Minigolf Portals and Cigarette Silks

I took yesterday off from work, and we all drove out towards Morgantown and Lancaster to look at stuff in anqtique/junk shops. LBY and I ended up playing minigolf while Kate went for the bonus expert round of shop-looking. If there’s anything better than the little portals in the fabric of spacetime at minigolf courses, I’m sure I don’t know what it is:

I found a small cardboard box stuffed with cryptic, lustrous little silk ribbons. The ribbons have intricate woven designs. Each is labeled “Egyptienne Luxury” and “Factory no. 7 3rd District State N.Y.”:

Egyptienne Luxury Cigarette Silks

They fall into four groups: US states, countries, colleges and universities, and secret societies(!), like “B.R.R. Trainmen” and “Golden Fleece.”

Some Googling reveals that these are giveaways that you would get with the purchase of Egyptienne Luxury cigarettes. The factory was in New York City, which at one time had several THOUSAND(!!!) cigar and cigarette factories, which is why they were broken into tax "districts" entirely on the island of Manhattan.

Egyptienne Luxury Cigarette Silks

What a fun day!

Minigolf Portals and Cigarette Silks

Cult of the Object: Wheatley Aluminum Fly Box

My grandfather, John Randolph (“Slim”) Young, was a hell of a fellow. He was an avid fly fisherman, and belonged to a fishing club in the Poconos called the Pohoqualine Fishing Association, which I’ve blogged about before. Here he is in 1979 with my aunt Becky, relaxing in the white clapboard fishing cottage called “totem home”:

Aunt Becky and Slim

Here he is, be-suspendered, on the lawn outside Totem Home, teaching my cousin Beth and I to cast. Ten… and two! Ten… and two!


Here is my aunt Becky, looking incredibly fierce and dashing in her full fly-fishing fig, preparing to cast a dry fly upstream into McMichael’s creek. Or perhaps she’s waiting for a gaggle of Ralph Lauren photographers to arrive. Could they have been far away? I mean, come ON! Look at those hip waders! JUST LOOK AT THEM!

Aunt Becky in Hip Waders

Anyhow, the reason I posted these pictures from Flickr (you can click on them to see the set, including this picture of eight-year-old me looking just like Lydia), is because I remembered the existence of the chief, the most amazing, the BEST piece of gear in a hobby that’s almost entirely built around wonderful little bits of gear. This is the item that I would stand in the stream and play with, mesmerized. I’d take it out of my child-sized fishing vest, provided by my grandfather, and just MARVEL at it.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the richard Wheatley Spring-Loaded, Multi-Compartment Window Dry Fly Box Number 1609:


Each little window compartment has a spring behind it, and a little wire catch, so when you touch the catch, the window opens with a satisfying little “FWIP” noise. You can run a fingertp down a column of windows and “FW-W-WIP” open up three in a row. You can run TWO fingers down TWO columns and “FF-WW-IPP” open up two rows of windows. Since the box is stuffed with lots of colorful little flies, it’s the most AMAZINGLY SATISFYING THING EVER. I hadn’t thought about this box for years and years and years, and now that its existence popped into my head I REALLY REALLY want one again.

Given that JRY was an inveterate gearhead, I realized that this probably was not a cheap item. And it’s not – it’s two hundred damn dollars. And since I don’t fish anymore, I don’t even know what I’d put in there. BUT I STILL WANT IT!

Cult of the Object: Wheatley Aluminum Fly Box

Still Life With Dashing Uncle

Matt got his 1971 BSA Thunderbolt up and running yesterday, and stopped by at dinnertime. There’s a line in a Lord Peter Wimsey book where Peter produces a revolver, and immediately is upgraded in the eyes of his nephew from “genial uncle” to “Exalted Uncle”, and that’s what this picture reminds me of:

Still Life with Dashing Uncle

Matt is wearing an old-stock waxed-cotton Belstaff jacket, which I think may have been Bob’s, and of course the correct pudding-basin helmet with goggles.

Matt on His 1971 BSA Thunderbolt

The whole family comes by it honestly. Here’s a picture of Kate, Bob, and Matt after Bob won the AHRMA grand national championship of the sportsman 750 class in 1987!


Still Life With Dashing Uncle

Kitty Bo’s Rodeo Pictures

Until I was six, my family lived in Austin, TX, because my parents were Official Scientific UFO Hunters. The folks at Project Starlight were really cool; I have shadowy four-year-old’s memories of a group of tall, capable Texans in denim clothes pouring concrete, welding rebar, lighting campfires to heat up coffee, and moving heavy UFO-detection equipment around.

Kitty Bo was one of the Big Shadowy Grown-Ups that I remember especially fondly. Her blog is in my RSS feed. I love glimpsing the slices of Texas that come through when she visits the rodeo with her Chihuahua Tink, and posts pictures.

As the father of a five-year-old girl, I especially like the images of Texas girlhood she catches:

You can see a whole bunch of photos that she just uploaded here on her blog, each photo with interesting comments. Go check them out!

This is one of the things that I think is most wonderful about blogging. You get to see a different slice of the world through someone else’s eyes. But the glimpse you’re given is not delivered in a carefully curated way. When you’re reading a book, you know that the author has thought very carefully about the impression they’re going to give and you keep a weather eye out for the author’s intention. The informality and shorter timeframe of blogging — well, it’s more like you’re looking through a window with that person, than that you’re being told a story by that person. You get to enjoy the view and the company, without there being the formal contract of a narrative. Or something. Anyhow, I love Kitty Bo’s pictures and her comments.

Kitty Bo’s Rodeo Pictures

Shakers: Co-ed Nerd Monks

Kate, Lydia, Barb and I are in the Berkshires right now, staying at a nice hotel for Thanksgiving where someone else cooked the turkey. It’s really tranquil and relaxing; I got a chance to read all 955 pages of Neal Stephenson’s Anathem, which features cloistered, technology-loving ascetics living in a community separated from the outside secular world. And, given that it’s a Neal Stephenson book, they are for the most part asexual technology-loving ascetics.

So how do you do after reading a thousand pages about asexual technology-loving ascetics? Why, you visit Hancock Shaker Village, naturally!

Hancock Shaker Village

That’s a pretty labored intro, but the parallels between Stephenson’s “co-ed nerd monks” and the 19th-century Shakers goes beyond striking. Shakers started as an offshoot of Quakerism, but they placed heavy emphasis on end-times millennialism and charismatic worship. Unlike Quakers, they embraced music and dancing. They were celibate, but unlike “conventional” monasteries and convents, they didn’t wall off men from women — men and women had bedrooms on facing sides of the same halls, and carried their chairs across for nightly singalongs. They loved technology, and their community is packed with all kinds of sensible, clever, and carefully-planned labor-saving devices.

The kitchen in the ground floor of their big brick community house could have been a modern commercial food-service kitchen, except rendered in brick, marble, and iron instead of stainless steel. I am so not kidding about this: from the steam pressure cookers, to the ventilation hoods over the deep fryer, their early-1800s kitchen might as well have been a modern food-service layout.

Hancock Shaker Village kitchen

What’s most striking about this, to me, is that all this cutting-edge 1826 ingenuity was deployed by and for the women who worked in the kitchen. This is at a time when most women were cooking by kneeling at a hearth, not at high-tech ovens that are still up-to-date a hundred years later.

Shakers believed in, and practiced, total equality of the sexes — two male and two female ministers, two male and two female day-to-day work bosses — even two Christs: Jesus, and Mother Ann Lee. (Record scratch!) It’s totally obvious, looking at care and attention that the Shakers paid to both women’s and men’s work, that you don’t have to use some carefully-depreciated definition of “equal” to describe how they lived. As far as I can tell, they really and truly were capital-“E” Equal.

Hell, the Shakers invented the washing machine, which any watcher of historical-reenactment documentaries will tell you was the third messiah, at least for domestic women.

Hancock Shaker Village Sewing Room

Walking through the house is tiring, because your preconceptions about Shakers are getting smashed one after the other. I thought I knew the Shaker “austere” aesthetic, but it turns out all the floors in the building were painted bright yellow; likewise, the copious amounts of woodwork were all cheerful reds, yellows, and blues. The work rooms are set up so that folks can work in small groups, talking to each other. Everyone shared the work; just as the men’s and women’s technology was equal, so also there’s no separate, shabby “servant’s quarters”. The same care, attention, and planning has gone into space for every activity.

Hancock Shaker Village Basket Room

I had thought of Shaker lives as “ascetic”, but you have to stretch the garden-variety definition of “ascetic” pretty far when these folks are working in clean, well-lit, comfortable, and carefully-planned spaces, using excellent tools, and encouraged to use their creativity to improve those tools. Shakers improved the circular saw, and invented a vise to press round brooms (think of a witch’s broom) flat, then sew it that way in a more efficient shape (think of every other broom you’ve ever used.) The seven-hole privy had double-hung glass windows, and was neat, clean, snug, and well-lit.

The goddamn barn is practically a cathedral, with a very clever layout: centrally-ventilated haystack in the middle, cows around the perimeter. That’s more efficient than Sears mail-order barns being built a hundred years later. That doesn’t fit any definition of “ascetic” that means “uncomfortable” or “inconvenient”. It’s more… I guess, focused. Certainly not deprived.

Hancock Shaker Village Round Barn

So all in all I feel like I was disabused of a whole bunch of bad preconceptions about Shakers, including the old saw that “they died out because they banned sex HAW HAW HAW.” Shakers adopted kids, treated them pretty decently (as the kid-height furniture and the clever, humane, rhyming table-manners lessons attest), and had great commercial success selling seeds, capes, and furniture to the outside world. With just 6,000 members at their peak (and no “deep bench” of lay practitioners), maybe they never reached a sustainable mass. The whole “two Jesus” thing, which put them out in the cold as far as Christian orthodoxy goes, couldn’t have helped there. Regardless, it was a really thought-provoking visit, and piqued my interest. I’ve ordered a book containing the Shaker’s day-to-day rules, the “Millennial Laws”, and look forward to seeing what’s in there!

There are some more pictures that I took up on Flickr.

Update: I’ve been Googling around, trying to find the text of the Millenial Laws, which was the day-to-day book of practice that the Shakers used. I’m surprised that it’s not available on Gutenberg, or anything. There lots of opinions about the Shakers online, but very little primary material. Which, I suppose, stands to reason. I ordered a book that has the Millenial Laws in it. I also found Adam Gopnik’s 2006 piece in the New Yorker, which struck me as pretty flip; he explains Shaker organization with a casual “crowded poor people learn to hate disorder with a passion that for the wealthy is only a pastime”, and goes on to point out how Groucho Marx couldn’t let his peas touch his applesauce. Because of THE TENEMENTS, you know. Huh? It seems like the Shakers are everyone’s football. I’ll be interested to read some more.

Shakers: Co-ed Nerd Monks

Barb Wins!

Kate’s mom Barb McIlvaine Smith won a narrowly-contested election in 2006, taking the 156th district seat in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives by about 28 votes. This after a recount that lasted six weeks, all while Bob had been diagnosed with terminal bone cancer. It was a really difficult time.

Barb won the seat, though, giving the PA House a Democratic majority, and she’s been doing a great job there. She passed puppy-mill legislation, balanced the state budget, strode into a room full of cigar-chewing politicos and smashed their porkpie hats, and when a train was speeding towards a broken bridge, she used her body to fill the gap in the rail. Jokes aside, she’s a great legislator. Just as a for-instance, she takes the train to work, does not accept a state car, and posts all her legislative expenses online. Barb was a Republican most of her life — a “fiscal conservative”, and I wish to GOD I knew where all those old-school republicans that I could respect have gone.

Barb’s opponent ran a tacky and comically inept campaign, smearing her by: sending out flyers that referenced senate bills (Barb is is the house, not the senate!), digging up as an “environmental scandal” (using a real-live private investigator!) that Barb, a dedicated environmentalist, had a part-time job for a few months as an accounts-payable clerk for Toll Brothers in the eighties, and (my favorite), lifting this photo I took from Flickr and putting it on a mailer claiming Barb was “Milking Taxpayers!”


It’s hard to know how much righteous anger to summon when you’re getting stuff in the mail that is:

  1. Disingenuous (grr!)
  2. Factually incorrect, in many cases (GRR!!)
  3. Contain apostrophization and homonym errors (SMASH!!!!), but then are
  4. Just plain INEFFECTIVE. (cue sad trombone noise.)
    The prevailing voter reaction on getting the “Milking Taxpayers” mailer seemed to be “oh look! Barb knows how to milk a cow! She’s enjoying herself! Yay for Barb!”

Okay, enough venting about that, here’s the great news. Last time, Barb won by 23 votes. This year (drum roll, please)… by 2,200 votes! Hurrah!

BARBARA MCILVAINE SMITH (DEM).  .  .  .    18,143   53.23
SHANNON ROYER (REP) .  .  .  .  .  .  .    15,909   46.68
WRITE-IN.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .        32     .09

Congratulations, Barb, on your victory, and by winning on a campaign that just talked about your record. Here’s to two more years of kicking butt in Harrisburg, and I can’t wait to see, in two more years, what the attack mailers do with this photo!

You know, now that this election is over, I find that I do have more to say about my disgust and embarrassment at the way the state Republican Campaign Committee conducted themselves during this election.

The attack mailers against Barb were comically inept, it’s true, but it reveals an overall pattern of aiming low that really makes me angry. WHERE, for god’s sake, are the “fiscal conservative” republicans? The republicans that I could have an argument with and respect? “Spend less on social services, because X!” “Invest more in infrastructure, but not through risky bond issues, because Y!” “Lower taxes, because economic theory Z!” I could have an argument about that, and have full respect for the other person.

Instead, the local Republicans this cycle prepared, published, and came within a whisker of handing out a mailer trying to link our incumbent Democratic state senator to terrorism, showing a picture of him accepting an award from a suspiciously middle-eastern looking man. Who was that suspicious-looking man? THE UNIVERSALLY BELOVED CHIEF OF STAFF AT THE @#$@#@$# CHESTER COUNTY HOSPITAL. Once that was discovered, the local committee hurriedly pulled the piece. Excuse me while I ask Star Trek’s Captain Picard to express my sentiment:

I am not posting this because I want to kick the republicans while they are down, but because I hope they will join me in agreeing that the republican party – nationally and locally – has gotten itself down a really weird, bad, and destructive blind alley. Where are the good republicans? Where are the ones that think that, from the point of view of the state, marriage is a tax issue? Where are the ones that don’t just say knee-jerk “lower taxes”, but instead say “spend frugally, reasonably, and wisely in the long run, so spend less here and here?”

Shee-it, it makes me want to switch parties and pitch in to reboot the Rs. I want a party across the aisle that I can reach out to, have a conversation with, and hammer out an agreement with, not have to do all this fearmongering. I AM SICK AND TIRED OF PEOPLE SPREADING FEAR, and I really really really want to work together with ALL Americans — not just the ones that I agree with — so that we can have a @#$@#$ COUNTRY again.

Update 2:
Local blogger Rodeo Princess posted a really wonderful, thoughtful story about her experience as a poll watcher yesterday.

Barb Wins!

Beach report: Matt’s MC5 Needlepoint

Here’s my update from the beach! Kate, Lydia, Barb, Matt and I are all in Avalon, NJ right now, and we’re all working on our projects.

Matt's MC5 Needlepoint

Matt was interested in my MOL Alligator project. Suddenly, he decided that he should needlepoint a 1960s Gary Grimshaw flyer for proto-punk band MC5 (he came across the flyer in the book he’s been reading at the beach.)

He spent the next 48 hours — almost nonstop — doing art, first in Photoshop and then in Pixen, then he made a trip to Scrim Discovery Needle Work in Ocean City to get some 18-count canvas, a frame, yarn, and a bunch of Sharpies. And he’s been carefully transferring the design from his computer screen to the canvas, using the “make a reference dot every 10 threads” method that I came up with for the MOL gator.

Matt's MC5 Needlepoint
Matt’s plan is to stitch up the pattern, then sew it to the back of a Jeans jacket. I think it’s going to be incredibly great. You can see Matt’s pattern on the left (I’ve hidden the grid-lines and the reference dots that he used.)

Matt walked into Scrim Discovery in a pair of white jeans and a captain’s hat from Hoy’s. He reports that the real-estate agent next door rushed out and tried to head him off before he walked in the store: “Can I *HELP* you, sir!?” No, he said, he was there for the needlepoint, and the agent looked perplexed.

I went in today wearing my pith helmet (and we planned to send Jonathan in tomorrow with a lampshade on his head), so the real-estate agent would think that, uh… I’m not sure what they would think: needlepoint was suddenly becoming popular with seventies adventure-sitcom characters? But the store took it 110% in stride, and I have a new favorite needlepoint store. They were really great, and really helpful.

if you are planning on doing your own beach needlepoint project involving psychedelic federal eagle/television/Illuminati Eyeball combinations, all festooned with jagged crepuscular rays and lightning bolts, and you are wearing a crusader helmet, a fez, or viking horns, I absolutely recommend Scrim Discovery as your shop of choice!

Matt's MC5 Needlepoint
Beach report: Matt’s MC5 Needlepoint

It doesn’t look that clean in person

Basement (before)Basement (During)

The first thing our plumber did when walking into the basement of our house three years ago was enjoy a hearty laugh at our thirty-five-year-old natural-gas furnace. It seemed to bring him genuine joy and delight, like maybe if you went over to a friend’s house and found that all their heat came from a gigantic Rapa Nui monolith in the basement.
Anyhow, “Replace Furnace” has finally come up on our to-do list, so I took a before (left, yesterday morning) and during (right, yesterday evening) picture. We spent last night at Kate’s mom’s house. The fellows are still hooking it up. Our cat is planning Dire Revenge.

It doesn’t look that clean in person