How my fallback career as a carnie is coming along. Damn the torpedoes! MAGIC UNICORNS AHEAD

Did I mention that at my Nerdlepoint booth at the West Chester Festival of the Arts succeeded in selling exactly ZERO hand-painted needlepoint canvases encoded with unique 2D barcodes controlled by a secret password included in the kit? For the love of god, how did this product not find its audience?

I did that booth as a lark, but still, it smarts a LITTLE bit not have sold a single one. I put the remaining inventory (which is all of it) up on for sale on Etsy, and I’m going to refine my role as a carnie. No more machine-readable hand-embroidery for me, man: that fringe-market stuff is for the birds. No, this time I’m going RIGHT FOR THE JUGULAR. With temporary tattoos.

More specifically, airbrush tattoos. To be precise, using an airbrush rig that I’ve powered with a tank of compressed nitrogen. And just to be complete, here, I’ll mention that I’m going to be delivering glitter paint using this rig. Ladies and gentlemen, I’m pleased to announce that from noon to four PM at West Chester’s South Walnut Street Block Party, you can find me, Matt, and my sidecar, offering for sale for a low, reasonable price:


Let me show you the progress I’ve made so far. Pictured below are the sidecar rig (in Guerilla Drive-In mode; I’m setting up a separate table module for the tattoo rig) and the nitrogen-powered airbrush set:

Let me tell you about my boat The Tattoo Kit

Now for the designs: Matt put together three pieces of classic tattoo flash: A sailor’s fluked anchor, the ubiquitous punk “Black Flag” tattoo, and a magical unicorn with a flowing mane and stars. I sent the Illustrator files to family friend and awesome guy Dave Moroz-Henry of Barking Dog Signs. Dave used a vinyl plotter to cut stencils into Oracal 631, which is sticky sign vinyl with a light, water-based adhesive (unlike most sign vinyl, which is meant for permanent sticking to, say, a truck door.)

Here’s Dave “weeding” the prototype stencils, and Kate modeling a Black Flag stencil, through which the airbrush shoots the color:

Cutting Stencils Kate with the Black Flag stencil

Okay, NOW: with glitter paint delivered through the airbrush (or separately via a “poof” bottle, more about that later”, I’ll be able to create the following AWESOME GLITTERY DESIGNS, visualized below. Click on the unicorn to see the actual by-god glitter animation on Flickr!

Glitter paint for airbrush Unicorn Glitter Tattoo Black Flag Glitter Tattoo

YES, America! You know you want gold-colored MAGICAL GLITTERY UNICORN TATTOOS! YES, you gen-Y kiddies and sarcastic millenials, steeped in ironic duality! You KNOW you want to sport a Black Flag tattoo, traditional passport to punk legitimacy, except made SCORNFULLY ABSURD with the MySpace Glitter treatment! I will SELL you these tattoos, carefully and conscientiously applied using non-greenhouse gases, all with a background of hand-selected hair-metal music for an optimum carnie experience! With God as my witness, I WILL FINALLY BREAK EVEN ON A HOBBY PROJECT!!!

Well, maybe breaking even is a bit much to ask, given that it’s gonna rain. But if you want to come by on Saturday, Matt and I can sell you a GREAT glittery sailor’s anchor!

PS. Yes, the glittery unicorn tattoos really are magic, and I am prepared to prove it. See you there!

How my fallback career as a carnie is coming along. Damn the torpedoes! MAGIC UNICORNS AHEAD

Sycamore Anthracnose

There’s a bunch of really big, really beautiful sycamore trees on our street. Last week, they all started dropping leaves, which was… worrisome. They still have plenty of leaves, but the drifts of crumpled green leaves by the curbs have been disconcerting.

I called up West Chester’s arborist, Debbie (another great thing about West Chester — YOU CAN TALK TO THE ARBORIST), and she says that the sycamores have (gulp!)Sycamore Anthracnose. If I understood her right, this is a fungus that is always present to some degree, but under certain conditions, the fungus really flourishes, and that’s bad news for the tree.

Apparently, the conditions have been really good (for fungus) and bad (for trees) for the past year:

  • Drought last year — the effects of a drought show up in the next growing season, apparently
  • No hard frost over the winter — hard frost helps keep the fungus under control
  • Lots of rainy weather between 55 and 75 degrees — perfect fungus-growing weather (Ick!)

So naturally, the first thing we all are visualizing is what our street will look like SUDDENLY WITH NO TREES, but Debbie says that this isn’t a “ZOMG TREE AIDS!!!” type of a situation. If the conditions continue to be fungus good/tree bad, the trees would have a “slow decline”, but we can fight that with watering and fertilizer. There’s something to do with spikes, too. How do you go about watering a 100-foot Sycamore? I guess the ansswer might be “very diligently.”

Sycamore Anthracnose

Grips on the Runway: Important + Nochalant = AWESOME

IMG_0972.JPGGay Street here in West Chester is being used as a stand-in for Kalamazoo, Michigan during shooting of Marley & Me starring Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson. It comes out after Christmas, and the Kalamazoo scenes are snowy, so the crew is busy taping white Tyvek to all the sidewalks and laying white batting on all the shop awnings. It’s a night shoot, I think; they’re installing extra bulbs on one side of all the streetlights. Giant cables are lining the curbs, and big white camera cubes are parked up and down the street.

I only worked in TV movies for a couple of years (and then, only a couple of days a week), but I learned a couple of things:
Crew tribes: Grips are NOT the same as electrics are NOT the same as riggers. They get REALLY ticked off if you mix them up. Unfortunately, I’ve forgotten which is which. There are a number of subtle cues you can go by, like the grips all have cut-open tennis balls on their belt to keep their keys quiet, and riggers have lots of clothespins (also called C47s) clipped to their baggy pants. Plus, one of those groups plays a LOT of hacky-sack, and the others would not be caught DEAD playing hacky-sack. However, since I’ve forgotten, I’ll show my ignorance and call every one “Grips”

Hierarchy of the walkie-talkie: People with shoulder-mounted walkie-talkie microphones are higher on the food chain that people with belt-mounted walkie-talkies. Any higher than that, and you do NOT carry a walkie-talkie, but instead have a canvas chair with your name on it.

Electrics and their Outdoor Clothes
Outdoor Gear: Finally and MOST IMPORTANT, when the weather is bad, crew members appear to be wearing cast-off odds and ends of outdoor gear collected from the nearest army-navy store. NOTHING COULD POSSIBLY BE FARTHER FROM THE TRUTH. Grips spend all day outside, and if the weather gets bad, there’s noplace to go and change (trailers are for stars only). But you absolutely no NOT want a brand-new five-hundred dollar Gore-tex shell. No, no no — then you could be mistaken for a production assistant, or a junior producer, or another lowlife pencil-pusher. No, you must wear a SIX-hundred-dollar Gore-tex shell, but it must LOOK like a thirteen-dollar poncho from Wal-Mart. Or you must get a SEVEN-hundred-dollar Gore-tex shell, but carefully break it in in the early mornings and on weekends when NOBODY IS WATCHING YOU so that it will finally be ready to wear among your crew members.

Check out these fellows in the picture at right. The fellow oh-so-artfully leaning on the balcony of his lighting crane is wearing a pretty standard, well-broken in foul-weather jacket. But he’s at least in his forties and still in the business, so he has nothing he has to prove. It’s a solid choice. The follow in the orange jacket has a gunslinger thing going on with his fashionable orange jacket. Nice work — not too fey or expensive, but definitely badass. Now: let me draw your attention to the guy at the right. You can’t see it, but he is wearing a bright red one-piece bibbed number very similar to an Aerostich suit. It’s zipped open to the crotch, though, and covered up with a Lesser Jacket. HE doesn’t want you to notice that his job is SO PRECISE AND EXACTING AND IMPORTANT that should it rain, his foul-weather gear must allow him to stay EXACTLY WHERE HE IS for hours at a time without moving a muscle. Is he a focus puller? The primary camera operator? The MASTER EXPLODER?

If I sound jealous, I freely and cheerfully admit it’s because I am. I absolutely LOVE jobs where you get to act important and unimportant at the same time. Of course, I never think that I’m getting away with it, so my schtick is always layered with too much self-consciousness, but, you know, that’s MY cross to bear. These fellows are having a great time with their carefully handpicked gear and their nonchalant expressions, and I wish them luck. Good luck getting the shot, fellers!

PS. THe guy at the bottom left may actually be in a thirteen-dollar Wal-Mart jacket. Either that, or he’s a Zen Master of gear selection.

UPDATE: Okay, this is seriously awesome. At about 5:30, they had started spraying… something all over the street. It’s not actual snow — it doesn’t melt, and there are big bales of something in the truck getting spread around. Gay street looks like Neverland now, where parts of it are all four seasons at once. Man, now I’m really jealous — these guys aren’t just protected from the elements in their outdoor gear, they’re controlling the elements.



Grips on the Runway: Important + Nochalant = AWESOME

Life Imitates Art Imitates Ice Cream

In 1994 and 1995, I was one of two schoolteachers on the set of the Nickelodeon show The Adventures of Pete and Pete. One of the recurring characters on the show was Mr. Tastee, the mysterious, masked ice cream man whose comings and goings were as unpredictable and inscrutable as…

…well, as a real ice cream man, it turns out. For the couple of months, I’ve been trying to track down West Chester’s elusive ice cream truck. And it’s been maddening. Everyone knows about the truck in West Chester, but nobody knows, you know, where to find it. Or when. I even enlisted the help of the police, but with no luck. You’ll be out in front of your house, pulling weeds, and you’ll hear the chimes in the distance: “deedle-dee-deedle, dee dee, dee dee…” and you’ll run (no kidding RUN) around the corner, and you’ll see the square white tail end of the truck disappearing down the alley five blocks north, never to return. That happened to me two weeks in a row — the second time, Kate and I jumped in the sidecar rig and zoomed all around, but the earth had swallowed the truck up. Or it had cleverly gone through a Cannonball Run carwash and turned into a vegetable truck. Or something.

Today, the third time was the charm — we heard the chimes, and Lydia and I jumped into the car, zoomed around the corner, and picked up the truck. We followed it for three blocks, watching people coming out of their houses with money in their hands, only to be left in the dust as the truck zoomed around each corner. Lydia was delighted: “Catch it, daddy! CATCH THE TRUCK!”

I considered flashing my lights and honking my horn to ask the guy to, you know, pull over, but while I’ve been Googling on the subject of ice cream trucks, I came across this store selling supplies to ice cream truck drivers. Click on the “bumper stickers” link on that page, and you’ll see defensive, hard-bitten evidence that (apparently) everyone gives the ice-cream truck a hard time: “PLAYING THE CHIME” reads one “…IS NOT A CRIME.” “DON’T BE A WHIPPY-DIP-A-LICKY!” Sheesh, I had no idea that ice cream trucks were one of those intersections between civilized and uncivilized, between the forces of light and chaos, etc.

The truck stopped in front of two kids on the sidewalk (why them? Why these two kids?), and we parked behind it and got out. The chimes through the speaker, plus the roar of the refrigeration unit, were so loud that a man MOWING HIS LAWN stopped his gas-powered lawnmower and grimaced. Okay, I understand some of the bumper stickers now.

The ice cream truck FOUND AT LAST

Approaching the dark, mysterious window, shouting over the chimes and the roaring, diesel-powered freezer unit, I explained all about the Guerilla Drive-In, about our need for a mobile concession stand, and asked the driver for his business card. He didn’t have one, but he tore a corner from one of his posters and wrote his phone number on it. Reaching out from the shadowy interior, he smiled and handed it to me.

The driver’s name? Zeno.

Yes, Zeno, just like the Pre-Socratic Greek Philosopher that believed that all motion is an illusion, and that an arrow in flight will never reach its target. Are you FREAKING KIDDING ME? Let’s just quickly recap here:

    Zeeno's Paradox

  • The “mysterious ice cream man” is already a little bit of a cliche, but for perfectly good reasons — in an age where any nugget of information is just a Google search away, the ice cream truck is a rolling parable of asynchronous elusiveness. The ice cream truck is the exact opposite of the Internet.
  • It’s not enough just to hear the truck, or see the truck — your intention must be pure; your faith must by perfect. Or maybe you just need to be exactly at the right place at exactly the right time. This is the exact opposite of a demand-driven retail environment. With the ice-cream truck, the customer is often wrong — just a chump standing on the corner with an unspent five-dollar bill and a whiff of diesel dying in the breeze.
  • Add to that the evidence that the ice-cream man is something of an outlaw, as evidenced by the grimaces of the stolid suburban lawnmowers and the plentiful defensive bumper stickers sold to ice-cream truck drivers. Revered by some, reviled by others — hell, it’s the story of Jesse James all over again.
  • Okay, we’ve already got enough cheap irony and facile parallels here for a DOZEN blog posts, but then our ice-cream truck driver’s namesake turns out to be the AUTHOR OF THE PARADOX OF THE ARROW, which leads a part of me to actually suspect that, by cranking his truck up to thirty and zooming through town, careening around corners, he’s trying to teach us something about the unreliable evidence of our senses. I’m not even kidding, here — four times in the past two months, I’ve GLIMPSED the ice-cream truck, sometimes halving the distance between me and it — BUT NEVER QUITE REACHING IT. If there had been ice cream trucks in ancient Greece, I’m pretty sure that the “Paradox of the Arrow” would involve a soft-serve cone and the sound of chimes carried over that wine-dark sea.

A better writer than I could tie this up into a neat package both on the grand and the micro scale. E.B. White could have done it with a third the ingredients and a hundred times the impact, teaching the reader something about themself in the process, and maybe throwing in an anecdote about dogs. What do I have? The uneasy impression that — no, seriously — OUR ICE CREAM MAN IS REALLY A WARLOCK. Or a renegade philosophy professor, trying a praxis-based approach to wean us from habitual Platonic faith in the effectiveness of rational, deductive constructs.

Well, to bring things back to earth here, Zeno was a very affable bearded young man, and I have no doubt that he works DAMN hard at his job. He seemed interested in the project of mounting a GPS unit on his truck, so we can play around with an internet-enabled locator beacon. But if I do that, I’m pretty sure that I’ll just have ended up roping down a piece of mystery and making the world a little bit more mundane.

But maybe Zeno’s magic is stronger than a hundred bucks’ worth of satellite patch antenna and a Google Maps mashup. Maybe the transmitted GPS signal will show the truck as being simultaneously in every place and no place. That’s what I’d like to think will happen.

Life Imitates Art Imitates Ice Cream

Chester County Hospital May Fair

This weekend was supposed to be gloomy and rainy, but it was still sunny when we woke up this morning, so we rousted Lydia out of bed early and told her we were going to have a "surprise", and then drove down the road to the Goshen Fair Grounds for the Chester County Hospital May Festival.

Hopefully, this will mean that EVERY time we are mysterious from now on, she will think that there is a ferris wheel in the offing and will become incredibly obedient.

This is the first year that the fair has not been held in the parking lot of the Chester County Hospital, and party-pooping fishwrap Daily Local News seemed to be a huge wet blanket about the whole thing. I can’t agree, though — it was a great time!

Photo set, including obligatory “ZOMG 666” pictures, below:

Re: The Zipper... View from the ferris wheel Britney No comment
Chester County Hospital May Fair

Valhalla, Ken is coming!

(This is the followup to an earlier post, which you can find here.)

“Call no man happy until he is dead”, Herodotus quoted Solon as saying. I first heard that quote in junior high, when teenage boys are most prone to accept facile philosophical aphorisms as THE PURE AND COMPLETE TRUTH, and it scared the CRAP out of me.

For whatever reason, a part of me always worries that no matter how awesome things are, no matter how lucky I am, something so awful will come along that it’ll all seem crappy in retrospect. Maybe something awful but ridiculous, so I don’t even get the dignity of, you know, suffering manfully. Something like WAKING UP ONE DAY AND REALIZE YOU HAVE THE GHOST OF A FREDDY MERCURY MUSTACHE PERMANENTLY IMPRINTED ON YOUR FACE AND YOU ARE WORTHLESS FOR THE PURPOSE YOU’VE SERVED ALL YOUR LIFE.

This is at least part of the reason that Kate’s incredibly sad picture of the patchy, ridiculous Ken dolls she got in the bottom of an Ebay lot were so poignant to me. Call no Ken happy until he is dead, because look at those poor bastards. Who would want them?

Well, the auction has ended, and I’ll tell you who wants them. FINLAND WANTS THEM. It’s official — Patchy-head Ken and Freddie Mercury Mustache Ken are off to the land of the ice and snow, to the midnight sun where the hot springs blow, etc.

To celebrate, I made them some suitable badass Nordic accessories and took this picture, which is how I will choose to remember them:


Godspeed, you two. Say hi to the Viking kittens for me.

UPDATE: Wow, I was kidding about Findland’s ties to grim, brutal, campy death metal, and the grim, brutal, campy costumes that are worn up there. But while doing a GIS for that snow-covered-tree background behind Ken and Ken (it’s a picture of Finland), I found out about grim, brutal, campy death metal band Lordi. Oh, Lordi! Oh, Finland! IT’S ALL TRUE. (Warning: unlike the kittens video, Lordi’s website contains skulls and aluminized boobies.)

Valhalla, Ken is coming!

Sending Ken and Ken off in style

A few days ago, Kate put a couple of Ken dolls up for auction, posting a picture that was just UNBELIEVABLY sad. I think it was the startled (but resigned) expressions on the patchy, ridiculously mustachio-ed Ken dolls’ faces. Who knew the pathos of mid-life crisis could be so accurately and mercilessly captured in doll form?

In an absolutely WONDERFUL turn of events, Kate has gotten interest from Scandinavia, frozen land of adventure, where Ken dolls probably ride dragons and do battle with frost giants. Alongside one-eyed Barbies in metal bras riding polar bears, I’m quite sure.

To celebrate Ken and Ken’s new life of AWESOME ADVENTURE, I’ve made them a grim, brutal Muxtape, which you can listen to by clicking on the tape below or visiting Rock on, Ken and Ken!

Sending Ken and Ken off in style

Nerdlepoint store is up on Etsy!

My nerdlepoint shop is now up on Etsy! You can visit it at

This is the first time since the Retropod that I’ve offered something directly for sale on the web, and I hope this venture goes along more smoothly than that one did.

Etsy users, what am I overlooking? Did I make any Etsy-n00b blunders? I don’t want to make unpleasant waves among the the Gocco-printing, needle-felting hipster crafters over there, so any tips would be welcomed!

Nerdlepoint store is up on Etsy!

HOLY GRAIL T-shirt quest: MOL Shipping Alligator

About every ten years, I see a T-shirt that I SUDDENLY MUST HAVE. In 1992, I followed the J.A. Serusa Water Well Company owner’s van home in Vineyard Haven, Massachusets because their gushing-wellhead logo was SO AWESOME and it was printed with regular ink, not plastic ink. I still mourn losing that shirt. In 2001, I spotted a “Defend Brooklyn” T-shirt outside my apartment, and totally spazzed out and searched the Internet and the five boroughs until I found it for sale across the street. The “Defend Brooklyn” shirt is still in my drawer, but is now gray and dingy. I am bereft of truly awesome T-shirts.

Until now. I have found the new HOLY GRAIL shirt.

On my way to visit my client in NY about once a week, I drive right past the Port Newark and Port Elizabeth Container Complexes, which is technically not even a part of the USA, but instead is “Foreign Trade Zone 49“. The steel containers are stacked by tall cranes in enormous, tidy piles along the highway. Trucks are constantly rolling by carrying containers with exotic labels.

Yesterday, I spotted the logo for Mitsui OSK Lines (MOL), and now I MUST HAVE IT AS A T_SHIRT. Here’s a picture that Flickr user James47ag got:

Mitsui OSK Lines logo

I don’t think I can do a better job describing this logo than Flickr user “imbrettjackson” did in a comment on that photo:

“Look at his eyes – focused, alert, worried. He’s got to get this beauty out of here and back to the swamp A f***ing S A P.

And then there’s that smile: shit. Is this really happening? Oh s**t – Crocky, old boy YOU’RE SET FOR LIFE! Gotta get home. Gotta get home.

I DO believe he’d defend that package to within an inch of his life. And really – you’d want “crocodile tenacity” in your overseas cargo haulage.”

I really, really, REALLY REALLY REALLY want a T-shirt of the MOL logo now. I’m not sure how to go about it, either. Their main website, unsurprisingly, does not have a gift store with T-shirts and soda-can cozies, etc. Disturbingly, their press release section announces that they have gone to a completely vanilla “M-O-L” serif-font combination of straight and reverse type, an approach so overused that it was nicknamed “the logo of death” in the eighties. Plus, I’m not sure how wild MOL will be about random inquiries, given they’re still smarting from recent publicity about the Cougar Ace accident that led to the scrapping of 5,000 Mazda cars.

But against all that, MOL clearly has a long history of GREAT design. Check out this poster from 1926 (click for more):

Wow, and there’s lots more. It turns out that Mitsui OSK made illustrator Ryohei Yanagihara an honorary captain in 1969, and set up an online museum for his stuff. So there’s hope: especially since the Japanese version of the site shows a logo that’s starting to get familiar…

…ZOMG JACKPOT. That logo is indeed Ryohei Ranagihara’s work, created in 1967, and he talks about designing the logo here:

“I belonged to the advertising department of Suntory, and had drawn pictures for advertisements. If you were to sell whisky which would pleasantly intoxicate the drinkers, you could use a very asserting, bold idea. But my new clients were different… more or less sober businessmen. But my clients were not satisfied with [sober] motifs. They wanted something more aggressive and an amphibious character, because containers were active both at sea and on shore. So we arrived at the idea of choosing the alligator…

…The container at first was simply a silver rectangular box, which was condemned by Korenori-san as “looking like a coffin”. So I drew it in full detail into what it looks now.

The anchor tattoo on the Alligator’s arm is dandy, isn’t it?”

Okay,I’m off to Japan to get a shirt. BRB.

UPDATE! MOL turns out to be UTTERLY BADASS at handling inquiries

MOL Container LogoAt about 5PM, I used the “Contact Us” form on to say “Hey, MOL! I love your logo! Do you have T-shirts? Do you have high-res art I could use for desktop wallpaper? If you don’t sell T-shirts, could I make one?” I was FULLY expecting to hear nothing for two weeks, then a brusque form letter saying “hey, our IP is ALL RIGHTS RESERVED, crazy blogger, sincerely yours, never contact us again.”

Instead, I get three messages in the space of forty-five minutes. An “out-of-office” from the molpower webmaster, then a Blackberry message from the backup webmaster, saying “hi, I forwarded your message to corporate communications”, and then FIFTEEN MINUTES LATER I get a message from Ed Huebbe, manager of Corporate Communications. His message started out: “Dear John: I am glad to hear that you are so fond of our beloved gator. Attached are two of the highest resolution JPEGs I have available.”

My jaw was on the floor at this point. Corporate Communications, actually acting HAPPY that you like their Intellectual Property? And gladly sharing it? Has the world gone MAD?

Ed’s message just got better from there: “Sorry, we don’t have any shirts. But I don’t see why you couldn’t make one or two for yourself.” And the friendliest-worded legal request I’ve ever heard, asking me POLITELY and NICELY not to use the logo in objectionable or controversial ways, and not to use it for sale. And then he wrapped it all up with an offer to send me a gator mug if I’d give him my snail-mail address.

You might think I’m a weirdo for gushing this much about a corporate communications department. But in a medium-length lifetime so far of pestering Big Companies for information, this is the first time that one has ever acted like someone thinking their IP is cool is, you know, a good thing. And asking nicely to respect their IP, rather than acting like their Space-Based Lasers are poised to destroy me at a word from their high-priced counsel. MOL, you and your tattooed alligator both ROCK.

UPDATE TWO: Now working on MOL Gator Needlepoint
I liked the MOL gator so much, I made a needlepoint pattern of the logo, and have been stitching it up. I think it’s a fairly sailor-ly thing to do. You can follow the progress in the photoset on Flickr:

MOL Gator
HOLY GRAIL T-shirt quest: MOL Shipping Alligator