Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Closing Doors

Sometimes love isn't enough.

Moving on is the most difficult thing in one's life to contemplate.

It's a hard concept to swallow... and an even harder pill to try to force down someone else's throat. There is no slice of cheese that one can wrap it in and no glass of water with which to wash it down.

It must be placed in one's mouth, the bitter medicine enveloping the tongue, and swallowed dry. The lump in the throat as it makes its way down is a constant, enduring reminder.

Sometimes you close a door and sometimes it's slammed in your face. Only one side has a doorknob. From the outside, light and shadows leak under the door, playing out like Plato's cave.

We place too much emphasis on love. We give it magical powers to heal wounds, to make us whole again. We assume that when someone loves us, we are fundamentally changed into a new creature, one rather better or prettier than before. The reality is that we are blackbirds, not cardinals. We will always be blackbirds. But we can love each other as blackbirds too.

Last night I shut one door while simultaneously I may have gotten another one shut on me. I never said I wasn't a complicated fellow.

The funny thing is, with the former, she may not even remember today. But it is enough that I know it.

As for the latter, I wish I could say for sure.

Because it has, despite everything, promise. It's a campfire in the snow. It could just be something to keep me a little warm on a cold evening.

But then again, maybe... it's something more. Maybe it's what keeps me alive through the night.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Giving Thanks

Give thanks for those things that make you a good and honest person... that make you try to be as fantastic as they think you are.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A Thanksgiving Miracle

This is an old story... in fact, it's a story that caused some problems even recently.

But Thanksgiving is a time of reflection, so here it is again.

A Thanksgiving Miracle
The Day Moses Came to Dinner

Under pressure, I usually clam up or make an ass of myself. Case in point... I had just started dating my friend Angela and I was going home with her for Thanksgiving for the first (and last) time. Her dad... well, let's just say he doesn't suffer fools and is kind of a badass. When we first started dating he was thoroughly pissed at her and disgusted with me until he realized that he had me confused with our married friend, Marc. He had warmed up a little since then, but I was still a little wary of him. I still am. Mind you, I was living in Florida at the time, and her parents lived in Atlanta, so there was no real escape for me if things went wrong.

As if meeting her parents weren't enough, her uncle and his family were coming to dinner as well. Her uncle seemed like a hard-ass too. We all sat around the table and began dishing out the food. I kept pretty quiet. If someone asked me a question, I'd politely answer, but I didn't elaborate. After awhile I began to relax. Everyone seemed to like me, or at least I didn't get any hostile glares.

Somehow the conversation turned to chamomile tea. I didn't know shit about chamomile tea, but apparently her family did. Everyone had a personal anecdote about chamomile tea.

"Cancer patients drink chamomile tea to increase their appetite."

"Chamomile tea soothes my hemorrhoids."

"Chamomile tea helps me sleep."

"I drink chamomile tea to relieve a toothache."

"Make a poultice of mustard and chamomile tea to reduce swelling."

"My gangrene was stopped in its tracks by chamomile tea."

I guess I was feeling a little left out... Everyone had a story and I didn't. So I reached back into my 13 years of Christian education and said...

Moses swabbed chamomile tea on the doorposts of all of the Israelite houses in Egypt so the Angel of Death would pass over and not kill their children.

Dead silence.

I looked at Angela... I thought she was going to choke. Her dad looked like he was going to cry.

I hear a clatter and notice her uncle has dropped his silverware into his plate. His face was red and I thought he was coming over the table for me. He picked up the plate and exited the dining room for the kitchen. He never came back.

See, what Angela had failed to tell me was that her uncle was a fundamentalist Christian and that Moses was not someone he cared to hear jokes about.

It was a rather quiet dinner after that... punctuated by giggles out of Angela and her dad.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

From Page to Screen

This may come as a complete surprise to some of you, but I never really had a lot of children's books as a child.

Which is ironic, as I collect original book illustrations and have more children's book writer and illustrator friends than you can shake a stick at.

That's not to say I didn't read a lot as a kid. On the contrary, I read everything I could get my hands on. I started reading chapter books pretty early on. But picture books never really had a place in my library as a kid. My parents just never bought them. I remember the only place I ever regularly saw the kind of books most kids read... The Cat in the Hat, Are You My Mother, etc. was at Uncle Max's house. I'd spend every Thursday after school at his house reading "the classics". It's only been in my adult, professional life that I've come to love the picture book.

Today I took my kids to see Where the Wild Things Are, admittedly with a little trepidation. Many have noted that one will either love or hate this movie, based on how much one is invested in the mythology of the book. That's not quite right. You will either love or hate Wild Things, but not necessarily because of the book.

This is a movie about anger and frustration. As I sat in the dark theater beside my son, Fletcher, I was confronted by the monsters I faced as a child... and the monsters he faces today. I'm afraid the only way one can truly appreciate this film is to have been a wild thing, and then to have raised a wild thing. The adaptation will not speak to everyone.

To those who have worn Max's wolf suit though, it's a reminder of how hard it is to face a world before you're prepared.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Repost #7 The Dead Woman in My Truck

Recently the subject of cremains and what to do with them has come up on Facebook and it reminded me of this story. Obviously, this was written when my dad was still alive and I was still married, just to avoid any confusion.

Original post August 5, 2006

I rode around with Erna's remains in my truck for quite a while. I honestly didn't mean to. I would have liked to have dumped her somewhere,
anywhere, rather than drive with her daily. But Erna, in death as much as life, was hard to shake.
I don't remember exactly when Erna became one of my dad's patients. He always had one or two little old ladies that depended on him completely. He'd go grocery shopping for them and take them to appointments with specialists. The first of these was Mrs. Wildt, who crocheted me a baby blanket that I have to this day. The last, and perhaps greatest, was Erna.

Erna was a little old Italian lady. I didn't know her age, but I'd guess she was in her late 80's. Her husband had been dead for years, and had probably committed suicide if she was half the woman then as she was when I knew her. She'd call at all hours of the night; a hypochondriac that was dying. There's no worse kind. It's not like you could just tell her to suck it up, you aren't really sick, because in reality, she was inching closer and closer to death. But her complaints were only tangentially connected to her illness. And she didn't care who knew about them.

"My vagina hurts!" she told me over the phone. Only she didn't pronounce it vagina, she said "ba-gina."

"Ok, Erna... I'll tell Dr. Joe."

"My ba-gina hurts! Get Dr. Joe. I think I'm dying."

"Ok, Erna... You have to get off the phone so I can call him. He's not here."

"Oooooooh.... I'm dying." click.

That's how most of our conversations went. I sometimes went with my dad to see Erna in her little mobile home. She had no sense of privacy about her body and would often partially disrobe with me in the room in order for my dad to check her heart with his stethoscope. There we'd be. Erna with her sad, wrinkled breast resting in her lap. My dad asking her to take a deep breath... and again... and hold. Me sitting on the couch wishing I was anywhere but there and the motheaten deer head watching forlornly over the whole affair.

When I graduated high school I forgot about Erna for a couple of years. I'd moved out of state, but when I came back she was still there. Still calling dad's office and home whenever she felt a twinge of panic.

Then dad had a stroke. They didn't expect him to live. It started one morning in his office. He didn't feel very well and when he tried to get up out of his chair, he found he couldn't. I was living in an apartment above his office at the time and going to UCF. When I got back from class, there was a note on my door from his receptionist that said to meet my mom at the hospital. They never have determined exactly what it was. One neurologist thought it was a clot, while another believed it to be an unnatural constriction of the blood vessels to his brain stem brought on by high blood pressure.

He survived, despite the poor prognosis. He was on a ventilator for months and does physical therapy to this day. He never recovered any of his fine motor skills and is unable to walk.

While dad was still in the hospital, Erna was still dying. Without my dad, I think she finally decided that she didn't want to live anymore and she passed away a few months after his stroke.

While he was on the ventilator, my dad and I communicated via an alphabet board. I would run my finger down the letters and he would blink at the correct letter.


"I know," I told him.


"Ok. But do you need anything?"


So I went to the funeral home and picked up a small box with her ashes. She had declined even an urn. She wanted her ashes to be spread in the ocean.

I retrieved them, but I was still busy with dad. I'd drive several hours daily to stay with him during the day at the rehabilitation facility. After a while, it just became another object in my truck: a cd case, books, and a box of Erna.

When I moved to Massachusetts I forgot about her. I had to leave my truck in Florida while I drove the moving truck north. My brother-in-law drove it up a couple of months later. I didn't tell him about the box.

We came back for a visit and my wife insisted I bring Erna. It was a busy time, visiting with everybody... checking on dad's progress which had noticeably slowed.

Our last day it was raining, but Britton insisted that we get rid of Erna. She wasn't driving back to Massachusetts with her. I didn't know what the big deal was. I'd been driving around with her for a couple of years by then. We drove to the Intracoastal and Britton got out with Erna's box and let her go off a pier. According to Britton, her last word was, "Bloooop."

Some might call it laziness... or indifference... or even passive aggressiveness. But I think my failure to let her go was something deeper. Maybe I was holding on to a time when my dad cared for people and wasn't cared for, a time when he was the most important person in the world to someone else.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A Press of Incredible Provenance

Once upon a time I entertained the thought of starting a private press using an old school letterpress. Let's be honest... I still do. So much so that I drove to Syracuse to pick up a Chandler & Price 10x15 letterpress, and later, a Pearl press.

Both of them now sit in my ex-wife's garage collecting dust.

Today I received an email which made me wish I was independently wealthy with plenty of ground floor studio space, or at least a loading dock and freight elevator. Jeff Dwyer is selling a press owned by the people who made me love letterpress and the black arts.

When I moved to Massachusetts, I answered an ad in the paper for a picture framer at R. Michelson Galleries in Northampton. I figured it was the type of job that I could work around my school schedule. When I arrived for the interview, I took a quick look around the gallery and settled in front of shelves filled with some of the most amazing books I'd ever seen... books the like of which I'd had no idea actually existed. They were hand made art books, printed on letterpress in velvety ink crushed into the paper such that you could feel it as much as see it.

It was this chance encounter that introduced me to the world of printmaking... a world I sadly don't spend as much time in as I'd like. I was also able to meet the people who created these books, two of whom were Leonard Baskin and Barry Moser. The first I only knew briefly and never got to work directly with him. The second became a mentor and friend.

Vandercook & Sons, Inc. No. 2 Proof Press

This press has a long history of ownership and use by some America’s most accomplished fine letterpress alumni. After being manufactured in Chicago around 1935-36, it’s a mystery who owned it and where it was used for the next twenty years. Around 1958, Richard Warren, the owner of Metcalf Printing & Publishing Co. in Northampton, MA gave the press to his friend, Leonard Baskin when Baskin moved his Gehenna Press from Worcester, MA to Northampton. In the summer of 1958, Baskin employed Harold P. McGrath as his pressman for the Gehenna Press, and McGrath continued using the press at Gehenna until 1976. While the press remained in use by McGrath, under his guidance probably more than a hundred young apprentices studied the craft and learned to print. In 1976, the press was moved from Gehenna to its new home at the Hampshire Typothetae at 30 Market St. in Northampton. For the next ten years, McGrath and Barry Moser used it for Moser’s Pennyroyal Press productions. When the Hampshire Typothetae closed and Pennyroyal Press assumed ownership of the Typothetae printing equipment, the press traveled to Linseed Road in West Hatfield, MA. Around, 1987, Moser sold all of the Gehenna/Typothetae/Pennyroyal printing equipment to Alan James Robinson and the Vandercook moved yet again to Easthampton, MA. Harold McGrath followed the equipment out the door, and he continued to use the press until 1998 when Robinson sold it to Elizabeth O’Grady. She moved it to New Hampshire where it has rested quietly. At some point during the years on Market Street, the cast iron drum handle was broken and a welded repair was made. The press is available for $2,500.00. It weighs approximately 675 pounds, and professionals should move it. This price does not include moving or shipping costs. Additionally, also available for $500.00 is a twenty-four-drawer type bank with assorted sizes of Caslon foundry type. Pictures of the press and type bank are available. Contact Jeff Dwyer at (413-5840761) or e-mail at: jpdwyer@dwyerogrady.com

I hope it finds a good home with the kind of person who understands just how many wonderful things it has seen. Good luck, little Vandy.

Monday, July 13, 2009

On Turning Five


A fifth birthday is unique. It's the birthday when you truly start becoming who you will be. On your birthday I give you five things to carry with you the rest of your life. They are for when I am no longer here to guide you.

First is a piece of coquina rock. It is to remind you that you will always be, like me, a Floridian. We are different and special. Look at this rock and remember my stories, and those that my father told me.

The next two things you will find are a pencil and a pen. The pencil, in order to write down those things that will change, and the pen to write down those that are constant. You will be tempted to use the pen. You will hold it in your hand and set it to paper often. Always use the pencil.

The fourth thing you will find is a length of string. It is long enough, trust me. The string is to gather up that which is scattered... those things for which you search and find only rarely. You will use it bring these things together and make them useful to you.

The fifth, and final thing you will find is a prism. It's to remind you of beauty which is hidden in plain sight.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009


I'm not superstitious by any means, but when I'm taking eye pressures, and the patient is a pain in the ass, I'll record 13 mm Hg if it is 12 or 14.

Image courtesy RootAtlas.com

Friday, July 03, 2009

An observation at brekkies

This plate makes everything taste like sadness and ketchup.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Father's Day Prize

Mystery bag from Fletch


The card: Dinosaurs, planes...


and bugs.


He certainly knows what I like.

Also, it appears I've won an award.


I'm glad I have the chance to spend the day with the best kids in the world.


Blythe was squinting a bit.


Just as I thought. She needed glasses too. So instead of four, she now looks fourteen.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Glorious, Glorious Day!

I missed this story when it broke on Wednesday, but thought I'd pass it along.

Many of you know my absolute hatred of Thomas Kinkade and the schlock he calls art. I'm not exactly sure if I feel sorry for the gallery owners in this case. They were, after all, complicit in fleecing customers out of money for what were essentially posters of bad art. But to see how he manipulated the market against his own dealers in order to buy out his own publicly traded company just proves he truly is Beelzebub.

In its February 2006 decision, the arbitration panel said Kinkade and other company officials used terms like "partner," "trust," "Christian" and "God" to create "a certain religious environment designed to instill a special relationship of trust" with the couple.

What the company didn't tell them, said their attorney, was that they would have to sell Kinkade's works at minimum retail prices while the artist undercut them with discount sales, some of which he made himself on cable television.It was part of a plan, they claimed, to lower the value of the publicly traded company before Kinkade bought it in 2004, at steep losses to many investors. Hazlewood and Spinello put their $122,000 savings into galleries in Charlottesville and Fredericksburg, Va., that opened in 1999 and 2000 and closed in 2003.

An arbitration panel voted unanimously to uphold an earlier finding of fraudulent activity on the part of Kinkade and restored an award of $2.1 million to two gallery owners put out of business.

So, fewer Kinkade galleries and he owes $2.1 million. That's a win-win situation, right?

San Francisco Chronicle

Treasure Hunting

My dad was, for the most part, a sane and rational man. Actually, I use "sane" rather loosely, but he was not one to dwell on intangible things. He did not go to movies or read fiction. He was a pragmatist.

So his one real departure is rather ironic. He believed unflinchingly in hidden treasures.

Florida is full of treasure, or so one is lead to believe. Growing up I was spoonfed stories of people finding Spanish pieces of eight on the beach after a hurricane. John Dillinger supposedly buried money from a bank robbery in the yard of a house where a huge beachside condo now stands. Plantation owners buried literal pots of gold before the Seminoles came through and burned their sugar mills to the ground. It was this Florida that my father grew up in and he spent a lot of time with a metal detector and entrenching tool in his hands.

We once bought a house in New Smyrna all based on a second hand story told to him by a patient who had worked on the house. The story was that the man's father had been the cook for a bunch of outlaws in North Carolina, I think. They all got killed or thrown in jail and he took off with all the gold. They buried it in North Carolina somewhere and the man's son eventually moved to Florida in the 1920's, bringing the remaining loot. My dad's patient had been hired to put bars on the windows of the house.

For me, two questions would have immediately popped up:

First of all, why would someone who is putting bars on his windows be dumb enough to tell someone the story?

Secondly, why would someone who had that much money choose to settle in a ratty little house in the middle of nowhere?

But those particular red flags were never raised in my dad's head. We bought the house and began using the metal detector as inconspicuously as possible around the yard.

Inconspicuously, I said. A middle aged white dude and his son digging holes in the yard of a house in the middle of the poor, black section of town. There were these two ancient guys across the street that would just sit out on their porch and watch us.

When we'd gone over the entire yard several times, we figured it was time to start on the house. Over the course of a hot Florida summer, we proceeded to completely demolish that house by hand and cart it away, a dump truck load at a time. The two guys across the street just watched us and shook their heads at the things crazy white people do.

We never did find anything of value. I can't
say I was all that surprised. But my dad never seemed disappointed.

And looking back, I guess he gave me a little nugget to carry with me.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


In the past two days I've had two instances of people questioning the appropriateness of something about which I've written. One was here... the second, today, caused me to shut down my other blog, The Skinny Reeve.

It was with great disgust that I chose to delete a story about something that happened 14 years ago. Something that, from my perspective, was fairly innocuous. But because it caused a friend grief from a family member, unjustified as it was, I compromised my integrity and removed it. It was a hard decision, especially since it was precipitated by a chickenshit lurker... like a schoolgirl tattling on boys for smoking behind the gym.

With that deletion and closing down of my blog came the resolve that I would never do another collaborative writing project, not that it ever really ever got off the ground. I refuse to be put in the position again where my judgment about what I write is questioned and I cave for someone else.

As for the first... it also appears to have been outed in a rather dubious way, and was expressed to me through an uninvolved third party. Perhaps the hope was that I would take it down of my own volition without being directly prompted.

Let me be absolutely clear. This blog is mine... all mine. And the things that I write here will stay.

Because my words are all that I have.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

All That Matters


my darling girl
my darling girl
you’re all that matters
in this wicked world
all that matters
all that matters

Secret Agent

my darling boy
my darling boy
all of my sunshine
and all of my joy
you’re all that matters
all that matters


well, i can’t stop the pain
when it calls
i’m a man
and i can’t stop the rain
when it falls, my darling
who can?


my darling girl
my darling girl
you’re all that matters
in this wicked world
all that matters
all that matters


my darling friend
my darling friend
all we’ve got going
is love in the end
it’s all that matters
all that matters

Mark Knopfler

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

The Identity Project


My portrait from Leonard Nimoy's The Identity Project that I posed for and helped shoot for the documentary.

I'm not letting on about my "secret self"... suffice it to say, I don't dress like this often.

Friday, May 22, 2009

My Inbox Today

I was feeling rather down today, as might be evidenced by my previous blog entry. When things looked blackest... when I was sure the brain cloud was here to stay... I received this email:

Hi Joe,

I recently moved back to Ormond Beach and I have tried connecting with a few old friends. How are you doing?


To which I replied:

Dear L---l,


Considering the fact that I now demark my life into Before L---l and After L---l periods, (BL and AL respectively going forward) I can tell you unequivocally that I have no interest in connecting with you in any manner. I'm not even certain how I would qualify as a friend to you. Perhaps you've forgotten the circumstances under which we last had any interaction? Thirteen years ago you singlehandedly set about destroying several people's lives, starting with mine, in a manic bid to become the incarnation of Shiva.

So no. No thank you. Take your friendship elsewhere, point it at someone else and pull the trigger. I've had more than my fair share.

Let me make it abundantly clear that I would like the AL portion of my life to remain sociopath free. Any further contact after this point I would characterize as harassment.

Kindest regards,



Not if you know L----l. This is a person so evil that we don't even speak her name, lest we wake the demon.

On a bright note, I felt better instantly.

It Never Ends

I can still remember as he lay on that cold, stainless steel table. I bent down to give him one last kiss on his grand head and smelled the ghost of skunk that still lingered.

Soft, soft ears.

From Arthur

I love you.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Precious Moments

I'll have to defer to my teacher for confirmation on this, but I think it was my kindergarten year when I was in a certain school play. My role was that of a young homeless boy that lived in a box. For the posters advertising the play, students copied an image from Precious Moments to depict me. This was just after Precious Moments really hit it big in the late 70's.

My five year old brain didn't quite grasp the concept of older students co-opting this imagery to illustrate my character. I just assumed that they drew me. Leading me to believe, for several years, that I was the inspiration behind this national phenomenon of ubiquitous doe eyed children on everything from t-shirts to coffee mugs.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Photoshoot

Several months ago I was asked if I would like to pose for Leonard Nimoy's (yes... Spock) next photography project and help shoot documentary footage of it. I'd worked with Leonard on a couple of shows in the past and jumped at the opportunity.

The project was to capture the subject's "secret self".

From the R. Michelson Galleries website:

In November 2008, Leonard Nimoy was at R. Michelson Galleries in Northampton, Massachusetts, to begin his latest photographic journey: The identity Project. We gathered 100 subjects from all walks of life: artists, clergy, politicians, business owners, and asked them the question, Who do you think you are?

As Mr. Nimoy wrote: I am hoping to be surprised and delighted by what shows up in front of me. Anything from full costume to nudity, and I would encourage all of it. The "Secret Self" is the most provocative idea. Do you have a secret self?

Each subject was videoed as Mr. Nimoy interviewed them and created a portrait of their “alternate identity.” The results will be revealed in a major exhibition beginning in the summer of 2010 at MassMOCA (Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art) in conjunction with R. Michelson Galleries.

Everything went pretty normal... at least by Northampton standards. I'd missed the first day when the woman came in with her sheep.

The way we had it set up, my friend Luke was on the main camera for a wide shot and I was using a handheld dv cam to the right of the subject for close ups.

So when one of our artists showed up with her assistant for her turn, I planted myself about three feet away from her, just out of the shot. Mind you, this artist does sweet little hand painted engravings, usually Judaica themed.

Karla set up an easel with paper on it and placed her assistant on a stool directly in front of her, ostensibly to draw her. I was kneeling on the ground and blocked Karla and the assistant tight in the shot. I paid no attention to what was actually on the paper, or I might have been prepared for what came next.

The assistant hikes up her skirt to reveal... everything. And I'm there... staring straight up into it all and feeling like I was on the set of some soft core porn flick. At this point I'm kind of committed to the shot as well. So I roll with it.

Then Leonard's wife, who helped direct the photoshoot, starts yelling out, "Show more of your vagina."

It was also at this point that I heard my wife and kids arrive on the other side of the curtain which separated the prep area from the shoot.

So... if you'd like to see how it came out, here's Karla's secret self... and a link to some of the rest of the photos.

By the way... the naked dude with the dog? My friend Barry Moser from the prior blog.

Mine hasn't officially been released yet, although I have it. I'll post it when I get the go ahead.

Repost #6: My Dad's Contribution to Biological Warfare

Original post: February 7, 2007

I bet you think this is a joke, don't you?

It's not.

With all of the emphasis that's been placed on biological weapons and terrorism since 9/11, there has been a renewed interest in the U.S. government's forays into bio warfare. While my father was in the army, he was a participant in biological warfare experiments at Ft. Detrick, Maryland, home of the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases. I caught a show on PBS the other night about Operation Whitecoat, which reminded me of his participation.

Operation Whitecoat was the U.S. Army's solution to dealing with conscientious objectors and the perceived threat of biological warfare by the Soviet Union. My father was one of the conscientious objectors that became a human guinea pig.

Many of you know that I was raised a Seventh-Day-Adventist, which probably explains a lot about how screwed up I am. My father was also raised Seventh-Day-Adventist and like a number of others during wartime, felt a duty to serve their country, but were opposed to killing. Many, like my father, became medics. During the Viet Nam war, medics were often sitting ducks. They were inserted with slow flying helicopters and were often targets of the Viet Cong. When the U.S. Army needed human test subjects for their germ warfare experiments, they asked for volunteers from their ranks of Seventh-Day-Adventist draftees. The top secret experiments on humans were given the code name Operation Whitecoat.

My dad's experiments involved Q fever. He was exposed to the bacterium Coxiella burnetii, which usually manifests itself with flu like symptoms that last between one and two weeks. As far he knew, this was all he was ever exposed to, but you never know when it comes to this type of experimentation. In most of these experiments, the scientists would fill a 40 ft. diameter steel sphere called the Eight Ball with the particular virus or bacteria that they were studying. The volunteers would attach gas masks which had been hooked up to the Eight Ball and breathe the infected air. Then they would wait. When they began showing symptoms, treatment would be given.

I think my dad was one of the more fortunate ones. Some of the other things to which volunteers were exposed were rabbit fever, anthrax and black plague, significantly more serious diseases. Of the 2300 volunteers, none died, although there is evidence that some did experience health problems related to their exposure for years and even decades after. Operation Whitecoat came to a formal end in 1973. In 2003 on the 30th anniversary of the end of Operation Whitecoat, my dad was sent a medal for his service. It now hangs in my studio.

One surprising conclusion to which the PBS show came was that Operation Whitecoat most likely had a direct effect on Richard Nixon's decision to ratify the 1925 Geneva Protocol which prohibited the use of chemical and biological weapons in 1969. Work at Ft. Detrick continues to this day, revolving around defense against biological weapons and infectious diseases. It is also home to the National Cancer Institute.

Repost #5: Things We Did As Kids

Original post: September 26, 2006

Kids like to throw things... especially at other kids.

Before the freezes of the early 80's, just about everyone I knew whose family had lived in Florida for more than one generation had at least one orange tree in their backyard. This would inevitably lead to orange fights. It was usually a free-for-all, but most everyone agreed for their own self preservation to not use green fruit. a. It's just bad form and b. They are super hard and hurt really, really bad when you get hit with one... especially in the head. Parents generally frowned on using fruit picked right from the tree too, unless you had more than you can ever eat, or give away to friends and relatives in a season.

Because of this, the weapon of choice was usually one that had fallen from the tree already and was in some stage of decay. There is a fine line between rotten enough to cause the person getting hit to gag, and so rotten that you can't even pick it up without gagging. The best ones were covered with mold like the one above and infested with fruit flies. That way when you hit someone, they exploded in a cloud of mold, fermented juice, and bugs.

We sometimes threw grapefruit, but they're big and you could screw your arm up pretty good after heaving a couple of them. Tangerines were even better than oranges, but we didn't have as many trees and often ate most before they fell. They had a thicker skin that helped them stay together long after the inside had really turned.

Good times.

Quite the Salesman

In the gallery where I used to work we had an unofficial award that we bestowed when someone sold a particularly unsellable piece of artwork. It references one of the most amazing feats in sales I have ever seen.

One day, the gallery owner, Rich and I were in the gallery and a woman walks in and asks about one of our illustrators, Barry Moser. He happens to be a good friend, and has given me quite a few of his paintings. The gallery represents a number of well known children's book illustrators in addition to the fine art. Anyway, she asks if she can look at Barry's illustrations and mentions that she was looking for paintings of cats. So Rich pulls out a couple of pieces and she loves them. Then the question...

"How much are they?"

Most of Moser's full page illustrations start around $1000 and go up to $5000, which was way out of her league. She was budgeting at most around $350. Rich tried to find smaller pieces that might work, but there was really nothing that she liked. That's when he found it... at the bottom of the box of illustrations he did for a book about a dog and cat.

It was a full page illustration of a cat, from the rear, consisting of a tail, two legs and a very prominent, puckered anus.

She bought it... overjoyed that she would now own an original illustration by her favorite illustrator.

And thus was born 'The Cat Ass Award'.

Repost #4: The Royal Ontario Museum

Another that many have heard about my last trip to Toronto. Edited slightly.

Original post: August 7, 2006

I have a dear friend from Canada named Deb. She, like many Canadians, think quite differently from Americans. You go to Subway and they ask you, "White or brown?" not "White or wheat?"(or at least they did before having a half dozen different kinds of bread) They can't give directions. Canadians, on average, are a mixed up bunch.

Which is why when I went to Toronto to visit Deb, I should never have asked for anyone's assistance. She left me to my own wits in the mean streets of Toronto, fending off teenage busquers playing "music". Here we call them talentless hobos looking for a handout, but I digress. She'd given me directions from her office to the Royal Ontario Museum. She said I couldn't miss it. Queen's Park, you're there. So I start walking.

I walked a long way. I walked so long that I figured I was in Ottawa, wherever that is, so I turned around and started walking back. I asked directions, but everyone gave me conflicting advice. Obviously I was lost... I found myself going in circles. I walked the length and breadth of Toronto.

That's when I found it. Big and museumy. I walked right in with a group of suits. Looked like they were there for some fundraiser or something. In the lobby area there were a couple of pathetic little displays showing how rocks are different in Ontario and not like rocks anywhere else. This place sucked. I vowed to yell at Deb as soon as I saw her for making me go to the shittiest museum on the planet. I saw some people getting on an elevator so I figured I'd go up as well. The second floor couldn't be any worse than this.

The elevator doors opened and that's when I realized this was not the ROM. There were about a hundred members of the media: print, television, radio... all waiting outside the chambers of the Ontario Legislature. I had somehow managed to get into the press corps of the Legislature. That's when all the members of the Legislature exploded from the chamber. I was in the middle of the Provincial Parlaiment, breathing my American germs on the Canadian governing body.

I figured I was going to be arrested. But, as easily as I got into the situation, I got back out. I hopped on the elevator, through the lobby, past the guards and out the door. No RCMP, nothing.

I eventually got to see the ROM. It was pretty good. I also got on Breakfast Television while I was there. That's like talking to Al Roker, I guess, but I sure as hell didn't stand around for hours with a stupid sign trying to get on tv. They came to me. From walking all over looking for the ROM I got shin splints and had trouble walking for a couple days, spending a lot of the time on Deb's couch.

That's what it looks like, if you're lost... and you're a bird.

Royal Ontario Museum

Repost #3: The Moped Story

Now I know a lot of you have read or heard this one, but it's a classic.

Original post: August 7, 2006

For those of you who have never heard the moped story, here it is:

1980 FZ50-Rascal

Back in 1993 I moved to Elkhorn, Wisconsin, sans car. It's a pretty small town, so people know pretty much everyone in town. At the time, money was really tight and my girlfriend's brother offered me their old Suzuki FZ50. It was summer, I worked about half a mile from my apartment, and had no pride whatsoever. Well, summer turned into fall... and eventually winter. Wisconsin sucks in the winter, even more if you are riding a moped. And since I hadn't made enough money to cover the purchase even the shittiest of enclosed vehicles, I was riding a moped in the snow. I'm not a small guy. 6' around 190 at the time, getting that thing to go over 20 mph required me to lean over the handlebars to get the least wind resistance possible. With winter, this was even more critical as any bit of exposed skin froze. Most days by the time I got to work I had to smack my gloved hands against the wall to get enough feeling back into them to unlock the door. It was a long, cold winter.

That January I began taking computer classes at a small technical college a few miles away. Most of the time my girlfriend gave me a ride, so I didn't have to ride the moped out there. I was pretty adept at the computer work and was feeling pretty good about myself. Everyone thought I was really smart and they constantly asked for help with using Windows. Around the third week the instructor decided we should get to know each other a little better and so we went around the room telling where we were from, where we worked, etc. It came to me and don't ask me how, don't ask me why, I somehow vomited, "I have a moped." Apropos of nothing.

Three people turned their heads, looked directly at me and said, in unison,

"So you're the one."

Yes... I am the one. Forever a legend in the small, southern Wisconsin town of Elkhorn.

Repost #2: Overheard at Friendly's

Repost #2 from my MySpace blog:

Original Post: June 23, 2006

True story

The other day I went to Friendly's with my six year old son, Fletcher. I detest Friendly's unless it's 10:30 at night and I'm craving ice cream or cheesy fries, but it was a treat for him. The hostess seated Fletcher and me in a two person booth. I hate these too. The waitress was taking her sweet ass time coming to our table and I noticed the guy across from us. He was seated after us and was already eating. I would guess he was in his sixties... a little stooped and weary.

He looked lonely, like maybe his own son was grown and moved away and his wife had died and he was living all alone in the big house that he'd bought her just after they were married. He would glance at Fletcher and a wistful smile would cross his face while Fletch told me the stuff he'd done in school that day. He was undoubtedly remembering those same conversations that he'd had with his son, before time and other obligations stripped him of everything but his memories.

After a while it became obvious how much interest he was showing in our conversation... living vicariously through me.

me: "Wanna go get some beer?"
Fletcher: "No."

The guy kind of smiles.

me: "Wanna go to the horse track?"
Fletcher: "No." frowning

The guy laughs a little.

me: "Wanna go pick up some girls?"
Fletcher: "No." scowling

The guy audibly laughs.

me: "Wanna kill a hobo?"

The guy nearly choked on his burger.

I don't care who you are... don't eavesdrop on my conversations. You might get more than you bargained for. Especially if I'm hungry.

Disclaimer: We didn't actually kill a hobo.

Repost #1: Fred Rogers

Since leaving MySpace is going to orphan a lot of blog entries, I'm going to start re-posting some of them here. The first is about Fred Rogers. Say what you will about Mr. Rogers. I was never what one would call a fan of his show. There was something about the puppets that always creeped me out. His contribution to a channel which had so much of an effect on me growing up, however, is beyond measure.

Original Post: May 30, 2006

In 1967, President Lyndon Johnson recommended that Congress enact the Public Television Act. This would provide $20 million over two years as initial funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. By 1969, President Nixon was pushing Congress to cut funding in half.

In the middle of the Congressional appropriations hearing, Fred Rogers was called to speak in front of the committee, headed by Senator Pastore of Rhode Island, to support the original funding. Rogers was relatively unknown in the United States. His show Mister Rogers had aired on the CBC with many of the familiar puppets that would appear in the later show, Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood.

Senator Patore was combative and unfriendly. He begrudgingly allowed Rogers to speak, giving the impression that it was a lost cause and funding would be cut anyway.

Rogers began with his even, calm tone.

This is what I give. I give an expression of care every day to each child, to help him realize that he is unique. I end the program by saying, "you've made this day a special day by just your being you. There's no person in the whole world like you, and I like you just the way you are." I feel that if we in public television can only make it clear that feelings are mentionable and manageable, we will have done a great service.

In all he spoke for under six minutes, but in that time he managed to convince everyone, including Senator Pastore, that the broadcasting provided by PBS was vital.

After Rogers concluded his speech, Senator Pastore, simply said,

I think it's wonderful. That is just so wonderful. Looks like you just won the twenty million dollars.

PBS got its funding, and created a generation of children, myself included, eternally grateful to Fred Rogers for his brilliant, eloquent speech.

Meow meow, kitty, meow meow.

Full video of the speech is here.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Bad eBay Art of the Week #27

The last Bad eBay Art of the Week was posted on the Fourth of July 2007, but even then I was posting rather sporadically. Don't bother going back in the archives as they were all on my myspace page... a dirty, dirty place that I wouldn't suggest you visit. At least not my profile. I have to tell you. It feels good to get back on the horse... or unicorn as it were.

And I have to warn the uninitiated... this may very well be NSFW. It might also burn out your retinas. I'll likely use multi-syllabic dirty words.

Bad eBay Art of the Week #27! Who'd have thought that we'd ever get to number 27? Not those of you that were left hanging two years ago, I'll guess. If I'd been doing this properly, we'd be around #150 or so, but I'm rather lazy... and some have even called me unreliable. What's the theme this week? No theme. Relax people, let me ease back into this. Beggars can't be choosers.

I've made some changes since you saw one of these last. You'll note that because eBay auctions are rather transient events, all of my links are worthless within a week or two of my post. So I'll be putting the images in the post. This sort of blows the anticipation between the description and the actual piece of artwork when you click on the link. But if this is going to be a blog for the ages... a record of most of mankind's inability to harness the muses or notions of value... sacrifices must be made. So, click on the title to go to the auction and click on the photo to see it on my Flickr set.

If you're new, the blog always starts with a rooster. Don't ask me why, the reasons are lost in the mists of eBay history. But it's necessary. Trust me.

el diablo
Obligatory Rooster Art: El Diablo
This one brings me back to my carefree, cockfighting salad days.

Danny ByL? What's he up to? Blue Man
Everyone's favorite ex-dentist painter may have just let us in on a little secret about his painting technique with this self portrait. I think he paints with his eyes closed. Danny managed to tear himself away from the awkwardly executed tits and ass paintings for which he's so well known, and presents us with a tiny peek inside the artists' mind. And inside that mind? Jame Gumb. And if you aren't familiar with his work, do yourself a favor... wander through his other auctions. You won't be disappointed.

Disgusting Toilet
New Horizons in Digital Photography Award:
Disgusting Toilet
by Unknown
I swear... even though I'm living as a bachelor, this is not a photo of my toilet.

Susan Boyle with Beads #5

The In 5 Years No One Will Recognize This Name Award: Susan Boyle with Beads #5 By Joyce Kenney
I don't know what's more disconcerting, that she painted a picture of manipulated reality show flash in the pan, Susan Boyle, or that there are five of them.

Open Wide
The Not What I Expected from the Title Award
: Open Wide By Jeff Lasley
Considering all of the semi-pornographic, rarely erotic art on eBay, I expected something a little more filthy.

Second Runner Up Australia By Cindy K
or as I like to call it, Closeted Gay Dude and Frigid Harpy.

Charcoal Nude
First Runner Up
Untitled By Unknown
Reminiscent of all that 70's porn your parents used to love... a simpler time when it was possible to be white and pull off two afros.

Baby Angel
Baby Angel By Unknown
Angel... alien... whatever.

Thanks for stopping by to read. I really am going to make a concerted effort to do a weekly Bad eBay Art of the Week blog, because really, to do otherwise would make the title a little disingenuous. And because you've been so nice, I'll throw you a little bonus.

Thursday, May 14, 2009




May 14, 2009

By Jack, Fletcher and Alyssa J

This is why Jamestown is important. Jamestown was the first English colony. The settlers came from England. They came for silver and gold but they couldn't find anything. Instead they found Powhatans. The settlers made friends with the Powhatans and helped each other. That is why Jamestown is important.


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Perhaps an explanation is in order


As some of you know, and most of you don't, I've been going through a bit of a transition lately. Even if you weren't in the loop, so to speak, you might have noticed that things were... well... different.

Different backgrounds to familiar objects. New views from different windows.

I'm separated. I'm living alone in my own little apartment in Holyoke. It's a hole... I hate it. I miss my kids. I miss my wife.

But this is how it needs to be.

I won't go into any details about why, or what, or anything. It's not fair to my wife to air out details here. But people have been wondering. And frankly, it probably seemed as if I'd lost my mind if you didn't know.

So, with my new "free time" I'm trying to get my act together. To be a better person. To be a better father. To finish projects that have lingered too long. To start new ones that get me to the place where I love my job, rather than dread every day. I've been pissing my life away.

And I figure that once I like myself again, I'll probably be a more likable person to you too.

That, or I'll just hang myself with a belt.



Sunday, May 10, 2009

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Upon Friending My Kindergarten Teacher on Facebook

How exactly do I prepare someone who knew me as a five year old for the kind of nonsense that might erupt from me online?

Especially since I, as an unrepentant sinner and general scalawag, might offend her sensibilities as a teacher in a Christian school with the myriad of questionable subjects upon which I write and the vulgar language I use.

Then again, like the farmer with a stalk of volunteer corn in his soybean field, she had to have an idea that I was bound to be no good.

Forgive me Miss Suttill... I know not what I do.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Make a wish

I once broke a wishbone with my wife.

Each of the ends broke off in our hands and the center part flew up into the air. It arced down and one of the sharp ends stuck into my shoulder.

I'm just sayin'.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Friday, March 06, 2009

They Say It's Magic

Something I wrote in early 2001... It was sent to me tonight. I somehow managed to completely lose and forget this piece.

I'm lucky to have friends that are more careful with my work than I am.

"Don't tell mom," he said
Sweaty palms hand coins to the barker
And we duck through the tent flap
They say it's magic

What follows is a tired rendition
Card tricks I've seen before
Mind reading shills in the audience
And, of course, invisible string

"For my final trick, I'll saw a woman in half."
Queued, she dances onstage
Raven hair streaming
Her outfit three sizes too small

I feel a nudge in the dark
"It's all smoke and mirrors,"
But his eyes never leave her
The magic is secondary

She does a slow bump and grind
Vaults into the box
Winks to the crowd
And proceeds to be halved

The boxes roll apart on squeaky casters
Her gaze momentarily stopping on me
Toes wiggling, she gives a small smile
Full of crooked teeth

Restored under cover of a dirty sheet
The box opens, revealing her whole again
Writhing having shifted her top
Leaving a dark nipple exposed

"That's the show folks. Next one in ten minutes,"
Hot lead in my belly
I pull my jacket down as we exit the tent
Concealing the guilty bulge in my pants

"Good show… you think?"
I mumble assent, kicking up sawdust
Guess your weight… 25 cents
Too good to pass up

Thursday, March 05, 2009

A Blog for Him

The phone woke me early, in those hours reserved for bad news. It was my Aunt Doris.

"Joey, your father has passed," she said in her simple southern voice.

There was more. There had to have been more, but those are the only words I remember. Jesus was mentioned more than once.

And all at once my life changed. I began making the obligatory calls.

I'd made a commitment to meet my friend Barry at the gallery that morning to help him load some books. Barry grew up in Chattanooga and his southern dialect gives comfort against the flinty background of the north. I naturally gravitated to him when I moved to Massachusetts and he became a friend and mentor.

So when I saw him I broke down and cried. I told him about my dad, and of course he yelled at me for not calling to cancel with him. But he was the person I wanted to see more than anyone else right then. So we talked about fathers, and dogs, and losing both of them. And in the end I was ready to get on the plane to Florida.

The next day I flew down and stayed at my mother's house in Ormond Beach. She and dad had gotten divorced several years before and she was in Michigan at the time. Dad had lived the last year or so of his life in Palm Coast, just a little north of Ormond. The funeral home was located in Palm Coast as well. I drove up to make the arrangements for my father. Jeff, the funeral director, was an earnest guy. He took me into a room to discuss the procedure and was treating me with kid gloves. He had no idea what he was in for.

My father was matter of fact about his death. He had his stroke in 1997 and wasn't expected to live. I assumed he would ask me to end his life, rather than linger on attached to a machine. Through sheer determination on his part, he recovered quite a bit of his mobility and his ability to breathe without a ventilator. From this point on, there was an understanding that if he should ever have another stroke or health crisis, nothing should be done to prolong his life. In a sense, I became resigned to his death many years before, and his life after had been on borrowed time.

So when it did come, it was with a mixed sense of sadness and relief that it was finally over. He had been trapped in that numb, unresponsive body far too long.

Jeff was a little taken aback by my disposition. I informed him that my father had requested no service. He wanted to be cremated and no fuss made whatsoever about his death. It was an interesting experience being the person to make these decisions for my dad that he could not make for himself.

"What kind of urn would you like?"

"No, no urn."

Jeff grimaced a little and took me into the "showroom" so to speak, where the caskets were kept. There he showed me three containers. One was a cardboard box reinforced with plywood, one a simple wooden box, and the last a finished wooden box.

"These are the cremation vessels." he explained. "They hold the body when it goes into the crematorium."

"The cardboard one," I said without hesitation.

This was, after all, what they intended on burning him up in. My dad would have haunted me if I'd chosen one of the wooden ones. As it was, I was afraid he'd appear like Hamlet's father to hector me for spending $85 on a cardboard box.

Then Jeff asked me about the container for the ashes.

"We have several options for transport of the cremains. You can purchase something here or bring something from home."

"Bring something from home?" I asked, "What do you mean?"

He said I could bring an appropriate container. I got the impression that when he said appropriate, he meant one of sufficient volume to contain the ashes. Now the only cremains I'd ever seen were those of his patient, Erna, but she was a tiny Italian lady. I wasn't quite sure what would be appropriate for the average man sized cremains.

"Would a five gallon bucket be ok?" I asked.

He looked at me a little funny.

"That will be fine," he said, before he realized I was kidding. He told me I would be surprised by some of the things that people brought in. I told him that the simple wooden container that they sold for $180 would be suitable. After getting shafted on the service, grave, gravestone, casket and cremation vessel, I figured I should throw him a bone. $180 for a $2 box still stung a little.

So he took me back to the room and began adding everything up.

"Would you like to see your father?"

It was the question I'd been anticipating.

"Sure," I said.

He left and informed the person that prepares the bodies for viewing to get him ready for me to see him. He said it would be a few minutes and after a little while he came for me. He took me to the doorway of a room where the bodies were placed for viewing. He cracked the door and told me to take as long as I wanted. Then he left me alone.

I entered the room. Frankly, dad looked pretty good. Or maybe he just looked that bad alive, but still. I didn't have that sense of uneasiness that arose when I'd seen other people I knew who had died. They never quite looked like the same person. I took a few minutes with him and then went back and opened the door. Jeff came out of the office when he heard the noise.

"That isn't him... That's not my father," I told him.

Jeff blanched.

"I'm just kidding," I told him.

Poor Jeff. He was a good guy just trying to help a kid get rid of his dad's body in the most expedient manner possible. I'm sure he had to deal with a lot of horrible, untimely and tragic passings. And here I was being an ass, while he was making final arrangements for my dad. I'll never forget his patient assistance and good humor.

When I left, I visited the Bulow Sugar Mill Ruins, just south of the funeral home. It was there that many years ago, my father and uncle waded neck deep into Bulow Creek in the middle of the night. They were trying to feel with their feet for the 19th century bottles tossed in in the creek by partygoers at the plantation. He loved to tell the story how, as he and my uncle shuffled their feet in the muck to try and find the bottles, a six foot alligator slowly passed between them within arms reach, eyes blazing with the reflection of their headlamps.

I sat there for a long time. An egret fished along the edge of the brackish water through which he'd waded those many years ago. And on the bank of Bulow Creek, under a sky more holy than any church, I said goodbye to my father.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Dad on his 73rd

My dad would have been 73 years old today.

Most people knew him as an easygoing family practice physician.

While in high school, he pulled a pistol on his principal.

He once shot out the back window of the truck owned by a guy that was trespassing on our farm. Another time he took two guys at gunpoint from our farm to the police station in town... sitting with them in the back of the truck while my brother drove... for picking shrooms.

He broke his neck in a car accident and had to be put in a halo... he was seeing patients in his office three days later.

He twice pissed away more money in the span of a couple of years than I am likely to ever see in my lifetime.

Snakes feared him when he had his golf clubs.

He was generous with time and money, but rarely with patience or praise.

He imparted the wisdom in me to not judge a man by what he wore or how he spoke.

At times he taught me how to be... and others, how not to be.

He was a man for which the words pride and shame had no meaning.

Happy Birthday dad. I don't know what you'd think of me if you could see me today.

Sunday, February 22, 2009


My son had a sleepover last night and when he came home this morning he told me that the door on my Volkswagen wasn't shut tight. Odd... since I have to depress the handle to lock it. It was just about to rain, so I went on outside to check on it. And that's when I discovered... this:

From Cabriolet

From Cabriolet

From Cabriolet

From Cabriolet

In better times:

From Cabriolet

Welcome to Holyoke.

I try to be upbeat about Holyoke, but this just pisses me off. It's not the radio... it was ok, but nothing fantastic. It's the fact that somebody in this cancer ridden town would cut a hole in the top of a 22 year old car and yank out a cheap radio. It doesn't even make sense.

Monday, January 05, 2009

New Year's Resolution/Coming Soon

For those of you that have been around a while, you'll remember my Bad Ebay Art of the Week Blogs.
I've decided I'm bringing it back.

Every time you buy a Thomas Kinkade.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Next Christmas...

...we're waiting another week before we get our tree.