“The Greatest Generation” seems to apply to spaniels, too.

In June of 2000, after my great-grandfather’s second wife had passed away, leaving behind many of his personal effects, I came into possession of an Army Signal Corps photograph of him in full regalia (I think he used to call it the “bus driver photo.”) When I pulled the picture out of the frame, I found a number of other things in there, including a strangely affecting photo of a glossy black spaniel, together with a newspaper clipping that told of “Moppet’s” loss and the priceless wartime rations that were offered for his return.

The photograph was a beautiful studio job, even retouched in spots to touch up Moppet’s fur and add highlights to his (her?) eyes. On the back was stamped the photographer’s credentials: “GEORGIA ENGELHARD, 1211 Madison Avenue, New York, NY.” I had envisioned a posh pet-photography studio, someplace with wall-to-wall carpeting, a piano in the waiting room, and a small table holding scotch in the corner, where overstuffed society matrons went to have their lap dogs photographed by fawning, sycophantic women in severe mouse-gray suits.

Boy, was I wrong.

As you can see from the comment on my “male pantheon of Tikaro” post below, a kind reader named Rosalie let me know that: “I would hang on to the photo — Georgia Engelhard was a fairly famous person in the 20’s — Alfred Stieglitz’s niece, named for Georgia O’Keefe & a daring mountain climber. Google her for more.”

So I did, and I found out that:

“Engelhard often enjoyed a privileged place in Stieglitz’s household where she was referred to as “the Kid” or “Georgia Minor” to avoid confusion with Georgia O’Keeffe. As a child she often painted alongside O’Keeffe, and Stieglitz exhibited her drawings and watercolors at his 291 Gallery when she was only 10 years old. In her early twenties she won prizes for her equestrian skills in international competition and became an accomplished mountain climber, scaling many of the major peaks in the Rockies and the Alps.”

It turns out that Moppet’s immortalizer starred in a 1932 film titled “She Climbs to Conquer“, and is featured in a recent book entitled
Rebel Women, which I’ve just ordered from Amazon. There are also more
of her out there, all seeming to underscore the Fitzgerald-ian mythos: this is a woman that a Gatsbyan would have fallen completely (and probably unrequitedly) in love with. Was the pet photography a wartime sideline, or was my great-grandfather’s wife good enough pals with this mountain-climbing ball of fire to convince her that Moppet was a good character study?

“The Greatest Generation” seems to apply to spaniels, too.

Freud, Lacan, Leviticus, and Vincent Price

I am blessed with a hip and talented family. In addition to my UFO-hunter father written about below, I will now brag about the following other men in my family*:

  • My father-in-law. ‘Nough said.
  • My brother-in-law Matt can make a flawless Billy Idol sneer (additional points for difficulty when doing so while wearing a sombrero.) He’s also bringing punk to mod, at long last.
  • My step-brother Sam owns three Unimogs, and can select which of several different welding rigs from his arsenal to use for any particular job. When I first met him (we were both teenagers), he did this thing where he put the family cat on his head like a Napoleon hat and strutted around muttering about Jena and Waterloo.
  • My step-brother Oliver is an artist who moved out of Hollywood when his growing reputation and the whirlwhind of parties and starlets, interfered with his art. Now he lives in Milwaukee on the floor of his studio and paints legit. He also doesn’t have a driver’s license.

Today, however, the crowning male achievement in my family is my brother-in-law Tony’s Master’s thesis, “Abject Thriller”, a scholarly work examining the role of the abject in Michael Jackson’s famous werewolf video:

“Within the chorus of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” a certain ambiguity quickly asserts itself. Who is fighting for their life inside a killer tonight? Who is the beast about to strike? It is precisely because of this ambiguity that it would be difficult to find a more apt subject than Michael Jackson’s video “Thriller”, in order to explore notions of abjection. Little did one realize in 1982, that Jackson’s own career and iconic status would acquire much of the dark transformational tone that his ground-breaking video established.”

Now, while offbeat theses written by your relatives is one of the things a blogger prays for, Tony’s thesis has way more than entertainment value. He makes the following excellent points:

  1. These days, parts of Thriller can be seen as a metaphor for Michael Jackson’s subsequent life and career. Certainly, the themes in the video seem to be the central themes in Jackson’s life.
  2. Abjection is a desparate, transformative state, breaking the bounds of culture, social norms, even mental organization. It’s like being…. a werewolf!
  3. There are zombies in the video, but where are the vampires? Nowhere, probably because vampires tend to be self-controlled. Zombies and werewolves have no control over themselves or their urges

Tony does a great job of examining the role of gore in the video (and in pop culture), even quoting Leviticus to examine the dichotomy between “clean” and “unclean” and how Jackson’s gross, nail-growing transformations represent a cathartic (and repeated) breach of this divide. And then Jackson looks over his shoulder at us, the viewer, with glowing zombie eyes, asking for our tacit — or active — participation.


* Limiting to the men will keep it shorter.

Freud, Lacan, Leviticus, and Vincent Price

My Own Doc Emmet Brown. With Mind Lasers.

When I am old, and I pad my life story with outrageous lies designed to make my grandchildren think that I was a cross between Tom Swift and the Last of the Pirate Fighters*, there are a few stories that I won’t have to make up. Like how, when I was young, my dad was a professional UFO hunter, and how I would sometimes spend evenings at the undisclosed location of The Site in the foothills of Austin, Texas.

Project Starlight, as the group was named, was led by Ray Stanford, who is a really interesting guy. The group looked for UFOs, partly through psychic phenomena (hey, that seemed as reasonable in the seventies as the possibility of nanobot takeover did in the nineties), and partly by attempting contact through beaming laser messages and mathematically-encoded circles of floodlights aimed heavenwards. Here’s an excerpt from an article published in Texas Monthly, in February 1976:

“Let us review the purpose of all this equipment, which is known collectively as UFO/VECTOR (UFO/Video Experiment Console for Transitional Overt Response). Let us postulate a UFO hovering over the hills west of Austin looking for action. As soon as it is sighted, the PSI crew, each in a white suit, each with a penlight in his or her pocket, will scramble. They put on their radiation goggles; the magnetometer bleats; the light circle flashes pi pi pi; from three coordinated camera positions 35mm still telephoto pictures are taken; video signals are recorded; video data is transmitted; through the photomultiplier photos are, uh, multiplied; a soon-to-be-installed gravitometer records any gravitational effects the spacecraft might be producing; a parabolic dish with a microphone attached records the sound.”

Anyhow, you can see pictures of me hanging out at The Site, with the UFO/VECTOR equipment in the background, and lots of skinny men in tight sweaters standing around gravely examining it. (My mom shot photos for the article; I think the photos of me are from that set.)

A year or so ago, I asked my dad what he had heard about Ray, and he said that Ray was interested in dinosaurs, and had put together an outfit called “Cretaceous Tracker”, which made me fervently hope that Ray was traveling to inner Brazil in search of a Lost World plateau. Nope, Ray was legit, and has been spending time looking in Maryland streambeds for dinosaur tracks. Just this week, national newswires have been carrying the news that Ray recently published a find of some importance. Rock on, Ray!

Of course, Ray seems to have his share of skepticism (and sour grapes?), as his past is more… eclectic than many paleontologists (Cleveland Museum of Natural History flame 1 flame 2.) Ray’s 1974 plans for a time-travel device — the Hilarion Accelarator — seem in particular to strike a nerve with staid Ohio rock-hammer types.

Anyhow, I have fond memories of Ray, and the time he used to take to describe to me how a Star of David inscribed in a circle is actually a geometrically precise way to assign the loci of plasma-carrying propulsion lasers for interstellar drives (hence the importance of this sign to ancient religions.) Also, once when I was waking up screaming a lot in the middle of the night, Ray staked our house out from the middle of the street, and detected that “an entity” was shambling up out of the sewage ditch across the street and heading for my nursery wall every night, which was causing the yelling. Yikes! Ray “directed some psychic energy” to disperse the entity, solving the problem (and the night waking, apparently.)

Now, wherever that story moves the needle to on your bullshit detector, you have to admit that having a psychic-warrior mad-scientist uncle type who was willing to stake out your bedroom like a cop and fight ghosts with mind lasers is pretty damn cool. Thanks, Ray! Congratulations on the find!

The full article on Project Starlight is available from Texas Mothly here: Texas Monthly February, 1976: “Planet X! We’re Waiting For You!”

* It is my fervent hope that, when the granchildren check my references, that Kate will say “Why yes, dear, your grandfather did win my hand from my father, the bloodthirsty Pasha of the Ottoman Pirates** through single combat!” and clench her ivory knitting needles in her teeth with a glitter in her eye. One hopes to marry into this kind of family.

** I’m confident that, if asked, Kate’s dad will affirm that he used to be the bloodthirsty Pasha of the Ottoman Pirates, and that I bested him only because I swept the leg.

My Own Doc Emmet Brown. With Mind Lasers.