For the past year, I’ve been taking pictures of couches that have been left out on the sidewalk. For the first time, I’ve collected them and present them to you, dear readers. My hope is these discarded couches, when viewed as a group, become something more. Like a flock of brokendown flightless birds.
I took art all four years of high school. My junior year I took art twice, once in the morning and again in the afternoon. There were other electives available, but I didn’t take any of those. Why bother?
For the majority of my high school career I focused on what the registrar called “2D Art.” Painting, drawing: anything done by making marks on paper. There was, however, “3D Art,” that bizarro art class where you made things out of clay or plaster or whatever consumed that mystical third dimension.
The first year you took the art elective, you had to take one semester of 2D Art and one semester of 3D art. This, I suppose, was to ensure we were exposed to both kinds of art. I took 3D Art spring semester of my freshman year of high school. My biggest accomplishment was building a giant thumb tack.
Mr. Gillis, our art teacher and later one of my cross country coaches, wore aviator glasses and had floppy hair that covered his ears. His favorite expression was “lunchbag.” When kids teased him about his ‘70s fashion sense, he’d retaliate by calling them “lunchbags.” It was the perfect non-profanity that still got the meaning across just fine.
Why I chose a thumb tack is unclear, but I probably believed it would be simple to make. I had very little faith in my 3D art abilities. I was never good with tools, had never assisted my father with projects around the house. When I had to make a Pinewood Derby racer for Cub Scouts I sanded the corners of the block of wood, painted each side a single color, and snapped on the wheels.
The thumb tack was big, maybe three feet tall and two or three feet in diameter. I used chicken wire for the rounded edge, covering it in plaster of paris. The rest was cardboard.
Mr. Gillis took a shine to that huge thumb tack. I thought I had distinguished myself for figuring out that pennies newer than 1974 used zinc, which, when put through the kiln, would explode and leave a white cloudlike burst in the pot. But as I was clearing out my projects for the summer, Mr. Gillis asked if he could take a picture of me with the giant thumb tack. He presented a slide show on the first day of class and wanted my thumb tack to be a part of it.
Mr. Gillis called to me on my way out, in the way a teacher does right before he has something life-changing to say.
“Hey Josh,” he said. “Don’t sit on that!”
I promised I would not.
The thumb tack is long gone, but these two pictures remain. They are the legacy of my brief foray into the 3D arts.
Last month I had the distinct honor of being a groomsman at my friend Andy K’s wedding. Andy and his wife Kate found the most beautiful setting imaginable to exchange their vows: the Rocky Mountains. As the officiant/Andy’s cousin Dan mentioned during the ceremony, nothing can quite compare to the romance of altitude sickness.
Isis and I got to enjoy not only the brilliance of a Colorado mountain summer, but the excellent company of Andy’s family.
Andy’s brother Christian was Best Man, a title he took with all the sincerity befitting the younger brother of the groom. (As mentioned in the linked post, I should’ve already told you that he now has a girlfriend. She is awesome. Sorry.)
True to form, Andy composed his vows a mere hours before the wedding.
It is not every wedding that has an official (unofficial) whiskey. Andy and Kate’s big day could not have been complete without the soothing intensity of Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey. All of us on the groom’s side took a celebratory shot before heading out to get Andy’s knot tied.
Of course a weekend in the mountains would not be complete without a thunderstorm. We got a doozy the night before the wedding. It rolled over the Western mountains in the afternoon and knocked out the power for four or five hours that night. Fortunately, the day of the wedding was clear and warm.
A special thank you to both Andy and Kate’s parents. Without their guidance and planning, this weekend could never have been pulled off. They created a space in which the rest of us could relax and enjoy the festivities.
Andy: you are the best. Congratulations to you and Kate. I’m so happy you found each other; now you get to spend every single second of the rest of your lives together.
When Bill Watterson ended Calvin and Hobbes in 1995, I felt as though I had lost a family member. It was as much of a gut punch when, this morning, I read the news that Richard Thompson is ending his daily comic strip Cul de Sac.
Readers of this blog will know of my deep and abiding love of Thompson’s work. It is exactly the kind of effortlessly funny, quick-witted, and fun-to-look-at strip that got me into comics in the first place. It is no hyperbole to say that it was the best new strip of the millennium, the next in that prestigious line that began with Krazy Kat and went through Pogo and Calvin and Hobbes.
I can’t help but think Richard’s mysterious character Ernesto Lacuna had something to do with this. The possibly imaginary Ernesto caught my attention right away as a standout character, partly due to his overly mannered attitude and partly because he happens to share a first name with my own character Ernesto the lizard.
I’ve long wondered what the two Ernestos would have to say to each other if they happened to meet. I wanted to take this opportunity to draw it out. This comic is dedicated to Richard for all his hard work and for showing the world that comic strips can still be essential.
My great uncle Biff Elliot died today. He was 89.
Biff, as readers of this blog will know, was the original Mike Hammer. His starring role in I, the Jury proved to the world that a Jew could be a tough and daring private eye. Far from making Mike Hammer a one-note pulp fiction character, Biff infused his character with just the right mixture of toughness and fragility. If you watch any detective movie today, you’ll see a similar blend of these elements: the man who knows when to use his fists and when to use his words. That unique formulation may have been lost on audiences in 1953, as Biff was not asked to play Hammer again, but today it is the norm.
Biff went on to a career in both movies and TV. He had a small part in the fan-favorite Star Trek episode “Devil in the Dark” in which he was devoured by a rock monster. In the Planet of the Apes TV series, he played a human slave to the talking apes. I am told he also got to play an orangutan, but could not tell you which orangutan was him. In the movie The True Story of Jesse James, he played a member of the gang in their glory days. He was a regular on season five of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and had a recurring role in Mission: Impossible. Biff played all his parts with a depth that a lesser actor could never have achieved.
I only recently began seeking out Biff’s many appearances on the screen. Growing up, I remember him as the uncle who would talk your ear off at every family reunion. He always had a few dozen things to tell you, and at the end he’d make sure you knew how much he loved you and how much you meant to him. When I got to visit him in California, he would take me out. He drove me in his bright yellow Mini to see the Hollywood sign, Disney studios (with the building in the shape of a wizard’s hat), the Kodak Theater, the one public bowling alley in Hollywood – the famous and the not-so-famous landmarks.
Wherever we went, it seemed, he knew somebody. I remember going out to eat with him and my aunt Connie. The owner of the restaurant came out to say hello, and ended up giving us hats and shirts with the restaurant’s logo on them. In a town of fake friendships, Biff created genuine bonds with just about everyone he met.
I am glad there is an audio/visual record of Biff’s existence in the world, but I am much more glad to have known him. He was the youngest of three brothers – my grandfather the potato-sack manufacturer (and the person who taught me to love the Sunday funnies), Win the TV and radio sportscaster, and Biff the actor and (unverified) one-time flyweight boxing champion of Maine. The world will not see another trio with as much wit and warmth, and is the poorer for their loss.