Friday, March 30, 2012

The Monument

Flowers are starting to bloom here in the Northwest and folks are ignoring the drizzle to prepare their yards for warmer weather. At this time of year I always think of Mr. Melcher, a celebrity in the Bay Area neighborhood where I grew up in the early Sixties.

Mr. Melcher was retired, and famous for having the best-looking yard in the neighborhood. His nickname was Mr. Mulcher because of the great care he took to insure that his yard was well-fed, well-organized, and a glimmering palette of color. Aside from feeding his lawn and adding mulch, he fertilized and aerated every year and mowed his grass twice a week. The reward for all his hard work was an award-winning landscape that looked like the cover of Better Homes and Gardens. Aside from a lawn that looked like green carpet, his flower beds were bursts of color and, unlike other yards in the neighborhood, dandelions and other pesky weeds weren’t to be found.

Mr. Melcher’s house was only two blocks from where we lived. I’d pass his property on my walk to and from school, and I’d wave at him as he tended his yard. Usually he was too busy to wave back. It could get mighty hot in the Santa Clara Valley, but heat didn’t deter Mr. Melcher from his trimming, weeding and watering. I don’t remember seeing a Mrs. Melcher so perhaps all of this gardening was the result of untapped sexual energy, not that this was something I thought about back when I was a kid. Back then, old Mr. Melcher was probably twenty years younger than I am now.

One summer when I was nine our family made the pilgrimage to Disneyland. We also journeyed to the San Diego Zoo and crossed into Tijuana for my first excursion out of the country. I bought onyx bookends of sleepy peasants catching some shuteye in the shade of onyx cacti—now politically incorrect. We were gone a week. The day after our return, Dad and I were barbequing t-bones in the backyard when George, our neighbor, poked his head over the fence and welcomed us home. He also said, “Say, have you had a chance to check out what Old Melcher did to his yard while you were gone?”

That stoked our curiosity. As soon as the T-bones were off the grill, Dad and I trooped over to Mr. Melcher’s house. The sun was setting but what we saw in the fading light made our jaws drop. The award-winning landscape was no more. The carpet-like green lawn—gone. The plants—gone. Mr. Melcher had ripped everything out and concreted over his entire front yard. In the middle of this sea of cement rose a concrete block. Enshrined on it was Mr. Melcher’s lawnmower, spray painted gold and glinting in the sunset like a pair of bronzed baby booties.

“What do you think?” I asked my dad.

He rubbed his jaw while staring at the push-mower monument, choosing his words carefully. “I think Mr. Melcher had a stroke, like the one Grandpa had last year.”

I considered Dad’s words. Personally, I hated mowing lawns, and at our house that chore usually fell on me. I was also responsible for watering, pulling weeds and raking leaves from our big sycamore tree. Sure, a grassy yard was fun to play on, but maintaining it was a lot of work. Stroke or not, I was impressed by Mr. Melcher’s solution. I studied the maintenance-free landscape before me and pondered whether or not Mr. Melcher’s stroke had, in fact, also been a stroke of genius.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Between Your Nose and Your Chin

A fiercely independent people once wanted to govern themselves and worship as they pleased, but first they had to wrestle their country from the control of an overbearing European monarchy. A bloody war was fought, and this collection of states came together to defeat its oppressor and create the greatest military and economic superpower on Earth. I’m not talking about the United States of America. I’m talking about The Dutch Republic.

You might not think the Dutch were ever a superpower, but they were. Their ships out-sailed the Spanish and British, and for a time Amsterdam was the richest city in Europe. Don’t forget that New York was originally named New Amsterdam. Then something remarkable happened. The people of the Dutch Republic all caught a disease that destroyed their country. No, not the plague, but something nearly as bad. The Dutch caught a dreadful fever, a mania for a precious commodity—tulips.

We all associate tulips with Holland, but tulips originated in Turkey and were brought to Europe in 1554. Less than a hundred years later, tulip bulbs were selling for extraordinary prices. The Dutch economy became based on the buying and selling of these flowers. Before the tulip bubble burst, a single bulb in Amsterdam sold for the following:

48 barrels of wheat

96 barrels of rye

four fat oxen

eight fat swine

two huge casks of wine

four barrels of beer

two tons of butter

1000 pounds of cheese

an ornate carved wooden bed

a full suit of clothes

a silver chalice

Quite a fortune for something that today can be purchased for less than a dollar. Then in 1637 speculators could no longer sell their tulip bulbs. Nearly everyone in Holland went bankrupt, including the famous painter Frans Hals. The government tried to save the economy but failed to act aggressively enough, and soon The Dutch Republic was on its economic knees, never to fully recover. The Dutch had a short run on the world stage— about a hundred years. Today, they remain a fine and interesting people, but their days as a superpower are over.

If you see a parallel between what happened to the Dutch and what’s going on in our own country right now, I’m glad. Replace tulips with houses and McMansions and you have the recent recession that has plagued the USA. I don’t pretend to have a solution for our economic woes, but a study of what happened to the Dutch would seem to be in order, otherwise our time as a superpower, our best days, might also be coming to an end. It’s time to dust off an adage: Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.

It’s time to stop looking for a scapegoat for our troubled economy, and long past the time when we should all come together as Americans to do what needs to be done, even if it means sacrifices.

Here’s a joke a seventeenth century Dutchman would not have laughed at: What flower is between your nose and your chin? Answer: Two lips.

Monday, March 26, 2012

A One-Day-One-Eye-Hacking Dog

With my bride at work but armed with her permission, I drove to the LA animal control facility where thousands of dogs waited for adoption. This would be our first pet as a married couple, and my first dog ever. Growing up, my parents only let me have pets small enough to flush down the toilet when they died. Try as I would, I couldn’t convince them it was possible to flush a dead German Shepherd.

As I walked past an endless assortment of cute and needy dogs, I kept reminding myself that I was there for the sole purpose of achieving a lifelong goal—avenging my dog-deprived childhood. As it turned out, they only had one German Shepherd eligible for adoption, a purebred male.

Half a dozen other hopeful adopters were waiting to slip a leash on him. The highest bidder would get to take him home. Before writing down my bid, I took one last look at the dog’s enormous caramel-colored eyes and knew I was taking him home, no matter what the cost.

Those conducting the auction seemed surprised at my bid, an astonishing one thousand dollars. I’d refused to consider that I could have this dog for anything less. It was a lot of money, all that Mrs. C. and I had.

The paperwork was lengthy; importing a mail-order bride would have involved less red tape. I’d named him Max before I’d even written out the check, after the character from my favorite children’s book, Where the Wild Things Are. I hadn’t thought to bring a leash, and since the shelter didn’t sell them I used my belt to get Max into my Beetle. As we drove home to our tiny one bedroom apartment just off busy Pico Boulevard in West L.A., Max started making hacking sounds.

My afternoon shift at a hardware store in Santa Monica was approaching, but I was too excited to work. I called in sick. For several hours, Max and I stared at each other, with the poor dog wheezing and coughing like he had a three-pack-a-day habit. In addition to the kennel cough, he didn’t smell good. I opened the windows to let in fresh air. Moving to a new home must have been an ordeal for Max. He finally stopped coughing, lowered his head to the floor and dozed off.

When a truck drove by, Max bolted to his feet and charged the front door, missing it. Pictures rattled when his big head hit the wall. When I finished calming him down, I noticed my stomach was growling. I went to the kitchen and made a salami sandwich. Max padded after me. We had nothing else to feed him so he got a sandwich too. Unlike me, he ate his sandwich in two bites and licked my shoe until I put down a bowl of water for him. Max lapped the bowl dry, even after I refilled it, and then he went to the back door. While he attempted to nudge it with his head, he bumped into the waste can beside the door.

Assuming he wanted to go out, I fashioned a leash from the cord of an electric knife, a wedding present we had yet to use, and led Max outside. I guided Max to the grass and expected him to drop a turd or two, but instead poor Max squatted down and unleashed a torrent of foul-smelling diarrhea, no doubt the result of his incarceration at the shelter. Perhaps giving the dog salami wasn’t a good move.

It was time to pick up Mrs. Chatterbox. With Max in the backseat, I headed over to Wilshire Boulevard. Dumb luck prevented me from getting into an accident; I was completely distracted by the reflection in my rearview mirror—a smiling wolf in the backseat.

When Mrs. C. slid into the car, Max greeted her with a big kiss. “Aren’t you a sweet


Max answered by coughing in her face.

She ignored it and patted him on the head. “Gosh he’s big. My folks always had small dogs like dachshunds and Manchester terriers.”

“Yep, he’s big alright,” I responded proudly.

“What’s wrong with his eye?”

“What do you mean?” I asked, alarmed.

“His right eye, it’s all red. Didn’t you notice?”

Truth was, I hadn’t.

When we got home, I pulled Max over to a light and saw what I’d been too foolish to notice before; one of Max’s eyes was filled with what looked like blood. I remembered Max bumping the front door when the truck rattled past, and how he banged the waste can beside the door in the kitchen.

“It’s probably nothing,” Mrs. C. said. “Maybe it’s just an infection. Dogs catch all sorts of things at animal shelters. We’ll take him to the vet tomorrow.”

And we did. The vet said Max’s cough would certainly go away, but the eye injury was probably the result of being hit by a car. The damage would most likely not get better. The eye needed to be removed. The cost for surgery—$800.00. The vet assured us that living with one eye wasn’t a problem for most dogs and Max would do just fine, provided we had a fair piece of acreage, or a large fenced yard where he could run around without bumping into things.

We drove home from the vet’s in silence. When I pulled to the curb and parked in front of our apartment Mrs. C. said, “I know you’re worried about the money, but we can take it from the thousand your folks gave us as a wedding present.”

I swallowed hard, and confessed. “I used that money to buy Max.”

Instead of the explosion I expected, she said, “I never should have let you go alone. Might as well send a starving kid into a candy shop.”

“So you’re not mad?”

“Of course I’m mad! You should have discussed it with me first. The money came from your parents, but it was given to both of us.” We fell into an uncomfortable silence, which ended when she said, “I’m angry, but I’ll get over it.”

Even with an operation, which we couldn’t afford, I knew we couldn’t keep Max locked up in our tiny apartment. I realized just how ridiculous it was to think a large active animal could be happy in so small a space. I called the shelter and explained the situation. A refund was out of the question, but they were willing to offer the dog to one of the other bidders—one of whom had a large fenced backyard and was willing to pay for Max’s eye surgery. At least he would be going to a good home.

I was depressed after returning Max to the shelter. No dog, and I’d flushed a thousand bucks. We’d had Max for less than twenty-four hours but now the apartment seemed empty without him. Max was my very first unflushable pet. It took a long time to get over my expensive one-day-one-eye-hacking-dog.

The picture above is how I choose to remember Max.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Learning Something New

I’ve admitted said it before but you probably didn’t believe me; it’s likely you thought I was being self-deprecating modest, but when it comes to electronics I’m a dolt moron. Most of the time my computer usually makes me want to pull out my hair. Mrs. Chatterbox is fairly good at figuring things out on the computer, but it’s our thirty-one year old son CJ who really knows how to tame the electronic box and make it sing and dance. Our boy is an electronic genius wiz. Maybe it comes from buying him all those Transformers and electronic games gadgets when he was a kid. Unfortunately, CJ guards his gifts carefully and doles them out like a fat kid hoarding M&Ms. I’m exaggerating, of course.

I’ve come up with an idea that has been working well for the past few years. I’ve suggested that when gift giving occasions occur, like birthdays or Holidays Christmas, I tell CJ to save his money and instead show me how to do something on the computer. This past Christmas I received the em dash—and I couldn’t be more pleased happier with it.

Last night CJ, who lives across town, came for supper and I asked for an early Father’s Day present gift. My computer blogger friends all seem to know how to do something I don’t. It’s embarrassing not to know how to do something so simple, and when you discover realize I didn’t know how to do this you’re going to lose a lot of respect for me. Hopefully you’ll forgive me get over it.

Can you figure out guess what I just learned how to do?

Friday, March 23, 2012

My Misguided Attempt At Erotica

A new friend recently posted a titillating piece of erotica that sent me dashing for my second shower of the day. I wish I could write racy prose, not that I haven’t tried. Years ago I learned that many bodice-ripper romances, similar to those that filled Mrs. C’s bookshelves, were written by men. I set my sights on becoming a romance novelist. My manuscript was called For Love Returned, and my heroine, Allison, was described as someone capable of giving a marble statue an erection. She lived in eighteenth century England and was engaged to a handsome sea captain named Justin. Their happiness was cut short when Allison was convicted and sent to prison for a crime she didn’t commit. Logic, it seemed, wasn’t a necessary ingredient in these sultry souffl├ęs. More stuff happened…blah…blah…blah.

I’d write ten pages a day and Mrs. Chatterbox (an English major) would come home from a hard day at the office and edit what I’d written, often trimming ten pages down to a few paragraphs. After months of writing and editing, I finally had a modest-sized book. All that remained was the climatic love scene that typically concluded these stories.

You couldn’t just end with: And they boinked and lived happily ever after! Everything had to be couched in metaphor; boobs were rosy blossoms unfurling with arousal, and a man’s unit was a staff of virility ready to probe the interior of her most hidden passions. It was embarrassing how good I was at writing this stuff. I didn’t discuss the ending with my wife; I didn’t want to ruin it for her. My goal was to write something guaranteed to make women moist.

I left our three year old son, CJ, with a sitter and bought a bottle of wine and some candles. I dimmed the lights and put romantic music on the radio. I had little doubt that I would be rewarded with wild lovemaking when Mrs. C’s juices started flowing, thanks to my wicked prose.

When my wife came home from work she said, “Why’s it so dark in here?”

Why? You’ll know soon enough, m’lady. “I thought candles would be nice for a change.”

She sank into a chair. “God, what a horrible day!”

I handed her a glass of wine as she kicked off her shoes. I rubbed her feet and envisioned what

I’d be getting rubbed as soon as my torrid words put her in the proper mood.

“Where’s CJ?” she wanted to know.

“I arranged for him to stay at the sitter’s for a few hours.”

She took a sip of wine. “Why did you do that?”

You’ll know soon enough, my coy wench. “I thought it would be nice to be alone.”

“Did anything interesting happen today? I don’t usually come home to candles, wine and music. What’s up?”

I took a deep breath. “I finished For Love Returned today.”

“You did?” she exclaimed, with less enthusiasm than I’d expected. “You finished the love scene?”


“How did it turn out?

“Guaranteed to make one moist!” I bragged.

She didn’t say anything.

“You do want to read it, don’t you?” I tried not to sound too needy.

“Of course I do; it’s just that I’m not feeling very…”

“Very what?”

“Moist. I’m not feeling very moist right now. It was a killer of a day and perhaps it would be best if I read it tomorrow.”

My face fell. I gave her my best kicked puppy look.

“Oh all right! Let’s have a look at it.”

“If you insist!” I produced the final pages and added, “I think you need what these pages have to offer.”

She wrinkled her face. “I need what they have to offer?”

This wasn’t going well, but I knew everything would work out according to plan once she finished reading. “Just take these pages into the bedroom and give them a read.” Then get ready to screw my brains out!

She grabbed the pages along with the wine and disappeared into the bedroom.

While she read, I popped a Tic-Tac in my mouth and fluffed the cushions on the couch in case her return was accompanied with such passion that we weren’t able to make it back to the bedroom. Then I heard something unsettling, the last thing I should have been hearing. The tic-tac slid down my throat and I started coughing. I spit it up, and as an indicator that nothing was going according to plan, it landed on one of the candles on the coffee table, causing the tiny flame to gutter and go out. In the background I heard my wife—howling with laughter.

My future as a romance writer also flamed out, not that day but in the weeks to come when more women read my manuscript and thought it hysterical. Not a single female was made moist by my story. Mrs. C. felt guilty at having derailed my writing career and provided me with several weeks of pity sex, which I wasn’t too proud to make the best of.

Posted to Dude Write.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Playing With Food

I was driving home from the grocery store yesterday and the deejay on the radio was spinning moldy oldies and asking trivia questions. One of the questions was: “What was the first toy or game advertised directly to children on television?”

I’m terrible at trivia and usually rely on Mrs. C. to fill me in on the Zeitgeist, but I couldn’t help shouting out answers. The Hula Hoop! Play-Doh! Cootie! “Wrong,” said the deejay when listeners phoned in these answers.

I’ll pause here before giving the correct response so you can yell an answer at your computer screen.********************************************************

Okay; the correct answer is—Mr. Potato Head!

I was surprised, too. But the deejay wasn’t about to let it go at that. He wanted to impress his listeners with more facts. Such as: Originally Mr. Potato Head didn’t include a plastic potato and kids were required to prowl through pantries for a real one. In 1952 this prompted complaints because of food shortages. Also, parents whined about the smell of rotting potatoes left in the box and stored on shelves or in closets.

This conjured up a memory I hadn’t thought about for over fifty years. Mr. Potato Head was actually an instructional tool, providing me with knowledge I might otherwise have missed. I grew up in the Santa Clara Valley, famous enough for its orchards to be mentioning in several Jack London novels. I should have been very familiar with how things grew, but I wasn’t, even though a pear orchard spread for miles behind our back fence.

I remember being six or seven and reaching for my Mr. Potato Head box on the top shelf in my closet. My best friend and I were expecting a rousing hour or two of jamming plastic features into the spud I’d grabbed from a bag in the pantry. But when I opened the box I was shocked to see that the last time I’d played the game I’d left a potato in the box. Only it didn’t look like I remembered it.

In the darkness of my closet, the potato had grown long roots that swirled around the inside of the box. It also had little buds growing on it. I showed the potato to my dad. He examined it carefully and said, “Let’s go plant this in the backyard.” He grabbed a shovel from the garage and divided the old potato into half a dozen pieces. We planted them along the side of our house. Several weeks later we were the proud owners of six little potato plants. I watered those plants, shooed away neighboring pets wanting to pee on them, and plucked bugs off the tiny leaves. But in the end a marauding gopher denied me my platter of homegrown French fries.

I learned nothing from playing with a Hula Hoop (couldn’t keep it above my belly) and the only thing I learned from Play-Doh was that it didn’t taste as good as modeling paste, but at a tender age Mr. Potato Head taught me a valuable lesson, one that I’ve carried with me until now: Although I appreciate the labor of those who produce food for my table, farming sucks!

When you were a kid, what was your favorite game?

Monday, March 19, 2012

First Thought

I accept the fact that the human brain is an incredible device with a photographic memory, but I have my doubts when people claim they can recall their own births. I’m thinking about this because last night I had a peculiar dream. Actually, it wasn’t really a dream, it was a recollection of a situation that happened when I was six months old. But since I was asleep at the time I guess it technically qualifies as a dream.

I’m a baby in my crib, and it’s unbelievably hot. I’m sweating profusely and wearing only a diaper. Something other than the heat is bothering me. I’m too good natured to cry (Mom will later say that had I been colicky like my older brother we’d still have been a family of three because she’d have killed herself) so I just lay there and play with my toes. (This will be the last time I will be able to get them in my mouth.) Then the bad thing starts happening again.

It’s a hissing sound, one I’d grow up to associate with snakes, but there isn’t a snake in my bed, it’s the fitted sheet beneath me. It’s too small for my mattress, not that I know what sheet and mattress are. All I know is that if I move, the thing under me sticks to my back and the cloth at the corners of my crib pull away from the mattress and slither toward me. I don’t like it one bit.

I remember trying not to move but I’m a baby and babies aren’t good at staying still. Like I said it’s hot and sticky, and now this thing pinned around my middle is soaking with something that doesn’t smell too good. I’m not happy, not happy at all.

This is the dream/memory I relived in my sleep last night. Nothing dramatic, only I know it isn’t a dream. My dad and older brother shrugged it off when I discussed it with them a while back, both admitting it wasn’t anything worth mentioning. I talked to my mother about it recently. “I have a memory that goes back to when I was around six months old,” I said.

She laughed at me. “No you don’t. People can’t remember that far back. Whatever it is you think you remember, it’s just something someone told you, something you forgot and then remembered.”

“But this isn’t anything anyone would have bothered to tell me.” I described the dream to her. To my shock, she was silent for once. It didn’t last. “That is strange,” she finally admitted. “When you were six months old we lived briefly in a place called Airport Village near the old San Jose Airport. We were housed in these metal buildings from the war.”

“Quonset huts?”

“Yes, that’s what they were called. All metal, and my…my…my were they hot! I haven’t thought about living there in…in, I can’t remember the last time!”

“What about the sheets?”

“I washed them wrong and they shrank something awful. We didn’t have money to replace them. I tried to make do but couldn’t keep them on your crib. I haven’t thought about those sheets in years either. But I must have mentioned them. I just can’t remember.”

“Mom, do you think you did?”


“Then maybe this is my earliest memory.”

“Why is it always something about you? Has it occurred to you that maybe you’d be more successful if you focused less on yourself? Why don’t you write blogs about me?”

She doesn’t know it, but I do.

Can you remember being born? What is your oldest memory?

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Ultimate Authority

You’ve probably heard that after two hundred and forty-four years Encyclopedia Britannica is ending its print edition as it fully embraces the digital age. This is a sad moment for all book lovers, and a powerful indication of what is to come.

To celebrate all that Encyclopedia Britannica has meant to some of us, I’m reposting a story that features these great books. This was the very first post at Chubby Chatterbox back on August First of last year. Few people saw it. The only comment I received at the time suggested this didn’t really happen, but it did. The post is called (Terms And Limits).

Friday, March 16, 2012


In 2010 Mrs. Chatterbox and I made a road trip to Yellowstone National Park. We arrived in the park in May, and while it was amazingly cold (all of the lakes were frozen) we had a great time.

Aside from the marvelous scenery and remarkable geothermal activity, such as Old Faithful, it’s the animals that most tourists go to see. I remember traveling down a road and stopping because fellow tourists were leaping out of their cars to see a grizzly bear in a meadow. People were actually running across the meadow to snap close-ups of the bear. Common sense, and quite a few episodes of Animal Planet, convinced me this wasn’t good idea. After all, these animals weren’t tame.

During our trip to Yellowstone we spotted elk and moose, but buffalo were the most fascinating. The only buffalo I’d seen up close were on nickels. In Yellowstone there were lots of them, not as many as back in the day when millions of stampeding buffalo shook the Great Plains, but enough for reassurance that we hadn’t hunted these magnificent animals into extinction.

On several occasions Mrs. C. and I pulled over to watch the enormous shaggy beasts, creatures that looked like they should have been ridden by sand creatures in Star Wars. They stared at us from a distance, seemingly bored by our attention as they chewed green shoots poking up from the receding snow. We were disappointed when we rounded a curve in the road and saw cars pulled over to watch a female who’d dropped to the ground to deliver her calf. We’d missed the birth by only minutes, but we did manage to see the baby rise up on shaky legs and bawl at its mother for milk.

When we’d seen enough we headed for a park exit. The road was winding and I was driving slowly, a good thing because around the next bend was a herd of thirty buffalo ambling down the center of the road, coming straight toward us. Leading the herd was a massive old bull, bigger than any of the other buffalo we’d seen. I hit the brakes, hard.

A car was practically glued to our rear bumper preventing me from backing up. I thought about inching forward but what if I startled the buffalo? He might charge us. I was painfully aware of the fact that we were on a collision course with a wild animal the size of a Sherman tank. I considered telling Mrs. C. to get out of the car and run, but I was momentarily paralyzed by indecision. In the end I decided that the best thing to do was stay in the car, which is what we did.

The old bull looked like he was engaging us in a game of chicken, one in which we would surely lose. I held my breath, and just when he was about to plow into us he swerved to the left, the sound of his hooves clattering on the road.

He paused beside our car, which seemed to offer about as much protection as a plastic lunch box, and stared at me for a moment, his eye as big as a t-rex’s. At the moment, that old bull could have had his way with us; his menacing horns were as long as my arm and could have opened our car like a can opener, but he just licked my window with his colossal tongue and continued on his way, his harem close behind. Our windows were closed but the air inside our car was thick with their musk as they engulfed us. They passed so close to our car that later I’d need to readjust my side mirrors.

When they’d gone I was reminded of words I’d read in the brochure we were given

when we entered the Park. Yellowstone wasn’t a zoo. These animals were wild, and we

were visitors in their home.

The photo at the top of this post resembles what we actually saw, but this bottom one

is what it looked like to me.

Aside from hunting, have you ever had a close encounter with a wild animal?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Try This At Home

Some of the best responses I’ve received so far were reactions to my post on Magritte’s painting depicting a pipe. I had no idea this would spark such interest and I’m wondering if lightning can strike twice at Chubby Chatterbox.

First, I’m not going to tell you this isn’t a painting of a nude woman. It is…sort of. (Darn—I’m lying already.) I’ll clear this up by saying this picture is intended to depict a woman. It was painted in 1814 by a Frenchman by the name of Ingres (pronounced angry-without the y). It’s called Grande Odalisque, an odalisque being a harem girl. The French were queer at the time for anything having to do with distant cultures. They coined the term Orientalism, even though Grande Odalisque doesn’t resemble anyone who ever stepped out of the Orient. Still, isn’t she pretty? This was French Nineteenth Century pornography at its finest. A wife couldn’t get too upset if her husband ogled her; after all, she was art!

This lovely lady caused quite a stir when exhibited at the 1814 Salon in Paris. She instantly assumed her place in the grand tradition of painted female nudes, rivaling the languid ladies of Titian and Rubens. And there’s much to admire here. The enamel-like flesh tones, the tour de force rendering of the silk turban, fur, peacock feathers and jewelry, and the intoxicating steam rising from the pipe in the bottom right corner. These were intended to inspire an intoxication of arousal. As Jessica Rabbit said in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, “I’m not bad, I’m just drawn that way.” But not everyone was happy with the way Grande Odalisque was drawn. Look closer and you’ll see why.

Salon attendees in 1814 were disturbed by a few things in this painting, such as the Scarlett O’Hara waist and an ass that makes J.Lo’s look flat as a halibut. Ignoring the odalisque’s feet, which are softer than a baby’s ass and look like they’ve never been walked on, I tend to focus on her breasts, if that’s what those are. Female breasts don’t spring from the sides of women like tumors, but our hottie has her back to us and Ingres didn’t want us to miss any of her perky curves, especially since they help sell copies of the painting. She also doesn’t have elbows; Ingres didn’t like elbows on women and banished them by covering them up or painting them out. Since he did so with camera-like realism, it takes a while to notice.

So, feet that have never been walked on, no elbows and boobs in the wrong place, and that’s not all that’s wrong with her. I’ve saved the best for last. But first a bit of back-story.

French wives got tired of their husbands salivating over the Grande Odalisque and decided to remedy the situation. They called in interior decorators to transform their boudoirs into harems. They dashed off to the Dollar Store for a few peacock feathers and ran to Turbans-R-Us for headgear. They wanted to win back their husbands by assuming the position of Grande Odalisque. But they couldn’t because Ingres gave his lady three or four extra vertebrae to create the pinwheel composed of her bejeweled hand, the fan, the flesh of her calf and the blue silk drapery.

Masterful. But as women all across France quickly noticed, this pose was impossible to achieve without a freakishly long back. Ingres had distorted female anatomy to serve his artistic purposes by showing a composite, one that’s impossible to view from a single angle. He played with reality in a new way, yet he brilliantly managed to create a breathtakingly beautiful image. Modern art was sniffing at Ingres’ heels.

I said earlier that, unlike Magritte’s pipe, this was intended to be seen as an image of

womanhood, but more accurately it’s an ideal, a composite of female pieces that, the more you look, doesn’t resemble a flesh and blood woman at all.

Don’t believe me? Get naked and try to assume her position.

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Glories Of The City Dump

When I was a kid there was a place that affected me like metal drawn to a magnet, our town’s very own Disneyland—the City Dump.

Like many boys, I looked forward to our annual trip to this place of riches and enchantment. The visit was preceded by Mom telling Dad it was time to clean out the garage because it was getting difficult to squeeze the car inside. It was a mystery to me how she knew this since she didn’t drive, but before long Dad would be cleaning out the garage and borrowing grandpa’s old pickup for the journey to junk nirvana.

A trip to the dump was anticipated like Christmas morning. I usually brought along my best friend, Ricky Delgado, who loved the dump almost as much as I did, not that Ricky looked forward to Christmases. His dad was usually incarcerated during the Holidays and Ricky had to settle for a package arriving from The Farm, a polite term for prison. Ricky’s dad was good with his hands and the Delgado kids would be treated to an assortment of handmade leather goods. Many times I’d watch Ricky fondling a new wallet embossed with the noble profile of an elk or lion and wish my Dad was an alcoholic so he could go to The Farm and make me a cool wallet.

When the time neared for our annual trip, Ricky and I would talk about the dump for hours, fantasizing over items we hoped to find on our next trip, things like Nazi flags or Civil War bayonets. Maybe we’d find a magic lamp with a genie inside, or a golden Spanish doubloon or pieces of eight, not that we ever found anything valuable. Once I found a mayonnaise jar filled with polished agates and Ricky found a broken water rocket he thought he could fix, but it was the quest for riches that attracted us most.

There were bottomless craters with castoff treasure beside mountain-size piles of discarded booty. A cloud of seagulls hung perpetually over the place and added to the unique smell, the third best smell on Earth, right behind bakeries and pet stores, a delightful smell that stuck to us like caramel on an apple. Dad had his hands full keeping me and Ricky from hauling home more stuff than we started out with.

When we returned home, Mom would send Ricky home and order me into the shower to wash off what she called, “The stink of the Dump.” I’d toss my clothes in the hamper beside the washing machine, but before stepping into the shower I’d give my shirt one last sniff.

A year would pass before I’d get another dose of this scent of paradise.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

You Told Us Where To Go

In January I asked my fellow bloggers to help me and Mrs. Chatterbox figure out where to go on our next vacation. We’ve been to some interesting places, but our last trip was cancelled by the State Department. We received wonderful suggestions on one of my most popular posts: Your Chance To Tell Me Where To Go, which you can check out (Here).

We seriously considered staying within our own borders and availing ourselves of our fabulous National Parks, but in the end our spirit of planetary curiosity won out. In May we’re packing our bags and setting off to Turkey. As many of you know, I’m interested in all things related to ancient Rome, and Istanbul, formerly Constantinople, was once the Capital of the Roman Empire. We also plan on visiting the ruins of Troy and Ephesus, the capital at Ankara, and the fairy chimneys of Cappodocia. I hope to take a picture of Mrs. C. on a camel (or at least getting spit on by one) somewhere along the way.

Thanks again for all those great suggestions. A few of them are now on our bucket list for the future.

Friday, March 9, 2012

The Birds And The Bees

Excerpt from my memoir The Kid in the Kaleidoscope:

When I was thirteen my best friend Ricky Delgado asked me, “What do you think of Sally Perkins?”

“Sally Perkins? I dunno. Why do you ask?” Sally lived three houses down. When she was five or six, she pulled her pants down over by the lamp post. I hadn’t thought about her much since then.

“Do you think she’s cute?”

“I guess so.”

“Don’t you think she has nice boobs?”

I hadn’t noticed that Sally Perkins had boobs, nice or otherwise. “I guess so.”

“My old man tried to give me ‘the talk’ last night,” Ricky said. “God, was he ever lame.”

“The talk?”

“Yeah, you know—the talk. That shit about the birds and the bees.”

“Oh, that,” I said, trying to sound knowledgeable.

Dad had attempted to give my older brother David the talk a few years earlier and David still laughed about it. My time had yet to come.

“Isn’t it hard to imagine your parents doing it?” Ricky asked.


“C’mon. I swear to God, sometimes you’re stupider than Hollowhead.”

That was saying a lot. Andy Hollingsworth, who lived across the street, was the closest thing we had to a village idiot. He couldn’t build a model airplane without gluing his hands together.

“I’m talking about sex!” Ricky said, an edge of exasperation in his voice. “Can you imagine your folks doing the ‘deed?’” He’d recently struck the coup de grace to my childhood by explaining the mechanics of human reproduction to me. I was still in a state of shock.

I had difficulty imagining my stern-faced mother smiling, much less having sex. As for Dad; his ability to vanish when my mother was in one of her foul moods (Dad's Disappearing Act) made it unlikely he could keep anything firm enough for sex. No, I couldn’t imagine my parents doing the “deed,” and I told Ricky so.

We were sitting under the sycamore tree in our front yard. He spat out the blade of grass dangling from the corner of his mouth and asked, “Have you checked the top drawer in their bedroom?”

“Why would I do that?”

Ricky looked around to be sure nobody was watching, then fished something out of his pocket. “I don’t suppose you know what this is?” He didn’t wait for a response. “It’s a condom, for sex, when you don’t want the girl to get preggers.”

“You found that in your parents’ top drawer?”

“Yeah, right near a tube of some cream shit. You can find interesting stuff in your parents’ top drawer,” added Ricky, “you should check it out sometime.”

A few days later, my folks went to check on Grandma who was having trouble managing her diabetes. David was off somewhere campaigning for class president. I had the place to myself.

I entered my parents’ bedroom, and just stood there, giving my courage time to percolate. There was only one dresser in the room—I figured it was my mother’s since it didn’t look like anything Dad would use. I opened the top drawer and prowled around. It was definitely my mother’s dresser; Dad’s things were probably in an Army surplus footlocker in the garage.

At first I was relieved to find nothing interesting. Underwear and nylon stockings but no condoms or tubes of goo. Then something caught my eye—a book.

I can laugh about it now, but back then I shuddered at what I’d found. Far worse than a sex toy or a package of condoms—a library book, one of those titillating bodice-ripper romances. The title was splattered in bright colors across the tattered dust jacket: Slave Queen of Tunisia. A picture showed a sultry vixen clutched tightly in the arms of a muscular sultan, whose bare breasts were nearly as big as hers.

With the book in hand, I dashed back to my room and scoured the pages as quickly as I could. I paused to read sex scenes written with an abundance of poetry, but with enough heat to convince me that Ricky’s description of human reproduction was more or less accurate.

Some of the steamy passages fired up my adolescent furnace, but icy water rained on my parade when I noticed the last date stamped on the check-out card. Ricky had explained how long it took for a woman to “pop a bun out of her oven,” and this unreturned library book had been checked out on the eighth of March in 1952—nine months before I was born.

My hands felt like they were burning as I jammed the seemingly red-hot book back into my mother’s dresser drawer. Now I knew the bitter truth; in spite of my best efforts to think otherwise, my parents had actually done it. Now my mind was polluted with a vision of my conception—Mother lying flat on her back as turbaned Dad worked up a sweat to satisfy her, a distracted look on her face as she absentmindedly leafed through her copy of Slave Queen of Tunisia.

My innocence disappeared like piss in a swimming pool.

How did you learn about the Birds and the Bees?