Admirable Insanity: Robolights

Kitsch and art are parallel lines that never cross. Some artists like Warhol, Lichtenstein, and I could even argue Klimpt, sort of brush up against that line, but the whole genre of pop art acts as a buffer between the two making absolutely sure that those lines do not cross.

Unless you are in Palm Springs.

Imagine the Watts Towers but replace the Antoni Gaudi influence with Tim Burton. Just as the Watts towers are a backyard monument built “just because”, so is Robolights. But Robolights has a bazillion more Christmas lights- and toilets.

Approximately 30 years ago Kenny Irwin Jr. started building giant robots in his backyard. He was 9. Since then he has graduated art school and inherited the family house, but he has never stopped building. When I say never stopped, I mean I am unsure when he stops to eat because this place is the macabre junkyard version of kudzu. It is thick, ever growing, and covers everything.

When I first visited the place and posted pictures online, the most common questions were what and why? Neither can nor should be answered. Robolights is the kind of place that must be experienced not explained.

I can tell you that there is a feature touting itself as one of only two microwaved microwaves in the world, which would be Kitschy, but while viewing the torched appliance you are standing on a path lined by thousands of little skulls flanked by microwave legged robots under an archway holding up a roller coaster of shopping carts filled with aliens.

Everywhere you look something is spinning and flashing and probably features a skull or a toilet. And it is all in some dude’s backyard in residential neighborhood. Which on paper makes this completely kitsch. I am arguing that it is not.

When Duchamp presented a urinal as artwork it was initially rejected but is now considered by many as a foundational piece of 20th century art. Comic books aren’t necessarily taken seriously, but when Lichtenstein paints one single comic frame and blows it up larger than life, collectors pay millions. It is hard to say where the line really is.

Typing out descriptions of Robolights just doesn’t work. I’m not saying its on par with the Mona Lisa, but writing that there is this painting of an acceptable looking woman who is kinda smiling but not really, would not do justice to DaVinci. Same idea here. I’m not sure Kenny Irwin is really “saying” anything, but I’m also not convinced Leonardo had some grand message when he painted Mona.

What I am definitely saying is that we should all go see the Louvre, and Kenny’s house.

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The Icarus Conundrum: a flight manual for conformity

While many know the tale of Icarus, the guy who flew with waxen wings, then traveled too close to the sun and fell, few realize that his father, Daedalus, made it through that flight just fine. In our focus on failure we forget that a guy crafted wings and successfully flew like a bird.heylook

Sure one of the two who attempted it died (a full ½) but the one who lived, accomplished something so amazing and absurd, that he should be celebrated. Focusing on failure can be such a downer.

I have flown many times myself and no one considers it an accomplishment. So I’m pretty much the same as Daedalus. On the other hand my nephew has learned to be more than just a passenger, taking control of his own story, which my wife fears makes him destined to be Icarus. She protested us flying together and made me show her documentation of my life insurance policy before reluctantly consenting.

It is on odd thing for those of us accustomed to regimented boarding procedures that begin curb side, and march you to, and through, seat belt instructions, to just walk right up to a small tin can, then simply climb inside and fly. The process felt so… casual- but I was too excited for it to be just that.IMG_8658

This was a first for me. New ground.

Or new air.

Whatever.

I had never been so happy to be crammed into such a small place, overlapping the passenger next to me. He happened to be my father. I am used to sitting at a desk, or in traffic, and when my miniature mother took over the controls, despite us flying between two mountains and her not being able see over the dashboard, I was happy. I loved it. I understood how Icarus would want to climb higher and higher, I wanted my nephew to roll and loop, but I had been warned by that myth and I didn’t want to die.

So we flew straight and lived.backseat

Thinking back on my little voyage and appreciating the value of humility in youth versus vain hubris, I wonder a little about Metion- Daedalus’s Dad. Had Deadalus never ventured out, pushing beyond and above his own father like his son Icarus did, no one would have ever flown at all. Where is that lesson taught?

Thus is the paradox of generations and family. Of innovation and respect. Of wisdom or adventure. How does one, or we, value both in these couplings or all in the big picture? Should we be conservative out of respect for the wisdom gained by our predecessors at the expense of progress toward things that could be better? Do we strive and push past the others that came before, risking separation when they are unable or unwilling to make the same trip? Where is the balance? Where is that myth?

Much like Sway, I do not have the answers.

What I do have is an offering for “The Trad”, mocker of my footwear and needler of my regular faux-pas, at the risk of Icarus-ish disrespect toward my parents, who are truly wiser than I… I have indeed flown past the footwear from whence I came- though my journey may admittedly not be complete. I am also much larger and younger than they which will be necessary in defending myself once they read this. Mom taught me the value of kicking shins when you can’t reach your opponent’s chin.

Which would hurt more were she not wearing socks and sandals.

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Men and Food:the premise of too many televison shows.

The premise of the show is a guy, maybe two of them, who travel around eating at various locations. Anthony Bourdain, Guy Fieri, a sub plot in Master of None, or the main plot in The Trip, they are all the same show, and they are incredibly cliche’.

Just like me.

I suppose it is better to live those shows than CSI.

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Claremont, CA
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Giordano’s in Chicago
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Pink’s, L.A.
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Al’s, Chicago
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Portland, ME

 

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New Hampshire
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Death Valley, CA
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San Jose, CA
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Off some road in Vermont
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Inglewood, CA
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San Francisco, CA
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Big Sur, CA
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Back of a van, VA
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Washington D.C.
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Brohammas back yard in Phila, PA

He is on Everest Right Now

Right now, while I am sitting on my couch, or in my office, I will not admit to which, Dr. Brandon Fisher is less than a mile from the summit of Mt. Everest.IMG_0702

Hopefully, possibly before you read this, he will have reached the pinnacle of the world- literally. That place is one of the most over used metaphors, most cliched, most exaggerated, and he will likely, hopefully, do what we hyperbolize.

My thoughts and prayers are with Brandon Fisher and the Radiating Hope team.unnamed

Hidden Figures… and Signatures: Black History Month

William Benjamin Gould was a slave in Wilmington North Carolina. His owner Nicholas Nixon would rent Gould out as a plasterer working on mansions and public buildings around town.  When he was finishing up the interior trim work inside the luxurious Bellamy mansion, he did a risky thing for a slave, he signed his work. He scrolled his name on the inside of a section of some ornate molding before he attached it to the wall. No one knew of it till 100 years later when his signature was uncovered during a mansion renovation. It was quite the find, not just because it was unexpected, and not just because slaves weren’t supposed to be able to write, but mostly it was unexpected because historians actually knew who William Gould was.bellamysignaturebetter

In 1862, one year after that mansion was completed, William and six other slaves stole a small boat and rowed it out into the Atlantic Ocean where the Union Army had a series of ships blockading the Southern coast. They were scooped up by the USS Cambridge and now finding himself a free man, Gould joined the Navy.

At the war’s end Gould settled down and started a family in Massachusetts. He became an active member of the community and his story appeared in occasional articles in various periodicals. Not long after the signature was discovered in Wilmington, Gould’s diary was published as a book titled, Diary of a Contraband.

Remarkable story.

Even more remarkable is that out of the millions of black people who have lived in North America since the late 1600’s, we have such comparatively few records of their names or their stories. We know some, like Fredrick Douglass, but there were so many more. There was Henry “box” Brown, or Crispus Attucks, or William Gould. Black people have been present and participating in every step of the United States’ evolution and it is when we consider the level of that contribution that we realize how they are disproportionately invisible; so few names and even fewer stories. But if we learn to look closer, there is still a legacy.whole-hand

Trinity Church in New York City was built by black men. So was the U.S. capital. Dozens of universities, Harvard, Princeton, UNC, UVA, were built by black people. We can imagine that somewhere, even if only symbolically, in all these buildings, hiding under the plaster molding, are thousands of signatures just like Gould’s. The dome at Monticello, the columns at Mt. Vernon, and the masonry walls of St. Augustine, all built by people with hidden names. Look for them. Ask about them. On Bourbon Street, in Charleston, or even St. Louis, look for the black people. They were there.

But you have to look.

True Action Hero: Eugene Bullard

Eugene Jacques Bullard was a real life action hero. James Bond, Indiana Jones, Wolverine, he was all of them.bullard Born in unreconstructed Georgia he ran away from home and joined a group of English gypsies where they employed him as a jockey. In 1912 he stowed away on a steamer and landed in Scotland. In Europe he began travelling along side a vaudeville troupe as a prize fighter. He was boxing in Paris when World War 1 broke out, and he joined the French Foreign Legion. He fought in Verdun, earning the Croix de Guerre, France’s medal for bravery. After being wounded twice in the trenches Bullard joined the Lafayette Flying Corps. He had flown more than 20 missions before the USA joined the war, but when he tried to join the American fly boys, they turned him down for being black.

After the war he stayed in Paris and bought a night club. He hung out with Josephine Baker, Louis Armstrong, and even married a Countess. When the Nazi’s started gaining power in Europe, Eugene was paid to spy till things got too hot (1940) and Bullard escaped to Spain, and then New York.

Once stateside, Bullard hustled from job to job, a perfume salesman, an interpreter, and a security guard. I’m not sure which one of those jobs he was doing in 1949 when the press got a photo of Bullard being beaten by cops as they rioted at a Paul Robeson concert. Just to be clear, it was the cops who were rioting, not Bullard.

In 1954 Bullard was called back to France where he re-lit the everlasting flame and was knighted by Charles de Gaulle.

He was working as an elevator operator and living alone when he passed away in 1961 and is buried in Flushing Cemetery in Queens.

Harley Farms Goat Cheese: mancation IV

So there is this “thing” called the California Cheese Trail. I imagined it as a sort of cheddar brick road leading to a wizard who can instantly age Gouda. It isn’t. It is much more like the string of California Missions that the Spanish set up, except instead of Catholic churches and priests, it is herds and artisans. I should note that both are beautiful and have use for tasteless wafers.img_2141

It was raining when we arrived at Harley Farms outside Pescadero. We had never heard of Pescadero either. The rain was fortunate for us as it served to scare away all the people with sense and other places to be, so we had the place all to ourselves. If you want the place all to yourself you may have to plan ahead. Like a year in advance. The place is all booked from now till forever.

There is a reason why.img_1648

The first reason is that these animals make great cheese. It is the kind of cheese that inspires a bunch of poor planning lunks to quickly buy a Styrofoam gas station cooler to try to preserve this beautiful food through a long weekend. The goat cheese/chocolate cheesecake did not go in the cooler. We ate it before we left the parking lot.img_1631

The second reason to go is the dining. The party wasn’t for us and they wouldn’t tell us what they were serving that night. In fact, they never tell anyone what they will be serving. The surprise is part of the experience. It is a new menu every night (which is hard to fact check if they never tell you in advance what they are serving) and if the food is only half as good as the fromage, it will be worth it.img_2139

But again, the place is booked from now till forever so good luck.img_1654

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Big Sur: mancation IV

It is easy to find- hit the west coast somewhere around Los Angeles, then go north. Sand and palm trees will eventually turn into cliffs covered in succulents. That is Big Sur.img_1495There aren’t many people there, at least not by California standards. There are camp grounds, small resorts, and the coast. Mostly, almost completely, there is the coast.

That is why people go there.

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I went there because I had never been and I needed to go somewhere.

It is the right kind of place for that. It is unincorporated, protected, and gorgeous.I am happily none of those things. Mostly I am hungry and just a touch bored.

Big Sur is also the right kind of place for that.

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More specifically, the Maiden Publick House, a pub right behind the River Inn is the kind of place where you can go pretend like you are in Brooklyn in 2008… which is pretending to be Appalachia in 1920. But just like believing and clapping makes Tinker Bell real, being a talented musician who is giving it your all, makes this music great.

I snickered a little when the bearded man wearing Carhart overalls finished his drink at the bar and joined the band. It was like someone had watched too many Lumineers videos, or maybe the Avett Brothers-but they were good. I liked it. A lot. img_1459

I am sure there is some sort of line that when crossed, things like authenticity or performance become the same, but I don’t know where that is so I just try to enjoy stuff. img_1477

Stuff like elephant seals.

These giant things without legs flop around and make an incredibly loud noise when they tip their head back letting this big trunk like nose drop down inside their throat. img_1409

Mancation IV: a bromantic getaway

We selfied our way up the California coast.img_1304

It has taken me some years to accept the selfie as a photographic genre. Normally I prefer the standard ask a stranger to push the button, or perhaps a staged self timer on a tripod method of putting one’s self in the image. But in the spirit of true manliness and adulthood, I have relented.img_1344

Sometimes I kid myself it is strictly a visual form of journaling, more akin to record keeping than vanity. But really, it is just me refusing to act like a dignified grow-up. Or as some would say, a “man”.img_1506

What better way to record and commemorate Mancation 4 (or IV because as the Super Bowl tells us, Roman numerals are manlier) than to take self portraits via a method made famous by pre-teen girls and the Kardashians?img_1646

3 dudes on the PCH, one of America’s most romantic byways? Selfie. 3 hetero guys buying cream puffs at a bakery in Solvang? Selfie. 3 bearded fools in San Francisco? You got it; selfie.img_1704

Okay, two bearded fools and a scruffy guy. Feel free to confiscate my cool card- I don’t think I ever had one. But my man card holds firm. Come and pry it from my Charlton Heston hands.img_1952

We took 3 1/2 days, a rental car, and a complete disregard for planning and hit the road.img_2132

Mancation IV is in the books.

Mancation I

Mancation II

Mancation III

The Coolest Possible Answer to the Question, “What Do You Do?”

What is the coolest possible answer to the question, “What do you do?”

Fighter pilot. Hands down winner. Race care driver and rock star will always be the best answer at a bar, unless someone else chimes in with “fighter pilot”.

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I would go on to argue that this is the coolest possible answer NOT because of the movie Top Gun, but rather Top Gun exists as a movie only because fighter pilot was already the coolest possible thing anyone could be.

Now the coolest jet to ever take flight, is the SR-71 Blackbird. Again, no contest.

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Not only has this plane flown higher and faster than any other plane ever built, but it looks like something right out of the Dark Knight Batman movies… only scarier.

Make note that I said the coolest jet. I did so because the coolest plane is up for debate. My vote has always gone for the P-38 Lightning.

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Something silly was going on over at Lockheed (the company that designed both the SR-71 and the P-38) back in the day and they produced a series of planes that look more at home on the pages of comic books than at an air port.

Which is where I saw them.

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March Field Air Museum is the kind of place where the 12 year old me gets very angry at the current me, for never becoming a fighter pilot. I am now much older than 12. The adult me no longer cares for cartoons, doesn’t really get into make believe, but I still very much want to fly in a fighter plane.

Soooo badly want to fly in a fighter plane..

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There was this old TV show called Amazing Stories  where I watched a tale of a gunner trapped in the a ball turret of bomber whose landing gear was stuck. I loved that show. It aired in 1985 and touching this turret brought it right back like yesterday.

That show was awesome.

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I have never been a big fan of death. Wait, maybe death isn’t my real issue but more so killing. Death is inevitable, killing is almost always avoidable and bad. But if looping, spinning, great graphics or design, and even explosions (missiles and bombs, not planes) could all be in play without the actual killing… I’d die for that job.

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And also- I touched a MIG.

Eat your heart out Maverick. I touched a MIG.

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