Kinky Friedman, Hoagy Carmaechel and Me

Posted in Humor, On Tthe Road on June 8th, 2011 by MadDog
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Before I wade into today’s post I want to tell you the sad tale of a man who is gradually losing his mind. Today I went for a haircut. It’s something I seem to have to do three or four times a year. I don’t know why hair has to grow. I guess it’s so that we can change it once in a while. I’d be just as happy if I could get a good haircut and then turn the grow switch off until I’m in the mood for a change. In the meantime my hair tasks would be reduced to washing and a little judicious combing followed by some careful tosseling to get that just-right semi-spiky look which identifies me as a moderately elderly man who is trying desperately to relive his misspent youth with slightly more flair than he managed the first time through.

Going for the haircut is not the funny part. Showing up at the barber shop with no shoes on my feet is the funny part. I was so distracted by my anxiety concerning my first solo trip in Grace’s car that I clean forgot to strap on my spanking new Wal*Mart sandals. There are mitigating circumstances. I have spent most of the last three decades barefoot. I wear no shoes at home, in the yard, on the boat, at the office or in anyone’s house (rude!). I think about where I’m going and decide if I need shoes. So, my mind being otherwise occupied by the horrible thought of wrecking Grace’s car the very first time I’m trusted with it, it is not surprising that I walked past my shoes on the way to the garage without so much as a howdy-doo. Because I had an appointment for a haircut, I did not have time to go back and retrieve my shoes for a dignified entrance to the shop. I stood barefoot in the parking lot and dithered for a moment. Finally I decided to be a man about it and fess up. I went into the Barber shop and was greeted by name, “Hello Arny”, Dennis, the barber said. Grace, as Eunie always did, calls me Arny, a cutified version of my middle name, Arnold. I explained lamely why a grown man would possibly show up at a barber shop unshod. He chuckled and told me that I did not need to go home to get my shoes. I quickly changed the subject.

And now I’ll change the subject again.

The last week has been a revelation in more ways than one. The challenges I have faced since last September, reinforced by the complications of a new and poorly understood life and hurdles I needed to jump since I left Madang in March nearly overwhelmed my capacity to endure. Much of that is over now, one way or another. Issues have been resolved. Obligations have been discharged. Healing has begun in earnest.

The character of my grief has changed with time, as I prayed it would. Sweet memories, once blocked by fear of remembering and emotions which were unpredictable and uncontrollable, have begun to filter through the haze and restore my balance. How I have longed to remember. How I have longed to reminisce about a lifetime of love and fulfillment. I had little idea of what might facilitate this for me. As it turned out, the answers were simpler and more profound than I imagined. A peaceful, restful place where I am responsible only for being who I truly am. A place where I feel comfortable and settled with my own room, my own bathroom, for pity’s sake. An atmosphere that is conducive to quite thought and introspection or stimulating conversation, as the mood dictates. A haven separate from the too-familiar atmosphere of Madang. The most important thing, however, is a shared life experience of love and respect for Eunie and deep admiration and respect for each other. I have known Grace for as long as I knew Eunie. They were closest friends since age four. This has been the key which has unlocked the comfort and pleasure of bringing all of the best of a half century with Eunie back into my consciousness. She is now closer to me than she has been since she died.

I have been here only a little over a week, but I have laughed more than I have in the last nine months. Sharing sweet memories, exploring mutual interests, squeezing the fun from life, all these things have lifted my spirit and evaporated my fears. I have not experienced a single day of depression since I arrived. This alone is a tremendous relief. A couple of days ago, after I painted the porch swing (more about that later) I came inside and sat on the floor watching Grace go through cabinets which had been accumulating items for some years. There were some fascinating things stashed away there. The one I enjoyed most was a Kinky Friedman talking doll.

If you’re not familiar with Kinky, join the club. I won’t bother to tell much about him. You can follow the links if you’re interested. He ran for Governor of Texas in 2006 and captured nearly thirteen percent of the popular vote. What is fascinating about Kinky is that he is so in-your-face politically incorrect. His campaign slogan was, “Why the hell not?” On the front of the box he asks (referring to the Texas governorship), “How hard can it be?”

Kinky wanted to be the first Jewish governor of Texas. One has to respect his chutzpah for this. Even at his most incorrect politicality his remarks reflect sober reflection on the issues. For example, “I’m not pro-life; I’m not pro-choice. I’m pro-football.” One might be forgiven for wondering if he’s avoiding the question. It’s easy not to take him seriously until you remember that thirteen percent of Texas voters took him very seriously, indeed. Of those who voted for him he says, “I don’t know how many supporters I have, but they all have guns.” Okay, that makes me laugh. He passes on his best wishes to all with, “May the god of your choice bless you.”

Anyway, getting to the point, I told grace that she might have something collectible there. I said that I’d Google it later to see if it was worth anything, but, in the meantime, we should get the batteries out of it so that it would not be ruined by leakage. Unfortunately, this involved partially disrobing Kinky, a task which turned out to be strangely disturbing. Grace suggested that we should record the moment:

This may be your only chance today to view an image of a thoroughly mature man sitting on the floor in a semi-lotus position while undressing a talking doll of a former gubernatorial candidate for the state of Texas. Savor the moment, kiddies.

Oh, by the way, this is what my hair looked like before my visit to the barber today:

Those are baby robins at Hans’ house in Hamilton, Ontario.

This is how they looked only two weeks later:

While we’re dealing with critters, I’ll show you this squirrel which sat on the grass at the Indiana University campus in Bloomington, Indiana and mocked me. I don’t know what it is between me and some animals. They often attempt to stare me down. They often succeed. I tried paying no attention to this squirrel, but his stony glare kept drawing my eyes back. I felt like saying, “You. Yeah, YOU! You lookin’ at me? Then I thought, no, that would be silly.

As if that’s not enough, this tree then came at me from the other side and began to taunt me:

So, I retreated to a less sarcastic place and had a little conversation with Hoagy Carmichael, the man who wrote the song with the longest title in the history of music, I’m a Cranky Old Yank in a Clanky Old Tank on the Streets of Yokohama with my Honolulu Mama Doin’ Those Beat-o, Beat-o Flat-On-My-Seat-o, Hirohito Blues:

Hoagy wasn’t in a talkative mood. I just sat and listened to him play for a while.

Finally, I’d like to show you a proud moment in my life. I call it The Day I Painted Grace’s Porch Swing. I’m a simple man with simple needs. It doesn’t take much to amuse me, as any regular reader will have noted. It took me most of the day to apply the stain to the swing. I made the nearly fatal mistake of not turning it over to stain the underside first. By the time I was half-way through with the visible part I began to wonder how I was going to turn the gooey thing over to get to the bottom. I solved the problem by crawling around on the ground for a couple of hours:

Hey, it kept me off the streets for a while. I was inordinately proud of myself for completing this simple task in a reasonable time and with appropriate attention to workmanship.

Next job – re-glue and refinish the coffee and end tables. Hey, this is fun!

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Goodbye Hamilton – Hello Sedona

Posted in Humor, On Tthe Road on June 3rd, 2011 by MadDog
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I believe that my wandering is over for a while. What a relief! I have been very blessed that every place I have gone I have had friends who opened their homes to me. I have had to spend only one night in a motel when Hans and I were traveling from Illinois to Hamilton in Ontario. The life of a moocher is not as glamorous as it might seem, but it is much more affordable.

I’ll first force you to listen to my lame excuse for being off the air for five days. As you might gather from the image below, Eunie’s old Toshiba notebook which has been my traveling office since the middle of March finally threw in the towel. When I was in Canada the screen began to jump. My first thought was “Oh-oh, there goes the budget!”. I prayed and laid hands on it, but to no avail. It got the the point at which I could still use it, but I had to let the screen warm up for an hour. When I got to Sedona and turned it on I got nothing but a blank gray screen. I dithered about what to do:

I can’t see much point in trying to replace the screen on a relatively cheap Toshiba which is probably six years old. It would probably cost more than half the price of a new one. The problem was how to get at all the data on it, which, of course, has not been backed up since I left Madang. Grace hauled my old carcass over to Cottonwood, Arizona today so that I could check out some prices. I decided to get an inexpensive LCD screen that I could hook up to the Toshiba so that I can continue to use it while I’m deciding what to buy. I’ll also be backing up, you can be sure. The Samsung monitor cost only US$146 including tax. It’s a very nice piece of gear and a vast improvement over the old Toshiba screen. Editing photos on it is a joy instead of a frustration. It looks as if I’ll be buying a new notebook computer before long.

I have a few images left over from Hamilton to show to you. Nothing to brag about. I went with my son, Hans, and a couple of friends of his up on top of the Niagara Escarpment to have a look around and take some pictures. Sheila has a new Canon G12 which caused me to drool. It seems to me to be a significant improvement over the G11. This line of cameras keeps getting better and better. Here is a shot from one of the many overlooks:

Hamilton is at the bottom a a huge valley. I’m on one side and you can see the other side over on the far right of the picture. The gray stuff that you see filling the valley in to the tops of the building is smog from the steel mills. It’s interesting that you can’t see any visible smoke coming out of the mills as you drive past. What does come out looks like steam, but it obviously has some other nasty stuff in it.

At nearby Tew’s Falls I got some snaps that are decent, even considering the failing light:

That’s the standard waterfall shot.

What I like is the Silky Water Technique, which is child’s play to get, if you have a steady hand and a solid object on which to brace your camera. All you have to do is set your camera so that the shutter speed is 1/8 of a second or slower.

It looks like this:

Having arrived in Sedona, I have a much changed menu of scenery from which to choose. For instance, if I stand in front of Grace’s house and look down her street to the left, I’m dazzled by a sheer cliff of the ridiculously red rocks which surround Sedona:

On the way into Sedona from the Village of Oak Creek where Grace lives, one has to contend with outlandish scenery such as this:

Couple this in-your-face visual stimulation with temperatures which keep you toasty warm, but not hot in the daytime and pleasantly cool in the evenings and you have specifications for a very nice place to live.

You get all this plus the general crazyness of the place. It’s the New Age Capital of Planet Earth. I’ve heard it referred to as Spaceship Sedona, sort of like a woo-woo Enterprise which consists entirely of one giant holo-deck. One the way to the hardware store to get some wood glue I asked Grace if we could stop to grab a shot of this flying saucer which was obviously in need of some roadside repairs:

Note the sign on the van in the background – “Alien Recovery Team”. I’d say that they arrived just in time.

Don’t laugh. They are serious.

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My Neck Gets Longer

Posted in Humor, On Tthe Road on May 28th, 2011 by MadDog
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My bags are packed. I’m ready to go. As you read this I will possibly be zipping across the sky from Buffalo to Phoenix leaving behind me a trail of noxious fumes. I will do this with the aid of an airplane, one Continental Airlines monster or another. As I board I will be chanting the mantra of all sensible airline passengers, “Sure hope the plane don’t crash.”

My suitcase is half full of the warmest clothing which I own. I certainly hope that I will not need them any longer once I reach Sedona. According the the 14 day trend, the lowest daytime temperature I’ll encounter for a while will be about 32°C (about 90°F). At night I might have to put up with 18°C (about 64°F). This is much more my speed. Now that I have wasted your time giving you my personal weather forecast I’ll move on to the equally boring subject of this post – my neck.

For several months I’ve had tingly fingers. The last two fingers on each hand are a bit numb and feel as if they have been frozen and are thawing out. It’s not debilitating, but it’s not pleasant, either. I’ve heard suggestions that it might be a pinched nerve in my neck. Googling seems to confirm the possibility. I’ve also heard suggestions that I might get my neck stretched. This does not appeal to me. I prefer the do-it-yourself approach.

A couple of weeks ago I was suddenly attacked by the idea that I could think my neck longer. Perhaps it might stretch itself. Yes, I know what you are thinking. However, in this case, you overestimate my absurdity. As I went about thinking about my neck being longer I discovered that if, for instance, I’m walking or sitting or whatever and I sort of make my head higher (it is hard to explain) my neck will stretch a little, maybe a few millimeters. I’ve been doing this pretty regularly several times a day. I’ve tried to hold that posture as long as I can continue thinking about it. After a while I forget what I was doing and my neck gets shorter again. I feel like a turtle.

It’s a distinctly strange sensation to think your neck longer. If I do it right now as I’m writing about it, I can describe it to you. First, I have to calm myself a little and hold my head level while looking straight ahead. Then I think about my neck being longer; I stretch it mentally. My head actually moves up a little, accompanied by some rather unpleasant popping and crackling noises. That’s the not-so-nice bit. The nice bit is that, after only a short while, I can feel the tingling in my fingers abating.

The weirdest thing about this is that it appears to be working. I don’t imagine that my neck looks any longer, but the tingling in my fingers has reduced appreciably, even when I’m not stretching my neck. Is it possible that I’d discovered a new medical technique? Can I patent it?

Okay, that’s pretty much everything I can squeeze out of that subject. If you’re still here I have some miscellaneous pictures from the last couple of weeks to show to you.

It’s entirely possible that you have never seen the Willis Tower (I still think of it as the Sears Tower) in Chicago nearly obscured by fog:

Now you have.  One less thing, eh?

While we’re doing tall things (hey, this fits in with the neck-stretching!) have a look at this shot of the big CN Tower in Toronto being annoyed by some wanna-be big ones. I call it Conflicting Egos:

Okay, so I get zero points for clever title.

Toronto is chock full of sculpture. Some of it is very cool. Others are so-so. I grabbed this shot from my bus:

I don’t know what to say about it. It’s big. It’s sculpture. It’s art. It reminds me of an eggbeater.

This also is a bus shot:

At first I thought, “How cruel. They are all tied together.” Then I noticed that they are simply hanging onto the child-securing line. This impressed me. They are remarkably obedient and rule-following. Hey, they are little Canadians. We would expect no less of them . If that sounds sarcastic, it’s not meant to be. I much admire Canada and its adorable inhabitants. I even have a tattoo to celebrate the whole idea of Canada. I would happily be a Canadian, if only it were possible. I might even survive the first winter. Or maybe not.

When I do these miscellanea posts I often fret over which images are worthy of the space. This one falls in the “I don’t know.” category. I include it only because I have not previously seen a pine tree which sports cute little green pom-poms on each branch:

Okay . . .

Moving on now.  I went to Fort George with Ron a few days ago. It was amusing. Ron stepped in a skunk hole and took a tumble. Actually, that part was somewhat less amusing and more scary. It could just as easily been me. You know, I have never been hurt while engaging in any of my adventurous activities. Years of cave exploring, rock climbing, flying helicopters, SCUBA diving, slogging through swamps and jungles, not to mention some recent skydiving have done me no injuries. The only times I have ever gotten hurt was when I was minding my own business and suddenly found myslef picking myself up off the ground. Perhaps this indicates that I am most at risk when I’m not paying attention, eh?

We gawked at the old buildings and I snapped a few of the mildly interesting items. No, really, that’s not fair. It is quite a spectacular place and well worth a visit. I’m just being difficult and moody. I did particularly want to get a shot of the demonstration of musket shooting. Maybe everybody else in the world has seen this, but it was my first time.

Here is the spiffily dressed soldier firing his musket:

Well, as you can see, that didn’t work out so well. The stupid thing failed to fire four times in a row. The guy who was talking us through the demonstration had just mentioned that the weapons were highly unreliable. So, having relaxed my guard, I lined up my camera for the fifth try and KA-BOOM the thing went off. It surprised me so much that my camera jumped out of my hands. I successfully juggled it back into my grip before it fell to the ground. I had a little laugh when I looked at the shot.

The shooter then went through his routine of loading the musket and fired again. I finally got the shot I wanted:

Uh, right. That one is checked off the list.

I’ll start winding things down with this shot off Morningstar Mill:

Don’t believe the “Always on hand” part. They had no flour for sale, not that I wanted to buy any. It is, however, a pretty site.

Here is a shot of the small waterfall:

I had to take three exposures at different levels of brightness and combine them into a single high dynamic range shot to make this image. Isn’t that fascinating? Anyway, you can see a rainbow in the mist at the right, if you look very closely.

The shot above and this one are what I call “Calendar Junk”:

Pretty, but devoid of purpose or meaning.

They are the pop-stars of images.

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Fooling Around – Experimental Photography

Posted in Humor, On Tthe Road, Photography Tricks on May 26th, 2011 by MadDog
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Once again I will get all pedantic on you and deliver a lecture on a subject so obscure that most would not even consider its existence. Today’s endless monograph will lightly cover the pseudo-intellectual pursuit of what I dare to call Experimental Photography. If you Google that phrase, you won’t find very much of interest. Some of the Google Images do lead in the general direction, though. Are you laughing yet?

I use the term more to make fun of myself than for any other reason. It embarrasses me to admit that when I have my camera in my hands I have reverted to a kid with a particularly engaging toy. I wish to appear more serious and, uh . . . deep than that. It’s all about ego. So, don’t take the second part of the title of this post seriously. The “Fooling Around” part is the operative phrase.

My personal view of experimental photography includes a continuum of categories ranging from purely narrative or descriptive to abstract. Within these categories a range of camera techniques can be employed to get the desired effect. I could write a book about this, but I have only this much space. Prepare for compression!

When I take a picture of something which must be instantly recognisable and the object itself is more or less the message, I call this narrative or descriptive. The object is  the story.  Here is a very obvious example:

It’s a sign. How simple can it get? It would be a very uninteresting image except for the words on the sign. What is the message? I’m sure that you’ve gathered that this is a sort of visual double entendre.  There is a place called Lick Elevator, a grain storage facility which you have seen here before. What makes it amusing is that the sign could appear to be a command – a rather absurd one.

This also is a narrative image. In The Happy Singing Machine  I wanted to convey the little surprise I felt when I turned my head and saw the cartoon face staring at me from the side of this whatever-it-is machine:

Here again, to complete the transaction between the photographer and the viewer, the viewer must uncover the narrative – decode it, so to speak. This one is so obvious that it takes little effort.

As you wade through this post you’ll note that I’m slowly (oh, so slowly – will it never end?) moving from narrative or descriptive to abstract. You may find yourself nodding off.

This one is also narrative, in the sense that you can easily see what it is – a restaurant bar top with the street scene outside and everything reflected upside down in the shiny surface:

In actuality, this is a tripple entendre.  The first meaning is the obvious one – the descriptive image itself. It is what it is, an interesting visualisation, but otherwise not noteworthy. The second requires seeing the title of the image, often a clue to the photographer’s hidden message – The Honest Lawyer.  Aside from the fact that the place is possibly a hangout for downtown lawyers, there is the aspect of the mirrored but shaded world reflected in the bar top. Honest? Possibly. True? Probably not. Ethical? Quite likely. Accurate? Well, that depends on who you are asking, eh? You can play these little word games with the image until you decide that you’re wasting valuable time. The third part of the tripple entendre  works for you only if you live in Hamilton, Ontario where there is a matched set of way-too-loud-music quasi-sports (too many big screen TVs silently blaring miscellaneous mundane sports nonsense) plastic-food establishments called The Honest Lawyer. (The funky video clip makes this site worth a click.)

Whew! All that in there? It’s a stretch, I admit.

That shot didn’t require much in the way of camera technique. I simply plopped my Canon G11 down on the bar, pointed it towards the windows and pushed the button. It did require a lot of post-processing to get the effect I wanted.

However, some shots require some planning and fiddling with the camera controls. I like to take shots of things whizzing past the car window. This requires setting the camera to manual or shutter priority mode and selecting a relatively low shutter speed, in this case about 1/8th of a second. It also requires one to look ahead to see what shot might be coming up, because there will be a very short window of time for the exposure:

Here we have the giant communications tower in Toronto framed between trees which are blurred by the movement of the bus on which I was riding. Even more blurred, because it was closer to my camera, is the traffic light on the right. This image is light on transcendental value. There’s not much there. It’s only real interest is the demonstration of motion blur. Ho-hum.

This one is a little more meaty. I remember seeing this sculpture from previous visits to Toronto. I find it no less repulsive than I did before. I wondered how I could capture my revulsion in an image? Hah! A passing pedestrian. Make her appear as if she is fleeing the ugliness:

Simple – select a slow shutter speed, brace firmly against the window frame of the bus and hope that the bus does not move until the pedestrian reaches the precise point at which she seems to be rushing past the travesty. I give you Rush on By.

I’ve been waiting a long time for the opportunity to put a picture of that sculpture in a post and treat it with proper disrespect. Thank you, kind lady, whoever you are.

With this one we are approaching the abstract. I call this a concoction. It follows the recipe of the moment. It’s shaken and baked virtually on the fly. As I was looking out of the window of the bus I was distracted by the reflection of the bus driver. How inconvenient. Why not record my complaint?

Here again, a normal automated shot will not work. If both the reflection and the outside scene are sharp the reflection is lost in the muddle. What is needed is to blur the scenery outside so that the reflection stands our more by its sharpness than by its contrast. A slow shutter speed once again comes to the rescue. If there is a subliminal message in The Phantom Bus Driver  other than the title, you will have to find it. I’ve racked my brain and can’t puzzle it out.

If you are very observant or very bored, you may notice the reflection of my hand holding the camera at the far right of the image. There is a term for this self-referential imagery in which the artist or a portion of the artist appears in the image, but I can’t think of it. Any help out there?

Here the narrative and the abstract mingle. What is the mountainous object which dwarfs the trees? What kind of grass matches a good-sized pine? Does the title Around My Neck  lend a clue? Well, silly me, of course it does. Who am I trying to fool. Some images are just fun and camera technique boils down to nothing more technical than lying on my belly in the wet grass like a 140 pound short thick snake:

The object is, rather obviously, a millstone and it is not twenty meters tall, only about one. The camera angle, shooting from the ground nearly straight up, and the inclusion of the trees make it seem much larger at first glance. I call this Abstract But Not Really Abstract. It’s a visual joke, if not a very good one.

Some of these last ones are approaching abstraction. This one probably more than any of the others:

In Clouds and Angles  it’s all about photography. Nobody would paint this picture. It’s a found object which disappears in an instant unless it is captured and viewed. It appears in a singular place in a moment of time. Were it not for me, nobody would ever have seen it – nobody. Does that mean anything? Of course not. Wait . . . no, it does mean something. It means that somebody sat in a car thinking about the sky and the clouds and watching things go by as a little story about the sky and the clouds and the things going by was being scripted in the mind of the observer until the right moment came along when everything converged and the world was set right for a nanosecond and the finger moved of its own accord to freeze the instant for no purpose whatsoever except the stopping, the pause, the memory of the moment of perfection.

Is that abstract enough for you?

You have to be a little bit odd, I think, to be a photographer. I’ve never made any money to speak of from photography. I’d certainly like  to make some money from it, but that doesn’t seem to be in the cards. However, I have made a little money at it and I take it very seriously as an expression of how I see the world, so I call myself a semi-professional photographer. Hey, you can have semi-pro baseball players and golfers, why not semi-professional photographers? Fair is fair. Part of that oddness I mentioned is allowing the mind to romp unfettered through the mountains of optical data flooding the visual cortex to stumble across little meadows of incongruity. I give you GO!

This shot would better fit the abstract label if it were not for the top of the bus at the bottom of the image. I, as the photographer, share a tiny hidden joke with you. There is a thing in Ontario called Go Transit. It’s a combination of bus and train service. The logo is entirely unintelligible – see the little turquoise colored symbol? It’s supposed to read “GO”, but you have to be a calligrapher to figure it out.

Patience, I’m nearly finished.

In This Way Up  we are back at the grain elevator again. We’re nearly all the way to abstract now. The object is not clearly recognisable. This is an assemblage of shapes and colours. It has been Photoshopped beyond all reason. My purpose was, as nearly as possible, to obscure reality under layers of camouflage:

If I’ve done my job well the reality will not be too obvious, unless you are an  employee of the establishment and you travel up and down this precarious ladder frequently. See, there you go. Once the reality is clear, the image loses it’s interest. It’s no longer a mystery. Phooey! I should have stopped while I was ahead.

This last one is neither narrative nor abstract. I might go so far as to call it a visual pun, though not a very good one. What makes it weak is that there is no common phrase “food temple” to match the title of the image:

I had some concept or other in mind as I was working on this image. It may have been a deep thought about the place that food has taken in modern western culture. I might have been thinking about how irritated I am that I can’t go to a meeting or visit with friends or engage in practically any social activity without being compelled to consume food. Really folks, I can’t eat that much. Please stop trying to feed me.

Yeah, that may have been it.

I can’t remember.

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Stupid Man Tricks and Crystals – The ROM

Posted in Humor, On Tthe Road on May 23rd, 2011 by MadDog
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On Friday my intention was to go to Toronto, no matter what the weather was doing. The weather cooperated somewhat. The sun even peeked out cautiously a few times, giving me the opportunity to walk about in my lumberjack flannel shirt. I did go to Toronto, but I did not get to do what I had planned. You see, planning is the key. That is precisely what I forgot to do.

What I wanted to do was to visit the MZTV Museum of Television at 55o East Queen Street. Forget about the address. It’s not important to you unless you plan to walk all the way to the museum from the bus station as I did. You have to pass through a very interesting neighborhood. When I say interesting you can surmise that I really mean scary. Don’t get me wrong. I fit in there quite nicely with my pony tail, earring and multiple tattoos. My choice of clothing also blended in with the attire of huge, rough-looking men hanging around in front of bars and loans-until-payday joints. The word “joint” fits into this picture also, if you get my drift. No need to purchase. Just pick up a roach from the sidewalk. Anyway, I did make it to the museum, but it did me no good.

This is where the planning comes in. You see, what I had failed to do was to ascertain whether or not the museum was actually going to be open when I arrived. The answer is NO, unless you have called ahead to make an appointment. I truly did not know how to react when I saw the sign saying “by Appointment ONLY!!!!!” No, there were no exclamation marks nor upper case. My mind added those. Having no cell phone with me I had no way to call for an appointment, as if such a thing could be arranged on the spot anyway. So I just stood there and stared at it for a while as my mind ran back over the previous twenty-four hours to try to figure out what other blunders I had made which were still lying in wait for me.

I soon found out.

My son, Hans, had mentioned the Royal Ontario Museum. I thought to myself, “Oh, I’ve never been there.” So, I decided to figure out where to find it and how to get there. It seems faintly ridiculous for a seriously mature man to admit that getting around in a big, unfamiliar city alone is a challenge. It is, nevertheless, true. So, I set about to meet the obstacles and overcome them one after the other.

The first of which was to learn how I could get onto one of those cute little streetcars with the wire over the top so that I could bypass the harmless, but disconcerting neighborhood I had just passed through. I did the obvious. I asked a kindly looking woman on the street how I could travel by trolley. She directed me to a corner variety store where I could purchase a tiny token to get me on the vehicle. The clerk there asked where I was going and suggested that I purchase two tokens. She also cautioned me to get a transfer so that I could use the subway. It seemed to be getting complicated, but I reckoned that I could manage it.

The trolley took me in minutes back to the spot I had been an hour ago. It was a while before I located the entrance to the subway. The sign was too small, I think. Four stops later I was here:

At this moment I realized my second blunder. I had been here before with Eunie. Maybe someday happy memories will flood over me when I revisit places which we once enjoyed. However, I now try to avoid those places, if possible. However, I was already there. I decided to tough it out.

As it turned out, the trip was not a bust. Three years ago I remember seeing a small section of the museum which displayed some amazing mineral specimens, including splendid crystals the likes of which I had never seen. I’m glad I forked over the CA$21 to get into the museum, because the new display – a hundred times larger – was a mind-blowing experience.

I give no credence to theories of “crystal power”. They seem nonsense to me. For me they are objects which dramatically display the myriad ways by which the laws of physics and chemistry can be expressed as wondrous works of beauty.

I tried Googling to get some idea of where the great mineral displays of the world are located. No luck. I can’t imagine that there are many which can beat this one. I took a lot of pictures. As the lighting was not bright enough for easy photography, I had to set my ISO at 400, which makes for noisy images in my Canon G11. Nevertheless, they are good enough to get an idea of the beauty of the specimens.

Here is a gallery of some of the better shots. You can start the gallery by clicking on any of the images:

I’m happy with the way the day turned out. It was a bittersweet mixture of emotions. I feel as if I salvaged something from it. Now most of life feels that way to me. I’m getting better at it.

I’m synthesizing happiness. It’s almost as good as the real thing.

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Post Number 1000 – I Zooify Myself

Posted in Humor, On Tthe Road on May 16th, 2011 by MadDog
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I didn’t get a chance to post this one while I was still in Indianapolis. So as not to be wasteful I’ll get in my WayBack Machine and send it out into the void now. It’s still my moldy observations, wacky thoughts and strange images. However, like Billy Pilgrim in Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, it has come un-stuck in time.

By the way, this is post number 1,000 for Madang – Ples Bilong Mi.

~~~~~~~~~~~

In my American Adventure mere hours remain of this brief pause in Hoosier territory. I grew up in Indiana, downtown Indianapolis being my formative place. As I sit here, only a few minutes from my birthplace and the haunts of my childhood, I am transfixed by the wonders of circumstance which carried me on the kind of wild ride through life with which few are blessed.

Each pause in my adventure brings its own blessing. In Australia I benefited from sojourns to Gympie, Teewah and Toogoolawah. In these places I was cared for and entertained by people who love me not for what I do, but for who I am. In the USA my first refuge was Honolulu. There I enjoyed a stay with an old friend willing to share the nest. Also in Hawaii were long-time friends and co-workers who have, for over three decades, concerned themselves in many ways with my work. Now, here in the Midwest I have added family to the list of loved ones with whom I am renewing links.

Now I am possibly half-way through this journey. In many ways it is the most important in this season of my life. The shape of my future is being determined in a very compressed period of time as I stumble through the minefield.

That’s quite enough self-pity and introspection for the moment. Let me tell you about the bear attack.

Steve, my host in Brownsburg, and I were on our way to the Indianapolis Zoo via the Rocky Mountains. We took the scenic route. We paused for refreshment in some national park or other – I don’t remember which. As I scanned the horizon for likely camera fodder I saw this bear:

All was well until the bear noticed that I was taking its picture. This bear has a paparazzi issue. It became enraged and attacked me. I was forced to beat it senseless with my trusty Canon G11 camera. Ordinarily I take a picture of whatever creature I have knocked unconscious with my camera, but in this case Steve and I decided to beat a hasty retreat in case we might have been observed violating the right of the bear to consume annoying humans.

Of course all of the above balderdash is pure Walter Mitty daydreaming. There was a bear, but it was in a rather large cage at the zoo. It paced back and forth in a very desultory manner until I got tired of watching it. I felt its boredom. It did seem to look in my direction after a while and suddenly charged down the slope directly at me. As it approached and I felt an incipient flinch coming on it suddenly changed directions and dived into a hole in the fake rocks. Steve reckoned that it had heard its keeper opening the feeding door and was going for another kind of lunch. Along the way it was expending a little energy to give me a cheap thrill. You get your money’s worth when you go to the zoo.

This wart hog is not dead. At least I don’t think it was. I think it was sleeping, but I’m not sure. Can wart hogs hold their breath while sleeping? For how long? I tossed a couple of small pebbles at it, but it seemed not to notice:

Possibly it was waiting for popcorn, the most popular of foods which nobody is supposed to feed the animals, but everyone does.

I have several other shots of different angles of this rhino:

I’m using this one, because it’s really the most interesting. I don’t recall seeing a rhino’s posterior so clearly.

The front of the meerkat enclosure was glass. It was difficult to find a spot that was not smeared with child-residue, but I managed:

Ordinarily I would not give the time of day to a meerkat. I include them in the general classification of animals which I call “Way Too Cute”. This one, however, appeals to me. It’s a little snarly looking. That canine tooth sticking out seems to say, “I could give you such a bite, if I wanted to.”

I throw in this gratuitous orchid image only because they caught my eye in the White River Garden thingie which is next to the zoo:

I think it’s a hybrid. They had maybe a hundred different orchids in bloom in there. I can’t recall seeing that many in one place.

When we got back to Steve and Marta’s house I mowed Steve’s lawn. It was easy and made more slightly tolerable by a watered-down American “lite” beer. Pure swill:

That’s another tall tale. I most certainly did not mow Steve’s lawn or any other lawn since I was in Australia. The lawn mower gizmo was not even running as I sat for this shot. I just wanted to see myself as a typical American suburban home owner. Fantasy time . . .

This is more my speed. I haven’t relaxed this hard for some time:

It’s a shame that Steve was not quick enough to catch me falling out of the hammock.

I’ll wrap this up by telling you about my wild spending spree. I went to Goodwill Industries Store for Poor People to buy some clothes. I’m not really that poor, but I like to pretend that I am. Besides, if I’m cheap about some things it gives me more to blow on things that I genuinely want. I’m not much into fancy clothes, as any fool can see, but I have to put something on, especially in this climate:

 

I bought three perfectly good, if slightly too long pants and a nice pair of shorts for a little over nine dollars.

That’s what I call shopping!

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Dumb Things I Saw at WalMart

Posted in Humor, On Tthe Road on May 4th, 2011 by MadDog
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I am presently sitting in my hosts’ . . . uh, I don’t know that to call it . . . sitting room (?) watching a TV commercial for Farmer’s Mutual Insurance telling me that there are 15,000 clothes dryer fires every year caused mostly by people not cleaning out the lint filter and urging me to check my policy Real Soon Now to assure myself  that I am covered against such a tragedy. The commercial features a dude in a suit torching a gigantic lint ball with a flame thrower. It’s all very amusing, but scary, as it is intended to be. I cannot help thinking of how many people are, as I write this, scurrying out to the garage or laundry room or wherever to inspect that potentially dangerous bit of equipment.

Well, kiddies, I’m here to tell you that I am not of the timid ilk. My bravado is assisted by the fact that it has been decades since I owned and operated any such so-called convenience as a clothes dryer. Oh, yes, I do have a clothes dryer of sorts. It consists of a number of wires hanging from a carousel-like contraption out in my back yard. On sunny days my clothes dry in a snap. On gloomy days it takes a little longer.

Well. Now, that was interesting, wasn’t it?

I have been moaning about the weather. I’m tired of moaning and you’re tired of hearing me moan on and on about it. The sun came out today and do you know what? I’ll tell you what. It got freezing cold,  that’s what. Now I have something else to moan about. Here’s the freezing cold sun:

I forgot that the whole sun thing works backwards in Indiana at this time of year.

Before I get into the subject of today’s post I want to tell you about a very disturbing development in my life. I am becoming tragically absent-minded. A few mornings ago, about 09:00, I was getting my vitamin pills out of the big plastic bag of sundry medications and nutrient supplements which are keeping me upright and more or less mobile. As I was rummaging for C and Multi and B Complex and Magnesium and D3, I noticed that my little blister-pack of sleeping tablets was nearly exhausted. Well, that simply won’t do.  So, as I was thinking about how I might contrive a way to con a doctor into giving me a script for some Temazepam, my fingers took on a life of their own. Before I knew what was happening I found myself asking, “What did I just swallow?” It was at that point that I noticed the count of remaining pills had reduced by one.

I spent the rest of a very drowsy day wondering if I had just been introduced to yet another harbinger of the future.

Okay, on to one of my favourite activities, heaping scorn on Wal*Mart. I know that it is so very unfair of me to do so. It’s not only unfair, but hypocritical. I am, as are the vast majority of the poor and disadvantaged, forced by economic necessity to frequent the sterile and depressing aisles of the Big W when we would prefer to blow our meager disposable income at more trendy emporiums.

Yesterday, while I had an hour to kill as the Wal*Mart pharmacists slaved to produce a package of dream-time tabs for me, I decided to waltz about among the treasures of rampant consumerism to capture images of some of the dumber items I could find. I don’t present this as the definitive collection of The Dumb Stuff at Wal*Mart. I had nowhere near enough time. This is a mere sampler.

I’ll begin modestly enough by poking some fun at another of my favourite targets – those who lavish their pets unto death with every conceivable extravagance. I give you Beggin’ Chips:

Hey, aren’t dogs fat enough already? We need to give them calorie-laden treats to insure that their lives are free of unfulfilled longings? My dog, Sheba, eats no better than I do. I believe in shared suffering. What doesn’t kill me and my dog makes us stronger. And, while I’m at it, what’s with the missing g  on the end of begging?  I had nearly forgotten that Midwestern American English long ago economized the alphabet by making redundant the final g  from all of our precious verb forms employing it. Within days of returning to my indigenous roots I found myself talkin’ to people about workin’ in Madang and tellin’ them about divin’ and fishin’ from my boat and all about the books I’ve been readin’ and when they start askin’ me how I’m doin’ I’ve been sayin’ that I’m still livin’ but not enjoyin’ it very much.

I’m losing thirty years of progress developing my Man of Mystery accent. I’m most often asked if I’m a Canadian. Now I fear I’m suffering a relapse into my original Hoosier Twang. Alas, I’ll have to endure many snide remarks from my Australian friends back home who chastise me for not picking up Strine as my dialect of choice.

I’d best get on with my abuse of Wal*Mart. We have all experienced those distressing occasions in which an ordinary fan simply will not do. I distinctly remember those sultry summer afternoons in the trailer park when up and down the cul-de-sac could be heard the familiar complaint, “Hey, baby, this regular fan here just ain’t cuttin’ it. We oughta hop in the pickup and go git us one o’ them mistin’ fans.” Yeah, Clyde. A misting fan is just what you need and Wal*Mart’s got your number:

I can find plenty of sources of misting fans. It seems that many vendors wish to sell me one. However, I’m still a little puzzled as to exactly what a misting fan does. Presumably it will wet my face while blowing (or blowin’, as the case may be) air on it. Because of my intense frugality, I’m against the idea of tossing away sixty-nine bucks of my rapidly vanishing resources on a device that accomplishes nothing beyond the effect of a fan which I already possess combined with that of a wet towel.

I should probably mention that I’m writing this late in the evening and am slightly punchy from a long day of doing Very Important Stuff which I am now unable to remember. I went several places and did a number of things which were more or less crucial to my survival, but none of it registered in long-term memory. I’ll need to consult my notes. Hmmm . . . it seems I took no notes.

My final jab at our mom-and-pop-store destroying retail giant centers on the matter of absurdly large presentations of choices, namely forty-two flavours of vacuum cleaners:

Why, for pity’s sake, is it necessary or even sane to offer such a ridiculous and surreal number of vacuum cleaners from which to select? Personally, I would be struck dumb when shopping for a mundane household device if I were forced to evaluate so many possibilities. Thinking about it produces the same panicky feeling that I get when I’m purchasing bread at one of today’s colossal food mega-marts. At home I can get white bread, brown bread and bread with lots of unidentifiable seeds in it. The seedy bread also includes, at no extra charge, a range of little sticks and pebble-like objects which I reckon add to the fiber content. I buy the seedy bread. Here in America, The Consumers’ Paradise, I get giddy and nervous when confronted by 267 varieties of bread.

Okay, I am getting very sleepy now, so I’ll let Wal*Mart off the hook. Before I pass out, however, I’ll pass along, as a public service, a link to this partially literate article which I found on AboveTopSecret.com which proves, with absolute certainty, that Wal*Mart is deeply involved in Satanic activities.

I had every intention of entertaining you with several hilarious paragraphs about the Royal Coat of Arms and this depiction of same which I photographed on the corner of the old courthouse in Gympie, Queensland, Australia. Alas, I am now too tired and I must leave you to puzzle it out on your own:

The unicorn appears to be very angry.

Before I nod off, I’ll alert any astrology fans out there that an event of major significance is impending. Get up tomorrow morning and look to the east before the sun comes up. You will, if you have the eyes of an eagle, see six planets lined up as pretty as you please. Having consulted the foremost astrological experts today living I can assure you that you must immediately convert all of your assets to cash and arrange an electronic transfer of the funds to my Chase Bank account. Contact me for detailed instructions. Ignore this announcement at your peril.

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