have found conclusive proof of life on Mars. Professor Richard Zare from Stanford University asked "Who is to say that we are not all Martians?"

President Clinton told me not to worry, so I'm not. I used to think it was strange to be alienated, but now I understand it's the most natural thing on earth, so to speak.

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8 August 1996

The Physics of Physics

I didn't get too excited about getting a new bank of generators for the lab, we had to get more power for all the new computers. I was delighted, however, with the warning sign for Bank D one of our technicians nicked during a tour of Los Alamos.

That should keep the tourists away.

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9 August 1996

Tricky Empirical Evidence

The gate in this photograph is not closed.
"You can observe a lot just by watching."
--Yogi Berra
Can you tell if it's before or after 5.00 pm?
"The more you look the less you will observe."
--Henry David Thoreau
Of course. Not.

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10 August 1996

An Elegant Critique

At an exhibition of dreadful paintings, I was reminded of my late friend Paul Raedeke's brilliant critique of his pistol-toting neighbor's equally dreadful paintings: "I hope he's doing it for therapy."

At least there were free drinks at the opening. I was tempted borrow Val's cane to give the artist a vaudevillian exit from the gallery, but decided to have another beer instead.

It's impossible to overestimate the value of drinks at a gallery opening.

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11 August 1996

Jackson Pollock's Fortieth Deathday

Today is Jackson Pollock's fortieth deathday. He died in 1956 when his convertible overturned and smashed into an embankment in East Hampton, New York. But even four decades later, many questions surrounding his death remain unanswered.

Did his blood make an interesting pattern on the floor of his car or the pavement after it dripped through his clothes? Perhaps a drop or two of blood dripped from a finger--the way his paint once did--to make a trademark splatter on a glass or asphalt canvas.

I wonder if anyone took photographs of the accident. If there are any images of him splattered against the inside of his car, I know I'd certainly like to see them. I can vaguely visualize them: stark, harsh images of the nighttime crash taken with a Speed-Graphic and flashbulbs. I imagine most people are more impressed with all the zeros on the end of the price tags of his paintings than by any images that may exist of his last work.

What did the 44 year old man think in the fraction of a second as he flew through the inside of his car at 50 or 60 or 70 miles an hour? Did he intuitively realize the irony of what was about to happen, and manage to lift the corners of his mouth into the beginning of his last smile--just before he died?

There are more questions. In the seconds following the impact, did he see his last splatterings? If so, did he appreciate them? And most importantly: if he had it to do again, would he do anything differently?

It doesn't really matter to me. I'll tip my glass to you, and purposely let a few drops of wine splatter on my keyboard. Cheers!

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12 August 1996

Predictable Outcomes

I love Jack T. Chick's miniature Christian comics. Each one's a predictable little fire and brimstone melodrama. There are no surprises in the Chick Publications booklet Titanic, but it doesn't matter. You know that poor Chester shouldn't be screaming abuse at God from the stern of the sinking Titanic. You just know God is going to be well pissed off, and, sure enough, in the last panel of the comic God orders poor Chester to "... Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels." And you can bet God didn't do that to warm up Chester after drowning in the frigid North Atlantic.

Jack T. Chick knows the value of being predictable and giving the audience what it expects. He could have been a famous artist. Come to think of it, he is.

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13 August 1996

Unstuffing Stuffing

I was amazed to discover how many feathers a single pillow contains, or, rather, used to contain.

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14 August 1996

Consumer Priorities

One of the richest people I know uses one of the most decrepit toothbrushes I've ever seen. It's amazing how many people with two Ferraris don't have a decent toothbrush.

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15 August 1996

Think Rant Task

I was in a meeting with a bunch artists, would-be artists and never-will-be artists. Having identified a dearth of policy papers on creativity, they were discussing setting up an arts think tank. Their discussion was most amusing; I could see each and every one of them imaging that s/he would be the one chosen to be the think tank tsar of the arts think tank.

When I got bored with their blah blah blah, I asked my computer to find anagrams for "arts think tank." It came up with over two hundred of them, including

kin thanks tart
knits that rank
rank that stink
ranks that knit
ranks think tat
rant kit thanks
rants that kink
rat thinks tank
rink stank that
shank knit tart
shark tank tint
shirt tank tank
shrink tank tat
skirt thank ant
skirt thank tan
snark think tat
stank think tar
stark hint tank
stark thin tank
stark think ant
stink thank art
stink thank rat
tank shrank tit
tank thinks tar
tanks think art
tanks think rat
tanks think tar
tarns thank kit
tarns that kink
thank kits rant
thank knit rats
thank rant skit
thanks rink tat
thanks tart ink
thanks tint ark
think art stank
think arts tank
think rant task
think tank tsar

I doubt they'll ever set up their arts think tank, and I doubt its absence will be noticed let alone missed. In the unlikely event there is an arts think tank, I hope the person who created the world's first tilet by stealing the "o" from "toilet" runs it. That's obviously someone who knows a thing or two about creativity.

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16 August 1996

Than Anywhere Else on Earth

Bad poetry isn't necessarily bad poetry; it's all a matter of context. I saw a terrible poem in the window of an abandoned building ...
"The kiss of the sun for a pardon
The song of the bird for mirth
You are nearer to god in a garden
Than anywhere else on earth"
The weeds growing through concrete cracks were lovely poetry even if the words were not.

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17 August 1996

Sheep Shags

During the depression, many poor Cumbrians survived by gleaning the stray bits of sheep wool left in the fields. Some strands, or shags as they're known locally, were found in brambles and other thorny plants. Barbed wire provided a rich source of wool, the sheep left behind large clumps when they rubbed against the fences.

The search for sheep shags seems to have ended after the war. Most of the locals seemed embarrassed by their past. No one I spoke with admitted to having any personal experience with sheep shagging, although they spoke in hushed tones that they'd heard it was done by less reputable members of the community.

One old man told me "sheep shaggin's a way o' life for some folk 'round here." He said it with a slight smile; I think he admired their resourcefulness.

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18 August 1996

Cheating Tourists and Drunks

A popular San Francisco bar has signs warning "We cheat tourists and drunks." I recently had the misfortune of finding this successful business plan implemented in a rural pub near Swinside.

My partner recommended we stop there; she had a memorable time there once before. (She later waffled a bit. The occasion had been so memorable that she didn't remember it all that clearly; she may have been at a different location.)

The evening started pleasantly enough. The ale was OK, although it tasted a bit watered down. When I gave the bartender a twenty pound note to pay for another round, she gave me change for a ten. I insisted I'd given her a twenty, she insisted I'd given her a ten. It was pointless to argue.

We left soon; the patio had become infested with blathering yuppies and their screaming children. Caveat emptor.

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19 August 1996

English Peaks

England doesn't have any real mountains, just fairly large hills. British walkers build pyramids of stone on top of them to make the tops a little taller and to give them peaks just like real mountains.


As is usually the case, the British aren't fooling anyone except for, of course, themselves.

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20 August 1996

Higher Education

Universities aren't what they used to be. Today, the government has reduced public funding for higher education. As a result, academic institutions place advertisements in national periodicals to attract paying students.

Most of the ads are rather staid and bland; they blather on in reverent tones about commitment to excellence, high standards, rich traditions, blah blah blah blah blah. My local education factory makes no such claims. Its ad features an attractive young woman with large breasts, she's obviously the type of colleague a new student might expect to find here. Party party party!

I understand the ad is doing very well. Universities are what they always have been.

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21 August 1996

An Apology

I owe Mr. Edward Howard Haskell of Lemington-on-Sea an apology. Some time ago I misquoted the line from his famous treatise International Pressure Points when I attributed the following quote to him:
"Transfixed by her sad golden eyes, I felt her tongue slip into my mouth like a Mediterranean dolphin gliding through the hot salty sea. Engulfed in her gossamer hair, I felt myself go limp with raging desire."
What Mr. Haskell actually said was:
"International sanctions only work when applied internationally."
I sincerely regret the error, and apologize unreservedly.

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22 August 1996


The last time I visited Lewis Baltz I admired a small photograph of his hanging in the bathroom. It was a still life of a bar of soap; the soap had a hair stuck to it. (The photograph was part of a larger series.)

When I mentioned to Monica how much I liked her father's piece, she said all his friends who knew about the new body of work had started to become nervous when he visited. The paranoia of photography has a certain resonance for me; to this day I make sure all my hairs are accounted for.

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23 August 1996

Unauthorized Hole

I spotted a new hole on my walk today and called the local authorities to report it. The Municipal Maintenance Bureau, the Parks Department, the Roads and Byways Division, the Civic Enhancements Group, even the Wartime Preparedness Committee all denied any knowledge of and any responsibility for the hole.

A couple of hours ago I told my story to an off-duty policeman in a bar. He didn't seem to think it very interesting.

"Off the record," he said, "it sounds to me like we're talking about an unauthorized hole. It happens all the time."

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24 August 1996

Two Things About Moths

I only know two things abut moths, the first of which I learned as a boy. Once a train was speeding along during a storm when the engineer saw someone wildly waving their arms directly in front of the train. After the driver brought the train to a violent halt, though, he couldn't find anyone when he climbed down from the cab. He did soon discover that he would have died had he not stopped the train: the swollen river had washed away the railway bridge. The engineer also solved the mystery of the phantom flagman: a moth trapped in the train's headlight projected the image of an arm-waving person. (If I remember the story correctly, the moth is now in a museum somewhere.)

Also, moths eat holes in sweaters.

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25 August 1996

Cat Food Migration

I'm feeding Bethan's cats while she's away for a few days. Every time I go into her apartment I put fresh food in the cats' bowls, then lift all the cat shit out of their litter tray and put it in an empty cat food bag.

It seems like it would be simpler just to pour the food from one bag to the other without processing it through the cats, but the boys don't see it that way.

Cats are mysterious creatures.

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26 August 1996

Sensible Vandalism

I saw an old classroom chair displayed in a museum. The intended subtext of the exhibit was unambiguous: old graffiti carved by people now old or dead had a certain fascination. This subtle message was apparently lost on a young visitor with a felt-tip marking pen who redefined the display. It will probably take the curators a few decades to appreciate the addition.

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27 August 1996

I Never Wanted to Be a Lumberjack

I had a horrible thought this morning somewhere between sleeping and waking up. I thought that I would have spent a lot more time in the mountains and the woods if I had chosen to be a lumberjack instead of becoming involved in a variety of pursuits as an environmental activist. I sometimes think that I never wanted to do this job in the first place.

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28 August 1996

Wrong End of the Stick

Maureen Caudill postulates that we're very close to being able to build an android. In her book, In Our Own Image: Building an Artificial Person, she argues chapter by chapter--vision, memory, language, et cetera--that we're about there.

I'm afraid she's missed the forest for the trees.

We already have artificial people; soulless bloodless automatons run the world. And Caudill's logical arguments notwithstanding, it's not economically viable to build humanoid robots from scratch. It will always be cheaper to dehumanize homo sapiens than to humanize machines.

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29 August 1996

Without a Clue

I spent the day engaged in secret aesthetic pursuits. Given my knowledge of forensic sciences, I am completely confident that my undetected activities will never be reconstructed.

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30 August 1996

False Advertising

Decades ago I went to Canton with my father to visit his family. We stopped for chili at a diner, and were disappointed to find the toilet had been disabled by a remodeling project. I took the owner's suggestion and pissed in the woods behind the building; it was a preferable alternative to being inside on a sunny autumn day.

The Shangri-La, however, purports to be "the first Cantonese restaurant to provide a disabled toilet." This is simply not true. So there.

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31 August 1996

Chicken Transmogrification

A junior scientist at the largest biotechnology laboratory in the region won a promotion with his clever mutation of the humble chicken. She modified the genetic structure of a chicken so that hens "print" an expiration date on the shell of each egg. These are early days in biotechnology, and the invention has one severe drawback: the date never changes. Industry journals report that the unchanging lighting conditions in used in industrial farming warehouses make it difficult to reintroduce the concept of time into genetically-mutated chickens.

Poultry factory magnates are nevertheless quite excited. (But then, it doesn't take much to excite a poultry factory magnate.)

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©1996 David Glenn Rinehart