Multiple Bibliomaniacs


One of the best things about scouting for treasures in thrift shops is that I never know what I’ll stumble upon next or what strange and unexpected paths I may follow as a result of my finds.  Over the years I’ve found $1000 in the sleeve of an old all-weather coat (many years and several moves after I bought it), two first U.S. printings of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and the copy of local writer Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life that led me to become a Supremely Excellent Judge on her Beckoning of Lovely project.  And so it goes.   Although theoretically I am working when I’m scouting books, it does not feel like work to me.  When I pick up a book that has been rebound in a nondescript tan library binding and see it’s a copy of Shock Values by John Waters, I flip it open to the title page, where I hit paydirt (click to enlarge):


This made my (very hot and sweaty) day, partly because I knew I could get a few bucks for this book, but largely because John Waters is one of my heroes and Shock Values happens to be one of my favorite books of all time.  Not only does Waters have an endless supply of great stories to tell, but he also delivers them with self-deprecating humor, joie de vivre, and panache befitting a man with a pencil moustache.   More than almost any other book I’ve ever read, Shock Value serves as an inspirational tale for overachieving misfits.   In a society deliberately engineered to instill and positively reinforce conformity, one simply cannot overestimate the importance of witnessing the journey someone who paid no attention whatsoever to what he was “supposed” to do, but instead followed his own deepest creative urges to make a movie of a hot tranny mess eating dogshit.   Not only has Pink Flamingos made back its $10,000.00 budget many times over, but then John Waters got paid all over again to write about making it.  Is this a great world, or what?

I knew I should sell this book, but I was tempted to keep it because it had personal meaning for me and would fit so nicely into my collection, if not my groaning shelves.  Looking at the book more closely, I saw it had come from the Morris Library at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.   Via my tour of the Columbia College library for a class, I understood what sorts of books were most likely to disappear from university libraries.  This is just the sort of thing that gives hipsters a bad name, because when I looked up the book’s call number in the SUI online catalog, I found there had been two copies cataloged but both were now listed as missing.   Since I had been so torn as to what to do with this book, it was almost a relief to have the decision taken out of my hands.  As an MLIS I could not sell or keep a book I knew was stolen from a library, so I contacted Carbondale to see if they wanted Shock Value for their Special Collections.

I could see there was a gift inscription, but at first glance I thought it said “To Fred, Love From John Waters.   I assumed this Fred was the culprit who had filched it from SIU, but when I showed it to a friend, he pointed out that it looked more like “To Fred, Love Irwin,” with the signature in a different handwriting altogether.  Fred was hence exonerated, and now all fingers pointed to Irwin as the culprit.  I couldn’t help wondering what had happened to make the book land in a resale shop.  Perhaps Irwin and Fred had been romantically involved and had such a bitter breakup that Fred couldn’t stand to see Irwin’s name ever again in his life.  Perhaps Fred had a conscience and simply could not enjoy possessing a book that didn’t belong to him.  Perhaps Fred was no longer among the living, in which case I am very sorry.  Clearly this was not Fred’s fault, unless he put Irwin up to it.

I am picking on Irwin because it is fun, but these things sometimes pass through many hands and someone else altogether may have originally removed it from the Morris Library.   The best thing about this story is that in in true nonconformist fashion, Shock Value took an unconventional and roundabout path and and came out somewhat the better for it.   I don’t approve of taking things from libraries and I doubt the John Waters of now would approve of it either, but I know the book well enough to know that Irwin may have read this passage, from page 49:

I supported myself by selling diet pills and shoplifting.  My specialty was a Navy surplus store, popular with all the tourists in town.  I’d go into the store dressed in shorts and a T-shirt and put on layers of clothes without hiding anything and go apply for a job dressed in the stolen clothes.  The manager never expected that anyone would have the nerve to shoplift and apply for a jobat the same time.  We got so chummy that I almost got the job, which really panicked me.

Morris Library Rare Book Librarian Melissa Hubbard has assured me they would be delighted to have Shock Value back and would house it in Special Collections, where folks can hopefully absorb some of its gloriously filthy essence for generations to come.  I am equally delighted to have played a part in returning it, and I am publishing this story first and foremost in support of my belief that anything can happen.  I would also like to take this opportunity to remind folks that it’s not very nice to steal library materials.  If you really pay attention to Shock Value, John Waters says he quit shoplifting when he started worrying about theaters pocketing his receipts.   Being on the up-and-up seems to have worked for him, as he hasn’t done too badly for himself.


10 Reasons to Love So You Think You Can Dance
July 17, 2009, 4:08 am
Filed under: art, Music, Pop Culture, Uncategorized, World of Wonder

Because People Like Lists, oh yes they do.

  1. Cat Deeley is not only nice and pretty, but also endearingly whacky.  This is a rare and appealing combination.
  2. Where the hell else on American prime time TV can you hear Bollywood, Rufus Wainwright, and African drum music on the same program?  It’s almost enough to forgive the mostly uninspiring musical guests.
  3. The physicality of it all just might inspire you to get up off your chair and shake your booty.
  4. Phillip Chbeeb
  5. It is just jaw-droppingly astounding and spiritually elevating to see folks rise up to such challenging creative tasks as learning partnering, killing routines in styles other than their own, and having to pick a new partner’s name out of a hat in midseason.
  6. Creative synergy is the best thing in the world, so to see what happens when the dancers are inspired by the choreographers and each other and vice-versa, and etc. is sheer magic when it works and pure entertainment even when it doesn’t.
  7. I have so much respect for so hard these people must have to work their bodies and the risks they take.  What gets me every time are the flips, because, damn.  I’ll never do that.
  8. The audience always sounds genuinely pumped, as opposed to the prompter-generated arm-waving that is fairly routine on American Idol.  You know what I mean, not that the audiences on Idol are never genuinely pumped.  Just that when they are, you can tell the difference.  It’s nice, because it gets me excited too and I like that.
  9. Wade Robson, Genius.
  10. Being the deeply snarky soul I am, I never get tired of snickering at the self-conscious artiness and self-importance of Mia Michaels and Sonya Tayeh, and by that I mean their outfits.  And just who the hell does that Mia Michaels think she is?  Well, I never.

I blame Marianne S. for all this nonsense, because I sensed this show would be trouble for me and hence managed to avoid it until she kept dropping little teasers about how much more better it was than American Idol.  Three hours a week she has stolen from my life, much of it eked out in frustrating little snippets in the midst of domestic chaos such as my daughter managing to shatter my L’oreal nail polish whilst using it to weigh down the shower curtain on the windowsill (I guess I wasn’t worth it after all).  I could of course download the damn thing, but I would then miss out on the excitement (and by excitement I mean commercials) of the live broadcast.  And let’s face it, if you wait to download there is always the chance of encountering a spoiler.  Life is hard.

Janette for the win!

Feeling the Burn, Part II
July 1, 2009, 5:21 pm
Filed under: art, Pop Culture, traveling, Uncategorized, World of Wonder
Prow of SS Bacon

Prow of SS Bacon

It seems I am so literal I am damn prophetic, as I made it to Lakes of Fire but I missed the historic burning of the SS Bacon.  Temperatures on Saturday were above ninety, about ten degrees higher than expected, and after very little sleep it was all I could do not to throw up or pass out.   At that point it was clear I was just a burden and I didn’t want to rain on anybody’s fire processional, so I wound up crashing at the Fairfield Inn while my spouse and daughter stayed for the festivities.  I am sometimes picky about my hotel accommodations, but I have never before in my life been so grateful for a room on the ground floor facing the parking lot.   There I showered, slept and nursed my sunburn, grateful to have met some lovely folks at Lakes of Fire and reasonably at peace with my own physical challenges.  I had no regrets for going, which became even clearer when I realized I was mentally surveying workarounds that would allow me to attend next year without bailing.   I had felt the burn alright, just not the one I asked for.

I’ve always been alternately fascinated and repelled by Burning Man.  The culture and spectacular art installations in the starkness of the desert landscape were enticing, but I’m afraid of camping, heat, and dust storms.  The cost of traveling to Black Rock is prohibitive and the size of Burning Man seemed overwhelming, but I thought a few days in Southern Michigan with several hundred people might just be doable.  As I’ve remarked already, I was intrigued to get in on the ground floor of a new regional event and hopefully help shape it.    For much of the time I was there I was not in any shape to do much shaping, but I was lucky enough to enjoy and hopefully contribute to the congenial atmosphere of the family zone.  One of several reasons I’d decided to go was frankly that I wanted to see what the experience would be like for my daughter.  The only bad thing I have to say about this was that my heart stopped when I saw her climbing trees above my head, but since that and the burn were her favorite parts of the weekend, I can hardly begrudge it.



I think one of the best things about this event was the mix of seasoned and new Burners, imposing enough of a structure to inspire those of us who were just figuring it all out for the first time.  I would suspect this process was infinitely more challenging for those of us with children on board, and I was pleased to see the event planners had obviously gone to a great deal of effort to accommodate families and anticipate their needs.  Within the spatial limitations of the property, they placed Hushville as far away from the loudest music as they could have.  There was also room for kids to run and play, although the terrain was just rough enough to mandate socks and sneakers.  The atmosphere was mellow and respectful, people shared, and the youngsters managed to amuse themselves with no Disney Channel in sight.   Who needs Hannah Montana when you can shoot water balloons or make sock puppets as you attempt to process the equally unsettling and intriguing information that your parents are not fazed by naked people walking around in public?

Speaking of naked people walking around in public, this seems like a good time to announce that I see Burner culture as  perhaps our best avenue to provide our daughter with a sense of community and spiritual foundation.  Since we are Atheists and our daughter is an only child, we have puzzled over how to nurture positive humanistic values in the absence of a church.  We want our daughter to learn to treat other people as she would like to be treated, but we also want her to learn self-reliance, cherish freedom of expression, and respect her surroundings.

Burning Man events are organized in such a way as to help and support parents who wish to raise open-minded children without exposing them to sights that will sear their eyeballs, because eyeball-searing should be reserved for those of us over eighteen.  They were also very strict about checking IDs and issuing wristbands for drinking.  As for drinking, there was plenty of alcohol around but I saw very few people who were visibly intoxicated.   The expectation that you will do basically whatever you choose within the three main ground rules of the event is paired with the expectation that you will not make yourself a sloppy nuisance to others.   Freedom and responsibility are two of the main tenets of existentialism, so perhaps that explains why it all made so damn much sense to me.

The short version of the Lakes of Fire rules were as follows:

1) Ask first

2) Protect the community

3) Leave no trace

Granny may not exactly have asked before he and his cohort quite abruptly but nonetheless endearingly reeled my spouse and I out of the woods into a Hunter-S.-Thompsonesque encounter I’ll never forget, but I’ll forgive him because, well, he was Granny.

From babes in arms to folks who clearly get the senior discount, everyone at Lakes of Fire was friendly as can be without crowding me.  I’m a hard-of-hearing classic introvert and was fighting the quease, so I struggled a bit to communicate and didn’t interact as much as I would have liked.  Nonetheless, I felt welcomed and I valued every opportunity I had to get to know these fascinating people who had all descended on this rustic space in the Midwest for the first time and created magic.   Folks around our camp gave me my space because they knew I wasn’t feeling well, but I knew they were there if I needed them.  Even when I felt to ill to talk or approach the fire, I just sat in my camp chair and took it all in.

I think everyone remembers the first time they saw day turn into night at a Burning Man event.   The premises looked a bit scrappy at first sight in daylight, but the magic comes at night when the lights transform the place into a wonderland.  I particularly liked the vehicle tricked up to look like a tent with lights on the outside, which I think may have belonged to rangers.   Watching it glide through the grounds in the darkness inevitably made me smile.  The lights also transformed many of the art objects and installations including the SS Bacon into sparkling oases of enchantment, with fire spinners further adding to the luminosity of the event.

If you are intrigued by Burning Man but not sure if you can handle the environment or the sheer sensory overload, I would highly recommend attending Lakes of Fire or another one of these regional events as a way of testing the waters.  I learned from this experience that my delicate constitution probably precludes my attending Burning Man unless I can afford an Airstream but when all was said and done I did not feel the aversion you would expect from someone who spent at least half of her time there trying not to hurl or pass out.  Instead, I found myself strategizing for next year, plotting workarounds that would enable me to participate more fully without unweaving into a basket case.  I’ve also found myself exploring some of the history and culture of Burning Man  and salivating over the stunning array of theme camps available on the playa this year.   Sometimes I’m not quite sure if I’ve liked something or not (like a first kiss) until I get some distance from it, and in this case the clear answer was a resounding yes indeedy.  Besides, where else am I going to wear my shiny silver pants?

Nothing is perfect, least of all a first attempt at anything as incredibly complex and labor-intensive as this event.  I did hear at one point that not quite as many tickets had been sold for Lakes of Fire as had been hoped, but in fact my only concern for the event is that I don’t think this space would accommodate a lot more people without feeling overbooked and cramped.   I could see the organizers did as much as they could to separate the family area from the camps playing the loudest music, but as I lay awake and felt the persistent bass thump vibrating in my absurdly skinny sleeping bag Friday night I couldn’t help wishing Hushville had been, more, well, hushed.  Folks have also suggested both more showers and a shuttle or a few to the Lake to cool down, both of which I think are fine ideas.  So, for that matter, would have been a Slip ‘n’ Slide or sprinkler system, but for that we would need running water.

I did not slink home from Lakes of Fire like a scurvy dog of failure who fled to a chain motel with her tail between her legs.  Once I’d showered, slept, and decompressed, I felt so energized I came home and did 90% of the unpacking before I even sat down.   I’ve been writing, thinking, dreaming, jotting notes on projects I may or may not ever get around to doing, all of which is as it should be.  Things may not always go smoothly when I stretch myself beyond my comfort zone, in fact they rarely do.  But like my literary totem animal Mole from Wind in the Willows, I am compelled to occasionally leave the comforts of my home to seek adventure in the company of other breeds.

Back in the safety of my lair, I feel stronger for having tested my limits.   Sure enough I bumped right up against them, but I’d rather barf in a tent than give up seeking new experiences and I’d rather brave a group hug in Tick Town with a wonky gut than be a poor sport.   The nausea passed long ago, but I’ll be chuckling about that hug for as long as I live.  Kudos to the organizers of Lakes of Fire, as your work and planning obviously didn’t go to waste.  I’m quite sure I’m not the only attendee who came home inspired and energized, and I look forward to seeing how all this collective energy manifests next year.  I may be a camping wussy, but I know a good thing when I see it.  I may not have been in any shape to contribute much to the community in real time, but perhaps my best contribution is to share these few thoughts and impressions.  Burning Man events are not for everyone, but these communities are about as close as we can get to Hakim Bey’s Temporary Autonomous Zone.  If you have a dream of being, doing, making, or just living in the moment with no golden arches in sight, here is your golden ticket to come and fly your freak flag high.


Kaplan’s Embraces the Krazy
June 30, 2009, 6:03 am
Filed under: art, Pop Culture, Uncategorized, World of Wonder

On our way home from Lakes of Fire in Michigan (longer post to follow in a day or two), we stopped to look at fireworks strictly for research purposes.  I had always loved the signs for Krazy Kaplan’s, so that’s where we headed.

I have been in stores that carried fireworks, but I have never seen one that had row after row of them and virtually nothing else.  The place was huge, with an overwhelming array of colors and graphics begging to be chosen and wheeled out in a shopping cart to those states where pyrotechnics are legal (click on pictures to see larger version):


I would have like to have gotten more pictures at Krazy Kaplan’s than I did, but my spouse and daughter were worn out from camping and I wanted to get home and unpack.  I will say that some of my favorite packaging featured U.S. political figures.  One of these featured an image of George Bush and was called Ambushed, the 436 Dollar Deficit Man:


Even better were the Area 51 fireworks that for some unknown reason featured an image of Bill Clinton:


I don’t quite get the alien connection here, but the visage of Slick Willie fits in amicably enough with warnings of flaming balls and reports.

Yet another favorite category of mine were the fireworks with adorably nonsensical names such as What Dat Do.  This rings even better as a statement as a question, so I’m glad they left the punctuation out for my entertainment:


A little copyright infringement is always fun too, as evidenced by these American Idol fireworks.  Simon Cowell eat your heart out, :


Having had our eyeful of explosives and then some, we made our way out and paid our respects to old Krazy Kaplan himself, just beyond the registers that we of course did not visit, seeing as fireworks are illegal in the state of Illinois:


I frankly don’t care much for things that explode, but in this world of sanitized politically correct discourse, it is somehow reassuring that Krazy Kaplan has yet to be bullied into changing his name and/or identity.  Emotionally Disturbed Kaplan has much less of a zippy ring to it and takes far too long to say, by which time you would miss the exit.   In the highly competitive world of Indiana fireworks, never underestimate the value of a crass and vulgar mascot.

November 30, 2008, 11:33 pm
Filed under: Internet, Pop Culture, Uncategorized, World of Wonder | Tags: ,

I felt like I wanted to check in here, having been absent for awhile.  For awhile there, I had my hands full with various Thanksgiving-related activities (not to mention having The Daughter home from school all last week), so my writing and Pilates have both fallen by the wayside.  I need to get back to flexing all those muscles, and one of these days when I have some time to myself, I’ll write another longer post.

Right now I’m just thankful that I got this cool shot of a hawk in Peoria on Thanksgiving Day (click to enlarge):


I’m also thankful for my tumblelog, Herr Machine, as a place to manifest my maven nature in a more visual way when language fails me.  I know there’s a lot I want to say, but I also know the holidays inevitably pull me in a lot of directions that all lead away from this keyboard.  Will I attend the spouse’s annual work Christmas party at the Field Museum?  If so that demands shopping, as does the daughter’s annual school Christmas show.  And then someone has to do the Christmas and Hannukkah shopping and wrap the gifts, and you only get one guess as to who that is.

I guess what I’m saying is that I’m still keeping this space alive, but I don’t know how much I’ll be around in these demented times.  Please look, but if you don’t find me here be sure to mosey on over to Herr Machine and see what I see.  Either way, I’ll be around and I’ll have my antennae out.  We aliens like to be useful.

Introducing Herr Machine
November 22, 2008, 6:03 am
Filed under: Internet, Pop Culture, Uncategorized, World of Wonder | Tags: ,

I have a love-hate relationship with writing as much as I do with my hearing aids, because I have to do it and yet it can be quite the struggle at the end of a long day.  There are few things more frustrating than waiting until after my daughter goes to bed to write and then finding I cannot stay awake long enough to finish a sentence, and I’m tired of thinking “I should post about x and never getting to it.

I have tried various bookmarking thingies such as Google Notebooks, but I always had it in the back of my mind that I wanted to try Tumblr.  It is incredibly fast and simple to use and it lends itself to visual presentations rather than verbal ones.  I find at the end of a long day when my daughter’s had a meltown or I’ve had to do too much parental socializing, I don’t want to deal with words.  I find the writing process draining at such times, whereas I get energizing kicks out of arranging fragments like I do on Tumblr.

I couldn’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve seen or heard something awesome and thought “I should post about that,” only to lose track of “that” because I found myself pulled in another direction. Herr Machine is a place for me to collect all my little thats, an electronic wunderkammer where you will sometimes find that clicking on an image takes you somewhere else you might want to go.

I feel now that my little online universe is complete, so we’ll see what kind of synergy develops between this space and the new one.  It would be nice if I could inspire some of you to start your own tumblelogs, so please do take a stab at it and let me know what you think.  I’ll also add Herr Machine to my links, so if you come here and find tumbleweeds just click up there and you’ll go straight to my happy place.

Desert Dreaming
The Last Supper, Goldwell Open Air Museum

The Last Supper, Goldwell Open Air Museum

It’s been way too long since I’ve seen the desert, which I maintain runs in my blood like spaghetti sauce and caffeine.  My mother is from Nevada and we traveled by car from Peoria to Las Vegas and then on to Huntington Beach, California numerous times as I was growing up.  My most vivid memory of traveling through Death Valley was that we always filled our thermoses with cold water just in case we got stranded in the desert.  The name of the place was a grim reminder that some unfortunate folks never made it out, but you couldn’t beat the scenery.

We never went to Rhyolite, probably because it was a real ghost town and not a packaged experience like Virginia City.  But my peripatetic friend and ace photographer Francisco Arcaute recently visited Rhyolite and the Goldwell Open Air Museum, and he was kind enough to share a few images with yours truly (As always, click on an image to see a larger version).  The Goldwell Museum did not exist when I was growing up, as it was established in 1984 when The Last Supper (shown above) was installed by Belgian artist Albert Szukalski.  My parents probably would not have gone anyway, because it was art.  The only reason I ever got to see the Cadillac Ranch was because it was visible from Route 66.

Like all great outdoor art, the pieces in the Goldwell Open Air Museum were created in the context of a landscape that must be experienced to be truly appreciated.  I would like to see the place for myself someday, but for now Mr. Arcaute’s images are serving to whet my appetite.

Fred Bervoets, Tribute to Shorty Harris

Fred Bervoets, Tribute to Shorty Harris

Open 24/7, the Goldwell Open Air Museum is located near Rhyolite.  The Museum Web site has a ton of information and images, including images from the latest exhibits at Red Barn Art Center an artist residency and workspace in Goldwell.  As I write this they are currently showing Indra’s Jewels by James Stanford, an exhibit of photomontage art executed with Adobe Photoshop that looks quite intriguing.  As an artist, I can hardly think of a more exciting and inspiring place to work than Goldwell, and I look forward to seeing what else emerges from this space.

If you plan to visit Rhyolite, the main Web site recommends that you print out their info before you go.  Apparently there is none on hand at the ghost town, further reaffirming that this is not a packaged experience on the order of Virginia City.  Among the sights on view in Rhyolite is the bottle house and attached garden, built by saloon owner Tom Kelly in 1906.

Rhyolite Bottle House

Rhyolite Bottle House

At about 80 miles from Las Vegas, Rhyolite is perhaps a bit of a haul for most day-trippers.  Those visiting LV for the first time might not want to venture quite this far, but the intrepid may find it to be a worthy side trip that combines impressive scenery, massive outdoor art, and a genuine Nevada ghost town. Consider this a teaser for the forthcoming second installment of my guide to Las Vegas for Solo Travelers, published on Google Knol.  I look forward to including more of Mr. Arcaute’s work in that section (eta unknown), and it is rumored he has more projects up his sleeve, of which I shall keep you appraised.

All images in this post by Francisco Arcaute, all rights reserved.