Friday, April 27, 2007

the word for today, and madonna of walmart

a word that's floating around in my head today:


I really like that word, and rarely get a chance to use it. The problem, of course, if that if one has occasion to use it, it's often when encountering some sort of unpleasant or foul situation.

So I'm sort of ambivalent about it.

Speaking of unpleasant situations, I had to stop by the local Walmart today. I'm not a big fan of Walmart, for a variety of reasons, but sometimes it's the most convenient place to make a quick stop and pick something up. Anyhow, my two boys are obsessed with the products I use for my personal hygiene. They want to use my deodorant. They'd shave if I let them. (not sure what they'd shave...) They want to use my mouthwash. So they have this mouthwash for kids that I've bought for them, and they love using it and it's good for their teeth and all that...but it ran out, so I needed to get more. Every store seems to be out of it. Which is what brought me to Walmart.

Walmart didn't have it either. But it did provide me the most amusing visual I've had all day.

As I was wandering out empty-handed, there was this older gentleman. Who am I kidding. He may have been a gentleman...I have no idea about whether he is particularly courteous or chivalrous, or if he is a man of good social position, or if he is of noble birth--all definitions of "gentleman". I was calling him a gentleman to be polite. But this particular Walmart is out in Dekalb, IL (the town where I work). The town is growing, and is home to a rather large university...but it is still very much a farming community. If there's a wind blowing, I can smell manure when I get out of my car in the morning.

So, I'm going to go out on a limb, and call this guy a "feller." Because, basically, he had that look. Kind of an old guy...a little grizzled. An expansive belly. He seemed pleasant enough. Anyhow, this feller is sitting there, talking up a woman who may have been there with him, or may have just been someone he had just met. He's wearing jeans and a flannel shirt. And underneath the flannel shirt is a Madonna t-shirt. I think it was from the "Music" tour, because she was wearing a cowboy hat...she seemed to favor that particular headgear during that period.

And what I liked so much about seeing that is the guy--the feller--didn't in any way seem to be the sort of person who might be a Madonna fan. It's more likely that he picked up the shirt at the local Salvation Army down the road. But I'm going to imagine that he didn't...I'm going to pretend that he went to go see Madonna. That he really digs her music. And that he dropped $25 on that shirt at the merch table and put it on right away over whatever shirt he happened to be wearing at the time.

yeah...I like that.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

A heckuva job...or, I want to work for George W. Bush

I don't want to get too political here. I'm really writing about my job. The thing is, I don't really care for my job. I don't like what I do. I just happen to, I think, do it well. And there are people willing to pay me to do it. There are not too many people willing to pay me to paint self-indulgent pictures of whatever might strike my fancy, or to play my bass, or act in plays or drink mojitos by the pool. These are all things I would rather do than go to work every day. I'd also rather play with my kids, read books, learn to play the piano and watch movies. In fact, it's very easy for me to come up with a list of things I'd rather do than my job. Right now, I'm writing in the blog, rather than do my job.

I happen to be the Art Director of a trade show display company. Art Director sounds like a nice title. In this context, it doesn't mean much. Technically, if there was much "art" to direct, I would direct it. But that's not the case. When I first came to work here, I was asked what I wanted my title to be. I thought Art Director sounded more impressive than "Graphics Manager" so I had them put that on my business cards. Often, when speaking with clients or vendors on the phone, I tell them I'm the Graphics Manager. It's more descriptive of what I really do...and it seems to put them at ease. They must be intimidated by "Art Director".

Anyhow, I think I do a pretty good job...because I have to. I'm willing to bet that if my administrative technique was on par with some of the men who have held jobs that are, in the greater scheme of things, much more important than mine is, I wouldn't even have the stinky soul-sucking job that I do have.

Michael Brown botches the rescue/recovery efforts in New Orleans. He's doing a "heck of a job." Donald Rumsfeld spends much of the Iraq war with his head in the sand (American sand, of course..the sand in Iraq is dangerous!), completely out of touch with reality. He has "made the world safer" and his reforms "will enhance the security of the American people for decades to come." Alberto Gonzales' piss-poor performance in front of Congress a few days ago in which he apparently couldn't recall his own damn name has increased the President's confidence in him.


I do a good job every week. Nobody gets killed. Nobody loses property. Nobody gets tortured. All I get is a paycheck. W, if you need someone to fill just about any position...I'm pretty sure you know where to find me. I could use a little raise, and I'm willing to bet that I could do a pretty good job (acceptable to you, anyhow) and still have time to drink mojitos. I'll even tear up the picture of you and your "enhancement" that I drew.

Friday, April 20, 2007

...does whatever Bono can

I am officially terrified.

Bono and the Edge from U2 and Julie Taymor are teaming up to create a Spider-Man musical on Broadway.

I love U2.
I have a very soft spot in my heart for Spider-Man.
Julie Taymor has created some very visually arresting theatre.

Why does this frighten me so?

I guess I need to start planning another trip to New York.

it's about time!

Congratulations to Erik Estrada on his long-overdue receipt of a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. You may know him from such roles as Officer Frank "Ponch" Poncherello on TV's CHiP's and infomercials for the Psychic Friends network. Or, if you are like me, this fellow (pictured at right) has plagued you for your entire life.

Lemme 'splain.

I am of Cuban descent. I was born in the US, but my parents were part an early wave of immigration from Cuba, shortly after Fidel Castro wrested control from the previous corrupt, but US-backed government. But that's another story for another day...we're here to talk about Erik Estrada.

Anyhow, my parents did a pretty good job of assimilating to American culture. Sort of. They decided to become productive members of society, unlike some Cubans who sit around in Little Havana down in Miami, sipping coffee and waiting for the day when Fidel dies and they can finally return to reclaim the homes they left. You can get some good food down there, though...

Anyhow, I never felt terribly Cuban. Even though I grew up in a WASPy neighborhood in the suburbs, I never felt 100% American. I don't know that it's possible. My family was just a little bit different than those of my neighbors. And I knew how to speak two languages, which is pretty damned UnAmerican!

And at some point during my childhood, my family chose to worship with other people whose backgrounds were similar. Since there isn't a huge exclusively Cuban community in the suburbs of Chicago, we ended up in a church that was very mixed among many Hispanic groups. A few Cubans, a disproportionately low number of Mexicans, some Guatamalans, Ecuadorians...the list goes on. There did happen to be a large number of Puerto Ricans.

That church was pretty wild...and in retrospect, I'm not so sure how I feel about that. It wasn't snake-handling wild...but there were "healings" and "exorcisms" and a lot of things that I can't be 100% sure weren't simply some sort of form of mass hysteria.

Something else that the people at the church were really hysterical about--the teenage girls, anyway--was Erik Estrada. He was the bee's knees...the cat's pajamas. He was sexy and PUERTO RICAN!

And in addition to being Puerto Rican, his first film was "The Cross and The Switchblade" which was a movie dramatizing the story of a young white preacher from Indiana who goes to live among the street gangs of New York, sort of like Jane Goodall and the chimps. This movie was a big hit with the evangelical crowd. Violent as it was, every so often the church would screen it. Sometimes it would be in English. Sometimes, it would be the really atrocious Spanish overdub. But every time, the girls would get the treat of seeing Erik Estrada in his boxers. Attendance among the young Puerto Rican girls would spike whenever the film was shown.

And so it was that at an early age, I was subjected to the notion that the masculine ideal to which I should aspire was Erik Estrada. I'm still trying to reach that goal. As he ages, it becomes somewhat more attainable. I think I'll go for the fat, reality-show version...I can probably achieve that. I don't have the hair for it, though.

If you want to visit Mr. Estrada's star, you can find it at 7021 Hollywood Boulevard between Sycamore & Orange on the North side of Hollywood Boulevard.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

just sitting here....

...hunched over my laptop, on the edge of the bed. It's a nice height for a bed. It's much shorter than the bed I share with my wife. That bed requires at least one sherpa to guide me up to the summit each night. And my feet dangle when I sit on the bed. The bed at home is large enough to accommodate Polly and I, as well as our brood of 3 and (not necessarily with my consent) one dog.

I can sit on this bed with my feet on the ground. My knees make a nice table for my laptop.

It's been a long weekend of driving, painting, pulling up carpet and assorted other activities associated with helping my brother in law get his house ready to sell so he can move into a different home with his brand new fiancée. I'm tired as hell...beat. I'd feel a lot better if I wasn't actually sick. At least my back seems to be functioning again.

It's quiet here. Polly (the former Miss Street) and Amanda (the soon to be Mrs. Street) have run off to the store for some decorating-type things. Area rugs, I think. Jim, my brother in law is far enough away that I only hear small sounds of some activity for which I am not required. I was finishing getting dressed. I thought it was time to finally put my socks on this morning. So far I've managed to get one sock on.

And now I'm just sitting here...

Thursday, April 12, 2007

and so it goes...

A purpose of human life, no matter who is controlling it, is to love whoever is around to be loved.
Kurt Vonnegut, Sirens of Titan
I woke up too early this morning. I had slept on the couch. Often in situation comedies, men find themselves sleeping on the couch because of arguments they have had with their spouses. It is a cliché locale for banishment. This was not the case for me.

I don't much care for my couch. It was purchased new to fill an available space when we moved into our home two and a half years ago, and it quickly became clear that the couch was not going to last very long. It's a bad couch. The cushions don't stay on the couch very well. They slide around and quickly get out of shape. It began to get threadbare within just a few weeks of its arrival. And so on.

Ironically, the couch bears some responsibility for the reason I ended up sleeping on it. I was carrying my son Jack two mornings ago. As I leaned over to drop him onto the couch, something snapped. Or pinched. One of the millions of nerves in this amazing body I live in was affected in just the right way to create the sensation of having been punched reasonably hard in the middle of the left side of my back.

That night, I had a difficult time sleeping in our bed, so I chose to sleep on the couch last night instead. It was a little bit better. I slept more consistently, but still woke up earlier than I had intended to and in more pain than before I went to bed in the first place.

So I got up to get a drink of water and like any reasonable person with an unreasonable addiction, I checked my email. I found it to be somewhat unfulfilling, so I hit the news sites to see what had happened while I was sleeping. Sadly, I learned that it was reported that Kurt Vonnegut died yesterday.

I was turned on to Vonnegut many years ago by my friend Maht, and quickly consumed many of his works. He quickly became one of my favourite authors. He's an incredibly deep thinker who often presented his ideas in a deceptively simple form. Vonnegut also had a cameo role, appearing as himself in the Rodney Dangerfield film "Back to School."

Like my last post about Sol LeWitt (I have to stop writing about people dying--I'm in danger of getting into some kind of rut), I'm not going to attempt to analyze Vonnegut. It's been done. I could probably babble on at length about how great he was--what an amazing body of work he left and all that. I might even be able to write intelligently about his work. But I think his work stands for itself, so here's a link to an essay he wrote about three years ago regarding the current state of the world. It's called "Cold Turkey." It's really great. Read it.

One of the things I really liked about Kurt Vonnegut was that he would occasionally embellish his novels with simple line drawings. Later in life, Vonnegut extended this to creating artworks that were made into lithographs. The drawings on this page are all by Vonnegut. I always wanted to buy one of his prints...never could afford one. I doubt that's going to be any easier now. There's probably a few novels out there that I haven't read yet. Maybe I'll go buy one and read it.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

R.I.P. Sol LeWitt

In conceptual art the idea or concept is the most important aspect of the work. When an artist uses a conceptual form of art, it means that all of the planning and decisions are made beforehand and the execution is a perfunctory affair. The idea becomes a machine that makes the art.
– Sol LeWitt, "Paragraphs on Conceptual Art", Artforum, June 1967.

Sol LeWitt died over the weekend. He was a pioneer in the conceptual art movement. His writings on the subject served as the foundation for a lot of interesting thought regarding art and the importance of the artist's hand in the work. Many people who have given his work a lot more thought than I have have written about him, so I won't spend too much time trying to analyze his contribution to art and the importance of his work. The truth is, I'm not much of a fan.

LeWitt posited that it was the concept that was paramount in a work of art, and the artists hand was irrelevant. He would write detailed instructions describing the execution of a piece and his assistants would execute it. In fact, he believed that anyone could execute one of his works, if they followed the directions. Pretty cerebral stuff.

Of course, I hate this idea. My own work is all about my hand making the images. The stray marks, the accidents and the translation from my minds eye to the paper or canvas are what thrills me about art making. The frustration that comes from my inability to produce the image I imagine and the joy of creating something better than I had expected are all part of the process.

But I think the moves that LeWitt made were interesting ones, and I admire that he followed his theories to their logical conclusion. And his theories, and those of other eminent conceptual artists challenged me during my time in art school. It made me consider the work that I was doing, and informed that work.

In 1969, Sol LeWitt published his "Sentences on Conceptual Art." Here they are for your reading pleasure. Some interesting stuff...
  1. Conceptual artists are mystics rather than rationalists. They leap to conclusions that logic cannot reach.
  2. Rational judgements repeat rational judgements.
  3. Irrational judgements lead to new experience.
  4. Formal art is essentially rational.
  5. Irrational thoughts should be followed absolutely and logically.
  6. If the artist changes his mind midway through the execution of the piece he compromises the result and repeats past results.
  7. The artist's will is secondary to the process he initiates from idea to completion. His willfulness may only be ego.
  8. When words such as painting and sculpture are used, they connote a whole tradition and imply a consequent acceptance of this tradition, thus placing limitations on the artist who would be reluctant to make art that goes beyond the limitations.
  9. The concept and idea are different. The former implies a general direction while the latter is the component. Ideas implement the concept.
  10. Ideas can be works of art; they are in a chain of development that may eventually find some form. All ideas need not be made physical.
  11. Ideas do not necessarily proceed in logical order. They may set one off in unexpected directions, but an idea must necessarily be completed in the mind before the next one is formed.
  12. For each work of art that becomes physical there are many variations that do not.
  13. A work of art may be understood as a conductor from the artist's mind to the viewer's. But it may never reach the viewer, or it may never leave the artist's mind.
  14. The words of one artist to another may induce an idea chain, if they share the same concept.
  15. Since no form is intrinsically superior to another, the artist may use any form, from an expression of words (written or spoken) to physical reality, equally.
  16. If words are used, and they proceed from ideas about art, then they are art and not literature; numbers are not mathematics.
  17. All ideas are art if they are concerned with art and fall within the conventions of art.
  18. One usually understands the art of the past by applying the convention of the present, thus misunderstanding the art of the past.
  19. The conventions of art are altered by works of art.
  20. Successful art changes our understanding of the conventions by altering our perceptions.
  21. Perception of ideas leads to new ideas.
  22. The artist cannot imagine his art, and cannot perceive it until it is complete.
  23. The artist may misperceive (understand it differently from the artist) a work of art but still be set off in his own chain of thought by that misconstrual.
  24. Perception is subjective.
  25. The artist may not necessarily understand his own art. His perception is neither better nor worse than that of others.
  26. An artist may perceive the art of others better than his own.
  27. The concept of a work of art may involve the matter of the piece or the process in which it is made.
  28. Once the idea of the piece is established in the artist's mind and the final form is decided, the process is carried out blindly. There are many side effects that the artist cannot imagine. These may be used as ideas for new works.
  29. The process is mechanical and should not be tampered with. It should run its course.
  30. There are many elements involved in a work of art. The most important are the most obvious.
  31. If an artist uses the same form in a group of works, and changes the material, one would assume the artist's concept involved the material.
  32. Banal ideas cannot be rescued by beautiful execution.
  33. It is difficult to bungle a good idea.
  34. When an artist learns his craft too well he makes slick art.
  35. These sentences comment on art, but are not art.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Donald Trump wants me!

I was very excited to look through my mail one day recently to find an invitation from Donald Trump. It seems that Mr. Trump wants me to join him--well, his representatives, actually--at the Creating Wealth Summit, a "once in a lifetime financial conference" where I can educate myself in a variety of wealth increasing topics. If you want to read the full text of this amazing opportunity, you can click on the image of the invitation at right. It's just too amazing for me to try to describe it in my own words.

My excitement increased as I read the invitation. This could be my opportunity to pull myself out of debt and live the lifestyle I was meant to live. Visions of gold-lamé curtains and trophy wives dancing in my head, I called the phone number on the ticket to see if I could get more information.

The call was picked up immediately by a recorded message by "the Donald" himself. This really lent an air of credibility to the whole endeavor. His disembodied voice asked me if I was ready to "think big and live large" and then encouraged me to hold on for a "registration specialist." Wow...a specialist. This really IS a big deal!

The specialist did not tell me her name when she came on the line. She was all business, and immediately wanted my information to register for attendance to the event. As a "specialist", she probably had very good reasons for not offering her name which I just didn't understand. But she seemed otherwise pleasant enough, so I'll give her the benefit of the doubt. And I'm going to call her Specialist Ivanka (in honor of Mr. Trump's daughter). Our conversation went something like this:

Specialist Ivanka: Hello, may I register you for attendance at the Creating Wealth Seminar?

Me: Um...actually, I have a few questions, first. Do you think you could answer them for me?

Specialist Ivanka: Sure, I'll do my best.

She's so professional!

Me: This is truly an amazing there really no charge for this?

Specialist Ivanka: The seminar is completely free.

Me: So...they aren't going to ask me to sign up for anything, or buy anything at any point?

Specialist Ivanka: Well, at the end, you can buy books and tapes, but there's nothing to sign.

Me: Why is Mr. Trump doing this?

Specialist Ivanka: He's part of an organization trying to promote wealth, The Creating Wealth Seminar.

She plays it pretty close to the chest...

Me: going to this seminar, am I entering into some sort of partnership with Mr. Trump?

Specialist Ivanka: ...

Me: I know...if I want to?

I thought maybe she thought I was trying to trap her with the whole "obligation" thing...

Specialist Ivanka:'s not's just a seminar so you can learn things to help you increase your own wealth.

Me: Hmmm....okay. That's too bad. Okay, then...can I speak with Mr. Trump?

Specialist Ivanka: um...I don't think You can't.

Me: Why not?

Specialist Ivanka: I don't get to speak with him.

Me: Yes, but he invited ME to come to his seminar--not you. He's not going to be there, so I thought I'd just pick his brain a little bit on the phone. You don't think he'd want to talk to me? He sent me this invitation. There's gold ink on it.

Specialist Ivanka: Look, I just work at a place answering phones and taking registrations...I don't really even work directly for Donald Trump.

Me: Oh. I guess I had it figured all wrong. Thanks anyway. You have a nice day.

Specialist Ivanka: You too, sir.

And that was it. I hung up the phone, a little bit disillusioned. I don't know how much training one needs to be a Registration Specialist for Donald Trump. Or one of his subsidiaries. Or some telemarketing company he's hired. Or some telemarketing company that some middle manager in some branch of Trump's empire hired.

She'll always be "Specialist Ivanka" to me, but she really wasn't all that special. And as disappointed as I was in her, I'm even more disappointed in my mail. I would imagine that something that carries a postage stamp--a symbol of our federal government--should carry more weight. After all, it's the federal government!!! If they can't be trusted...oh...wait. Never mind. I think I see my mistake.

My final disappointment came when I found out that my mother-in-law received the same invitation...and then two days later, her dead father also received the mailing.