# 227: THE PUFF ADDER


 
On or about last January 30, Lee Ka-sing, photographer, poet, producer of the Artpost, co-owner and co-director of Index G—the gallery from which the sparkling Artpost proceeds—more or less ruined my life (inadvertently, I’m certain) by giving me a huge, glossy heavy quaintly out-of-date computer manual titled Using Microsoft FrontPage 2000. 

The book is thick as a brick and 1200 pages long.  Aware of and sympathetic about my penchant for filling up notebooks with small drawings, writings, paintings and collages of sundry stuffs, Ka-sing no doubt figured this heavy, shiny paperbound book—filled with an endless, arcane and inexplicable (not to mention outmoded) printed text—would be fun for me to despoil into yet another notebook-depository for my overheated writerly whims and graphic fancies.

And so it has proved, for the most part, to be, except that I find it even more compelling than I did my usual art-supply-store-notebooks—probably because it is amusing to inundate the stiff computer text with my own sprawling spontaneities.

If I say that Ka–sing ruined my life with the gift of this book, what I mean is that now I can’t leave it alone.  It sits, leaden, puckered, howling for attention, an increasingly impossible to open or close booklike artifact, which, as I hurl myself from page to page, is swelling up like a puff-adder and, as page after page falls beneath my ravening will-to-graphic-expression, is lost to my Faustian hunger for the endless interruption of its once logical progress towards the (presumed) computer light at the end of the tunnel-like course of instruction (18th century English poet  William Blake once wrote that “the tigers of wrath were wiser than the houses of instruction,” and I drink to that every day).

Eventually it will be impossible to close and will then lie supine upon some table or shelf, groaning with what warning signs on trucks sometimes proclaim as a “long wide load,” the book’s shape now more like some extravagant semi-circular shell or fungus, a sort of typographic accordion, 180 degrees of spiny graphic exhaustion, all passion spent.  My book will be a bound fossil. 

Some day (I’m only up to p.333), Lee Ka–sing will look upon it with wonder and tenderness, all the while asking himself what on earth he had begun on January 30, 2013, what demons had he so innocently released, thereby turning the proscribed, conventionalized downward drive of an icon of the agreeably outmoded into a gloriously inoperable handbook to the runaway romanticism of an aging and hectic artist and writer who thinks of this big bog of a book as a raft upon which to negotiate the storm-tossed seas that lap lap lap every day at the corners of his selfhood.     


#226: PLASTIC SHOVEL



I bought 24 of these little red plastic shovels on ebay sometime last year, long before my recently giving ebay up—as a near-addiction I didn’t need.

They’re cheap little things, hurriedly stamped out of what looks a bit like sheets of the flattened fruit-like gels that Fruit Roll-Ups were made of (chemical echoes of when my children were small), except that the Fruit Roll-Up material was more intense in colour than my washed out shovels are. 

The shovels sit in my studio in the brown padded envelope they were shipped in.  Sometimes the envelope falls on the floor and I step on it by mistake, thereby crushing a few of the shovels to red plastic dust.

I had intended them—it was an end-stopped whim—as something to make art out of.  I had this dumb, fugitive idea that I’d arrange two of them like clock hands on a hastily drawn and painted clock-face where, I surmised, they would function as the hands of a “labour clock,” registering hours of honest toil.  Mercifully, that idea passed, unrealized.

I shall probably throw them out.

Or give them, in the hot summer days ahead, to neighborhood children with sandboxes.

# 225: AN AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL OBJECT

A boy on a pig might not be as runaway romantic as a boy on a dolphin, but what the boy plus pig can offer is a homely atmosphere of dogged determination that might well be, in he long run, more helpful than dreamy woolgatherings of mere escapism.

More helpful to me, anyhow.  Anybody can fling himself onto the silken back of a quasi-mythical, ethereal runaway dolphin of the imagination, but a big old pig—albeit with jaunty red wheels supporting its own portable green pasture—is an emblem of the relentlessly do-able, the worldly chore, a moment in the uphill marathon we all sign up for at birth. 

Where the swooping dolphin-ride would be a reward, the stolid pig journey is a pilgrimage—and thus an accomplishment. 

The pig and his rider look alike—which is as it should be
Both the pig and its rider look like me—which is a gift.

# 224: 1951 MERCURY KUSTOM


When I was twelve years old, I subscribed to–and lived for—Motor Trend magazine.  In those days the magazine, which is still around, was a lot more about innovative design, flash and performance than it is now (now, like everything else, it’s about sales appeal and money).

When I was twelve I was a self-appointed member—metaphysically, and not, of course, financially—of the Kustom Kulture movement.  Which meant I hungrily, ravenously, poured over Motor Trend’s juicy monthly photos of the smooth, extravagant, other-directed, insane, vulgar, transgressive custom car (Kustom Kar) designs of the mostly California-based custom-car makers such as Ed “Big Daddy” Roth, Alex Barris, Dean Jeffries and even the irrepressible Madman Muntz.

Earl (“Madman”) Muntz wasn’t strictly—or mostly—a car designer.  For the most part, he sold used cars, and, as a self-taught electrical engineer, devised epoch-making TV commercials to promote the ground-breaking and inexpensive TV receivers he manufactured himself beginning in 1946.  People loved Muntz TV.  Muntz even named his daughter “Tee Vee” (she calls herself “Tee”).   

The reason I admired him was that in 1951, Muntz took over the failing sports car business of race car designer Frank Kurtis, rejigging Kurtis’s car into the new Muntz Jet.
In Muntz’s hands, the little two-seater car gained 13 inches and became a four seater, and acquired, first, a Cadillac V8 engine in place of its original Ford V8 engine, eventually ending up with a Lincoln sidevalve V8.  It also sported a lightweight aluminum body, a removable fiberglass top, a choice of alligator or Spanish leatherette seats and body colours with theatrical names like “Mars Red,” “Stratosphere Blue” and “Lime Mist.”  The backseat armrests featured a full but subtly sequestered cocktail bar.

Weird and problematic bullwhip-wielding sometime western film star, Lash La Rue, owned a Muntz Jet.  I mention thus only because he, too, was one of my crazed boyhood enthusiasms and it delighted me to see Lash and Earl Muntz getting together over the Jet (I interviewed Lash La Rue many years later for CBS radio; he had gained about 300 pounds, but he could still flick a cigarette from between your lips at 20 paces with his whip).

And there were the other Kustom Kar guys I hero-worshipped: all of them—Barris, Roth, Jeffries and the others—saw American commercial car-design as a starting point, as raw material, from which to concoct wild and wonderful (sometimes inexplicable) one-of-a kind vehicles.

Roth made The Beatnik Bandit and the extra–terrestrial Orbitron.  Dean Jeffries painted “little Bastard” on the tail section of James Dean’s fatal Porsche 550, built The Green Hornet’s mysterious car, “Black Beauty” (for the TV series), the Monkeemobile, and the “moon buggy” that James Bond steals in Diamonds Are Forever.  It was George Barris who, working against oppressive time constraints, turned a 1950s Lincoln Futura concept car into the most famous TV Kustom Kar ever—the black and orange-striped Batmobile for the infamous Adam West TV series (1966-68).

Nowadays, I collect the models I couldn’t afford to collect when I was twelve.  I’ve got a really nice Tucker, for example, and a Chrysler Airflow, a Cord, a Lincoln Zephyr, and a Raymond Loewy 1953 Studebaker Starlight coupe.

But this brutally chopped and channeled 1951 Mercury Kustom—in the photograph—is a sort of anomaly in car models, in that it’s not attributed to anybody in particular.  It’s just a sort of generalized Kustom Kar.  It has whitewall tires (all Kustom Kars have whitewall tires), a heavy, carnivorous-looking grill, a top so cut down (“chopped”) you’d hardly be able to look out of the windows (the car has a perpetual squint), street-dragging external exhaust manifolds,  “frenched” (ie circumsized) headlights, fender skirts, and a complete lack of any external ornamentation (hood ornament, logos, insignia, door handles) and a generally mean look, partly the result of the body-work, and partly the result of its anti-social, bright orange paint job.  The bumper-plaque where the license would go carries an ersatz plate that says “Junkman.” 

Wish I had a real one.  What a sensation it’d make, noisily cruising the quiet shady streets of somnolent old Napanee.






#223: DRIED POMEGRANITES




I can’t imagine anything more urgently engaging than a fresh pomegranate, its shiny-red, wood-like skin a jubilant complexion, its whole being winking at you from a pomegranate pyramid sitting majestically by itself in the supermarket like an ancient pylon in the desert.

We love pomegranates here at Swan House, except that
while we dote upon each tiny red slippery explosive seed
(we’d love them even if they weren’t anti-oxidents! We’d love them even if we were anti-orients!), it happens nevertheless that Malgorzata has taken to preserving—by drying—some of our purchased pomegranates.

She sits them in a row on the top of the stove where, in the course of our normal cooking of things, the sacrificed pomegranates get warm then cool and then get warm again and cool again for weeks and weeks, months and months, until, tempered by endless transition, they grow hard, tough, and their once-blazing colour attains a deeper, leathery, more passive carmine hue.

Mysteriously, they grow light as soap-bubbles, their once juicy, cavernous interiors—studded with glistening seeds like rubies in a mineshaft—drying away to nothing.  Shake one and—all its dry cells empty—you hear nothing at all, just the faraway dead silence of trapped pomegranate air, that inexplicable sense of unattainable interiority you get sometimes when you listen attentively to a conch shell.  Not the sound of the sea, but the sound, perhaps—more likely—the sound of the open and endless desert, its heavy perfumes turned to dust. 

.

# 222: PRIMARY JAMS

 
The sign taped on the door of the copy-shop said “Back in 15 minutes,” an unconscionably long time, so I slipped into a restaurant two doors further along the plaza, heaved myself onto an orange naugahyde bench at a veneered table by the front window (so I could watch for the return of my copy-guy), and dallied with my unwanted coffee.

It was during this dallying that my gaze fell upon the little rack of plastic jams in their plastic coffins over by the window-sill—a sight that is not only not a novel one but is one to which we have all become so familiar, we just don’t see it anymore—at least I don’t.  

But over-familiarity occasionally breeds something lodged on the far side of contempt, and instead of rehearsing the tedious litany all over again—“I wonder how long it’s been since this marmalade saw an orange?”—and thinking pseudo-insightful thoughts about what is meant by telling us these jams “contain pectin” without telling us what else they contain or do not contain (such as fruits, for example)—I suddenly saw them in an oddly structural way: as three mini-bricks of reasonably pure, reasonably saturated colour. 

By choosing a red one (strawberry), a yellow one (marmalade) and a blue one (grape), and laying them out neatly on the table before me, I had three lozenges of (almost) primary colours (the grape is a bit of a stretch, being more purple than blue—but they seemed to be out of blueberry), now separated from the tacky world around them and therefore suddenly more open to rumination than before. 

Here, I thought, are Mondrian jams.  De Stijl jams.  Here, I thought are jams Goethe might have folded into his burgeoning theory of colour.  Here are jams Johannes Itten might have contemplated with pleasure.  Or Sonja Delaunay.  Or Josef Albers. 

I took them home with me.  I needed to photograph them, to attain colour-closure with them.   

But the act of photography—an often objectifying act—broke the rather fanciful colour-theory charm I had allowed them to generate.  Now, they were just tawdry little jams, ugly, impure, inedible, tiny chemical waste dumps.  I threw them away.   

# 200: PEG

On the back of the door of the upstairs bathroom at Swan House, there is a horizontal wooden plaque supporting—from left to right—a wooden peg to hang clothes on, another wooden peg to hang clothes on (the one in the photograph, specifically) and, third, a shallow-drilled hole where there was once a third peg to hand clothes on but where there is no longer one.  This 3rd peg was gone when we moved in, over four years ago, and, in terms of anyone’s replacing it, it’s still gone. 

The clothes peg in the photograph is gone much of the time too, in the sense that while it’s still with us physically, it very rarely performs as a clothes peg.  During the course of the past four years, I’ve probably tried a hundred times to hang a T-shirt, a sweater, a towel, on this outlaw clothes peg, only to remember too late that it isn’t properly glued to its backboard and was therefore likely to fall to the floor again and again and again, taking its clothes or towels or robes with it.  It always always fell, and I always dutifully picked it up and replaced it—in the full knowledge of its being only a stopgap measure—in its waiting hole.

By now, this endless fall of the peg to the bathroom floor has grown almost ritualistic.  It irritates me, yes, but, but to tell the truth, I’m pretty clearly fascinated by my own inertia in the matter of fixing this recidivist peg, and now seem to find it preferable, almost enjoyable,  that, when I hang a garment upon it, it immediately tumbles to the floor.  Maybe I find the repetition oddly comforting.  Maybe, deep-down, I enjoy the dismal action-reaction certainty of it.  It falls, day after day, like Sir Isaac Newton’s apple.  I fall therefore I am.   It’s just a wooden clothes peg, yes, but it’s on a collision course with the symbolic, with the ardently metaphorical.  I can see Nietzsche’s Eternal Return lying just ahead.   

# 219: PERFUME MINIS




There was a time—maybe a year ago—when I began ordering mini bottles of perfume online. They didn’t cost much—a few bucks each, depending on their age (ie vintage, to use the more polite word), their rarity and their pedigree.

Once they began coming in the mail, these delightful little jewel-like bottles with their sometimes historic contents, it was difficult to stop collecting them.  Malgorzata now has twenty-three of them on her dressing table, all resting on a delicate Limoges platter we got on which to display them.

The bottles are very small.  Most contain about 1.7ml of perfume, though we have a few bigger ones that hold as much as 5ml.

Some of them are antique, and you can’t always be certain that the contents will still be fresh (the tiny bottle of Oleg Cassini perfume—the dark reddish one at the lower left in the photograph—hasn’t been manufactured since 1990, and we think ours is actually much older than that).  An old perfume is probably not something you’d really want to wear, unless the bottle was still tightly sealed.  It’s just pleasurable to gaze upon it.  

Some of the perfumes come already partially used, and of course once there is air in the bottle, the perfume begins to evaporate—though, admittedly, this can take a very long time.  We once bought a bottle of Extravagance by Givenchy, which had got broken in shipping and had leaked out onto the packing material, leaving only a very small amount of the fragrance in the bottom of the bottle. 

The seller kindly sent us a replacement bottle, and I put the leaky one on a shelf in the bathroom medicine cabinet.  There, it continued to smell fresh and delicious for most of the year, and even now—empty—if you pick it up and give it time, that residual, insinuatingly innocent, light-flowery Givenchy fragrance can still lift your heart.  I really think there must be something to thus aromatherapy stuff. 

The perfumes in the photograph (clockwise from the lower left) are:
1) Cassini by Oleg Cassini
2) Imperiale by Guerlain 
3) Extravagance by Givenchy
4) Champs-Elysees by Guerlain
5) Tresor by Lancome

#218—JADE STICK





I don’t know what a jade stick really is.  I know it has a rather archaic meaning as any artifact resulting from wrapping a cigarette paper around a length of an intoxicating or hallucinogenic substance.  Don’t Bogart that jade stick, if you’ll forgive the dizzying mixed images.

I liked it because it looked like a highly domesticated (i.e. carved) icicle.  It also reminds me of a swizzlestick (before they were all made of plastic) or of a stir-stick, used in laboratories (and in the stalactite-roofed underground labs of the mad scientists who, in vintage horror films, were continually titrating liquids.

# 217: GREEN EMBRACE





This tiny swamp, this wetlands, is the loose tea in the little wire basket that Malgorzata had just lifted from her teapot yesterday morning at Miss Lily’s cafe in Picton, Ontario. 

She is in love with this tea, which may indeed reciprocate her feelings, given that it is a blend called Green Embrace.

Actually I see now—having looked at the bag again (we bought a hundred grams to take home)—that’s it’s called DEEP Green Embrace.

Malgorzata deeply loves this tea (despite its silly bloody name).  Its principal ingredients are “Peppermint, Lemongrass, Raspberry Leaf, Rose and Spices,” the spices being, specifically, Cardamom, Clove and Black Pepper. 

The tea is, of course, all organic.  And not merely organic either, not just homespun organic, but “Biodiverse, Dynamic, Eco-Ethical, Optimal Organic” (Plants are “intercropped in the forest, avoiding mono-culture and disease and increasing bio-diversity,” a message which, even if it doesn’t make strict grammatical or structural sense, admirably gets the message across).  This haughty tea is clearly better bred than any of us are—and probably smarter too.

Gazing down into the tiny wire basket is like looking into a shady pool, thick with aquatic plants and possibly even with marine life.  It reminded me –since I’m pretty much in a Steinbeckian mood these days—of one of the tide pools Doc and Hazel like to gaze so raptly into in the twinned John Steinbeck novels, Canary Row and Sweet Thursday. 

When you gaze into the teeming tea basket, you ease yourself into to a whole alternate world—real, pure, perfect, transfixing, euphorically beautiful.  The inland tea-sea is a site of The Ecstatic, murmuring wetly, primordially, that—as Steinbeck puts it in his brilliant book, The Log From the Sea of Cortez (1951)—“all things are one thing and that one thing is all things—plankton, a shimmering phosphorescence on the sea and the spinning planets and an expanding universe, all bound together by the elastic string of time.  It is advisable to look from the tide pool to the stars and then back to the tide pool again.” 

It is also advisable—always—to pour another waterfall of tea, the hot water sluicing down through the jungle ur-world of the Deep Green Embrace.