gratuitous image
1 November 1996

The Two Hundred Years' War

A dispute that's been quietly simmering for almost two centuries has finally reached an ugly climax. In 1798 the city began an ambitious development project; it was one of those turn-of-the-century building programs still dear to the hearts and purses of politicians and contractors everywhere.

The 1798 building campaign was marred by a bitter and protracted feud between the City Department of Walls, Paths and Borders and the County Department of Trees, Lawns and Shrubberies. The city wanted everything paved and the county wanted everything planted. The city and the county fought the most vicious battles on their shared border. The City Department of Walls, Paths and Borders built a magnificent wide boulevard around the entire periphery of the city; the County Department of Trees, Lawns and Shrubberies responded with what its head gardener Leland Hayes called "an impentrable [sic] green wall of natural vitality." A map of the area at the time bears an uncanny resemblance to a go game between unequal opponents.

Bureaucracies never change, and the City Department of Walls, Paths and Borders is still at war with the County Department of Trees, Lawns and Shrubberies. When the roots of one of the trees planted just outside the city limits in 1798 began to push out the nearby wall, the Trees, Lawns and Shrubberies workers knocked the wall downto make room for the tree. Enraged Walls, Paths and Borders workers responded decisively by cutting down the tree at four in the morning. (In addition to catching the County Department of Trees, Lawns and Shrubberies by surprise, the early morning raid also resulted on bonus overtime pay for the city workers.)

Now everybody's suing everybody else, and both the City Department of Walls, Paths and Borders and the County Department of Trees, Lawns and Shrubberies are cranking out reams of press releases about their grand plans for the new millennium. And they still can't agree on anything: the City maintains the new millennium begins on 1 January 2000; the County insists it doesn't begin until 2001.

gratuitous image
2 November 1996

Doggy Style Justic

There's a dog in my neighborhood called Exterminating Destroyer. It's a silly repetitiously redundant name, but no one seems to mind. In fact, listening to Mr. Walbanke holler--a pudgy, balding lardish middle age banker--yell "Exterminating Destroyer! Here Exterminating Destroyer!" is one of the small rewards for living here.

Exterminating Destroyer is actually a very docile canine, so I was surprised to hear it had been accused of attacking the postman. The Postal Commission pressed charges against Mr. Walbanke; its attorneys argued that Exterminating Destroyer should be exterminated, destroyed.

Mr. Walbanke, who was not unfamiliar with the netherworld of the legal system, hired J. A. Kilpatrick-Simon--an accomplished solicitor--to defend Exterminating Destroyer. The transcript shows it was a good investment.

Kilpatrick-Simon: "Would it be fair to say that you provoked the dog in question?"

Postman: "No."

Kilpatrick-Simon: "Isn't it true that you taunted the dog?"

Postman: "No, I just spoke to it normally."

Kilpatrick-Simon: "Is it 'normal' to address a guard dog as 'Fluffy?' "

Postman: "I suppose it is."

Kilpatrick-Simon: "And it also routine to taunt a dog by calling it 'fluffy poodles,' 'fluffy poodles-woodles,' and 'widdle fluffy poodles-woodles?' "

Postman: [no reply]

Kilpatrick-Simon: "Your honor, in light of this provocation I ask that the charges be dropped."

And they were.

Since the trial no one's called Exterminating Destroyer "Fluffy" and the dog hasn't bothered anyone. It's one of those rare occasions where the system does seem to work.

gratuitous image
3 November 1996

The Hierarchy of Aches

Poor Roberto. He's just sitting there pulling petals off a flower. "She loves me; she loves me not." She loves him not, or at least not as much as Carlos. Adrianna has moved in with Carlos and they're making babies ... or at least one.

Roberto would be pathetic if he weren't so pitiful. Or maybe it's the other way around. I'm going to convince Roberto to drink half this bottle of whiskey, even if it means I have to drink the other half. What are friends for, anyway? I predict Roberto will feel better tomorrow morning when his head hurts worse than his heart.

gratuitous image
4 November 1996

The End of Time

Today is the end of time. That means I have a lot of loose ends to tie up, including this notebook entry. There's really not a lot else to do, since I've known about the end of the world for some time.

A lot of people think it won't happen, since The End of The World scheduled for 22 October never happened. (As I recall, the day came and went uneventfully.) 22 October was, of course, the date predicted by James Ussher, the former archbishop of Armaugh. (He's "former" because he died 340 years ago.) What the skeptics overlooked, though, was the change from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar. Thus the people who think they avoided The End of The World have been living on borrowed time for almost two weeks.

Ussher predicted the world would end in the evening; that gives me at least a few hours. This could be the perfect time--the only time, I suppose--to open that 1985 bottle of St. Èmilion.

gratuitous image
5 November 1996

Leicascan/Leicas can't

I continue to be on the verge of "real" photography. I dreamt last night that I was taking photographs with my Leica. (Unfortunately I'd mounted the 35mm lens wrong so it showed the 50mm frame.) A few nights ago I dreamt one of the neighborhood kids had a dozen different varieties of pilfered spot meters for sale; I recall that I particularly fancied the one that took half-degree measurements. I even went so far as to look at used enlargers yesterday. (I didn't consider bringing my fine enlarger that's been in storage for years across the Atlantic; that would be too rational. At least half the attraction to the medium is the hardware.) There was a newish Leitz Focomat v35 and a massive old IIc; I enjoyed being seduced by the Leitz logo.

I doubt I'll do anything about it. I love the concept of photography, but the idea of dust, getting the easel blades perfectly perpendicular, waiting a few minutes for a test strip (then putting it in the microwave to see how much darker the highlights get when the paper's dry), et cetera et cetera seems almost unthinkable ... it makes working with a plastic "focus-free" camera with a bad lens in only 16 greys seem preferable. The real problem with photography, though, is the prints: what do I do with 'em? Even an 8x10 box of paper takes up more room than dozens of gigabytes.

I'll compromise and scan my favorite camera instead. Scanning the camera isn't art, but neither is the camera itself. I need to remember that, but I probably won't.

gratuitous image
6 November 1996

Digital Efficaciousness

I'm missing my right index finger.

Hold it; that's not right: I don't have a right index finger, but I'm not missing it at all. I haven't seen it in three decades or so, and have never missed it. It's been a positive development. Clipping my fingernails takes ten percent less time than it otherwise would have; I suppose that will eventually add a day or two to my life. And with all the precocious kids flashing their tattoos and piercings, I don't feel left out in the body modification department. And there's another advantage: a short finger is most efficacious in reaching places a long finger can't.

Imagine that.

gratuitous image
7 November 1996

Subway Playwrights

The subway tunnels of Beijing are crawling with playwrights. Some of China's greatest dramatists have walked these tracks, one of the few places where they could practice their dialogue at the top of their lungs without bothering anyone. Every train driver knows this, and approaches each bend in the tunnel with caution. The playwrights seem to appear at random, emerging from the dark labyrinths like confused specters. In the dim glow of the yellow lightbulbs, bulky figures in layer upon layer of clothing wander pointlessly, clutching scraps of paper close to their chests. Sometimes subway workers find sodden manuscripts hidden under bricks or behind a maze of wiring which they dutifully turn in their find to their superiors, who in turn pass them along to the Minister for State Cultural Security. The scratchy documents are rarely read, and the plays are filed away never to be seen again. The Cultural Security Police don't really care about the underground playwrights as long as they stay in their place.

gratuitous image
8 November 1996

Washing Up Synchronicity

I bought a new cordless headset telephone so I can chat while I'm washing dishes. I called Judy to tell her about my new toy; I mentioned that I was watching the shadow of my building move across the wall of her building.

"Wow," she exclaimed, "I was just doing the dishes watching the shadow of my building on Ralph's building!"

I asked if we should call Ralph to see if he was doing the same thing.

"No," Judy said, "I think we should just assume he is and that we're all suspended above the ground with our hands in hot water watching the same shadow on different buildings."

Judy was right; some things are better left to the imagination.

gratuitous image
9 November 1996

Ugly Snacks

The Mantle Baking Company has come up with a simple but brilliant marketing strategy: they've introduced a new line of cookies that are so ugly that people eat them immediately so they don't have to look at them. And they taste so good that they buy more. (Almost no one knows the recipe for the filling is the same as the Twinkies formula: half sugar and half lard.) Buy eat buy eat buy eat buy eat buy eat ... everybody's getting fat, especially the Mantle Baking Company.

gratuitous image
10 November 1996

The Pasta's Not Done (Reprise)

I've been cooking the same pan of pasta since 26 July but it's still not done. The garlic bread has gone from charcoal to ashes and the red wine is a distant memory, but the pasta's still not done.

gratuitous image
11 November 1996

Fencing Drama

The Redfearns have a farm that's been in their family for almost three centuries. A fence bisects one of the fields for no apparent reason. Apparently two of the sons had a horrible argument in the last century, and one of them built the fence as an act of pique. It's a handsome reminder that one should never make a drama out of a crisis... or is it the other way around?

gratuitous image
12 November 1996

An English Thing

The English are obsessed with dog shit. In spite of this national preoccupation, someone always steps in it. It's that kind of place.

gratuitous image
13 November 1996

Useful Cats

Cats can do many small household chores, although they'd never admit it. For example, I always leave a ladder against the wall. And without fail, a cat always climbs the ladder to examine the ceiling, something curious cats rarely have an opportunity to do. As a result, I've never ever had to remove cobwebs.

Cats are underrated, especially by those who love them. That's always the case, isn't it?

gratuitous image
14 November 1996

Peanuts for Artists

I went to an Arts Council presentation on "the status of the artist." It was, predictably, terribly boring. A couple of artists said life is hard, a consultant on "The Career Paths of Visual Artists" said focus groups had identified numerous financial problems associated with art as a "career," and a statistician said 37 percent of artists earned less than $8,000 in 1994/5. The administraitors, most of whom make at least at least five times as much as they artists they "serve," looked on with looks of compassion and concern. Having conclusively established that artists work for peanuts, that's what they gave us. Like the event, it was something to chew on, but not much.

And later ...

I don't normally think of this as an interactive notebook, but an associate noticed the above paragraph on my computer screen as I was writing it. He said he couldn't resist the urge to comment on it, so he did.

"What you don't understand," he said, "is that nowhere is it written that the Arts Council is supposed to do a thing for artists; they're supposed to support the arts."

I agreed that this was new information for me. Never having been plagued by insomnia, I've never read an Arts Council publication. I got confused pondering whether one could support the arts without supporting artists, or vice versa.

"And anyway," he added, "the survey didn't address the quality of the art work. It's amazing that some `artists' get any money at all."

I agreed, grateful that he'd provided the common ground each of us needed to make a graceful exit.

"You're right" I replied. "Most artists and most arts administraitors are crap."

My associate concurred. "Everyone on that panel should be shot."

gratuitous image
15 November 1996

Telematic Scheming

I went to a gallery exhibit of Paul Sermon's Telematic Dreaming. The piece consisted of two beds in different cities; the image of one bed was projected onto the other so that one could "interact" with the person on the other bed.

Telematic Dreaming is depicted in print as a serious, reflective piece, which I suppose is what it was meant to be. In practice, though, it was like being at a teenagers' party. Everyone was performing for the audience of onlookers around the bed, there was a lot of giggling and sniggering. I suppose that's the nature of many experiments: they rarely work, and when they do the results aren't necessarily the ones intended. For me, Telematic Dreaming works best as I first experienced it: in print.

gratuitous image
16 November 1996


Gregory Green is building a sputnik satellite. Like his other work with bombs and rockets, it's art. When I last saw him he was trying to find half million dollars to put it into orbit.

When I was a boy I built a rocket of the same design using styrofoam and wooden dowels. When I launched it almost went out of sight. It never occurred to me why anyone would want to launch a rocket father than they could see it, but then I didn't show much promise as a conceptual artist when I was younger.

gratuitous image
17 November 1996

Party Supply

Simon throws great parties. There's still beer and wine left at two in the morning, although he ran out of toilet paper some time ago. (For the record, he has never ever run out of strips of newspapers.)

There are those who contend he doesn't have his hosting priorities straight, but I'm not one of them.

gratuitous image
18 November 1996

Sticky Nautical Situation

I went to a party on a ship to celebrate "The End of The Year of the Visual Arts." It was a perfect venue for the event, since the old ship lacked any visual art. It did, however, have a functional revolving dance floor. Some of the partygoers danced to the worst disco music of the 1970s, but no one fell over even after lots to drink. Over the years there so many liquids of every description have spilled on the decks that shoes stick to every surface like nails to a magnet.

gratuitous image
19 November 1996

Sophisticated Décor

I was in a dirty smoky wretched bar. The proprietor put a few sprigs of plastic plants in the ceiling to give the place an airy, pleasant feeling.

It didn't work.

gratuitous image
20 November 1996

Eton Mess

I had a delightful dinner with Peter Townsend. He was a charming conversationalist, full of wit and art world anecdotes. (When I asked him if he'd ever been confused with a musician of the same name, he said once Mick Jagger had called him--collect--at three in the morning from the other side of the Atlantic.) For desert we were presented with some foamy concoction called "Eton Mess." We couldn't figure out any of its physical properties, and when Peter went to investigate his specimen he accidentally knocked it over. We all agreed that when presented with a mess, the best thing to do is to make another one.

gratuitous image
21 November 1996

Two Rooms Approaching Perfection

I stayed in the perfect two-room guest apartment tonight. One room had a bed, a cabinet, a small table, a desk and a chair. The other room had a sink, a shower, and a toilet. Having everything necessary (except the odd tool) in such a small space seemed idyllic. I've heard such architecture described as minimalist (by those who like it) or Stalinist (by those who don't). I'm not sure where I fit in that spectrum, but, once again, who cares?

gratuitous image
22 November 1996

Why Not?

Dozens of people assembled to address two questions: Why make art? Why look at it? (I attended only for the free food and drinks, not the questions and answers.)

After many many hours of learned presentations and sensible comments, the questions remained as enigmatic as ever. The outcome delighted me: that means I'll get more free drinks and meals the next time they decide to address such imponderable questions.

Why wouldn't I?

gratuitous image
23 November 1996

My Part, Darkly

I learned two things today. First, computers use an amazing amount of electric energy, which translates into air pollution, nuclear waste, dammed rivers, global warming, et cetera. Second, computer monitors use more energy for light areas than for dark areas of the image.

Thus I've decided to do my part to save the planet by making today's image completely black, thus saving electricity. If we all do out part, we'll all be under the impression that we're doing our part.

gratuitous image
24 November 1996

Survival of the Cutest

A friend of mine is trying to save the last few hundred of the Siberian tigers. Unfortunately for both him and the tigers, the cub depicted in his brochure is some sort of mutant beast, perhaps the victim of an old Soviet nuclear experiment that went terribly wrong.

People only like to save cute animals. In a century or two, everything on the planet will be either adorable or extinct. (I feel confident in making such a prediction: since I won't be around then I'm in no danger of being refuted.)

gratuitous image
25 November 1996


I was walking down a busy street when I saw a sign saying "Krazy Steaks are here;" the horseshoes on the sign suggested their "kraziness" was not attributable to Mad Cow Disease.

I kept walking.

gratuitous image
26 November 1996

Twentieth Century Stonehenge

I'm not sure if it's possible to visit the real Stonehenge; I've heard it's blocked off to prevent it from being overrun (again) by druids and the like. I understand the police even keep away the tourists in order to preserve tourism.

It doesn't matter. When it comes to large strange human constructions I prefer cooling towers as seen from a fast train. Their appearance is not unlike Stonehenge's, and since everyone knows they were built solely to cool the water from coal-fired turbines there's never any tedious new-age blather about what they really mean.

And a couple of minutes later they're gone.

gratuitous image
27 November 1996

Humped Zebra Crossing

Birmingham has more canals than Venice. That's not true, but after some public relations hack said so everyone there believes it's true. This often repeated misconception is given additional credence because few Birminghammers have ever been to Venice.

When I visited Birmingham, I spent most of the afternoon at a humped zebra crossing, but didn't see a humped animal of any description let alone a zebra. What I did discover, though, is that Birminghamites are among the world's great liars. I had a good time.

gratuitous image
28 November 1996

The Perfect Ménage à Trois

On an early morning walk I discovered someone--probably a drunken student--has placed a plastic traffic cone on top of a civic statue. Drunks and traffic cones and statues are the perfect ménage à trois.

gratuitous image
29 November 1996

A Sloppy Yet Pleasant Stasis

I like beer. Beer weighs a lot. I drink a lot of beer. I weigh a lot. This could be a problem.

But like most problems, the solution to this problem is to be found in the problem itself. On the way back from the store, I use the bag of beers to exercise with, burning up all the calories I'll soon consume.

This is a sloppy yet pleasant stasis.

gratuitous image
30 November 1996

Uniformly Cylindrical Salmon

I bought 200 grams of salmon for 39 pennies. I used to be baffled by how anyone could make any money selling salmon so cheaply after shipping it halfway around the world, but after a while I stopped thinking about it. What still fascinates me, though, is the way the salmon is fit into the can.

No two cans are the same; they have from two to four pieces of salmon wedged in them. Each can is a puzzle solved, but who solved it? Child laborers? A computer? Child laborers using computers? Beats me. Somehow somewhere schools of fish from the Pacific Ocean now lie motionless in the uniformly cylindrical briny darkness at my local grocery store.

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