Saturday, December 31, 2005

Call Me Kitty IV

I normally don't like to post these too often, but the calendar dictates this one... the New Year's edition.

Dave’s eyes slowly blinked open... the room was dark. What room, he wasn’t sure. The cushions supporting his body would work for the rest of the night. Not feeling that his body would be synchronized with any further thoughts he might produce, he resigned himself to his confined, yet sufficient, quarters.

Sunlight sneaking around the edge of the blinds pulled his eyes open a second time. Like a police sketch artist, the sun slowly removed the haze and pulled each element of the room together into a recognizable picture for him. The room he had slumbered in was familiar, but the route he took there was currently unknown. That was good enough for now as the steady rhythm pounding inside his head made more sleep a very attractive option.

Noises from the direction of the kitchen brought him back a third time. Having already established his location, he tried to salvage the previous night from his damaged memory banks before rising and confronting anybody else sharing his flophouse that day. The memories that teased him would be from the last party of the year as he realized he was regaining consciousness in the first sunrise of the new year....

Careful planning disguised as altruism had afforded him the entire day off that New Year’s Eve. He had volunteered to work Christmas Eve while others spent the day planning family get-togethers and last minute shopping. In return a week later, Dave would get a day off and get a head start on the parties that would evolve that evening. A case of beer that afternoon would evolve into a good buzz that he would maintain into the evening, as well as provide a few cans for any merrymakers that might want to join in that day. A bottle of Wild Turkey would be on hand to help anyone evolve into the party guest that every host dreams of entertaining. Some Schnapps might also help distract any females with a disdain of the fine Kentucky bourbon or sudsy mugs typically tossed back by the male species.

The self-prescribed and carefully planned intake allowed him to disregard the strange feeling overtaking his head that evening. He rationed that it was the strange combinations of these solutions creating the momentary disarray rather than his failing attempt to ration the volumes. The time quickly approached to take the small group of revelers that had gathered with him at the hotel that evening to the watering hole that would nourish the eclectic group for the coming year.

Shortly after arriving, and perhaps excited by the array of people that had turned out that cold December evening, Dave felt the need to bypass the free beer and wine provided under the cover charge that evening and buy a round of Jagermeister for his closest 8 friends gathered near the taps. Most of those friends, along with those who weren’t friends prior to the purchase, each returned the favor by sending back a couple ounces of the fine spirit that would remind most people of the cough syrups they fought off as children.

Those must have been the fatal shots that caused his brain cells to scramble the rest of the evening. The same cells that swelled in his skull that morning as he strained to recall anything else. Dave wanted to lie on that couch the rest of the day until he remembered what else he might have done to finish off that year, but nature called and his hosts had been most forgiving in the past. Perhaps they would forgive him just one more time.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

F'er Christmas Card Review

We didn’t get around to sending Christmas cards this year. I am getting old, so maybe I can blame it on crippling arthritis. But then how would I explain all these posts? Truth is that I like to be creative, but I don’t plan ahead and then run out of time. Then I walk my sorry ass over to the Dollar Store and buy some lame cards, randomly sign them “Millard Fillmore” and hope they make it by New Year’s Eve. Any time after that is just plain embarrassing. This year I didn’t even do that. So instead I will review the Christmas cards that we received this year (in random order).

Moist Rub: Nice photo of Son and Daughter in front of the tree. Even looks like he vacuumed. Which is a good thing since there was too much carpet in the foreground and I would have liked to see more tree. Did not include the dog – maybe fearful of it puking on the clean carpet. Generic “Happy Holidays” greeting under a sprig of poison ivy. Or perhaps it’s a bough of holly. I really don’t know what a bough is, so I can’t tell you for sure. Printed at Walgreens on 12/10 which shows amazing planning for a self-professed procrastinator.

213: Nice photo of the two kids amidst holiday decorations with the dog. Dark background does not provide enough contrast to the kid’s hair, indicating they might not have had time to get haircuts before the picture was done on 12/19. Dog looks beaten down by the process and, like most other dogs, appears to just want to get back to watching the basketball game. Graphic of the Three Wise Men over Isaiah 9:6 on a nice matte finish.

The Guru: Small and simple greeting card, yet very pleasing. Christmas wishes on the inside with a 2” x 3” photo of the two kids. Definitely some Christmas duds on these tots, and they wear it well and don’t seem to mind it. Possible studio shoot in front of tree, complete with the “random” silver ornament in the foreground. Small deduction for the slumping teddy bear that looks dead.

Cousin Bobbi: Card with a phallic looking snowman holding a star that says “Love”.

Ravishing Michelle: Card includes an invite to visit them in Vegas. Last time I did that I woke up in the bathtub missing a kidney. Yeah, Merry Christmas to you, too, you organ stealing whore.

Karen: Decorative card with photo inset of the three kids. I’m digging the matching velvet pajamas – very Whoville. Next time you watch How the Grinch Stole Christmas, do a shot every time they say the word “Who” and you won’t wake up until President’s Day.

Nancy: Nancy was a friend that even boarded with me and Mrs. F’er at one time. Then she moved to Atlanta without telling us. Then she moved the NC without telling us and got married without telling us. And from the return address it appears she moved to Houston without telling us. The Christmas card has a photo of a baby on the front that I’m guessing is hers. The baby looks like it’s waiting for the punch line of a joke. But she probably won’t tell her.

Aunt Geri: Nice picture of a woman (perhaps Mary) holding a baby (perhaps Big Baby J). Slightly unsettling that she has a bird in her left hand and looks like she’s about to feed it to our savior. The printed greeting inside underlined for emphasis.

Pam: We got a card threatening Santa with “breach of contract” on the front. As an attorney, I think she would understand that the Santa deal is a bi-lateral contract requiring good behavior. Seeing as she’s knocked up right now, I’d say there was a little too much naughty and not enough nice this year. Case dismissed.

Allstate: My insurance agent took this time of year to let me know that he appreciated my business and even enclosed a couple business cards to throw away for him.

Bobby and Ashley: Nice card, but I don’t have a clue who they are.

Erica: A nice card supporting the Boys & Girls Clubs of America from a recruiter who thinks I should be making way more money and have a company car. That's how she gets paid.

Dalebud: The only card properly addressed to Mr. & Mrs. F’er. Always on time, this year with “The Christmas Blitzen Was Busted” cartoon on the front. Good stuff. He doesn’t have any kids (that we know of), so we can always count on him for some comic relief.

Stephanie: Sent the same damn card as Dalebud. What the hell is her problem? Doesn’t she know Dalebud sends the funny card every year? She tried to hide the fact by using fancy red ink to sign it, but she ain’t fooling me.

The Macs: They sent a picture of themselves taken in the desert. They look thirsty so they’re getting water for Christmas from us.

The Boss: Photo card of him, the wife, and kid in matching jeans and white shirts. Looks like they’re preparing to host a 70’s variety show. Also need a proofreader. Printed message reads,
“Love the Boss family,
Boss, Wife, and Kid
Makes it look like they’re demanding you love them. The comma is your friend.

P-Geo: Nice photo of the two kids. Appears to be well-done, but something was bugging me about it. Then I realized that the little one has the same expression that Vikings head coach Mike Tice has during the game.

Boss 2 & ‘Zilla: The couple that owns the place that Mrs. F’er works at sent a humorous card, but coordinated better than Stephanie and didn’t send the same one as Dalebud. But it also included a bonus check, so we liked it better than Dalebud’s. Oh, and in case you were wondering, if you want your name to be ‘Zilla all you need to do is add it to the end of your current name for a while, then eventually drop your old name, and voila, you’re now ‘Zilla (e.g. Sid => SidZilla => ‘Zilla).

Jane: I don’t know her, either, but I don’t like her because the card has that glitter shit all over it that falls off and gets on your pants and then your wife thinks you’re getting lap dances from the glittery stripper at the titty bar again.

Aunt Mel: The manger scene with John 3:16. She must have gotten the idea while watching an extra point during a football game.

LA Ray: I’ve known Ray since the early 50’s and we’ve never exchanged a card for anything until he got married. Mrs. LA always puts a nice, personalized note inside. Nice touch. I suggest he keeps her.

Sue: Never met her. No money inside. Next.

Mom: A Charlie Brown Christmas tree on the front and a check inside. A little bonus on top of the social security cash that we usually confiscate from her to pay for bike parts. We like to consider it protection money.

Captain Break-It: Photo of the three kids in front of the tree and other holiday decorations. The two boys in matching green shirts on each side of a little Break-ette in her red frock. The boy on the right is wearing the antlers and the other two are wearing Santa hats. I would have stuck the antlers on the girl in the middle for greater balance, but I’m obsessive like that. Their dog Tasha is also in front, looking like she wants to eat the photographer just for the amusement of the kids. There’s also some sort of furry creature in a Santa hat they call Oreo – it looks like it might be a bunny leftover from the Easter picture, but I’m not sure. However, most disappointing was the computer generated address label – I’ve come to expect the fine calligraphy of Mrs. Break-It, but she must have been busy repairing broken stuff this year.

Uncle Darryl: The card has a blue background with white stars and a big red Santa, but looks more 4th of July than Christmas. But it’s the thought that counts.

Alison: Hmm. I seem to remember in the past that she closed every letter and card with the words “Love and Prayers” and previous cards always maintained a religious theme. So I was taken aback this year when I received a card of a snowman with his head knocked off and saying, “@x!# kids!” It’s pretty #@*%’in funny, so maybe they’ve left the church and opened a comedy club or started a rap label. Also enclosed was a photo of the three kids which creeped me out a little since her oldest daughter doesn’t just look like her, but appears to be a perfect clone. Better than that sheep clone from a few years ago.

Gabe: He works with Mrs. F’er and wins the 2005 Card of the Year Award. In case you need something to shoot for, here’s what his homemade card consisted of:
White card stock, on the front written with red marker – “Jesus Is The Shiz-nit Yo”.
On the inside a photo of him on Santa’s lap. Santa wears a paisley shirt, with Gabe wearing his trademark Dickies, t-shirt and baseball cap and sporting a beard that is nearly as big as Santa’s. Opposite the photo is a personalized story that involves doing blow off a midget’s ass. I think that about covers everything you could ask for in a Christmas card.

Hope all y'all had a good one!

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Call Me Kitty III

The next installment of the series - Christmas edition....

Good thing Dave thought to buy the Sunday paper last week. He fished through the pile of newsprint that morning and found the TV guide and brought it back to the bedroom with a fresh beer. Shopping on Christmas Eve definitely had sucked, but you just can't predict beer store hours on Christmas Day. Armed with a case of neatly aligned bottles on the top shelf of the refrigerator, he wouldn't have to leave the house this Christmas.

Christmas mornings as a child were relatively good - some cool stuff usually appeared under the tree and managed to entertain him through the rest of Christmas break from school. Really couldn't ask for much more. As an adult though, Christmas lost its magic. Not even the sounds of a good Barry Manilow holiday tape could drag him into the undertow of holiday spirit. Now he had his own holiday spirits. He acquired a taste for the fine winter festival beers produced by European brewing houses and the growing number of domestic microbreweries. An assorted collection of such ales and lagers from the upscale grocery store in town and a bag of Frito corn chips and bean dip would be his Christmas gift to himself. Beats anything that a fat man in a red suit could possibly drag down his chimney.

But the bean dip would wait. The leftover quesadilla that served as breakfast was still occupying his hunger gene. He had forgotten the happy hour leftovers in his car overnight, but the chilly December cold front had preserved his Christmas meal. A shout out to Mother Nature for that gift. Finding that meal was a bigger surprise than opening a package of tube socks on Christmas morn.

One might think, "How sad. Alone on Christmas Day? Bean dip, beer and leftover Mexican food?" Stop it. It's not sad. Really… it’s not.

Remember that Dave had a fridge full of microbrewed beer while other drunks would spend their holidays drinking cheap malt liquor at somber underpass celebrations or wishing only for the strength to unscrew the cap on their latest wine acquisition. Dave celebrated with the finest hops grown in Bavaria and imported in beautiful brown and green glass bottles that sat within beautifully designed cardboard carriers. That's right, the beer company spent considerable money on an MBA to spend considerable time deciding what he would like to drink this Christmas. He raised his bottle to toast that company and thanked them for the packaging that decorated his apartment this holiday.

It's a holiday, yet many people are working way harder in their kitchens today than they do at work. At work, they read some emails, forward some dumb jokes, shuffle some papers, and try to keep their ass out of trouble. Today they wake up way too early to insure gifts have been "left" under the tree, then spend the day working a frozen turkey into a meal by turning the south wing of the house into an oversized Easy Bake oven. All while trying not to stress out and yell at Cousin Jimmy for teaching the kids how to swear in Spanish. Dave merely cracked open that bean dip and the most stress was making sure the chips didn't go flying all over the kitchen while tearing into the fresh bag of Fritos. Just like the pilgrims, buddy. Pilgrims celebrated Christmas, too, you know, but you really don’t hear about it much because the Indians weren’t there. I don’t know why they weren’t invited back, but without that tension present it wasn’t worth covering in the press.

So celebrate the holidays whatever way you choose. But remember as stress levels rise and holiday expectations turn to lingering resentments, alone for the holidays isn't as bad as it seems. Sam Adams never let him down, so just tell the elves to swing by Foremost Liquors on the way to his rooftop and he'll be just fine. Nevermind the fact that elves don’t traditionally make the trip with Santa.

Merry Christmas to all and to all, a very good night.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Concert Review: The Belgrade Supermodels

I’m not feeling funny lately, so rather than force it I perused the offerings of our team of foreign correspondents. I found an old concert review from Ivan in Bosnia. Ivan gave us permission to publish this years ago, but I’ll withhold his name and his buddy’s organization. A Google search shows that they are still doing humanitarian work in Bosnia and I’d hate to tarnish their reputation. Enjoy.

Bosnia is squishy; often fun; above all, absurd. Below is exhibit “A.”

“Belgrade Supermodels” SITREP—March 8, 1998

1. On Saturday, March 7, 1998, a really bad Serbian disco band named “Belgrade Supermodels” comes to Banja Luka. I’ve only seen them once before, on television, but know that they’re four leggy gyrating sex-kittens, an unapologetically crude Balkan version of the Spice Girls, only without any pretense of innocence - give me money & mafia, baby. It should be a hoot, so why not go?

2. I telephone my friend Nathan to see if he wants to go. Nathan is the beleaguered manager of “ABC Organization,” an impoverished touchy-feely organization based in Banja Luka. Nathan has a fine collection of thrift store polyester garments. “ABC Organization,” or ABC, consists of 5 Americans living barracks-style in the loft of a large house. Perhaps because of this arrangement, Nathan’s wife has been reluctant in recent weeks to “go behind closed doors,” in the words of Charlie Rich. Nathan, in his grouchiness & frustration, readily agrees to go and perhaps vent a bit of his accumulated, ahem, energy.

3. We realize that it is imperative that we purchase cheap white Turkish cotton underpants (men’s), to throw up on the stage with our phone numbers immortalized thereupon. As the hour was late by Balkan shopping standards (7 p.m.), we hasten to the Banja Luka shopping center to purchase said underpants.

4. We peruse the entire shopping center without luck. Lots of cheap stuffed animals and lacy teddies and fake Nike warm-up suits and bootleg cigarettes, but no men’s Turkish white cotton underpants. We find a Chinese pseudo Barbie-doll called “Jessie” - she’s boxed up wearing a frilly wedding dress, next to her handsome new groom. Her head, oddly, is twice as big as his and she bears a creepy resemblance to Jon Benet Ramsey. Even stranger, the pair comes equipped with two children - should she be named “Shotgun Jessie”? The box boasts “fully movable arms & legs!”

5. Finally, we reach the last remaining stall in the shopping center—a lingerie boutique—and ask for men’s underpants. The owner of the boutique pulls out three samples of her wares: some weird waffled German panties (19 deutsche marks, about $11); some plain but sleek tightie-whities (14 DEM); and some fruity flowered briefs (6 DEM). Nathan and I are astounded by the prices cited. I ask the shopkeeper in my thickly-accented Serbian if she has anything from Turkey, or even China, as we’ll only be using these underpants once. She looks at the two of us with genuine fear. We buy no panties, but congratulate ourselves on our perseverance.

6. I go back home to dress for the show. I select a 100% polyester wide-collared shirt with photographic reproductions of exotic game fowl (open to my waist, displaying a luxurious crop of chest-hair) and a heavy faux-gold Caesar’s Palace neck pendant. I don a heavy coat with fake-fur lapels to complete the Mafioso pimp ensemble.

7. We ride to the Banja Luka music hall in a taxi. We are accompanied by Nathan’s wife, Tammie, their perky colleague, Sarah, and a large Russian named Boris. Nathan is unshaven, wearing purple polyester and antique Floyd (Andy Griffith show) barber’s glasses. Nathan has splashed half a bottle of patchouli on himself. The smell is hitherto unknown in Banja Luka.

8. We purchase our tickets and enter the music hall. The ticket takers have been tasked with patting down entrants for weapons, a mission they undertake with visible vigor and relish. When Nathan and I reach them, they look at us funny and wave us through.

9. The music hall is full. We have an hour’s wait until the show begins. We pound NEKTARs (local Banja Luka beer in big-ass 16 oz. bottles) at 5 dinars ($ 0.60) a bottle and check out the crowd. We realize that the majority of attendees is composed of 17-year-olds: the girls are dancing with each other, dolled up in fishnet hose, push-up bras & short black vinyl miniskirts; guys wear imitation leather jackets, gold chains and Ricky-Ricardo-slicked-back-hair. We stick out like sore thumbs. People are shouting: “Hey Amerikan! Hey! O.K.! How yu goingk!”

10. We’re the oldest people in the crowd by a power of 3. I’m dying to throw myself into the middle of the girls’ dance-circle & start dirty-dancing.

11. A weak wisp of fog-machine fog trickles out of a ceiling vent. Spastic lasers sporadically shoot through the haze. The show is about to begin. “Pyrotechnics,” observes Nathan.

12. The “Belgrade Supermodels” take the stage as the crowd roars. Camera crews from local T.V. are filming everything. Their noms-de-supermodel are unknown to me, so the names that follow are my own creation. Fantastic abdominal muscles, to a one. From left to right, they are:

“Claudia-Schiffer-supermodel”: blonde, blonde, blonde, blonde, blonde. Super-duper plump pouty lips (implants) & roly-poly baby-doll eyes. Jennifer Aniston hair-do. Modestly wearing a full-length black lacy top, the only one of the four not baring her midriff - the coquettish naughty-but-nice girl. After the set break, she retakes the stage in a half-length see-through white top with black bra underneath, a la West Hollywood porn-star. Nathan observes that from up close she looks eerily masculine - from this point on, she becomes known as “FREWBUD SUPERMODEL.”

“Trashy supermodel”: the “sassy” supermodel - modeled after “Scary Spice” of the Spice Girls? Ponytail, halter-top and Cleopatra pancake makeup. She gyrates lasciviously throughout and does funny things with her tongue. After the set break, she returns in the tightest gray sweat pants I’ve ever seen a person wear, hiked up about three inches too high - the second she takes the stage, my eyes bug out dangerously and Nathan begins sweating prodigiously. From this point on, she becomes known as “CAMEL-TOE SUPERMODEL.”

“Boob supermodel”: Swedish-girl blonde bangs, blue “Nike” halter top & fake “Nike” tattoos above her cleavage and belly button. The cool disinterested thousand-yard stare of a Scandinavian particle physicist. After a few numbers a hint of black bra strap creeps out from under her halter top - quelle vixen. From the first moment, and for the remainder of the show, she is known simply as “BOOB SUPERMODEL.”

“Next-door supermodel”: Every group of this sort has to have an “approachable” member to give some amount of hope to their legions of fans. Such is the fourth Belgrade Supermodel - a surprisingly normal girl-next-door type (assuming that the girl next door works out 18 hours a day 7 days a week.) Nathan develops an immediate obsession, based on an early and long- suppressed T.V. crush - thanks to this, she becomes known as “KATE JACKSON SUPERMODEL.”

13. The “Belgrade Supermodels” are lip-synching poorly. At one point, when the backing track consists of four women’s voices singing in harmony, I notice that only Boob Supermodel is moving her lips as the other three are busy grinding nastily. The crowd is throbbing with energy.

14. Sarah is eager to know everything the supermodels are saying. “Translate this song! Please?” I translate the song the supermodels are singing at the moment: “Jedan, dva / svako zna / haah haah haah/svako zna/ jedan, dva / svako zna / haah haah haah / svako zna” --- “one, two/everyone knows / haah haah haah / everyone knows / one, two / everyone knows / haah haah haah / everyone knows.” These are the only words in the song.

15. After 30 minutes of non-stop gyration, Nathan and I are transfixed. Our cool-guy posturing melts away in the twisting pelvic onslaught. Zombie like, I turn to Nathan and observe, “Nathan, this is the coolest band I’ve ever seen in my life.” Nathan dabs at the drool on his chin and nods absently.

16. At the set break, we pound several more NEKTARS and decide pragmatically that there’s no sense in standing way in back. Nathan and I mercilessly elbow our way to the stage, leaving wounded teenage girls howling in our wake. A large group of 16-year-old Banja Luka boys is posted up at the stage, but we soon win them over: “Hey amerikan! Hey! O.K! Nu York Yankiz! Axel Roze!” Nathan and I scream “Rock on!” in tandem and buy them a round of beers.

17. The second set begins. We’re falling down, grooving hard, loving life. The supermodels have hit their stride and are getting quite nasty. The whole set becomes one long happy blur when.....

18. Our dainty oblivion is shattered as, suddenly, the music stops. Kate Jackson model is making some announcement...she’s saying something about finding the manliest dancer in the hall...the crowd noticeably perks up...suddenly, she’s pointing at ME saying “YOU - come up on stage - NOW!” I go.

19. Next, she summons Nathan. Nathan is smiling naughtily. We look like total idiots. The crowd is hooting.

20. Two other fellas are chosen and we’re suddenly onstage in front of hundreds. Each supermodel takes one of the neophytes under her wing for this song - tonight my mentor is camel-toe supermodel. Nathan is off to the right with Frewbud supermodel.

21. A throbbing disco beat kicks in and suddenly we’re gyrating with THE Belgrade Supermodels. I can’t dance to begin with, and I’m way past my limit tonight, so I’m GETTING DOWN - doing my best Travolta spins, points and bobs, doing the amoeba dance, doing the sprinkler dance, bumping and grinding with “my lady.” My gold Caesar’s Palace pendant is swaying dangerously. The song is something about “calling on the telephone” so we pick up the dance routine the supermodels are doing - you turn your back to the audience and shake your butt around, then turn with your hand up to your ear as if you’re holding a telephone and mouth the words “hello, hello” to the audience. Just glorious.

22. At the end of the song, cross-eyed & dizzy, we begin shuffling off stage. Kate Jackson supermodel jerks me to the front/center and asks me my name, then proclaims “there is no doubt - Ivan is the finest dancer!” to the crowd. I curtsey.

23. The show is over. Nathan and I realize we have a story to tell when we’re 95 years old, only, as Nathan puts it, “when I’m 95 years old, the story will be that they pulled my pants off on stage and ravaged me by turn.” We rue the fact that we didn’t buy the $11 waffled underpants, but figure there’s always next time.

24. The show, as I said, was filmed by a local T.V. crew. It airs on Banja Luka T.V. tonight. I will get a tape from the station.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Renoir: Jugglers at the Circus Fernando

Pierre-Auguste Renoir painted Jugglers at the Circus Fernando in 1878-1879. The painting portrays two pre-pubescent girls who have just completed their juggling performance in a circus. One girl acknowledges the audience’s response to their act, while the other girl stares into space, seemingly, in a moment of introspection. The audience is mentioned partially, yet significantly, at the top of the painting. Renoir created this scene to make a statement of our inevitable transformation from the innocence of childhood to the reality of adulthood.

Renoir was born in Limoges, France in 1841 and grew up in a middle class environment. He developed his artistic ability as a painter of porcelain, beginning at the age of 13. This had a lasting influence on his art. It also gave him an appreciation of eighteenth century Rococo artists. This experience and influence directed his handling of color, which led to the brilliance and luminosity of color in his later works. Renoir liked to paint thinly over pale grounds, allowing the grounds to “glow” through, enhancing the color.

When Renoir entered his career as an artist, he became friends with Claude Monet and other artists of the mid nineteenth century. It is with some of these artists, and their influence, with their struggle to be accepted by the Salon, Renoir helped define the Impressionistic style in the 1870’s. Renoir’s subjects during this time followed the typical philosophy of the Impressionists – middle class life in Paris, valuing single chance occurrences, such as how light reflects off an object in a given moment. Renoir also made observations of theatre and circus life, like Degas. It is this aspect of Impressionism that produced the painting discussed in this essay. Although the Impressionist movement was thought to be a radical construction at the time, Renoir “did not want to be a revolutionary”. He wished to paint beauty to show “a life of happiness and harmony”. After a career of almost 60 years and having painted about 6,000 paintings, Pierre-Auguste Renoir died in 1919.

Renoir painted Jugglers at the Circus Fernando in oil on canvas. The dimensions of the painting are 51 ¾ inches tall by 39 1/8 inches wide. The recreational subject matter - the circus - the free flowing, textured brush strokes, the bright color paint, the cropping of elements of the depicted scene (the audience above, the orange below, the circus ring wall on both sides), and the intensity of the light all typify the style of this painting as Impressionism. With this beautifully painted moment of leisure, Renoir is able to describe a phase of human maturation common to all of us, and full of anguish for many; that is the metamorphosis from a child to an adult. The compositional elements in the painting support this premise.

The two girls portrayed are bathed in a consistent, ubiquitous, warm light, which does not create many drastic shadows – everything in this area of the painting is “known”. This warmth is represented by the yellows, oranges and pinks Renoir chose to use to depict the girls’ forms and their primary background – the yellow circus floor. This elicits a feeling of security and innocence, which is inherent in the circumstances of a typical childhood. These girls are safe and protected as they reside in their youthful realm. The yellow ribbons in their hair tie back to the yellow hue of the circus floor to help anchor them in this proposed view of youth. Looming above them is the audience, which is painted in dark, cold colors, with haphazard and mysterious brushstrokes. The audience consists of adults whose features are not distinctly defined. The audience, presumably, extends beyond the edge of the painting, unseen, further enhancing its mysterious state. This is a world unknown to the jugglers and to the viewers, allowing the viewers to identify with the perspective of the girls.

While they reside in the same stage of development, and in the same spatial area on the canvas, each girl differs in her role within the painting. The girl on the left has begun her exploration of the adolescent stage of life on the road to adulthood. The girl on the right chooses to remain in the haven of childhood. Renoir uses a series of contrasts to separate each individual girl’s relationship to this transformation. One contrast is the body language of the girls themselves. The girl on the left is open to this idea of growth. Her arms are in the process of opening up as in a bow, acknowledging the audience’s response to their show. Her feet are separated, and she is looking outward, making direct eye contact with the audience. The girl on the right has her arms folded, holding the oranges, as if she is holding onto something precious, and at the same time, protecting herself. Her feet and legs are closed. Her eyes stare off into space at nothing in particular. This is a look of introspection; her mind is closed to outside influences. The direction of her gaze is in direct opposition to the point of eye contact her performing partner is making with the audience (personal note – this is one of my favorite aspects of this painting). She has her back turned against the existence of this strange and dark world.

Another contrast Renoir uses is light and dark values, accompanied with warm and cool colors and the girls differing interaction with these variations. The youthful innocence, inside the circus ring, where the girls reside, is painted with warm and light colors. The unknown reality of adulthood, the audience, is painted with dark cool colors. This contrast is enhanced by the differing brushstrokes between the two sides of the circus ring – tighter and detailed on the warm side, loose and undefined on the cool side. The girl on the right is enveloped in the light warm colors of the painting. The head of girl on the left, due to the open door in the circus ring, enters the dark cool background established by the audience, consequently, touching the audience on the two dimensional plane. This further supports the idea that she has begun this transformation. In addition to this, although Renoir has painted both girls using primarily warm colors, he enhanced each of their midsections with a cool blue. This coolness is associated with the cool darks of the audience, as if to say it is our emerging sexuality that is the conduit in the maturation process. I will address this notion later.

Renoir’s use of line is limited, yet significant, which parallels his use of the audience in the painting, although I don’t know if it was intentional. The most noticeable line is the curved horizontal depicting the top of the circus ring wall. This serves multiple purposes. Primarily, this line leads the view directly to the head of the girl on the left. This is an important part of the painting as it relates to the underlying statement, as this is where she physically enters the new and unknown. Renoir also uses this line to help frame the girl on the right, along with the right side of the painting, the bottom of the painting and the left hand girl. This encloses the girl on the right into the protective sanctuary of childhood, and within herself, further supporting the impression that she has not yet become aware the impending changes in her life, or is possibly ignoring them. The third purpose of the circus ring wall line is to separate the two contrasting worlds described in the painting.

Another prominent line is the one implied between the gaze of the girl on the left and the audience member in the upper left corner of the painting. He is pointing directly back to this girl, suggesting that he is acknowledging her awareness, and possibly encouraging her to explore further. This moment in the painting could be interpreted as a pedophilic remark, but I don’t know if that was Renoir’s intention. If that is the case, however, it would support the depravity suggested by the dark values and lurid brushstrokes Renoir chose to represent adulthood.

As the setting of Jugglers at the Circus Fernando is the circus, it would seem to follow that Renoir would use circle shapes as a distinct compositional element. The most abundant circles in the painting are the oranges. The girl on the right has collected them and clings to them. Four oranges on the ground around her feet encircle her, furthering the idea that she remains secure in the purity and perfection the image of a circle connotes. Renoir placed one orange at the left edge of the painting, in proximity to the girl on the left and isolated from the other oranges. This lone orange corresponds with the left girl’s departure from the security of childhood. The largest circle is the circus ring itself. This may represent the cyclical nature of life. We are only allowed to see one sectional arc of the circus ring, just like we are only viewing one portion of the human life cycle - the transformation into adulthood.

Earlier I mentioned the notion that Renoir may be suggesting in this painting that it is the emergence of our sexuality that facilitates our maturation. The reason I made that statement was due to a combination of the existence of the multiple occurrences of the triangle or “v” shape and its association with the cool color temperatures in certain areas of the painting. This “v” shape appears several times in the audience, manifested as the shape of necklines defined by their coats and shirts. This “v” shape also defines the groin or reproductive area of the girl on the right. The reproductive area of the girl on the left is also designated by Renoir’s use of the negative space between her lower legs leading the viewer’s eye into a slight line extending vertically. Renoir uses cool colors in this region on both girls’ bodies. As described above, Renoir also depicted the audience, or the adult world, with cool colors. The combination of these elements suggests a relationship between the girls’ sexuality and their inevitable course to maturity. Adding to that is the presence of one triangle shape at the top of the painting. This triangle is red, a color that is not used anywhere else in the audience. The red triangle is placed directly above the girl on the right and mimics the “v” shape on her midsection. It is as if this is a warning to her, and to the viewers, that she can try to remain in the comfortable shelter of youth, but her transmigration into this new dimension is unavoidable.

Like many of his works, Renoir painted Jugglers at the Circus Fernando in the Impressionistic style he helped create. He used his mastery of light and color to depict a Parisian scene of everyday life and leisure to make a statement above and beyond the forms and paint he used to create the work.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Jose for the Holidays

I mentioned in my last post that I got kicked out of school because I forgot to study for a few classes. You see, just like Rick in Casablanca, I was misinformed. Turns out that the College of Engineering had nothing to do with driving trains. Neither did the College of Commerce and Business Administration, but I didn’t have to pass Theoretical and Applied Mechanics to graduate. Besides, you can’t imagine the babes in my Econ classes. So armed with an amusing GPA and an Econ degree I hit the job market. I found out that qualified me for assistant manager positions at either Radio Shack or Payless Shoes. I decided to hold out for a position in investment banking, but was running out of beer money so took one of those “in-between” jobs. Yep, my first job out of college was at the prestigious multi-national corporation called Red Lobster. I folded up my diploma, stuck it in my back pocket, carefully positioned my “Lobsterfest is Lobsterbest!” button over my left breast pocket and took my place behind the bar. I learned the nuances of making Lobster Punch and how to slice 20 limes without drawing blood. This experience proved even more valuable than my degree as I was soon being recruited by competitors at the nearby mall, and after intense negotiations that included a free basket of chips and salsa I accepted a position at Carlos Sweeney’s. There I learned not only how to make a killer margarita, but also some deceptively powerful sangria, and how to swear in Spanish.

Sure it was fun, but after six months my liver started to hurt and the girl I was dating convinced me that a suburban mall bartender position might not be the best place to reach my potential. So I quit and moved to the city. No more suburban mall bars for me. Instead I scored a position working the door at Pippin’s Tavern on Rush Street. My responsibility was to card everyone that showed up and keep minors and bums out while an imposing, yet likely illiterate, goon stood behind me and enforced my decisions. Those gaining entry were treated to the Cheers-like hospitiality, cold beer, killer jukebox, and free popcorn. I believe closing time was around 2 a.m. back then, but a sister bar named Streeter’s around the corner stayed open until 5 a.m. where my girlfriend was busy realizing her full potential. By sister bar, I mean it had the same ownership, not that the clientele was exclusively black women. Which is a good thing since another responsibility of the Pippin’s doorman was to walk one of the old, white regulars who was blind over to Streeter’s after last call. I’m not sure how he got home from Streeter’s but he couldn’t have been much worse off than the other customers still in the bar at 5 a.m. But I digress.

Our favorite bartender in those days was a guy named Jose who used his tip money to pay his tuition. Good to know my drinking provided some benefit to this world. About a year after I quit I was in the area and saw Jose walking down the street with his standard backpack. He was approached by one of the bums I had been tasked with keeping out of the bar in the old days. But instead of ignoring him like most of the passing crowd, he stopped. And instead of just giving him some pocket change or a dollar like one might expect, he took the man into the neighboring Dunkin’ Donuts and bought him a cup of coffee. He even went a step further and sat down with the man at a table and talked with him. I have no idea what they discussed that day. Maybe it was the stock market, maybe it was time travel. I don’t even know if the man fully appreciated the gesture. Nonetheless, Jose’s actions that day made an impression on me, although I can’t claim to be nearly as compassionate. But I am taller than he is.

What sparked this memory was when another reader recently asked me about a novel called Magnificent Obsession that I apparently referred to a while back in this blog. It was written back in 1929 (the book, not the blog), and I was reminded that it’s rather dated (still talking about the book). It’s not a classic in the literary sense, but known more for the content which promotes philanthropy not just for the good of others but also as a means to achieving personal success and achievement. The only catch, according to the book, is that no one else is to know of your good deed if you wish to capture the full reward of your act. To some it may bring up the question of what motivates altruistic behavior. To others it may bring up the question of what’s for dinner. There’s more to the book, but it’s been years since I’ve read it. It’s been years since I’ve read anything since discovering online porn. The book has its own cadre of fanatics that I’m sure I’ve offended with my half-assed description, but with a little research you can track them down if interested.

If the concept has you at all intrigued, try it. Do a good deed for somebody, but don’t tell anyone else about it. Nobody. Keep it to yourself. It’s not as easy as it sounds, but I have a feeling that Jose could do it.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Crystal Bernard - Coming Home

Regular readers might have noticed the recurring references to Crystal Bernard. Most likely, they might wonder why. Or even who she is... so let me tell you.

Crystal Bernard was born on September 30, 1964 in Garland, Texas. Like our hero Marty Casey, I love an older woman -- and Crystal is exactly 193 days older than I am. That's less than a year. So we have a lot in common, I'm sure, and we can spend countless hours walking at dusk and talking about the time we joined the KISS Army and where we were when people like Reagan, the Pope and John Lennon got shot. Good times. Maybe listen to some Foreigner albums and make out on a bean bag chair or something.

I also reside in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, only about 20 miles from her Garland birthplace. Of course, Crystal has since purchased a home in Beverly Hills, but admits she bought it "as an investment." I'm sure she has frequent yearnings to visit her roots, and I bet she flies into DFW Airport when she does. With my current work schedule, I’m at DFW several times a month. It suddenly becomes clear how fate will somehow bring us together. I ran into Pauly Shore there once, so anything is possible.

Sure Crystal was a cutie as Richie's cousin K.C. Cunningham on the last season of Happy Days, and we loved her as Amy on It's a Living, but it was on Wings where she captured my heart....

I asked her about her character Helen on Wings...
"Maybe I think more of Helen than I should, but I think Helen's done better than I would have done if I would have lost as much as she has. I think Helen has done pretty good with failure. That's one of the things you respect about her."

OK, so I didn't really ask her directly. I kind of stole that quote from a profile in the Dallas Morning News by Joyce Saenz Harris that I cut out seven and half years ago. But it is such a prolific quote. Consider this... I got kicked out of school because I forgot to study for a few classes. One could consider that a failure... kind of like Helen. But here I am today, writing for Leper Pop. One, such as Crystal, could say that I've done pretty good with failure. Even respect that about me....

Cheers has always been one of my favorite shows, so I asked her if I had a choice between watching a Wings rerun or a Cheers rerun which one should that I choose.
"Any comparison to Cheers is a compliment," she said. "Cheers was about losers who sit around a bar drinking all day. On Wings, the airline isn't making any money, and I'm a concert cellist who can't get arrested and is slapping burgers. So what do you think?"

All right, I really didn't ask her that. That quote was kind of borrowed from a profile done by James Brady -- that creepy looking guy at the back of Parade magazine in the Sunday paper. I don't know if he still does the profiles since the article I cut out is about 6 years old.

Did you know that Crystal has cut several albums since leaving Wings? I haven't heard them, but I think Peter Cetera was somehow involved in one or both or something. Yep, Peter Cetera formerly of the band Chicago. I was born in Chicago, if you remember, only 193 days after Crystal was born in Garland, only about 20 miles from where I now reside. Getting kind of freaky, isn't it?

Anyway, Crystal resurfaced as spokeswoman for Q Sports Clubs several years ago. The Q had 18 locations, primarily in the South, 12 being in Texas, 1 being in Plano, Texas. And guess who was gainfully employed in Plano at the time??? Yours truly. Crystal had both written, produced, and performed the songs which were used in the Q's heavy media campaign, and I recently asked Q founder and president Frank Leonesio about those spots...
"We've had a super time putting together these spots," says Leonesio. "Crystal is a lot of fun to work with and her music really catches the Q spirit."

Does it really matter that I really didn't ask Leonesio about Crystal? OK, I lifted this quote from, the former website of the Q. That shouldn’t be a problem as they’ve since gone out of business. More likely, the soaring membership revenue resulting from her campaign probably made them an attractive buyout target. But that's not important right now.

If she ever makes it back to Texas to promote a Lifetime movie or something, I have a standing offer to pick her up at the airport. I’ll even make one of those little cardboard signs with her name on it. Aw, who am I kidding… it’s already been made.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Bowling for Lepers

Like every good red-blooded American male, I hold these autumn Sunday afternoons very sacred. After a hearty breakfast, I take my place upon the couch, remote tucked safely by my side, some water and a veggie tray, er, I mean a cold beer and some chips strategically positioned on the coffee table, and I fire up the television just in time for the introductions…. Wes Malott, Bill O’Neill, Mike Machuga, and David Traber. The crowd, at least 200 strong, cheers wildly.

Surely, you say, 200 is a typo. Those multi-million dollar pro football stadiums hold more than 200 people. True, I reply, but bowling alleys do not, and you must not have realized that those names I rattled off are from the PBA tour. You know, the PBA. Professional Bowlers Association?

ESPN realized that the only way to compete with the NFL coverage on Fox and CBS is to present the excitement of professional bowling, and I’m hooked (pun intended for all you bowlers out there). To kickoff the show (pun intended for all you football fans out there), the bowlers walk through the pro shop doorway, which has been retrofitted with some beads like Greg Brady put up when he turned Mike’s den into a groovy 60’s hippie pad. Then they break into that fake jog thing where they’re still walking but pumping their arms like they’re jogging, and fake jog through the billowing smoke from the buckets of dry ice placed along the counter of the snack shop while Iron Man by Black Sabbath blares through the family entertainment center.

Thus begins the Greater Omaha Classic, brought to you by PBA tour sponsor Denny’s. Home of the Rooty Tooty Fresh n’ Fruity. Or maybe that’s IHOP. I don’t know – I usually opt for the smoked turkey crepes at Café Brazil. Way tastier food, way more flavorful coffee and hip waitresses that all want to sleep with me. Literally. They’d sleep with anybody after having to wake up at 5 a.m. to sling crepes. But there ain’t no Café Brazil in Nebraska, so Denny’s it is.

I’ve been to Omaha once. I had to go kiss a customer’s ass at my last job because one of our salesguys was a moron. Of course, I’m sure the salesguy thought I was the moron, and the customer likely thought we were both morons and probably wished we would just leave so he could go bowling. Turns out that most of this paragraph is rather unnecessary since the tourney actually takes place in Council Bluffs and not Omaha, but I don’t have any stories about Council Bluffs. Feel free to share your own. They can't be worse than my Omaha story.

The first match featured Wes Malott versus Bill O’Neill. Malott looks like he might work at Ace Hardware, his sponsor. Nothing wrong with that, but the guys at the Ace Hardware by my house are always off their game. They’re in my face when I’m doing something simple like buying a garden hose, but nowhere to be found when I need them to quickly tell me why there’s sparks coming out of my toilet and how to extinguish smoldering ass hair. I’ve digressed, haven’t I? O’Neill was more enthusiastic during the intros and tossed some free hats to the crowd. Nothing fancy like Easter bonnets, but just baseball hats. I heard the hats read “Bowlers Have 16 Pound Balls”, but I can’t get confirmation on that yet. O’Neill wins the match.

The second match featured Mike Machuga versus David Traber. I wanted Machuga to win so he could use the prize money to get a cheeseburger since he was in danger of being outweighed by an Olsen twin. The anorexic one. Traber reminded me of an obsolete shop teacher that had to give up his space to a new computer lab. Mahuga wins.

Why the PBA on Sunday instead of the NFL action, you ask? It was kind of by mistake – I was watching the NFL pre-game show on ESPN and didn’t change the channel in time. I stayed tuned in because I’m a bitter old man. You see, I was a bowling geek when I was a kid and I even attended those TV matches when they rolled through town. Went bowling with the old man on Sunday mornings as soon as I got him over his hangover by presenting him with a double Smirnoff Bloody Mary without any of that leafy green shit in it. I even got to bowl with PBA Hall of Famer and fellow Chicagoan Carmen Salvino. And by the time I was 12 I was always in the battle for highest league average, but gave it all up for the glamour of a baseball and football career. As Donald Trump would not have failed to point out to me, it was a catastrophic error. Turns out I couldn’t hit a curveball to save Crystal Bernard’s life, and my dual superpowers of being both skinny and slow failed to impress the football scouts or the cheerleaders. Had I stuck with bowling I could have been touring the country in my very own vintage Airstream trailer, performing in front of scores of fans weekly, and earning $35k a year in prize money with a little luck. But today is Mike Machuga’s day to shine, and he handily defeats Bill O’Neill to take his first PBA tour victory and a $40k payday.

I lost my touch after retiring at age 12; my curve ball doesn’t curve anymore and I can’t squeeze into those size 8 bowling shoes. Moist Rub and I were founding members of the infamous Housewives from Encino bowling team in the 80’s, but our sole purpose was to see how much we could torment the serious bowlers in the league without getting kicked out. Now it seems like the only time I bowl is when my sister-in-law comes to town and gets tired of getting her ass kicked in Monopoly. But after Leper Pop t-shirt sales take off, I plan on installing that bowling alley in my house. None of that automated crap, either. Scorekeeping by hand and real live old-school pinsetters, modeled after the Southport Lanes in Chicago. Stop by the house for a game if you’re ever in town. I’ll keep my balls out for you.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Leper House - The Message Board

Cause, what the world needs now
Is a new kind of tension.
Cause the old one just bores me to death.
Cause, what the world needs now
Is another folk singer
Like I need a hole in my head.

One of my favorite songs – Teen Angst by Cracker. Too much damn stuff in this world. Except for strippers. You can never have too many strippers. Unless you’re holding auditions for a new Motley Crue video – then you might have too many. But you’ll need some spares after a few get soiled by Tommy Lee. And I digress.

I never thought you’d be a junkie because heroin is so passé. But so are blogs and here we are sharing literary needles with our readers. So addicted were some readers back in our Rock Star heyday that they demanded a message board. Unfortunately, between saving corporations from the throes of bankruptcy and making fun of MiG we didn’t have the time to satisfy those demands, besides the fact that we don’t like being told what to do. So don’t do that. Recently I was doing some research for a dedicated reader that unadvisedly consulted us on blogging, and the message board question arose. I had some time and set one up just for fun to see what was involved. Fortunately, it wasn’t as involved as assembling a gas grill and before you know it I had a living, breathing message board. I shared my bowl of oatmeal with it, changed the oil, and it appears to be running now.

Not being ones for shameless self-promotion, we quietly posted a link to Leper House on the sidebar of the blog earlier this week. Some attentive readers have discovered it, and it appears to be working nicely. Just a warning – it can be a pain in the ass to register, but after you refinance your home and earn a certificate in dishwasher technology from the University of Phoenix, they should let you in. Just hit the back button if you get stuck during the process. Or have a drink and fire off a letter to PETA. They have nothing to do with it, but I’m sure they’d love to hear about your wall-to-wall fur carpeting.

Surely, the last thing the world needs is another message board. We’re well aware of some of the popular ones that our readers already frequent and we don’t expect to replace those. We won’t be broken, shattered alive if you don’t visit. But if you’re lonely, you know we’re waiting here for you. No cliques, no titles, no rules. We enjoy the feedback and comments on the blog and hope those don’t go away, but if you have anything else to discuss with Moist, Sid or amongst yourselves then we hope we’ve found a place to accommodate you.