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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Observing Sweden - Metric


I’ve had more than one problem

with Swedish electric

but none are so constant

as dealing with metric.


There’s meters and liters

and Celsius degrees

I’ve learned that it’s zero

when things start to freeze.


the voltage here’s different

it’s set at 220

when hooked to 110

the result is not funny.


My monitors know

and accept either kind

one computer that couldn’t

the junkyard will find.


another thing new

that does not make me smile

is ten kilometers

make one Swedish mile.


There’s so much to learn

and so little time

I shouldn’t be wasting it

writing this rhyme.


Monday, August 26, 2013

Observing Sweden - Culture Shock - Part 1

I’ve been in Sweden six months, half a year. Almost September now, a good time to review. I have made minor progress, have a doctor, and a dentist, (more about health care later).

        Driving is still a challenge. I’m okay, but not really comfortable. I can find my way home from downtown, go the mall and supermarket. The roundabouts still feel like concrete roulette wheels, with my car playing the part of a ball. But I am patient, willing to wait, or even miss a chance or two to enter. I’m feeling more confident and have even inquired about taking the driver’s test. See photo below.


        Nine books: You and I in Traffic, Road Signs & Road Markers, Road Sign Summery (Test), Guide on the Road (Practice Assignments), Home Assignments, Engines Test, and last but not least, Study Nerd (300 pages). The mind boggles, but my Stateside license is good for a year. I have time.

 Doing The Math:

        Even the time is different here. They’re using military time, like airports. It makes sense, but still . . . so different. Movie starts at 19:30. Damn. What’s 19:30? Subtract twelve. Not hard to figure out, but not reflexive. Have to do the damn subtraction.  I want it to be simply 7:30. You don’t need to tell me if it’s dark or daybreak. I’m an analog man in a digital world.

            The Metric system is another change. Not bad to work with, but still unfamiliar. I still have to covert kilometers to miles in order to get a feel for distance. I keep forgetting if a meter is more or less than a yard.

            I know twenty degrees Celsius is above freezing, but that’s about it.  I almost remember the formula for conversion. Is it 5/9 × C + 32, or 9/5 × C = 32? I used to teach this to my high school students . . . years ago. When you don’t use it, you lose it. Easier to go outside than do the math. It’s nice today, sun shining, 80 degrees Fahrenheit.  Best summer in many years they say. Global warming?

Friday, August 23, 2013

Chicken Crossing

Cleaning out My Docs today and found this, must be from ten or fifteen years ago. No idea who created or where I saw it, the New Yorker maybe.


We don’t really care why the chicken crossed the road. We just want to know if the chicken is on our side of the road or not. The chicken is either with us or it is against us. There is no middle ground here.

I invented the chicken. I invented the road. Therefore, the chicken crossing the road represented the application of these two different functions of government in a new, reinvented way designed to bring greater services to the American people.

The chicken’s habitat on the original side of the road had been polluted by unchecked industrialist greed. The chicken did not reach the unspoiled habitat on the other side of the road because it was crushed by the wheels of a gas-guzzling SUV.

To steal a job from a decent, hardworking American.
RUSH LIMBAUGH don’t know why the chicken crossed the road, but I’ll bet it was getting a government grant to cross the road, and I’ll bet someone out there is already forming a support group to help chickens with crossing-the-road syndrome. Can you believe this? How much more of this can real Americans take?
Chickens crossing the road paid for by their tax dollars, and when I say tax dollars, I’m talking about your money, money the government took from you to build roads for chickens to cross.

No one called to warn me which way that chicken was going. I had a standing order at the farmer’s market to sell my eggs when the price dropped to a certain level.No little bird gave me any insider information.

Because the chicken was gay! Isn’t it obvious? Can’t you people see the plain truth in front of your face? The chicken was going to the “other side.” That’s what they call it-the other side. Yes, my friends, that chicken is gay. And, if you eat that chicken, you will become gay too. I say we boycott all chickens until we sort out this abomination that the liberal media whitewashes with seemingly harmless phrases like “the other side.”

To die. In the rain. Alone.

I envision a world where all chickens will be free to cross roads without having their motives called into question.

In my day, we didn’t ask why the chicken crossed the road. Someone told us that the chicken crossed the road, and that was good enough for us.

Isn’t that interesting? In a few moments we will be listening to the chicken tell, for the first time, the heartwarming story of how it experienced a serious case of molting and went on to accomplish its life-long dream of crossing the road.

It is the nature of chickens to cross the road.

It was a historical inevitability.

This was an unprovoked act of rebellion and we were quite justified in dropping 50 tons of nerve gas on it.

To boldly go where no chicken has gone before.

You saw it cross the road with your own eyes! How many more chickens have to cross before you believe it?

I have just released eChicken 2003, which will not only cross roads, but will lay eggs, file your important documents, and balance your checkbook and Internet Explorer is an inextricable part of e-Chicken.

Did the chicken really cross the road or did the road move beneath the chicken?

I did not cross the road with THAT chicken. What do you mean by chicken? Could you define chicken, please?

And God came down from the heavens, and He said unto the chicken, “Thou shalt cross the road.” And the chicken crossed the road, and there was much rejoicing.

I missed one?

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Buckminster & Amber - The Bucks Part 5

The Bucks     Part 5

That next week Ambette heard about the sale and as you might expect, demanded piece of the action.
           “I’ll give you a thousand sardines,” he told her, “tinned. I only got ten thousand for it, and I gave Katesse five hundred. He’s been having a bad year.”
          “He’s having a bad life,” Ambette sniped.
          “A thousand sardines is a generous offer. You slept though most of the pose.”
          “It doesn’t matter. I allowed you to capture my feline spirit. That’s what made your work the talk of Paris. You couldn’t possibly be stupid enough to sell it for ten. I heard you sold it to the Count, that pompous Persian whose been sucking up to President Katoleon and his friends.”
          “I didn’t have a choice, Ambette. He’s going to give it to Katoleon.”
          “Oh, I see. What did you name my painting?”
          Right, her painting. “Ambette’s Amnesia,” he told her. “You should be grateful. A thousand sardines is—”
          “I don’t see why you didn’t just call it, Ambette. That would have given it more class. You should make copies, do some fast stuff . . . dry brush.”
          “I don’t chew my cabbage twice.”
          “Yeah, right. Whatever. Does the Count know I’m the one who posed? I am the painting’s soul.”
          “He knows your name.”
          “Well, I suppose at least that’s something. Where are my sardines?”
          “They’re here, in the back room.”
          “Okay. I’ll send a friend to pick them up. Catch your act later.” Ambette winked seductively and left, swishing her tail. She had a nice tail, but not much between the ears.

*       *       *
          Ambette became well known, the toast of the Left Bank. Much sought after. A French play pussy, party kitten, subject of discussion in the absinth parlors and salons inhabited by the Parisian rich and famous—where my painting had been focus of attention not so long before. Go figure. That’s the way kats are. Throw ‘em some fancy fur and you’ve got their full attention.

          Ambette got Katesse to pay her 250 sardines for a two hour pose. Outrageous, but it worked out well for them. The painting wasn’t much, La Belle, they called it. Just a dry brush, but it sold for a good price. Ambette got half of course.

La Belle at Arch of Givry

          Katesse’s painting gave Ambette more fame and glory. She was sought after by royalty and played lovers like a pinball machine, bouncing from one to another. She died her coat a different color every week and frequented the most expensive bistros and exclusive cabarets. She was often seen with the Count, dining on French fried rat, boiled squab, imported mouse meat, drinking absinth . . . snorting catnip. Anything she wanted. She became a legend in her own mind.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Observing Sweden 19 August 2013

The Sleep of Reason

We went to another historical event in Säter this weekend. The last asylum, opened 1912, closed 1967. Inmates fell into three categories: the calm, the dirty and dull, the unreliable.

        There was a gallery of artwork done by long-gone patients; amateurs with less than average talent. There were lots of portraits, a few buildings, trees and cows, that sort of thing. I expected to see a lot of emotion, but the drawings were bland . . . flat. Maybe that was the emotion.  This one stopped me.

Feels so sad, aloneness . . . emptiness. There was a farm patients worked.  Poor Lars.

            There were the usual torture devices, restraints . . . A tub tie down for the agitated and disturbed. ‘Continuous Bath,’ the treatment was called. Patients were immersed in room temperature water for half a day . . . or more.

            They used electroshock. I watched an ongoing black and white film of some guy getting the juice . . . jerking around like one of those old dancing knee puppet kids used to have. A teacher I once taught with had shock treatment as a teenager. He escaped from where he was somehow, and hitchhiked from Seattle to Los Angeles. How do we survive these things . . . ? Most of us do.

            They were using all this in the States as well, of course. These asylums were a great improvement, state of the art. The best care possible. They were clean, with patients under nonstop observation and care. Nobody got hurt beyond the occasional lobotomy.

            I passed a lace making machine on my way out. Had no idea what it was at first. My wife did. Seems amazingly complex. You can see a narrow strip of lace coming out at the top center of the device.

        These scales were in the kitchen. Such amazing craftsmanship, the detail, from a time when there was lots of time, no cell phones or TV.


          Now we have psychotropic drugs, and no asylums. There are 40 buildings here. The well kept grounds are like a park, picturesque rolling lawns and trees. Reminded me of something I once read, about a man sitting on a comfortable chair, in a beautiful garden. It’s a perfect, sunlit, summer day, and he’s losing his mind and knows it, feels it crumbling away. Now we have drugs, you can lose your mind without noticing it.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Buckminster & Amber 71 - The Bucks Part 4

There was this fat kat they called, Count Tolstoy, an overweight Persian who was very rich. I’d bumped into him at Theater de Varieties.
       “Monsieur Buckminster,” he regaled me. “Oh, it is so fortunate we have met at last. I hear so much about this magnum opus you have now produced. I beg you to come by your studio tonight. Just one short look would make my life complete.”

       “Yes, of course, why not.” Admirers of my work were not that hard to come by, but as was already said, the kat had money.

*   *   *
        It was after midnight when I heard his pawsteps climbing up the stairway to my loft. Tolstoy seemed exhausted when he entered, but strode quickly to the painting and stood breathless, gazing frozen with ecstatic wonder.

       “Is magnificent,” he finally gasped. “I must have it, for a gift. I will myself present to our beloved president, Louis Katolean. What could be your price I wonder. I can pay . . . Ten thousand sardines! Is more than fair.”

       Is less than half of what it’s worth, I’m thinking. There’s no way. . . .

      “Beloved president will be so happy,” he continued. “And for you, such honor. All of Paris will be at your paws.”

       It was an offer I could not refuse. The count had powerful, political connections that could make or break careers, or even put a kat in prison.

       “Is it possible for me to meet this creature who is subject for this work of art?” he asked. “Your source of inspiration?”

       Kats like me are long on intuition, and I had a feeling this would not be for the best. “Umm, I don’t know,” I told him. “And it really doesn’t matter, does it? You can hardly see her face; it’s so abstracted, and she’s not so much to look at. Meeting her would serve no purpose, Count. I’m sure . . .”

       “Non, mon ami. Is most important.”

        Right. I didn’t want to tell him, but . . . “Her name’s Ambette, I think. I’m not sure where she lives. She’s just, how should I say, a fille catin.”

       “Is of no matter. I must find her. S’il vous plaît. I must know more.”

       “She hangs around the Arch of Givry when the tide is low. You might look there.” I figured she might glean a few sardines from the count. For her, one kat was like another.

       “Ah, you are so kind, as well as talented, Monsieur Buckminster. I will send my servants with sardines tomorrow, packed in tins of course. They will transport your painting to my place of residence.”

       I didn’t want to let the canvas go, or give him Ambette’s name, but there was nothing I could do. 

Ship Paindting 
Rare Photo of Tolstoy’s servants packing Amnesia for transport.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Buckminsdter & Amber 70 - The Bucks Part 3

The Bucks


That next morning: Shaft of golden sunlight spilling through the skylight. Dust motes danced like a Brownian movement toward madness.  I remembered painting Ambette, but could only see the backside of my easel from the bed. I got up, arched my back and stretched, then made a bowl of coffee before padding over to the still wet canvas, wondering what I’d ended up with. 

          I was stunned. It was a masterpiece. Most of my work was good, much of it great, but this . . . A gift from heaven sure to find a haloed place inside Musée du Louvre. I named the work, Ambette’s Amnesia, and it soon became a major topic of discussion in the most influential artistic soirées.

          “Blotches of color that fascinate and hold the eye like a Swedish garter belt,” Degas commented in Le Figaro. “Buckmister’s broken colors and loose brushwork reflect the transitory nature of this image.”
             One week later things went sideways.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Buckmminster & Amber 68 The Bucks Starts Here - Part 1

I felt sorry for Amber . . . a kat of the streets in Paris, 1850. I could understand her need for absinth. She’d had a difficult childhood and was leading a difficult life with no skills and little to work with other than her body. She had one of those for sure, and used it when she had to.  Between customers she was grateful for a warm, dry place to sleep . . . extremely grateful.
        She was a good model and could hold still for long periods of time, the second thing she was good at. I paid her a few centimes to sit for me once or twice a week. It was a convenient arrangement for both of us.
        Katesse and me had a loft near the Barriére d’ Enfer. We were both artists. Katesse was good, a bit eccentric, mad perhaps, but he created a style that would be imitated by Jackson Pollack many decades later. He was ahead of his time.
Misfortune does not have to wait for Kat who is ahead of time.
        I too, was on the cutting edge, but more successful and will tell you more about that later . . . or should I begin my story now?

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Remembering Buckminster Fuller

Remembering Buckminster Fuller

 It was 1957, my sophomore year at Southern Illinois University. Buckminster Fuller took up residence at Carbondale on invitation from the design department. We were told not to worry about the hours-long lectures he was known for. He had a kidney problem and would need to use the restroom frequently. It did not work out that way.
            He was a stocky little guy with glasses that seemed inches thick, secured by rubber bands around the back side of his head. His belt was hidden underneath A bay window that would melt away in later years. I liked him at once, we all did. Bucky was without pretension, smiling, energetic, eager to begin. He stood before a blackboard with a box of colored chalks and spoke three hours nonstop that first day . . . stream of consciousness. His subjects orbited around us, sometimes three or four at once. To think too deeply into any one of them meant losing track of others.
            I got lost a lot; we all did. He kept multiple ideas in the air, a mental juggler, arms and hands creating a ballet of gesture as he spoke. One theory would be sketched in red, another blue, others in green and white, laid out on of top of one another to display their esoteric relationships. After a while the blackboard would begin to vibrate and sometimes spontaneous optical illusions would occur.
            Bucky owned a car back then, his last before he gave them up. It was a black, four-door Citroen, one of those air/oil suspension jobs with capability to raise itself six inches higher off the ground by pumping oil into hydraulic lifters.
*     *     *
            One evening, at a restaurant off campus, I saw Fuller and his wife. They had just finished dinner, and I stopped to say ‘hello,’ somewhat embarrassed to assail him in a public place. He seemed to have so little time to call his own. As usual he smiled his eyes as big as billiard balls behind his heavy lenses. Fuller asked me to sit down. His wife, Anne, nodded her consent. I did, and we began to talk about his car.
            “Would you like to take a ride in it, old man?” he asked.
            “I would.” I would have given anything I had for such a moment.
            Bucky paid their check and we walked out into a warm midsummer night. The car sat like a gleaming cockroach in the gravel parking lot.
            “Get in,” he gestured to me as his wife climbed in the back. I had a feeling she’d been through this more than once. He pulled out onto the highway. It was straight and flat for ten miles going east from Carbondale toward Crab Orchard Lake and what was generally referred to as the boondocks.
            “The acceleration’s really quite remarkable,” said Fuller as he put the pedal to the floor. The ‘G’ force sucked me back into the seat as seconds later we were doing ninety. Bucky felt that speed was inherently safe in the long run. He reasoned fast moving objects occupy any given space less time than a slow one. That was why atomic particles did not run in to one another. But atomic particles do not wear glasses thicker than the bottom of a coke bottle. I glanced back at Mrs. Fuller who sat calm as Whistler’s Mother, gazing out the window as we hurtled down the highway.
            As we drove he rambled on about the ‘haves and have nots,’ a continuation of a lecture he had given us that day.
            “There’s a showdown coming, don’t you know, old man. Around the year 2000 . . . Simply has to happen. We will either end this thing that is consuming us, or it will destroy itself. It’s really just that simple.” Bucky smiled, quick little grin. The moonlight glittered on his glasses.
            “Show me a rough road, old man. Ah! There’s one.”
            Bad choice. I was going to let it pass. I was familiar with the back roads, having used them for romantic interludes on more than one occasion.  The one he’d found was meant for tractors.
            “Hold on,” Bucky warned. He hit the brakes. “They’re power, you know. Quite good, eh?” Fuller beamed. The screaming tires cut a sonic tunnel through the quiet country night as we slid forty yards without the slightest deviation from our course. When we’d come to a full stop he turned into and narrow side road and he flipped a switch. There was a hum as the Citroen raised itself six inches higher from the ground, then Bucky hit the gas again and we were very quickly doing sixty miles an hour. You couldn’t see the bottoms of the holes in front of us. I wondered if he even saw the holes.
            “This road is pretty bad,” I ventured.
            “That’s alright, old boy. It’s quite all right, don’t worry.”
            I was worried and imagined headlines in the next day’s paper, Buckminster Fuller killed with student passenger. Wife survives tragic accident on country road. I turned to look at Anne. She seemed a little bored.
            There was no feeling as we hit the holes and rocks, but I could hear the tires as they took massive hits, dull thuds, pum, pum, pum, pum . . . kabum! We seemed to float above the surface, rocking slightly as the undercarriage thumped in agony below. The trees flew past us, random branches scraping windows.
            “Really something, isn’t it old man?” said Bucky.
            “It sure is,” I replied. “Amazing.”
            He continued with his dissertation as we caromed down the road from hell. At last we slowed. He found a wide spot big enough to turn the car around as he said, “Greed is an infection caused by exposure to other consciousnesses who are affected, and who infect others.”
            This was little more than theory to me then, I’d just turned twenty, but his words would morph into a hard reality years later . . . unforgotten as this ride. We started back. Ten minutes later we were where we began. He pulled into the parking lot.
            “Good show,” he said as I got out. “I didn’t scare you did I?”
            “No sir, it was very interesting. It’s quite a car.”
            “Yes, isn’t it. Well, see you tomorrow old man.”
            I watched as Anne got back in the front. They drove away, but he’s stayed with me all these years. Without a doubt one of the most incredible man I have ever met. A truly great and selfless human being . . . arguably the most unappreciated genius of our time.
Fuller’s place under construction. Carbondale 1957