Wait, those belt buckles DON’T attract the chicks?

Damn.

When the time comes for my life to flash in front of my eyes, I know that at least one of the images is going to be me, at age 11 or so, kneeling on the bunk at Camp Ockanickon staring with slack-jawed fascination at an amazing picture on the back of a cheap, glossy magazine.

I’ve forgotten what the magazine was (probably Playboy, or one of the other Mostly Harmless titles issued to YMCA summer-camp counselors to hide under their bunks) or even what was in it (though I seem to remember some ads for hypnosis books, ready to grant the purchaser terrible and fascinating skills), but I sure remember that back cover. The moment my eleven-year-old eyes saw it, my world lurched and shifted. That picture introduced me to what it would be like to be an adult.

(Just to cut away from the breathless tone for a moment: it was a Rumple Minze ad, showing a chick in a metal bra holding a sword while riding a polar bear. There was probably an eyepatch involved.)

Okay, back to the reverence: This image, with an audible “splash”, sank deep into my subconscious. The ripples still surface on a daily basis. It’s down there right now, down there with the “mexican horny toad” in a box from Spencer’s Gifts at the Exton Square mall, and the giant silver-colored “Ass, Gas, or Grass: Nobody Rides for Free” belt buckle from the Downingtown Farmer’s Market. That image opened, to me, the world of what being an adult was like — a world of high, craggy peaks, muscular, no-nonsense women, and the steely-eyed, mustachioed rebels whose pewter belt buckles caught their one-eyed gaze, and whose knowledge of sugary liqeurs won their fierce hearts, beating hot underneath their chilly, inadequate metal lingerie.

In other words, a load of crap, but it was too late: I had imprinted on that world, and now it’s irrevocably a part of me. Down to the mustachio.

Every now and then, I’ve tried to find that ad, but Google searches for “eyepatch chick polar bear tantalizing visions of adult life” have come up negative. Until finally I caught on to Mark Frauenfelder’s occasional references to the master of the genre: Frank Frazetta. Frank Frazetta, painter of a thousand sci-fi novel covers. Frank Frazetta, burnisher of a million pimply teenaged imaginations. Frank Frazetta, whose museum opens May 1st in East Stroudsburg, PA, allowing access to “…masterpiece works like Death Dealer, Silver Warrior, Conan the Barbarian and more.”

Holy cow, a hajj back to the adulthood I used to imagine. Kate and I have tentatively mapped out a plan where each of us takes a short enrichment trip once a quarter so we’ll have some new stuff happen to talk about. Sadly, what I’ll have to talk about is Frank Frazetta paintings, and the memories they stir up of the mysterious, saucy, and now-vanished Downingtown Farmers’ Market, purveyor of cheap butterfly knives, dragon-shaped nunchuckau, and “Save gas, fart in a jar” bumper stickers. Ahh, adulthood.

Next post: Frazetta as a broken signpost: why adult life is actually more awesome (though with fewer polar bears.)

Wait, those belt buckles DON’T attract the chicks?

You can never park in the same spot twice.

On Saturday, Kate went with her fiber posse to a yarn rally, which I think is one of the warm-up events to the big one coming up in May. I had some more “yarn rally::motorcycle rally” comparisons in here, but they weren’t coming across as clever — by now, it’s pretty obvious to me that these two hobbies and the social life that surrounds them are very similar except for some details (reek of: {lanolin | gasoline}, chromed: {exhaust pipes | thimbles }, use of: {GPS units | “ketcha-ketcha” row counters }.

Plus, I now know how much specialized knowledge, technology, skill, and expensive materials go towards making, say, a fisherman’s sweater. If you are a knitter or are married to one, you’ll know what I mean — making a fisherman’s sweater, in skill, duration, effort, and materials, is roughly equal to building your own canoe. I realized a while ago from looking over Kate’s shoulder at some of the history of this stuff that knitting, and other “women’s work” wasn’t about the comfort added after the menfolk had provided for everyone’s survival. Without a high-tech, high-materials, high-investment fisherman’s sweater, your 1700s fisherman’s ass would be frozen, drowned, dead, and washed up on the shore unidentified because the patterns sewed into the sweaters acted as dog tags, too. Even though my hobby has to do with hot things and loud noises, Kate has the more primeval hobby — I’d have to be in the back yard hunting squirrels with a fire-blackened spear if I wanted to keep up. So the existing state of affairs is good news for everybody, especially the squirrels, I guess.

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Anyhow, while Kate was off protecting the safety of the species, her dad and I were in the back alley on a beautiful, sunny day. Bob is re-fiberglassing my fender and my battery covers and I was rebuilding both my carburetors, a job which involves using caustic chemicals to transfer thirty years’ worth of oily grease from small brass objects to your own fingernails. Kate’s brother Matt and his friend Kristen showed up from NYC, and so we all walked into the center of town to have lunch — Bob with his flip-flops, Kristen in her red leather stiletto heels (she works for Dolce and Gabbana, and the ability to walk miles, on bricks, in stilettos, is apparently one of the super-powers you get), and Matt in red checkerboard Vans, with a chihuahua on a leash named Katherine that he’s fostering. And Lydia on her tricycle, which she’s incredibly proud of and twists the grips on when she climbs on it. This was a high point of the weekend, as it made me feel like possibly Lydia has been born into one of those entertainingly eccentric English families where the child is going to grow up and be Important and also Stylish.

On Sunday, Lydia had her very first Easter egg hunt. It has come to my attention, though hearing stories of many of my relatives’ and acquaintances’ approach to Easter egg hunts, that this ritual is an important indicator of developing personality, kind of like a toddler SAT or something. Lydia, I am delighted to report, ambled around the back yard expressing surprised delight when she saw each little stack of jellybeans sitting on a rock, and did not start demanding that we initiatiate a full perimeter search with grid lines.

Also on Sunday, Kate finished the hand quilting on a quilt she’s been working on for eight years. Eight years! Forget about a canoe, this is her DeLorean with a working flux capacitor in it. And just to continue that theme, I buttoned my bike back up and oh hallelujah it started and runs pretty well even before it’s been tuned, and so now I can start attaching the tripod mount to the sidecar in preparation for upcoming Guerilla Drive-In showings this summer.

The only fly in the ointment is that SEPTA has finally gotten wise to the three parking spots in the Exton train station that didn’t have a corresponding coin slot, so two years’ worth of free train parking is now over. They’ve repainted all the parking spots slightly smaller, with an especially bright, vehement yellow where magic spots 101, 102, and 103 used to be (now spots 59, 60, and 61.) SEPTA is unable to dampen my good spirits, though. Happy Easter, fare collector! Happy spring, SEPTA!

You can never park in the same spot twice.

Drop thy pen and reach for the sky, Friend.


Kate was an overseer at a friend’s wedding this weekend. At a Quaker wedding, the overseers have a couple of very important jobs, not least of which are:

  1. Select, buy, and show up with at least three or four archival pens for people to use when signing the marriage certificate, and
  2. Stand by the marriage certificate after the ceremony and:
    • Keep the stockbrokers in the meeting from whipping out their own screw-cap gold-nib pens, full of non-archival ink in the wrong color, and
    • Keep people from signing down the columns, instead of across (then you end up with a ragged list of names), and
    • Keep people from signing as “mister and mrs.”, since by tradition each member of the meeting signs their own name, and generally
  3. Act like dime-novel Quaker detective Old Broadbrim on behalf of the couple, who will have to look at the damn thing on the wall for (hopefully) the rest of their lives.

Kate did a fantastic job, and it gave us new respect and appreciation for our own overseers. Kate and I have now each been officiants at a wedding in the last six months, and her calm, organized style was in big contrast to my own Bronte-style showboating (in retrospect, saying “…let them speak now, or forever hold their peace…”, then counting out five long seconds while the congregation waits for the sound of hoofbeats coming over the hill was probably not my brother’s favorite part of his ceremony last September.)

Anyhow, both the bride (who now translates Russian for NASA: coolest. job. ever.) and the groom (who is Russian, and does something with computers and astronomy and is busy Catapulting Humanity to the Stars) were really lovely, and the wedding was great, and OMG the food!, and Kate and I got to dance and we had a great time.

Still Life with Grimy ToothrbrushThen I even got to spend some time scrubbing my carburetors while teaching Lydia to pronounce “needle jet” and “intake manifold”, so all in all it was a fantastic weekend.

I’m gonna go try and find more Old Broadbrim stories now!

Drop thy pen and reach for the sky, Friend.

Two of the many things a Healey is good for

I’m not sure how you write about visiting a point-to-point horse race in Chester County, PA without making everyone involved sound like a pretentious jerk. Sure, there are a lot of toffs at the point-to-point, but the toffs there are of the hardy, open-air variety. For example: Kate’s dad belongs to a five-member lunch club called “the Horse”, which was formed a hundred fifty years ago or so for the capture of horse thieves. Five letters in “Horse”, five members for the last fifteen decades. See? There’s like, five directions that I could go with this, each one of which would make Kate’s dad sound like an asshole. Let’s be clear about this: Kate’s dad is not an asshole. Kate’s dad is a paragon, an exemplar, a pinnacle of mellowness and unpretentiousness, and there he is parked at the finish line of the race with Kate’s mom, her 1962 Austin-Healey, and a picnic basket, talking to his Horse friend who is wearing a needlepoint belt his wife made him with Ducati and BMW motorcycles on it. And neither of them are lawyers. Fit that in your Prizm cluster.

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So I guess that you’ll have to just take my word for it that the Brandywine Valley Association‘s Point-to-Point race is not crammed with jerks. I mean, sure, there are plenty of jerks there, all right: there are late-model Land Rovers with insufferable little running-fox hood ornaments, but there are also plenty of standard issue four-wheel-drive station wagons with eccentric hood ornaments (a fairy riding a snail…?) that don’t automatically trigger the gag reflex. And there are also plenty of fox-hunting grandmothers who think nothing of scrambling up on top of the Woody to get a better look at the action.

I guess the best I can do is this: Swallows and Amazons, not The Official Preppy Handbook.

This guy has got his schtick FIGURED. OUT.
Of course, this race marshall, with his Willys jeep, paddock boots, and ascot, is in a category by himself, and I devoted plenty of time five years ago discussing my enviousness of his finely-tuned schtick.

There were two new things this year. Well, three, if you count the weather: it was sunny and glorious for the first time in anyone’s memory. Second new thing was having a toddler there, which was wonderful: Lydia enjoyed stomping around in the dry winter grass and petting the rabbits in the kid’s tent, and Kate demonstrated the use of an Austin-Healey as a simultaneous playpen and yarn caddy, which I hope does not make me sound like an asshole when I tell you how that makes my heart thump savagely in my chest.

The third new thing is that I saw a bad fall for the first time; a horse tried to refuse the last jump and run out, but caught the chute and tumbled sideways through the air and crashed to the ground skidding on the grass in a way that was (bizarrely) reminiscent of the scene from Aliens where the extraction ship crashes to the ground and bounces towards the screen, causing Bill Paxson to run for his life. This happened about ten feet in front of me, and let me tell you, horses are big, and they move fast, and it was frightening.

Fortunately, both horse and rider were fine, and we wore Lydia out so much that she went to bed an hour early (for her) because of daylight savings, and we’re making plans to paint the house.

In a future blog post: Chester County’s favorite pastime when it does decide to go pretentious: Wyeth Worship.

Two of the many things a Healey is good for