Monthly Archives: June 2019

T-shirts from the Collection: Sarajevo Park

Sarjevo Park Graphic Artists Under Siege Tee

The city was under siege, cut off from the outside world.  Day after day, year after year, shells rained down on it from enemy artillery in the surrounding hills.  Enemy snipers brought fire on anything with two legs.  People died and buildings fell, every day. Municipal services were in shambles, civic order tenuous at best. Wherever you looked you saw damage.

The citizens carried on. Some fought back with guns. Bu some fought with art.

This was Sarajevo, capital of Bosnia from 1992 to 1996: under siege by Serbian forces for almost four years during the Bosnian War, a conflict so complicated that even Wikipedia’s synopsis made my head explode.

For most of the siege, Sarajevo got no international help at all. So a  Sarajevo graphic design collective called Trio, with very little left to design in a besieged city with few resources, produced a series of darkly humor postcards that injected the name “Sarajevo” into well-known icons of art, film, and advertising.

Trio’s message to the world was: “Don’t forget Sarajevo!  We’re still here!”  They wanted the world to think of Sarajevo whenever it saw the familiar symbols.

Trio’s secondary message was, “Bosnian humor is dark as hell.” Besides “Sarajevo Park,” the design collective produced “Enjoy Sara-Jevo” (a redesigned Coca-Cola label), “The Sarajevo Zone,” (a “Twilight Zone” parody), a bullet-riddled Andy Warhol Campbell’s Soup can (renamed “Sarajevo’s Chicken and Rice”),  a classic Uncle Sam who “wants YOU to save SARAJEVO,” and dozens more.  Search for them; they’re very effective.

The designs got out of Bosnia as postcards and posters. They spread across the world. They won approval from leading art critics and the international media even as the siege continued.

The Trio group didn’t produce my “Sarajevo Park” t-shirt, or any t-shirts. The t-shirt is an American brand, and the lettering is slightly different; it’s probably unauthorized. Online, I can’t find any graphic of it except on my own site.

But the message remains — perhaps not “Remember us!” anymore.  But certainly, “Don’t forget!”

T-Shirts from the Collection: The Twilight of the Culturati

First Night 1995 Santa Cruz Tee

Look at this t-shirt. The image is quite sweet: a smiling, crescent moon hooks itself to a clock tower on a pleasant evening. It must be for some kind of happy festival in the small city that I live in: Santa Cruz, California.

That was the idea.  But the festival, and this t-shirt, were  born out of anger, police batons, and broken glass.

Here’s the story: twenty-five or so years ago Santa Cruz was the kind of place where people had to make their own fun: build giant bonfires on the beach, shoot guns into the night, organize group trespassing, start fights in bars.  You know.  Because otherwise, not much happened in this city on the distant, trailing edge of a major metro area.

Nothing whatsoever New Year’s Eve, outside of celebration at a few clubs.  Downtown Santa Cruz greeted the new years with empty streets and darkness.

So an anarchic band of townies, surfers, characters, and reckless youth began their own New Year’s Eve event.  In the run-up to midnight, they’d gather at the Clock Tower at the north end of downtown. The crowd would carouse a bit, count down the New Year, carouse a bit more, and event leave.  I’m sure that alcoholic beverages had presence in the crowd.

As these things do, the non-event grew in size and popularity and unruliness.  One year, somebody was stabbed.

The next year, on New Year’s Even 1993, the police showed up in force to control the festivities.  But that’s now how things worked out.

You’ve heard of the fog of war, that state of fast-moving conflict within which nobody knows what’s really happening.  Well, it’s nothing next to the Fog of Santa Cruz.  The police say one thing; word of mouth says another; and nobody trusts the newspaper. People pick the narrative that they want to believe.

At any rate, very soon after midnight on January 1, 1994,  a platoon of police advanced quickly and aggressively on Clock Tower plaza. Their intent was to disperse the crowd.  Advance warning? Not very much.

Thus occurred — a disturbance.  Some might call it a riot; some might call it “refusing to cooperate on the grand scale.” But all agree on this: some of the celebrants fled south through the heart of downtown and merrily broke expensive plate-glass shop windows along the way.

The next morning found the town’s authorities and media aghast. Violence! Misbehavior! Expensive broken plate glass windows!  It was soon agreed: New Year’s Eve could no longer be left to run itself in downtown Santa Cruz.  In my opinion, the shop windows sealed the deal; those things cost money.

And on  December 31, 1994, “First Night Santa Cruz” made its debut: a family-friendly, alcohol-free festival that completely occupied downtown with live entertainment, a safe and walkable environment of traffic-free streets, and heavy police presence.  But no alcohol.  There at last was a reason for respectable people to want to come downtown on New Year’s Eve.

How did it happen? Well, control of the event was given to a hastily-thrown-together nonprofit staffed by the town’s culturati: the people who’ve served on the boards of cultural institutions and all know each other — and everyone else who matters.  They knew how to get things done. They had the free time to do the things. They knew who to go to for donations and help.

And it worked. First Night even brought in real money.  A $25 button admitted you to numerous  indoor venues that offered full evenings of entertainment. First Night sold something over 20,000 of those buttons.

If you didn’t want to pay, you could roam through the crowds with your friends, watch a parade, see and be seen, listen to live bands, and be there for the New Year’s countdown. And while the streets were alcohol-free, the bars and restaurants weren’t.  For some, that was more than enough.

Suddenly, First Night Santa Cruz was the place to be on New Year’s Eve.  There was a First Night ’96, and ’97, and beyond.  The festival chugged along year after year with seemingly no end in sight.  Tens of thousands showed up annually from Santa Cruz and beyond. Below is the 2001 t-shirt.

First Night Santa Cruz 2001 Tee

And yet, button sales began to sag.  The free entertainment and the whole free outdoor scene still drew the many thousands, but attendance at the entertainment venues was in decline.  Money got tight.  Simply, First Night programming began to bore people.

First Night Santa Cruz 2001 Tee 2The culturati who ran First Night Santa Cruz put the same kind of show on every year: culturally inclusive, politically aware, family friendly, a touch feminist. But above all, cultural.  A typical year’s schedule might include: children’s dance companies, jaunty classical saxophone quartets and classical guitarists, modern jazz bands, Paraguayan harpists, folk singers, family-friendly local rock and blues groups, ethnic dance troupes, socially-important art installations, and so on.

To the culturati, this was their mandate.  It never changed, even though the acts always did. After the first few years, the community began to find the programming lackluster; not everbody, but a lot of people.

Fire eaters and giant robots and screaming, offensive punk bands might have jazzed things up; Santa Cruz is  home to all those things. But First Night Santa Cruz couldn’t kick out the jams of decorum and metaphorically howl at the New Year.  Its whole reason to exist was to keep the calm — and keep glass shop windows intact.

Before too many more years passed, First Night Santa Cruz was in trouble: battered by bad weather, a bad economy, and just bad luck. They’d even missed a year.

First Night 2006 Small LogoWith limited funds remaining and a spunky new director, First Night did what institutions always do when they’re in trouble but can’t change: it doubled down.  First Night 2005 was the most cultural and significant of them all.

Below is the major t-shirt graphic.  Click to expand; there’s a lot of detail. I particularly like the tutus on the fish, and the sea otter with a trumpet.  Honorable mention to the children dressed like stars, and what appears to be Glinda, the Good Witch of the West.

First Night 2006 back iew

First Night Santa Cruz 2005’s theme was “Rivers of Life.” It honored the San Lorenzo River, Santa Cruz’ badly abused hometown river, and the local efforts to fix it. It honored the United Nations Decade of Water and Life. It featured environmental cartoons drawn by children. Children painted to look like fish marched in the parade. Moreover, an entire block of Pacific Avenue was transformed into an artificial wetlands with an artificial river running through it. Attendees were invited to throw their New Year’s resolutions into the river and watch them float away.

For all I know, that year’s festivities were an artistic success. But this was the last First Night Santa Cruz.

And yet, downtown Santa Cruz still rocks on New Year’s Eve.  To this day, people still come in large numbers: for the scene, for the countdown, for a little street entertainment, and for the many restaurants and night spots that took root downtown during the dotcom boom era. The police presence remains heavy; order is maintained.  Many merchants do a good business, and shop windows remain intact.

You can see things this way: First Night Santa Cruz kept order downtown on New Year’s Eve until downtown could live without it.

And yet, anarchy cannot be suppressed. Not entirely. For upon the death of First Night Santa Cruz  “Last Night Santa Cruz” rose almost immediately.  Anarchists (the kind who would carry cards if anarchists issued cards) and free spirits gather on Pacific Avenue every New Year’s Eve to stage an unauthorized DIY “Last Night” parade featuring… anybody who wants to take part.

The police worked against “Last Night” in the beginning, and are still not its friend.  But “Last Night” is peaceful and arty and a little bit crazy in the fine old traditions of Santa Cruz hippiedom. People like it. So the powers that be have never mustered the will to shut it down.

Besides, “Last Night” breaks no windows.  That’s the important thing.

The more things change, the more they stay the same, and change again and stay the same in different ways.  If you want fire dancers and giant robots and participatory art in downtown Santa Cruz, the art and history museum handles that now, and rather well. They even have free live music in the evening once or twice most weeks, where you can have a drinkie on their (private) square, if you so desire. And the anarchists’ community center will take care of your screaming punk rock needs.


And the anarchists’ community center presents a lot of screaming punk rock.

The Chip is Dead. Long Live the Jefferson.

Like everybody else I use plastic for most purchases. My debit card and I are as one. Periodically the bank sends us a short novel based on our transactions: the story of our month in the form of expenditures.

Last week, my debit card’s chip died. Card readers in retail stores would still let me swipe the card — but only after I’d tried the chip three times, and failed. That didn’t work for me. I called the bank, and they sent a new chip card my way. ETA, a few days.

But the card worked fine in the bank’s own ATMs. I could withdraw money. And so I rediscovered the World of Cash. It is a wondrous place. There are dangers, but the advantages are huge.

Cash is a great timesaver. I just… hand it to the clerk. I don’t have to insert a card into a slot, wait for a prompt on a machine, punch in a code or any of those things. The clerk makes change, gives it to me, and hands me a receipt. That’s it.

Yes, there are phone apps for all this. Just pony up a grand for your iPhone, plus the monthly charges, and you’re all set.

In the meantime, I have now have time to make actual eye contact with the clerk serving me. I can relate to them as human beings, instead of doing data entry work on a tiny keyboard. Work, by the way, that I don’t get paid for.

My private life stays more private. Cash is independent of any database. Nobody knows what I spent my money on, or even that I spent any at all. There’s no record.

My transaction information or contact information cannot be stolen or sold. It will not be added to a database of all things known about me. It will not be sold to companies or entities public or private, foreign or domestic.

Cash will work when the Internet goes down. You think that the Internet will never go down? It did once where I live, for most of a day. All e-commerce, all credit and debit transactions, all ATMs: down for millions of people, thanks to a couple of guys with a little knowledge, a lot of attitude, and wire cutters. Commerce held together that day until repairs were made; but two days? Three? We didn’t find out. I don’t want to.

With cash, I also find that I spend less. When I purchase something with plastic, the plastic remains. When I purchase something with cash, I have less cash. As the amount of cash decreases, I reconsider impulse buys.

Cash is accepted nearly everywhere, with no service fee to customer or vendor. Some retailers want to go cashless; this is unacceptable. And it will remain unacceptable until everyone, no matter how poor, has a checking account and card. Over 8.4 million households in the United States are “unbanked.”

Sweden is moving a cashless society. Many stores and even banks no longer deal in cash. The Swede in the Street supports them, or most of them do. They have faith that their government will shape this trend to everyone’s best interest.

I used to feel that way about the United States government. If a politician had a (D) after their name, I felt that they were working for me. I no longer do: Sweden may take care of its people, but the people in power over us tend to blame the victims. “No card? Well, GET ONE!” Some pols with the (D) after their name tend to agree; or stay silent.

Cash can’t do everything. Some purchases are too large for cash — though I can carry checks. There is no question, though, that e-commerce is here to stay. My new chip card arrived yesterday from Omaha. And while it remains in its envelope for now, I will need it soon.

But not every day. Not for every single routine purchase of food and clothing and merchandise — all of which add up so quickly if you don’t watch the money physically dwindle.

There are counterfeit bills to deal with, of course. And cash can be stolen. On the other hand, an e-commerce purchase can easily provide you with counterfeit merchandise, that is inferior or even dangerous. And hackers sniff daily at you and your accounts, looking for weaknesses.

There is danger everywhere; just, different dangers and different ways of staying safe.

I’m sorry that the cash solution isn’t for everybody, because we live in a society where tens of millions — maybe over a hundred million, I don’t know — can’t obtain the necessities without credit cards and short-term debt.

I remember the time I ever saw the words “We take credit cards” in the window of a supermarket. This was 35 years ago, and buying food on credit was unheard of in my city. Everyone had always used cash to buy food. Everyone had enough cash. Or they had, up till then.

I thought to myself, something’s wrong. This is a dangerous road.

And it is. Now more than ever.

T-Shirts from the Collection: The Tees that Tradesmen Wear

Godwin Framing Gorilla Workman's Santa Cruz Tee

The wife and I were catching a couple of slices at a pizza restaurant that runs a good lunch special: a couple of Sicilian slices and a drink for a reasonable price. Add a buck or so for a short beer. It’s a favorite lunch stop for tradesmen and construction workers. They like that short beer.

The lunch rush had passed, and there were maybe ten other people in the place: weatherbeaten middle-aged guys who worked with their hands. They were all chawing pizza, sipping beer and staring at ESPN on the flatscreen. Or into the mirror behind the bar.

And eight of those ten were wearing screen-printed t-shirts: for their business or employer; for the tools they used; or for their union.

When I write about t-shirts, I sometimes ramble on about the power of the tee: put on a printed tee and you put on an identity. You become the message. The tee says who you are and what you believe in — or even what owns you. You are judged and classified by it.

And here it was, all around me: the cabinet installer with his employer’s name on his back. The body and fender guy. The electrician. The carpenter, in a tool company gimme shirt. The mechanic, his tee covered with flaming crescent wrenches. All defined by the messages on their backs.

And you have to ask: do you wear that shirt because you want to, or because you have to? Sometimes it’s clear. Sometimes it isn’t.

And: who are you? Does the tee show who you are? Who you want to be? What somebody else wants you to be?

These thoughts endless intrigues me. T-shirts and identity, identity and t-shirts. Yes, I’m weird, but then I have a couple of thousand tees, half of them indexed, so what was your question again? At any rate, here are some of the tees that Santa Cruz tradesmen wear. To be, or not to be.

Bustichi Construction

Butischi Constrution Butt Crack Tee

I needed a contractor; a woman at work referred me to her cousins at Bustichi Construction, “a couple of Italian good-old-boys having a great time.” Considering the butt and penis innuendos, I don’t doubt it.

I saw a workman wearing this tee at the same pizza restaurant once, years after Bustichi Construction changed its name and a lot of other things. Maybe it was his favorite shirt.

Mikasa Rammer MQ

Mikasa Phallic Rammer Tool

If your employer’s t-shirt doesn’t measure up to Bustichi Construction’s phallic overtones, you can always get a tee of a guy with a great big tool from the Mikasa earth rammer salesman. Free!

Monahan Builders

Santa Cruz Monahan Contractor Build it or Die Tee

This is a fine example of contractor-representing-self-as-mad-dog-work-animal. The genre is popular in these parts. And you don’t see many blue-eyed skulls, either. If I worked in construction, I’d proudly wear this one.

Halsteel Gun Nails

Sands of Iwo Jima Nail Company Tee

Sands of Iwo Jima Nail Company Tee 2Nothing shows love of country like four carpenters on Iwo Jima raising the flag atop Mount Suribachi on a gigantic gun nail. A nail made in AMERICA, by God.

They have a point, though: American workmen are expected to be proud of American products, made by others just like them.  You don’t see “Made in America” touted on hardware gimme shirts much anymore because, so often the hardware isn’t.  Or it might be this year, but not next year.  Big corporations blithely and swiftly move producion to wherever it’s cheapest at the moment.

Schmitty’s Custom Cabinets

Schmitty's Custom Cabinets / Surfboard

The cliche goes that most Santa Cruz contractors and woodworkers are surfers. And that around, oh, 3 pm, they’ll tell you that they’ve got to head to the lumberyard for more material and “see ya tomorrow. And they jump in their truck and head straight for Steamer Lane or the Hook. It’s just a stereotype, right?

Right. To me, it looks like “Schmitty” is sneaking away with his board on tiptoe.

Nutt Construction

Santa Cruz Nutt Construction Tee 2

Santa Cruz Nutt Construction Tee 1I looked him up. He’s a contractor, a surfer, a sailor and something of an over-60 stud. I do doubt that he surfs with his circular saw and nail gun.

Again, don’t buy into the stereotype that all Santa Cruz construction dudes are just surfers. Oh, please don’t.


Pipe Fusion Machine Rental

Pipe Fusion Cheesecake

This tee is all about renting devices for the butt-to-butt fusing of two big plastic pipes (drainage or sewer pipes, industrial pipes, what have you).

Simply slide the two big, big pipes together through the circular guides, and the machine applies heat and pressure until the two pipes fuse into one. Bakes the bun in the oven, so to speak. Pay no attention to the hot mom perched on top. She’s just there to make sure that you don’t miss the metaphor.

Perrigo Auto Body

Perrigo Body Shop Santa Cruz Surfing Car

Do auto body men really get in the curl on ‘70s-era Corvette Stingrays off Cowell Beach? A Corvette would make the ultimate longboard, true. At least I can guess what Perrigo does with his time off.

Years ago while driving, my wife’s wedding ring dropped off her finger into an obscure crevice between the seats of our old Integra. I couldn’t find the crevice, or the ring. I called Perrigo and explained; they pulled the seats and got the ring back tout suite. After they stopped laughing.

Snap-on Tools

Snap-On Flaming Crescent Wrenches Tee

Snap-On Race Car TeeEarly on I mentioned flaming crescent wrenches, and I wasn’t kidding. Snap-On Tools is famous for bizarre and flashy gimme shirts aimed at people who fix cars, trucks, marine engines, aircraft, and so on. You know — guys. Be they male or female.

They know the secret: make a winning tee, and some mechanic will become your volunteer billboard. Snap-On tees eschew sex objects or sexual innuendo. These tees are all about steel, flame, and large fast-moving metal objects. No two are alike. I’m not a collect-them-all kind of collector, or I’d need a warehouse. But with Snap-On tees, I’m tempted.

Kurt M. Stephens and Sons Carpet Installation

Santa Cruz Fuzzy Side Up Carpet Tee 2

Santa Cruz Fuzzy Side Up Carpet Tee 1I know very little about Kurt M. Stephens, but he felt it humorous to send his workers out to jobs wearing tees printed with the instruction “Fuzzy Side Up.” See, they could read it off each other’s back if they forgot what to do.

I wonder how the “and Sons” part of the firm felt about all this.

Santa Cruz Carpenter’s Union Local

Santa Cruz Carpenters Local 505 with Surfboard 1

Well, um, I still don’t think that we should stereotype Santa Cruz tradesmen as die-hard surfers who just work so that they can keep surfing. Even if the Carpenter’s Union shows a happy tradesman standing in the redwoods with a mighty longboard. It’s lies, I tell you, all lies.

Ahern Rentals

Ahern Equipment Rental Jackhammer Through Foot Tee

Ahern will rent you any equipment you need in the construction biz — except good sense. A ha-ha construction joke t-shirt, as good — or bad — as they get.

Ferrell Electric

Santa Cruz Ferrell Electric Jimbo Phillips

Electricians don’t do a lot of sexual innuendo on company t-shirts. They prefer puns about electricity. The only vaguely sexual motto I’ve seen on a shirt was “We’ll check your shorts.” It came from some feral electrician up toward Eureka.

That said, I’ll bet that Mr. Ferrell — while not feral — is another Santa Cruz-area surfin’ contractor.

3M Vinyl Electrical Tape

Scotch Electrical Tape 1

As far as the American public is concerned, 3M is the kindly old uncle of American corporations. They sell tape, and they’ve been around however; how bad can they be, right?

On that last question, opinions vary. But it’s clear that kindly Uncle Three-Em will pitch big-breasted cheesecake with the best of them to catch the tradesman market. And yes, they, like Halsteel, can say “Made in USA.”

Note that the ‘driver” wears high-heeled sandals with her racing suit. 3M printed several t-shirts in this series — hot women, cars, electrical tape — but I chose not to Collect Them All. I have my pride.

I leave you with a tradesman’s tee that poses the one great universal question:  WHY IS THIS MAN LAUGHING?  HE NEVER STOPS! WHY? WHY?

Mr. Rooter