Saturday, July 31, 2010

A Brief Visit to the Buttermilk Trail

The godawful summer heat and humidity of Richmond abated a bit today, so I decided to take a short hike along the Buttermilk Trail.

For those of you who know me as a Master of the Sedentary Arts this may seem out of character and, well, you would be right, but back in March my doctor (actually, my Nurse Practitioner--I haven't actually seen my doctor since 1997) warned me that my weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglycerides were all alarmingly high, high enough that I had a couple of choices: take some proactive measures now or figure out what long-term care facility or place of interment might best suit my future needs.

Not to alarm anyone, but this was not quite the simple choice one might imagine; my life is not so great that prolonging it seems all that reasonable most days. However, the various advances in medical care have made it highly likely I would survive a heart attack, stroke, or aneurysm but be severely incapacitated in the process. Not an appealing prospect.

The short version: since March I have made major changes in my diet and activity level (sadly, there's nothing I can do about stress--my job reaches new levels of suckdom with each passing day and I'm kinda, sorta trapped there).

Which means I've been doing lots of walking. Hell, I even invested in a pair of hiking shoes, socks, and, Crom help me, a sun hat. For a would-be miser, that's commitment!

Anyway, after reading a bit in 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: Richmond I figured it was worth checking out the Buttermilk portion of the Belle Isle, Northbank, Buttermilk Trail Loop since one of the access points (the south side of Boulevard Bridge) is pretty close to where I live (maybe 5 min. by car depending upon the gazillion traffic lights--park at Barker Field and rile up all the nice doggies--or approx. 50 min. by foot including time to cross the bridge while marveling at the gazillion orb-weavers eking out a meager existence high above the James).

Why, yes, as a matter of fact, I did take pics. Thanks for asking!

Look! Nature stuff!

For scale, the trail is about three feet across here.

A reminder that we're not in deep wilderness--
drainage from Riverside Drive just above us.

What's that up ahead? OMG!

A deer! In the city!

Rock outcroppings abounded.

Quick note: hikers, trail runners, and mountain bikers all use this stretch.
For the most part, everyone I met (and I encountered a surprising
number of people) was very nice; however, the bikers tended to come
out of nowhere and zoom by without giving the suggested "Rider up!"
warning to pedestrians. I like to think this is where karma caught up
with 'em as they banged their be-helmeted heads.

Evidence of trail maintenance.

And it goes on and on and on, but I didn't.

Hot, sweaty, unshaven, and displaying a bit of semi-hipster douchbaggery with
sunglasses on a string, here I am at my turnaround point, an hour and a half along the trail.
Not shown: my lo-tech trekking pole, aka hiking stick--a wooden broom handle fitted with a rubber cane tip (see here). Hey, it's cheap, unpretentious, more in keeping with the Leave No Trace philosophy (carbide tips scar rock), and quite useful, though dorky.

Note to self: next time, take more water! Not that I was in danger of severe (or even moderate) dehydration, what with a residential roadway no more than a hundred feet away, but given how much I perspire even at a relatively mild 85° F. (see above), a quart canteen just didn't cut it.

Anyway, I had a lot of sweaty fun.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

"Very Sparkly..."

Some of you may know I am a casual--very casual--coin collector. I don't have a particularly exciting collection nor is it particularly valuable (well, I have a couple of things collectors might covet) and I don't specialize as most collectors do. I merely accumulate those things that strike my fancy, e. g., micronation currency (Wirtland, Sealand, Conch Republic), American Silver Eagles, early American commemoratives, and so forth and so on.

My most recent purchase, "recent" as in 9:00 p. m. this evening, was a 1973 Cook Island dollar I'd been coveting for some time now:

Yeah, kind of boring, but I didn't get it for the portrait of Queen Elizabeth II; I got it for the image of Tangaroa on the reverse:

Amongst numismatists this is known as "the Naughty Dollar."

Yeah, I'm easily amused; what the heck, it keeps me off the streets.

This Gets To Me--Every Time

Guess I need to turn in my Man-Card...

Saturday, July 17, 2010

A Mom Memory

I was cruisin' around MetaFilter the other day reading, of all things, a discussion about olive oil when I came across a slightly off-topic comment/quote:

The scene with the butter wasn't in the original script. The script called for extra virgin olive oil. The truth is, it was Marlon who came up with the idea because the prop department didn't have the butter handy when we were ready to shoot the scene. Bertolucci was fat and sweaty and very manipulative; he was the one who convinced me to do it. I should've called my agent or had my lawyer come to the set because you can't force someone to do something that isn't in the script. I didn't know that at the time. Marlon said to me, "Maria, don't worry, it's just a movie." But during the scene, even though what Marlon was doing wasn't real, I was crying real tears. I felt humiliated, and to be honest, I felt a little raped, both by Marlon and by Bertolucci. After the scene, Marlon didn't console me or apologize. Thankfully, there was just one take.

OMG! Last Tango In Paris! The controversial film of 1972/1973 (maybe of all time, if we are to believe film critic Pauline Kael)! "Pornography disguised as art," said a couple of reviewers, "obscene!" Moral breakdown! Outraged sensibilities! The end of Western Civilization! Unclean! Sodomy! Apocalypse! Gasps and moans and gnashing of teeth! New life for the dairy industry! Won't somebody please think of the children before the Almighty Jeebus kills a kitten?

And my mother--my Mom!--went to see it.

I'm not entirely sure what possessed her--maybe it was Art Buchwald's review, "'Last Tango' Just A Report On Paris Housing Shortage," which she thought was one of the funniest things she'd ever read, but whatever it was, Mom and one of her BFFs drove to Washington, D. C. one Saturday in '73 to see it.

Some quick background here: Mom's friend--let's call her Mrs. O.--was something of an anachronism. In 1973 when women's fashions were finally becoming a little more... relaxed... she still went everywhere dressed in '50s-style white gloves and hat. She was prim and proper and formal and far from what anyone would describe as "worldly" (which is not to diss her; she was a very, very nice lady, loyal to a fault, devoted to my mother, and surprisingly fond of me, which probably makes her eligible for sainthood), so why she wanted to go see Tango remains something of a mystery. Maybe she just wanted to break bad for once in her life.

Anyway, according to Mom, they got to the theater, found some seats, settled in, and began watching the movie. Until. Certain... Notorious... Scenes. Flashed before them.

Whereupon Mrs. Otto began a squirming fit: (stage whisper) "Virginia?* What's going on?" "Virginia, what are they doing?" "Virginia? What are they doing now?" "Virginia? Why are they... (stunned silence)."

Mom's response each time was, not surprisingly, "Shhh!" or "I'll explain later!," which leads me to this recurring, horrific image of the two of them driving back home with Mom--my Mom!-- earnestly explaining the intricacies (I almost wrote "the ins and outs") of anal sex the entire way (equally frightening is my image of the two of them slowly regarding their buttered popcorn as something entirely new and interesting, but that's just silly. Maybe).

Hey, I may have wound up as a drug addict for a while,
but at least I wasn't in
The Island of Dr. Moreau!

Anyway, that's it. As my friend Anne wrote, "No thinky thoughts, no grand proclamations, no fifty cent words," just a random memory about my Mom.

Oooo! Just one more thing! At 17 I thought this was, well, not exactly out of character for my Mom (you have to know her), but it certainly seemed a bit extreme until I learned years later she did a thesis (senior? Master's?) on Ulysses by James Joyce when it was still considered by most people, even academicians, to be obscene, if not outright pornographic.

She continues to surprise.

*Mom's given name is Virginia, which is what she's called by her friends. Her sisters (and parents) call(ed) her "Ginny." My father called her "Jean;" I don't know why.

Saturday, July 10, 2010


I had a moment of blind panic yesterday--I could not find my favorite pen, my Rotring 600 Newton rollerball:

Yes, I know it seems hysterically funny that someone with handwriting as wretched as mine should be upset over a missing pen, but damn it! MY pen! It's a NICE pen! Solid brass, heavy, substantial, hexagonal, matte-black. A TOOL, not a toy! It WASN'T cheap! I've owned it for SEVERAL YEARS! It's a PART OF ME! AAUGH!
Yeah, I'm just a tad neurotic; yeah, I tend to form closer attachments to things rather than people; and, yeah, since my mother is drifting in the depths of senile dementia I was wondering if this was something more than a "senior moment."

As it turns out, after a few discontinuous hours of frantic searching I discovered my pen had been moved to a secure position beneath the bedroom bookcase by a certain furry, thieving roommate.

Cue the music:

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Super-Abnormal Phenomena Survival Kit

Ah, I take solace in seeing the Intarwebs slowly but surely archiving all my adolescent and twenty-something obsessions.

Years ago when I lived in Boston I happened to have an apartment in the same building as Newbury Comics (back when they sold mostly comic books). Much of my disposable income went into checking out all the massively cool things going on in (warning: pretentiousness alert!) sequential art at the time, especially in such old standbys as Creepy and Eerie. One story still capable of making pull a Diet Pepsi spew is "The Super Abnormal Phenomena Survival Kit" by Jim Stenstrum (story) & John Severin (art).

Creepy #79 May 1976 (1st appearance)

Eerie #106 November 1979 (basically an anthology of Stenstrum stories.

Pardon the scan quality; I, uh, appropriated them (yes, that's the word! Not "stole," but "appropriated." Much classier. Hey, all the cool kids are doing it!) Enjoy!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Addendum to "Happy Fourth of July!"

So last night I hiked from my place to Byrd Park to watch the 4th of July fireworks, which was great fun despite the heat, the humidity, and the humongous crowd.

Best WTF? moment came when I overheard a 30-something mom fussing at her (approx.) 4-yr.-old daughter: "I will NOT tolerate you perpetuating that behavior!"

Second best WTF? moment came when I noticed this little hormonally-saturated, overdeveloped piece of jailbait (as in maybe 14) wandering around in her teensy-weensy cut-off denim shorts and two-sizes-too-small pink tank top emblazoned with "My Boyfriend Is Out Of Town..." flirting with every drunk college boy (and there were a bunch) she could find.

Not that I was staring.

After wandering the park I decided the best location for viewing was the northern shore of Boat/Fountain Lake (depends upon whom you ask), a wise decision as (1) it was significantly cooler by the water and (2) there was a nice breeze. No fireworks pics, but here's one of the fountain at 9:05 p. m.

(the bright spot seen through the fountain is one of the streetlights surrounding the lake and the tiny light in the upper right is the Carillon, which you can just make out through the darkness)

Nothing else to add beyond fireworks ROCK!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Happy Fourth of July!

Let's start off with something patriotic:

The Declaration of Independence in American
by H. L. Mencken

From The American Language, 3rd ed., 1923, pp. 398-402.
First printed as "Essay in American" in the Baltimore Evening Sun, Nov. 7, 1921.

WHEN things get so balled up that the people of a country got to cut loose from some other country, and go it on their own hook, without asking no permission from nobody, excepting maybe God Almighty, then they ought to let everybody know why they done it, so that everybody can see they are not trying to put nothing over on nobody.

All we got to say on this proposition is this: first, me and you is as good as anybody else, and maybe a damn sight better; second, nobody ain't got no right to take away none of our rights; third, every man has got a right to live, to come and go as he pleases, and to have a good time whichever way he likes, so long as he don't interfere with nobody else. That any government that don't give a man them rights ain't worth a damn; also, people ought to choose the kind of government they want themselves, and nobody else ought to have no say in the matter. That whenever any government don't do this, then the people have got a right to give it the bum's rush and put in one that will take care of their interests. Of course, that don't mean having a revolution every day like them South American yellowbellies, or every time some jobholder goes to work and does something he ain't got no business to do. It is better to stand a little graft, etc., than to have revolutions all the time, like them {deleted ethnic slur}, and any man that wasn't a anarchist or one of them I.W.W.'s would say the same. But when things get so bad that a man ain't hardly got no rights at all no more, but you might almost call him a slave, then everybody ought to get together and throw the grafters out, and put in new ones who won't carry on so high and steal so much, and then watch them. This is the proposition the people of these Colonies is up against, and they have got tired of it, and won't stand it no more.

The rest.

I spotted this on MetaFilter this afternoon and just had to share.

Anyway, I've done nothing of note today: slept late, fed the cat, scratched the cat, brushed the cat, read, fooled around online, cleaned out a closet and took a HUGE load of clothes I don't wear* to Goodwill...

I lead such an exciting life.

I'll probably wander down to Byrd Park/Dogwood Dell in a few minutes to watch the fireworks; in the meantime, here I am, three years younger and fifty pounds heavier, doing my best Chris Farley impression with Alex P. and Andrew L. on July 4, 2007:

Crom help me, I still have that shirt. And the watch.

*My parents, bless their hearts, not knowing what else to do for me on gift-giving occasions, used to bless me with all sorts of fancy, pricey, name-brand clothes better suited for a wealthy, gay, middle-aged man. I would wear them once or twice when I visited them and then file 'em away in the back of my closet. I appreciated the thought and effort, really, but not the styles and colors (pastel-colored Izod and Lacoste polo shirts on me? We think not). See Pattern Recognition by William Gibson for a partial explanation as to why.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Look At Me, Being All Domestic 'n' Stuff!

I bought sheets today.

Yeah, I know: "so...? Big whoop." But what you have to understand is that is so not who I am and what I do.

For years I got by with the sheets that came with the bed I kinda, sorta inherited from my Uncle Ed (who wasn't really an uncle but a WWI buddy of my grandfather's. Yes, World War ONE); however, given that said sheets were at least 60 years old it came as no surprise when they finally wore out. Okay, wore through--(1) I'm a big guy, and (2) with things like sheets and socks and underpants I tend to cram 'em all in the washing machine, using force if necessary, throw in a bunch of Tide detergent (using the TLAR method: "That Looks About Right"), and let 'er rip, maybe throwing in a couple of extra rinse cycles as lagniappe. Abrasion eventually takes its toll.

And so it came to pass that soon after I moved from Charlottesville, VA to Richmond (1991) I found myself in need of new sheets. Now, Mom had prepared me for a lot of things in bachelor life (including laundry, which you've noticed I ignored), but she failed to give me a crash course in sheet selection. Left to my own devices and based upon my limited understanding of such things, I simply went to the nearest Big Box store, found the least expensive sheets available in colors I could tolerate (white not being one of them), and made my way home. Of course, these wore out surprisingly fast (well, maybe not surprising to you, but certainly to me), so I repeated the cycle every couple of years.

Finally, I caught on that bed sheets varied greatly in price, quality, and composition and these factors had a significant effect on longevity, but then a number of questions arose: Natural fibers or synthetic? Cotton or cotton flannel? Pima or Egyptian cotton? High or low thread count? Regular, sateen, or satin weave?

Sweet Jeebus, I just want(ed) something to sleep upon.

Well, thanks to the miracle of the Intarwebs and my serious info-addiction I'm better educated now and capable of making informed decisions concerning my bed linens, which I did the other day when I bought some nice burgundy-colored 325 thread-count sheets at a very reasonable price (especially since I now know what constitutes "reasonable"). I would have gotten the 600 thread-count, but they were more than double the price; these seemed a good compromise.

Concerning beds, I finally had to disassemble Uncle Ed's a few years ago when the mattress wore out and I started shopping for a new one. His was a weird size, a "3/4 bed," common at one time, essentially non-existent now. You can have a mattress custom-made for these beds should you ever encounter one, but that's a horrifically expensive proposition. I decided it was easier--and cheaper--to buy myself a new one.

I seriously considered the Gothic Wrought Iron number, but decided my bedroom was far to small to show it off properly (that, and I'm not a 16-yr.-old Goth girl). I settled on a platform bed (no box springs to buy... ever!!!) by Amisco, the Newton:

In some Alternate Universe where Bizarro G. W. lives a neat, clean, pet-fur-free, naturally-lit, minimalist life, this would be the sleeping area. In our world, however, this is my bedroom:

If you click and enlarge you'll see the new pillowcases behind two old, faded, thinning ones. That's Pattern Recognition by William Gibson on the bed. There are boxes of books under the bed and monolithic piles of books in the two corners you can't see. The white bookcases are ones my father made for me when I was five. The ugly blue blanket keeps the slightly too-short mattress from sliding away from the headboard. I picked up the Elvis beach towel during my first visit to Duck, NC in 2005; it blocks the morning light quite effectively. Those are purple Christmas (Halloween?) lights I never use surrounding the towel. You will, of course, kindly refrain from making comments about the dust and cobwebs.

Not seen: Sid the Cat doing his usual shedding of white hair upon everything (he was under the bed when I took the pic).

The Random Crap Which Infests My Brain, Part III

Some time ago I mentioned one of my (many) personal quirks: "in my head (and thank Crom, only in my head), no conversation is ever finished, no experience is too trivial for periodic re-examination, everything is subject to repeated investigation."

Well, here we go again.

By the way, today's bit of mental masturbation was sparked by a MetaFilter post on the growing market for movie props and movie prop reproductions. Blame them for what follows.

Like many kids of the 'Sixties who'd been turned monster-mad by Shock!, Universal's attempt to squeeze just a little more profit from their horror films of the '30s and '40s, I was a devoted reader of Famous Monsters of Filmland and a slavish fan to editor/writer/memorabilia collector/occasional schlockmeister Forrest J Ackerman. Issue No. 30 was of particular interest because of a fun little article on (well, a list of) the powers of Dracula, Bela Lugosi just happening to be my man-crush at the time.

A few pictures from Uncle Forry's vast collection of movie stills and fan photos accompanied the article including this close-up of Dracula's ring (uh, don't go searching your DVD of Dracula frame-by-frame quite yet; you won't find it. More on this in a minute):

To my little 8-yr.-old mind this was the Coolest. Thing. EVER! And Forry owned it. In fact, he'd been given it by Bela Lugosi himself!

The auction photo

So Forry died in December, 2008 after a long illness and soon thereafter what was left of his massive collection of movie memorabilia (he'd sold much of it earlier to pay his medical bills) was auctioned off in April, 2009, including the Dracula ring.

Anyway, in farting around the web chasing down this information I noticed something odd--many of the newspaper accounts (the LA Times, for example, who should have done a little more fact-checking) referred to the ring as having been worn by Lugosi in the 1931 version of Dracula, the same thing I had assumed lo those many years ago. It wasn't. The auction house description got it right:

This “Dracula” ring was originally created in 1944 for Universal’s House of Frankenstein and worn by John Carradine in the role of the Count. Carradine again wore the ring in House of Dracula (1945). Three years later Universal signed Lugosi to reprise his role as Dracula (for his second and last time on film) in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948). Lugosi, who was a very close friend of Forry, wore the ring in this classic comedy and kept it for several years thereafter. Late in life he gave it to a young fan and friend who gave the ring to FJA, along with other Lugosi-owned wardrobe. Likely to be Forry’s most prized artifact, this ring is depicted in numerous photographs, portraits and artistic renderings of FJA and became intertwined with his persona. Its significance cannot be overstated. $20000 – $30000.


Apparently there was (and is) a huge controversy (at least, "huge" as reckoned by those who care about such things) concerning the ring's provenance--is it the original or a replica?--see "Debate and Analysis: Forry Ackerman's 'Dracula' Ring" for an interesting in-depth discussion, but the upshot is, yes, this is Forry's ring, so there! Neener, neener, neener!

I have no idea who bought it or what he/she paid for it; my only hope is that the ring is now owned by someone who will treasure and cherish it.

Addendum: Covet this item? Want to pick up hot Goth Girls or Boys in sleazy Goth bars? Several replicas have been produced over the years, most recently by Dimensional Designs (sold out), Monsters in Motion ($285) and Factory Entertainment (forthcoming--August, 2010, $200, but I saw it somewhere online for $180).

Factory Entertainment