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1 May 1996

Free Coffee for Artists

This is the beginning of the fifth month of a multi-million pound visual arts event and all I've managed to get from it so far this year is some free coffee from the lobby of the local arts bureaucracy's mansion. It turns out the alleged art event was really just a ruse by the local business associations to get money to promote tourism.

I've been outscammed by the pros. It's revolting any way you look at it.



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2 May 1996

Syrup

I received a wonderful note in response to a letter of praise to friend and brilliant writer:
Flattery!
(dialogue alteration from 1946 American film):

A: "Don't tell me you're the type who'd fall for the sweet syrup of flattery!"

B: "Buddy--you're lookin' at a mighty dry waffle!"



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3 May 1996

Scotch Over the Atlantic

Reviewers use all sorts of convoluted criteria to determine which airline is "best," but for me their reviews are mostly irrelevant. No reputable airline's planes crash much more often than another's; the planes all come from the same handful of manufacturers anyway. Similarly, the food all comes from The Chicken Or The Beef Catering Corporation. And most airlines give a "free" trip for every five or so you take.

For me, the choice of airlines is determined by whether the flight attendants are generous enough with alcoholic beverages to keep me suitably stupefied during stupefyingly long flights across an ocean. Most airlines have concluded that free drinks are a good investment: inebriated passengers are generally passive cattle.

I've only found one exception: KLM Royal Dutch Airlines. Their stern ruddy flight attendant reacted to my request for a second beer as if I was raiding her queen's private reserves. Scratch KLM. Curiously, their business partner, Northwest Airlines, is one of the most generous. On one flight I left with 20 little bottles of Scotch--a full liter. I'm taking it easy this flight, though; nine bottles is just enough to face Michigan.



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4 May 1996

Damnedest Cat

My neighbors, the Spanjers, had the damnedest cat. It was an old tomcat named Petunia, and all it did was sit in the middle of the kitchen door all day. Every day. Now, you might expect that sort of stubborn laziness from an old cat, but what made Petunia so odd--even for a cat--was that he'd been sitting in the same doorway ever since he was a little kitten. All the time.

Any behavior that deviates even slightly from the currently accepted norms is the source of much speculation, and so it was that Petunia's decision to spend virtually his entire life planted in one of the busiest doorways of the Spanjers' huge house generated a number of theories.

First, it was thought that perhaps Petunia was the runt of the litter. Or maybe that he'd been abused as a kitten. One friend suggested that naming a cat Petunia was pretty weird and would probably explain a lot. These theories were of little help, as were veterinarians: a string of them pronounced Petunia to be of good health.

As for myself, I just thought Petunia enjoyed the attention of everyone who had to step over him. Or at least, that's what I thought until after the big earthquake leveled most of our neighborhood while I was away.

When I returned, I found my house was completely destroyed, as was the Spanjers'. I watched in shock as the emergency team removed body after body from wreckage that was their house.

When I'd just about given up hope, I heard one of the rescuers exclaim "He's alive!" as he pulled Petunia from the wreckage. Evidently the door frame had shielded him from the collapsing house that had killed the entire family.

I took Petunia to live with me as a living reminder of my lost friends, but I think I may have made a terrible mistake. Petunia just sits all day in the doorway of my kitchen looking perfectly contented.



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5 May 1996

Internet Dummies

I saw people in a store window conducting a predictably boring seminar on "Conducting Business on the Internet." They were, of course, dummies.


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6 May 1996

The Way of the World

Katie and Amanda's globe has a big dent. They seemed unhappy with their distressed model, but I knew they need not worry: the missing part of the world was a bit no one much cares about.

That's the world for you.



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7 May 1996

Privileges

I recently visited a Boston law firm (that will remain unnamed for the obvious reason). The partners enforced a rigorous hierarchy that ranged from the order in which their names were listed on the firm's ornate stationery to the spot in which they urinated.

The firm's toilet has three urinals, two normal ones for the shareholding partners and a lower one for everyone else. The two to one ratio of high to low urinals was, of course, the exact opposite of the ratio of owners to employees.

Privileges are amusing.



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8 May 1996

What Is It About?

What is it about absurdly long fingernails that some people find attractive? I suppose it's a waste of time trying to understand anyone else's fetish.


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9 May 1996

Faux Burritos

Some east coast friends tired of my whinging about the lack of good Mexican (or, rather, San Francisco/Mexican) food during my visit so they made me a tubular burrito-like concoction for lunch. I guess the square Mediterranean bread, tuna fish and shredded raw vegetables were healthier than anything in a proper Californian taqueria, but I was nevertheless disappointed.

Some ideas get lost in the translation.



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10 May 1996

Corporate Vegetation

I thought it would be interesting to have a picture of a corporate tree, since I rarely come across photographs of such vegetation. I now understand why: immediately after I photographed such a specimen, a surly (or maybe just Bostonian) janitor told me "You can't film in da lobby." Later, a friend told me that's why all the Westons photograph at Point Lobos instead of San Francisco. It sounds improbable enough to be true.


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11 May 1996

No Vacation

When I saw the storefront display of floating sunglasses and mannequins in bikinis, leis, and grass skirts, I assumed it was promoting a travel agency. In fact, it was in the window of one of New York's most successful divorce attorneys. The bartender across the street explained the lawyer gets most of his business from miserable stockbrokers going through midlife crisis.

From all reports, the clever way of circumventing the bar's restriction's on advertising works well ... but only for the lawyer.



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12 May 1996

Truth in Advertising

American beer advertising is occasionally a subtle art. With no alcohol content listed on the label and fifty different marketing laws in as many states, beer must be cleverly marketed.

Take Samuel Adams Double Bock for example; I did. I was attracted by the offer of double bock. It didn't make any sense from what I understand about real bock beer, but who could resist two for the price of one? Plus extra malt! The clincher, though, was the handsome portrait of Sam himself, staring at me from the gallery of six-packs asking to come home with me.

For a minute I thought I was seeing double, or looking at a bad example of colonial cubism. Later, I realized I had been subliminally influenced by the packaging. Since seeing double is supposedly one of the manifestations of strong drink (and one of the few I haven't experienced) I subconsciously decided that Samuel Adams Double Bock was good stuff.

(And, as American beers go, it was.)



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13 May 1996

Abandoned Tools

I remember the last time I used a typewriter a year or two ago; I was quite impressed. I just pressed a key and a corresponding letter appeared on the page a fraction of a second later. Amazing.

I saw an abandoned typewriter in an unused corner of an office. Later that day I saw another typewriter on top of a garbage barrel. Both discarded machines reminded me of something sad, although I couldn't figure out what. Or why.



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14 May 1996

Beached

For decades I've expected to find some sort of treasure on the beach: a coin, a shark's tooth, a glob of ambergris, maybe even a bag of valuables washed overboard from a yacht.

So far, though, all I've found are rocks of varying sizes. I've kept a few that I picked up on special occasions, but now I can't remember where any of them came from.



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15 May 1996

Protection Through Destruction

Today I enjoyed a delicious meal at the best Afghan Restaurant in Portland Maine. (Although I'm not a food critic, I can say this with some authority in that it is definitely the only Afghan Restaurant in Portland and probably the only one in Maine.)

Unfortunately, the restaurant seems to be known not for its excellent food but for a court case involving its owner. As I understand it, ostensibly well-intentioned government employees, alleging "child abuse" took the Mohammad Kargar's son away from him for a year and a half. The "child abuse" consisted of the owner kissing his infant son on the penis.

It didn't matter to ignorant uncivil servants that this practice is described very common if not almost universal in Afghanistan: I was told they separated the boy from his father for 18 months. It's not surprising that the same government that destroyed villages in Vietnam to save them would devastate a family to "protect" it.

Although I know almost nothing about the Afghans, their customs cannot possibly be more perverse than the Americans'.



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16 May 1996

Buddha Puzzle

The Buddha was in eight hundred pieces, another puzzle I'll never figure out. That should have been enlightening, but it wasn't.


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17 May 1996

Blue Man Group

Mark and Joanna took me to see the Blue Man Group. It was an extraordinary performance, the best show I've seen since George Coates Performance Works a decade ago. They're as clever as I'd like to think I am, but with much more testosterone. The show reminded me I must get around to doing more work with guns and explosives.


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18 May 1996

Ansel Hole

I asked Lisa why she had an Ansel Adams poster on her wall. She said it covered up a hole. That Ansel always was a versatile photographer.


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19 May 1996

American Tea

Beryl thinks there's an explanation of why Americans can't make a decent cup of tea. The tradition of terrible tea making began hundreds of years ago when uppity colonialists dumped tea in Boston Harbor. And to this day, most Americans still think the way to make tea is to dump a container of it, e.g., a tea bag, into water that's not even close to boiling.

For a modest fee, tourists can reŽnact the Boston Tea Party by throwing a box off an old ship into Boston Harbor. The box is on a rope so it can be easily retrieved and thrown overboard over and over again. Whether it's Paris or Boston, all successful revolutions eventually become tourist traps.



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20 May 1996

Bad Review

Betsy Sherman, writing in the Boston Globe, said "The first striking thing about [Nick] Park's new Wallace & Gromit film 'A Close Shave' is the way the exploitative relationship between Wallace, a bumbling inventor, and Gromit, his smarter dog who does everything for him, goes unquestioned." She went on to whinge about "the scattered and tedious plot."

I look forward to seeing how Gromit will exact a horrific revenge on this very silly person. There's no tastier schadenfreude than seeing an imbecilic critic eviscerated.



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21 May 1996

Theological Standoff

The church gardener refuses to mow two patches of grass in the church cemetery. He claims God told him not to touch the grounds profaned by the burial of two unrepentant sinners. (No one even knows who's buried under the vegetation in question; the tombstones are worn smooth and the records were lost in a fire over a century ago.)

The priest knows sloppy landscaping is bad for business, but the gardener refuses to follow orders. He is adamant that he must follow God's will.

The congregation is divided on the issue. Some members of the church are appalled at spontaneous random flowering in the staid burial grounds. Ernie Spath sums up the pragmatic view of the gardener's supporters: "Who are we to say God didn't tell him not to mow those plots?"

The standoff continues with no end in sight.



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22 May 1996

Paperwork

The garbage collectors complained when they were given new orders to inspect the dumpsters in certain impoverished neighborhoods before emptying the huge trash containers into their garbage truck's compacter. They eventually complied with the new directive, though, when it was pointed out that they would not receive overtime pay for completing the police paperwork necessary if a crushed homeless person was found crushed in the refuse.


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23 May 1996

Diesel Patina

On a walk through the park I encountered council workers who'd just replaced a couple of slats on a black bench. They laughed when I asked them if it would have been easier to stain the wood before it was nailed down. They explained the air pollution quickly stained the wood black.

"It's environmentally friendly, innit?" asked one of the workers. "You wouldn't believe the shite that's in them stains."



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24 May 1996

Premium Railway Holes

British Rail reservation slips have twenty-sided computer hole punches. The InterCity East Coast line could have probably saved a few pence by using eighteen-sided or even sixteen-sided holes, but they instead they paid for premium holes.

It's a nice touch that I appreciate on long rail journeys.



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25 May 1996

Edinburgh Navigation

It's intentionally difficult for a visitor to explore Edinburgh. The Romans never made it quite this far north; there are few straight roads.

The streets themselves were renamed earlier this century to confuse German invaders. "Round Corner" is in fact the most perpendicularly angled of corners, whereas "Dingwall Square" is actually a roundabout.

I'm confused; that's one of Edinburgh's attractions (and Scotch's raison d'être).



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26 May 1996

Perpetual Crises: Baby Milk Scare

Last week it was Mad Cow Disease; this week it's the Baby Milk Scare. I wasn't particularly worried about Mad Cow Disease since I rarely eat meat. (On the other hand, it seems that bits of cow are added to about everything from film to vodka; I'm trying--and succeeding--to remain as ignorant as possible.) Also, a disease that has only killed a few dozen of the tens of millions of cow-eating carnivores seems no more worrisome than the possibility of catching herpes from a toilet seat.

The Baby Milk Scare, however, has me completely confused. What is baby milk used in? Is it blended with cow milk, or just used in delicacies? Since goat cheese is so expensive, I doubt I could afford to eat an unhealthy amount of baby milk cheese.

These are dangerous times.



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27 May 1996

Urban Scottish Foxes

After two or three or four bottles of wine with Fearghas--true friends don't keep score--I thought I saw a fox in his back yard.

"You probably did," he replied without looking. "They're there."

When I saw another one later, I didn't worry. After all, Fearghas doesn't have any chickens and his cats are quite resourceful.



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28 May 1996

Fundamental Wine Criticism

Oddbins, a chain of liquor stores, sometimes features hand-written evaluations from its underpaid workers. My favorite (so far) is "I had a bottle of this last night and do you know what? I got pissed!"

I will probably never read a more direct and less pretentious wine review.



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29 May 1996

Spontaneous Disintegration

We were working late preparing for a performance. The table inexplicably collapsed sending empty bottles scattering everywhere.

No one said a life in the arts would be easy (even though it is).



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30 May 1996

The Proper Number of Wires

"It looks like too many wires" I told Rainer.

He carefully analyzed the situation before replying. "Actually, there are just the right amount."



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31 May 1996

Stelios Arkadiou

I have always trusted Russell Hart's admonishment "Beware of artists with only one name." The most recent empirical evidence of what appears to be a truism was an exhibition at a local gallery by an embarrassingly inarticulate woman who insisted she be addressed only as "Orlan."

I was asked to become involved with a performance at the same venue by "Stelarc." I agreed, albeit reluctantly. (I found the documentation of Stelios Arkadiou's previous work painfully thick going.) When I met the artist, though, I was pleasantly surprised. He impressed me as a good old Australian hippy surfer (or perhaps is was just his use of the phrase "good on ya mate" that left that feeling). He seemed much more of a Stelios than a Stelarc, but if he says he's Stelarc who I am to say he isn't?

He was completely serious about his work, though. He politely but firmly refused to take a few shortcuts or cheat a bit on the documentation. I am definitely the lazier artist, albeit by design.

When not working, though, he went back to his amiable artist schtick. He often said (jokingly? seriously?) that he wanted "two women and a bottle of whiskey." I got the impression this was his standard request. He said when he asked that of the organizer of a performance in Eastern Europe, the arts apparatchik mulled it over and, after a frowning pause, said "the women are no problem, but you know, whiskey is very expensive here."

After his performance, I offered Stelarc some whiskey from the bottom of a bottle my colleagues and I had been working with all afternoon.

"Thanks, David, but I don't drink."

"But what about the two women and a bottle of whiskey you wanted?"

"The whiskey is for the women!"

Good on ya, mate. (Although one should beware of artists with only one name, it's even more probable that there's little if any correlation between artists' personalities and their work.)





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©1996 David Glenn Rinehart