Thursday, December 18, 2008

Pole Dancing Teddy Bear Spotted in the Wild

While in Macy's today waiting for the big Christmas Light Show, we stumbled upon this Pole Dancing Teddy Bear. You never know what you will come across in the big city.

I like that the background colors seem very pornlike. The low quality of the cell phone picture adds a lot as well. I didn't rearrange anything. This is 100% from the wild.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Big Book

When I was working downtown in the 90s, I used to browse the discount area on the 2nd floor of Borders and pick up interesting looking books at very low prices. One of these was Van Gogh: His Life and Art by David Sweetman, which I picked up for $4 at some point (the price tag is still on the cover). It can be years between when I buy a book and when I actually read it. After I finish a book, I write the date in front. I finished reading the Sweetman book in August 1999.

In his book, Sweetman recommends Vincent Van Gogh (Studio Book) by Marc Edo Tralbaut. Sweetman describes Tralbaut was the ultimate authority on Van Gogh, having come to study Van Gogh as a grad student not too long after Van Gogh died. Tralbaut was in the right place at the exact right time, while most the places were still there and most of the people Van Gogh knew and painted were still alive. Tralbaut became good friends with Van Gogh's namesake nephew, who ran the Van Gogh Musuem in Amsterdam.

Sweetman tells a story of Tralbaut running to a subject from one of Van Gogh's painting 50 years after the guy posed. Tralbaut ran into him on a Paris stairway and recognized him! Obviously Tralbaut must have been the Holy Grail of Van Gogh knowledge.

The Big Book
In 1969, Traubaut wrote the large book that recapped his life's work of studying Vincent Van Gogh. It is an impressive book. Big, heavy, finely illustrated, and pricey at $75 in 1969 dollars. That would be over $400 in today's dollars. (Inflation Calculator)

Buying the Big Book
Of course I was intrigued, but by 1999, the book was out of print. My friend Cynthy, who owns a rare book business, recommended I check out Before the Web, I would have been SOL trying to find this book. Using, without leaving home, I had dozens of copies to choose from, at a huge range of conditions and prices, from dozens of far-away independent book sellers. I picked a copy from a bookstore in Texas for about $30. $30 < $75 < $400.

A few days later, when I came home work, I found a large package in my door. I greatly appreciated the irony of using a modern day marvel, the Internet, to locate a marvel of older technology, a rare big book with the promise of much somewhat hidden knowledge.

Reading the Big Book
I treasured owning this book for many years, with the anticipation of eventually reading it and discovering its secrets. A couple of months ago, it was finally time to read the book I had such high expectations for. It started off a bit disappointing. Tralbaut was not a great writer. The early part is not only very dry, but is bogged down with pop-psychoanalysis, and some egotism on the part of the author. The middle bit is quite more interesting.

There are many old photos caught from the same vantage point as the paintings. Comparing them is quite interesting. There are also written and oral histories from people who knew Van Gogh, which are pretty neat. Tales from the Roulin family should be in the next pages, which I am looking forward to reading tomorrow and/or Saturday. Update: They weren't :-(

All of this was probably a lot more exciting back in 1969, before the wonder of the Web with its endless information laying out there, just there waiting for us to look at it from the comfort of home.

Final Analysis
While I am glad I read the book, it was pretty much a let down. I didn't feel I was peeling away lost knowledge from a big dusty book. It was much less detailed than I hoped. The pscyho-drivel lasted up unti the end of the book. Some of it seemed spot on, but some seemed like pure conjecture with the flimsiest of evidence. Maybe the back of a church is just the back of a church.

Now having read the book, I no longer treasure it as a prized possession. It is no longer the sacred tome. I think I"ll hold onto it a little while longer. I'm not ready to get rid of it, not yet anyway.

Todays' Googling
Trying to find a picture online of the book, I discovered that it seems they released it with at least two different dust jackets. This first picture is one that is replicated on the net in a few places. The second one, the bluish one, is the one I own. The first link is from a bookseller with a copy for sale.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Things Middle Aged People Like #01: Bird Watching

This is the first in a series, Things Middle Aged People Like. Every so often, I find myself doing something where everyone else around me is my pretty much in my age group.

This morning I went on my first Friends of Poquessing Watershed Bird Walk, at Benjamin Rush State Park, which is at the very northern end of Northeast Philadelphia. It was a little bit of a drive, but traffic was light at 8:00am on a Sunday. I had the top down on the car, it was a lovely.

Sunday mornings tend to be prime time for noticing What Middle Aged People Like. I guess young people are sleeping in (hopefully having lived it up the night before). I remember those days, but now I'm lucky to sleep past 7am.

As readers may recall, I got into bird watching about 3 years ago when I turned 40. I bought a couple of books and have been pretty good at i.d.'ing various birds. Or so I think. I wanted to meet some more experienced people to make sure I wasn't kidding myself too much and to learn things I didn't manage to self-teach myself.

I hd been meaning to join the bird walk for over a year now. Finally I made it. I was one of 5 or 6 middle aged folks, plus one guy I'd classify as "old".* As usual with these things, everyone was very pleasant. It was a gorgeous August day. Brilliantly sunny, not that hot with a nice breeze. We walked for about 90 minutes, spotting birds and insects and a lot of butterflies.

I learned a little bit, met nice people, and was outside on a lovely day. While not exciting, all in all extremely pleasant. Being middle aged, I have to say I liked it very much. Excitement is for young people for who, not having been there and done that - again and again, exciting things are exciting.

So there you have it. If you are young, you know what you have to look forward to and/or dread. If you are middle aged (or old), it is another thing you might want to do. Life should be much more than just vegging on the sofa or sitting in front of a computer screen.

* When I'm old, I expect I won't mind being called old; I'm not bristling at being middle-aged.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

I Haven't Seen That Before, Well Not Excactly

Back Story: My middle-aged man house, aka The Ranch, I bought as a 40th birthday present for myself. (I asked for a house for my 39th birthday but nobody stepped up). The Ranch is on a main street in Tacony that is a hybrid, part residental, part commercial. I would have preferred a house on a side street, but I liked this one a lot, and so went for it. My side of the block is all residential, the other side mostly all commercial. My neighborhood was historically very white, but lately has become somewhat integrated.

The Actual Story: I have been trying to leave a trash can out front for people to use rather than toss their trash in my garden. Most grasp the concept. Except when the wind blows it over, it has been mostly successful. Today I am walking home, towards my front gate, when I see a middle-aged black woman I don't recognize throwing a bunch of trash into the can. I think, "Cool, that's what it's there for". I then notice she's muttering to herself.

Since she is muttering to herself, I look back at her. She has finished at the trashcan and continues southward a few paces. She stoops down at my next door neighbor's sidewalk and picks up a bunch of trash, continuing to mutter to herself. Rather than backtrack a few steps to my trashcan, she continues southward carrying the trash. The neighbor on the corner has a can out front too, so she didn't have too far to the next can. He keeps his locked to a stop sign. (Now I could put a stop sign in front of my house, in the middle of the block, but I think that would create all sorts of problems. I'll need to figure out a different solution).

The Mystery So is this woman a civic minded do-gooder who enjoyes cleaning up the Avenue and making the neighborhood a better place to live? There's a precident. There's an old woman in Frankford that Joan and met I when we did the Mozaic tile mosaic project. After watching this woman sweep up Frankford Ave. every morning, we eventutally talked to her. Well Joan spoke to her, but I was there. She seemed sane. The woman that is, and well, Joan too.

Or does this woman suffer from some mental illness in which the side effect is a compulsion to clean the sidewalk?

Either way, it's a good deal for Tacony. But I am curious.

Friday, April 18, 2008


"I like... birds" - Eels

When I turned 40, through confluence of factors I became interested in watching birds. The variety of birds that come through Tacony never ceases to amaze me. I saw quite a few varieties from my porch on Passmore Street, but the backyard of the ranch is even better.

Last year I finally saw male and female cardinals. Last week, I finally saw a blue jay. Today I was standing outside, between trips from the garage unloading groceries, thinking that the variety of birds wasn't especially interesting a the moment. It was a great day for loitering in the beautiful spring morning, so I did, interesting birds or not. My loitering paid off though in more than just pleasant loitering.

My Peterson Field Guide to Birds of East and Central North America is pretty good at helping to identify various species. Google Images helped to confirm that today I saw a prothonotary warbler, which would seem to be about 1/2 mile from its preferred habitat. Wow is it yellow. I'm not used to seeing birds this vivid here in the city, but maybe I never really looked before. Who knows what I missed the first 40 years.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

You don't have to be Smart to eBay

Concerned that I was working too much, last December, I marked four Slow Down Weeks on my Google calendar for 2008 , one per quarter. A Slow Down Week isn't a week off, it's a week on but at 2/3s speed or less. Today is the last day of my first Slow Down Week of 2008.

One of the things I did this week, in lieu of the full normal overload of real work, was to clean up clutter around the house. When we moved in June, I set some stuff aside to sell on eBay. This is the week to finally get that stuff listed.

Two of the items I have had in my possession for a long time are a 1957 Silver Certificate, which turns out to be worth about $2, and a 1937 $20 bill, which seems to be worth $20, unless you are a stupid eBay seller. Someone actually listed a $20 bill with a $9.99 starting price! Three bids later, it is still under $20 with 15 hours to go.

Silver Certificates, something I never could understand why they existed, were news to my wife and we had a nice conversation about them. So the Silver Certificate actually turned out to some value greater than $1 for me and Maureen. She and I are now fully knowledgable on Silver Certificates. If you click this Wikipedia link, you will be too. Not surprisingly there is no Wikipedia entry as to why someone would sell a $20 bill for $9.99.

Looks like I'll be holding on to the silver certificate and putting the 1937 $20 back into circulation.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Going Scruffy for a While

After about 5 years of solid service, my Braun razor broke. Having an old Braun as back-up I wasn't in a hurry to order a replacement. For the replacement, since this is something I use everyday, I decided to splurge on their most expensive one, the Braun 9595.

On Saturday, mid shave the backup razor developed a burning smell and then kacked. I ordered the new razor that day. While I splurged on the razor, I went with Amazon's super saver shipping, which means they delay shipping it for a few days. Not out of efficiency, but out of punishment for being cheap.

For the first time since I can remember, I will be going unshaved for an extended stretch. This is unlikely to become permanent since I have no desire for facial hair, not even for a hipster partial beard.

Maureen will be happy when the new razor arrives.

Update: Here is my Amazon review of the Braun 9595 Pulsonic Razor

Sunday, March 16, 2008


In the 3rd quarter of our lives, some of us after many years of hard grafting have become somewhat successful, or in rare cases extemely successful. Hard earned success is one of the really fun things that can come with middle age. Success breeds confidence. Confidence, like all things in this existence, needs balance. On a personal level, overconfidence may not be as bad as underconfidence, but it can be really annoying to most everyone else. Case in point, Tom Cruise.

Note to self: never ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever (quoting Tom there) do the double point thing, no matter how good I am feeling about myself.

Tom Cruise is obviously incredibly sincere in his pompousness, which makes him less of an asshat, but still an asshat.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Winter 8:45am Shaving

I have office hours (like a college professor) at the bar on Tuesday afternoons. I usually get to start off leisurely from home before a long remainder of the day of bosswork and dart team membership.

I shaved later than usual today. It's cloudy so I could look out the eastward facing bathroom window instead of the usual blinding from the sun. Birds were really active flying about. Unhidden by the barren branches of winter, the 50 foot ancient tree across the street had a squirrel, bushy tail flittering, in addition to a variety of birds arriving and departing.

I became interested in birds and the mind-boggling number of species a couple of years ago, and have been a casual bird watcher ever since. It felt a very natural middle-aged thing to do. There were some nice close-ups of birds in flight from my 2nd floor portal as I stood shaving. I appreciated how the different species of birds had very different methods of flying.

Many things came together for that moment to happen and for me to appreciate it.

Update: It's 30 minutes later. Just left the bathroom, the sun is shining; it's mildly blinding; there are no birds at all now. Timing is everything.