Tee Shirts from the Collection: Saloon and Bar T-Shirts, “Dive” and Otherwise

Kokopelli Moon Saloon Tee

(To long-time readers: I’ve got my t-shirt collection mostly catalogued, and I’m starting to write up descriptions of the individual shirts. This essay draws on some of my tee research.)

Some people call them cocktail lounges, or clubs, or saloons. To me, they’re all bars. Whether the drinks are mixed or beers the only tipple. Whether there’s one pool table or a dozen. You pony up. You drink — with friends, for company, or alone when you’re the only company you have or want.

There may be food. There may be ‘tude. There may be social life, or a darts tourney, or a pick-up scene. Or just locals who know each other, or want to know somebody, anybody, because they’re lonely or horny and home is just a bed. And if you buy enough drinks, at least the bartender will learn your name. Eventually.

And there may be a tee shirt, especially if it’s a dive bar. (Although about everything calls itself a dive bar these days.) A bar t-shirt’s purpose is to be worn proudly by regulars; but mainly to look somewhat cool, so that the bar looks cool, too. So that you, a stranger, might see the shirt and think about stopping by..

Johnny's Bar Busty Biker Tee

The question is, “looks cool” to whom? If you’re a certain kind of guy, “cool” may be a hot blonde with breasts spilling out of her clothes, a pool cue in hand, and a motorcycle. It’s a kind of visual pheromone; the scenario writes itself in the hopeful mind. And while the promise may never be kept, you never know. And there’ll be beer.

Johnny’s Bar and Grill, by the way, is a venerable small-town saloon in Hollister, California. There’s Monday Night Football on the big screen, dart tourneys, and karaoke nights, and probably a pool table someplace. And once a year it’s invaded by bikers; the whole town is, actually. Call it a festival. I really doubt that bosom-spilling centerfold models are on the premises nightly, but you can dream. They want you to.

So that’s one kind of cool. But elsewhere, “cool” may be a unicorn giving discreet oral sex to a griffin with a drink in its hand.

Griffin Bar Unicorn Sex LV The Griffin in Las Vegas doesn’t call itself as a dive bar; it presents as a classy, classic ’50s cocktail lounge. But if that’s the case I just… don’t get… the t-shirt. A griffin getting oral sex from a unicorn? Unless that’s a reference to Frank Sinatra or something. Just kidding. I never understood Vegas. Or maybe I understood it too well.

I could have dozens of tees like these, if I kept my eyes open: potential sex is a basic theme for bar tees. But I don’t need or want dozens. Though this tee from a bar in a touristy beach town near me has more fun with the idea.

Capitola Bay Bar Tee

They don’t have dive bars on the Capitola Esplanade (just down the road from Santa Cruz, my home), but Bay Bar and Grill is definitely a locals’ spot. There, any would-be Tiki God from the nearby Pleasure Point surf breaks can meet the home town wahine of his dreams,. Or that’s the story, if you believe what t-shirts tell you.

Again, back to dive bars: I don’t know what it is about college-educated young professionals, but in this town at least they want every bar to be a dive bar — a gritty, lively place full of “real” people and “real” alcoholics. The booze is cheap, the pours are big, and the bartender has seen the elephant. And Happy Hour never ends. Santa Cruz’ favorite dive bar is the Rush Inn,; the Rush Inn meets all the requirements. Plus heavy cigarette smoke.

Santa Cruz Rush Inn Tee

I don’t get the appeal, but who said that was important? Though I have to ask what a “dive bar” is anymore. The Lucky 13 calls itself a dive bar. But with a notably arty tee and a rotating selection of craft beers on tap. And it’s own tattoo parlor located conveniently upstairs for times when the craft beer has broken down your inhibitions.

Lucky 13 Devil Cat Bar Tee

A dive bar with craft beer on tap and in-house tattooing? In a comfortable neighborhood of comfortable Alameda, California? I think we’ve crossed the line into marketing and branding here.

But nobody could deny that the Alley Cat Lounge is “real.”

Alley Cat

The Alley Cat is an Indianapolis dive bar: the real thing, reaching back seventy years. I picked it up because the tee design is supremely good.

The Alley Cat is literally on an alley: walk past the dumpsters and the scruffy street punks to find the front door. Once upon a time cops and reporters and “the element” rubbed shoulders and downed stiff shots in its low-life environs.

Things have changed somewhat: the front room is now an attractive lounge with good lighting and good food. But head for the back room, where it’s still dark and spartan and the walls are old brick, the bartenders pour big, and the hard drinkers party like it’s 1949. That’s a dive bar, friends.

Not a dive bar, but I have to throw in this mystery entry: Wayne’s Cowboy Room.

Wayne's Cowboy Room Tee

I can’t find out a thing about this tee but… a vaccuum tube wearing a cowboy suit? You’re talking Hank Williams, old-school cowboy music, and maybe some rockabilly: the kind of cowboy and country music played in ‘50s honky-tonks on Martin guitars and tube amps. Wayne’s sounds like a great bar with a great music scene, but I’ll never really know. Unless someone tells me.

Hammered Shark Good Fake Bar Tee

That’s about it for right now. Although you’ll note I had nothing to say about the Kokopelli Moon Saloon t-shirt at the top of this article, nor about the Hammered Shark Saloon tee that you see above. That’s because they’re fakes: joke shirts. “Real” bar tees can be so over-the-top that joke shirts can pass for the real thing. I got snookered.

I keep them in the collection anyway, as a lesson: that sometimes it’s hard to make up something very much crazier than reality.

The Mansion that Nobody Wants

When something truly bad happens, people never quite forget.  The trauma, the dread, the revulsion:  these things never really go away. Wise men know enough to acknowledge what happened. Fools hope it’ll all blow over.

I thought about that the other day.  In the context of Santa Cruz real estate.

There it was, on a local social media board: “Unique Midcentury Home for Sale.” The link led to a high-end sales video that easily cost a couple of grand to produce.

And gentlemen and ladies, when you’re asking four million for a house, a couple of grand for the pitch video is chump change.

For your four million, you get an eleven-acre hilltop estate out in the hills above Soquel with free-form salt-water pool on a stone terrace; a tennis court and impeccable gardens and glades; top flight ocean views, and of course a mid-century Prairie School mansion.

The mansion offers 4000-plus square feet of rough-cut stone and natural wood beams and open-plan goodness. And glass.  Lots and lots of glass. And maybe, down in the wine cellar, the words “Frank Lloyd Wright was here” chiseled in the wall.  And if not, they should have been. Check it out.


And yet: it won’t sell.  It won’t sell in the world’s white-hottest real estate market, a black hole of a market that crushes the hopes and dreams of plebes like you and me and spits out ever-higher prices.

It wont’ sell despite the fawning feature stories planted in the big regional newspapers. Or all the well-heeled professionals from the big city with cash to buy other estates around here.

It won’t sell in a place where a tiny two-bedroom by the freeway just might break 900K. Priced-out renters are literally demonstrating in the streets — and it won’t sell.

It’s been two years on the market.   The sellers eventually cut the price by ten percent while all around it home prices shot for the stars.

And it still won’t sell.  It was a puzzle. But for me, the answer came from the address: 999 North Rodeo Gulch Road. The address rang a bell. A very, very faint bell from fifty years ago.  But I have lived in Santa Cruz more than half that long.  I called up a search engine and searched “999 North Rodeo Gulch,” Soquel and “murder.”

And there it was, at the top of the results: a terse account of quintuple murder out of the archives of a big east coast newspaper.

Today you might call it a home invasion: a wealthy doctor, his wife and children, and an employee were taken hostage at home by a man with a .45.  The man tied up each family member as they came home.

He raved at them all about materialism and a war to save the environment — aside from the house itself, a Rolls and a Lincoln sat in the driveway. Then he shot them all and threw the bodies in the pool. He paused to set the house on fire, and left.

Some say that the murderer heard voices in his head; others blamed LSD and radical politics. The jury found him sane and sent him to Death Row, but the state abolished the death penalty soon after and commuted his sentence to life in prison.  He died in his cell 30-odd years later, by his own hand. A more complete, if sensationalist, account of the matter can be found here.

A few years after that, the house went on the market.  And it won’t sell.

In this state, any death on a property in the past three years must be disclosed to prospective buyer.  Any earlier, and the seller need not volunteer the information. But they must still answer honestly if asked: “Anybody ever die here?”

Yet the murders really shouldn’t matter now — should they?   After all, 50 years have passed. The damage has been repaired; the blood, long scrubbed way; the pool, cleaned and cleaned again. The murderer is dead.

New owners purchased the place. Life went on.  Drive by 999 North Rodeo Gulch Road today and all you’ll see is a metal gate and an elegant stone wall.  Stylish steel letters spell out the street number and name.  Nothing suggests sadness, or madness, or death.

But people are funny.  Superstitious or not, most of them still don’t want to live in the memory of evil. Certainly not while paying $4 million for the privilege.

So they turn their back on this midcentury Mount Olympus and go inspect a remodeled tract home over by the wastewater treatment plant.

Sure, the real estate guys might keep their mouths shut. But every real estate broker and salesman in town knows about that house by now.  They can’t say they don’t. They are going to tell their buyers, law or no law.  Maybe they’ll give them a little time to fall in love with the place, but they’ll surely disclose long before the buyer picks up the pen.

Because, law or no law, not disclosing is not an option. The stain on that house will never go away. If this buyer doesn’t find out, the next one will, down the line. And lawyers exist for a reason.

And the outraged homeowners would howl “‘My broker Honest Bob Greedy let us buy a murder house WITHOUT TELLING US.”

It’d be tweeted and Facebooked and Yelped and Reddited and YouTubed and memed until Bob Greedy changed his name and fled town with an Internet lynch mob on his heels and an angry hashtag branded on his forehead in bloody red letters. Shameful truths want to be known.  They do not like to be concealed.

Whether the subject in question is a mansion with a bloody history, or a Supreme Court justice who just might be a rapist, concealment is the major evil here, beyond even the acts being concealed. Concealment puts a buyer’s treasure in the hands of a criminal; it potentially puts the law of the nation in the hands of a man whose character may, just may, be that of a criminal and brute.

It is all very expedient to rush someone like Brett Kavanaugh through a quick, orchestrated hearing and a perfunctory investigation and say, “See, this is now settled. The letter of the law is obeyed.”  And then airily opine, as Republican Senate Leader McConnell did, that “these things always blow over.”

But it is not settled simply because the letter of the law says it is.  As the real estate guys know, what you do within the letter of the law can still destroy the process’s integrity. It can still destroy the trust that the brokers need to stay in business.  And there are always lawyers.

And for politicians who rush through a flawed nominee, there may well be further disclosures from the nominees victims to contend with.  If more such victims are there, they will arise.

And there will be distrust, and revulsion, and demonstrations, anger and strife.  The hot-house subversives in the GOP underestimate just how fragile civil society is, while they swing sledgehammers at its foundations.

It could be that the thing to “blow over” will be Mitch McConnell’s oligarch-friendly Senate majority.  And perhaps even the legitimacy of the Supreme Court itself, and the White House beyond that.  I am not eager for that.  Legitimacy given up is not easily regained.

All this, because the character of their new Supreme Court judge is being concealed, glossed over. Again, this concealment is the real crime against America. Because without men of good character America’s law is just a dry set of rules to be manipulated for the benefit of the greedy and power-hungry.  As we have seen, and may well see even more of thanks to Justice Kavanaugh.

And that definitely won’t sell.  They will be shown that.

Whining in Paradise

It was hot here this summer. Maybe not by your standards, oh sweltering New Yorker.  Nor by yours, oh stoic Japanese watching Tokyo melt around you. Nor by the wide-eyed Norwegians who watched their paper-dry forests burn like — well, paper.  As the temperature hit 90 in Oslo and the rain ran away and cried.  On Finland.

But for us, it was hot.  We live in a misty seaside redoubt of cool air and mist on California’s central course: a small city of beaches and cliffs on the shore of a fortunate bay. “Heat” is not us.
A nice summer day begins with morning fog.  This is a good thing, because it freshens the air and clears by 11. Then comes a golden afternoon. The thermometer crests at a pleasant 73F under blue skies scalloped with thin fronds of cloud.

In many ways — not all — it’s Paradise. We live in the blower of a mighty marine air conditioner. Without it, California would be a desert.  The cool, gray clouds  keep the coast mild, and the inland valleys only tolerably hot. Hot enough to ripen tomatoes and almonds and kumquats. But not enough to hurt.

Yet when summer rolled around this year, the fogs did not come.  Every day dawned clear.  And our coastal Paradise hit the 80s day after day.  It was a disaster. No one has air conditioning; it’d be like a swimsuit on a penguin.  Normally.

And we griped and sweated like the weather wimps we are while Sacramento and Modesto and Red Bluff and all those places 100 miles inland hit 105 over and over again.   And the land was bone dry.
And then came fires.  Mother Nature said, “Oh, look, there are 14 million dead trees in the National Forests.  Let me… take care of that for you.”

Gee, thanks, Mom.  Yeah it’s “nature’s way” to burn land that needs clearing, but Mother Nature enjoyed it way too much.  Her senile cackle echoed ‘cross the sky while ash and smoke from three dozen fires made the daytime sky a bleary mess.  Cities burned.  You heard me: cities.

Our fault, of course, for not clearing the dead wood.  And for not letting the forests burn naturally, because they were full of our vacation and retirement homes. Mother Nature only hurts you if you don’t fear her.  Oh, she’ll teach you.

That was the first half of summer: abnormally hot.  Then came the second half: abnormally cold.  Temperatures dropped.  Our fog came back; thick and iron grey, Reluctant to leave before 3 in the afternoon.  If that.

And the inlands cooled, too, and the fire armies got the upper hand against the Carr Fire and the County Fire and the insanely massive Mendocino Complex Fire. They’re contained now.  Still not out, after two months.  But not spreading.

And today, and yesterday, and the day before, the weather here in Paradise got its feet back under it. The fog vanished in late morning. Gentle wind caressed the cheek, like an old girlfriend in a good mood.

Come afternoon the sunlight turned everything a mellow red-gold.  Down at the farmer’s market, the usual suspects sipping beer among the booths shone like some pantheon of surfer gods and old hippies. A warm wind blasted in from the west with the scent of flowers.  It flowed down the throat like wine.

This is the “old” normal weather here.  But is it normal anymore?  I haven’t seen it around much lately.

So I don’t know. If anyone knows what’s normal anymore, please tell me.  Before “normal” changes again.

I do know this: the rains weren’t much this year; not a drop has struck the ground since mid-April.  The hills and valleys are overgrown with “fuel,” trees and brush that have never been cut back.  If this were a normal year, September and October would be our hottest months.  We called them Fire Season: when California used to burn.

But now Fire Season never ends.  We had wildfires last December, if you can believe it. Our old balance of fog and rain and sun is in danger.  Nobody I know questions global climate change.  I question the sanity of those who do.

Yet I still fear Big October, and another heat wave; the land is dry, after all.  And perhaps another drought to come. And Mother Nature, that remorseless monster with a mirror for a face.

Till then, maybe, Paradise is back.  I should enjoy it while it lasts.

The Fall and Rise of Team Dead Cat

Team Dead Cat Walk for Life Tee 1

I’m a collector of stories. Every good collector is, no matter what they think they collect. Because a story lies behind every object that they lust after — or they wouldn’t lust.

And that’s why I had to have that “Team Dead Cat” t-shirt I spotted on the rack at Goodwill. Team what?

On the back of the tee: An extravagantly dead cat with crosses on its eyes sprawls across the green fabric. On the other side: the same cat, vomiting over the slogan “Cough it up for Lung Cancer!”  Dead and vomiting: nice trick.

Team Dead Cat Walk for Life Tee 2

This was not the usual charity t-shirt.  But then, Team Dead Cat was not the usual charity venture.

It goes like this: you’re 26 years old and you live in Bakersfield, California.  It’s 2009. One day, you get into a motorcycle accident, and after they x-ray you at the hospital they tell you that you have Stage 4 lung cancer.  Even though you don’t smoke. And that it’s spread to your brain. And that you’ve got three to six months to live, max.

You don’t exactly buy that, so you throw yourself into the chemo and other therapies and after awhile, you’re still here. And life could be worse.

But you do wonder why you smell bad. And you’re a guy named AJ Vaughn, being interviewed for the local paper:

After his first round of chemotherapy, Vaughn asked his doctor, why he thinks it made him smell awful. “Everything stinks, my breath, my sweat, food doesn’t taste good. I just have this funk. I’m always smelling. He’s like oh you have dead cat syndrome. He says imagine there’s this dead cat underneath your porch and it gets pulled out and every once in awhile you just get this stink around you,” explained Vaughn.

The stench stuck with Vaughn and he decided to name his cancer, dead cat.

“While I’m in the shower coughing and hacking up my lungs, my sister and my wife are listening and I just say don’t worry about it girls, it’s just more dead cat coming up,” he continued.

And though he was doing a fine job of just rolling with his situation, he had nothing to do in life.  Nobody would hire a terminal cancer patient.

So he found something to do. He certainly knew just how much hurt cancer brought into the world. Vaughn decided to raise money for cancer through the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life program.

Friends and relatives of folks struck down by cancer form teams to raise money for cancer research.  Somewhat less often does the victim organize their own team while still alive.

And so Team Dead Cat was born. Team Dead Cat raised money in ways usual and unusual.  It took part in Relay for Life Walkathons, which is normal.  It sold Team Dead Cat t-shirts, which is less normal.  It dumped purple toilets in acquaintances’ yards with a reverse ransom note: Donate $15 to cancer research and the toilet will vanish from your yard.  Or, donate $20, and name the next person to receive the toilet.

All in all, Team Dead Cat raised $26,000.  It’s a story you could call inspirational.  But what I’d rather say is, AJ Vaughn was a guy who’d know how to have fun in a zombie apocalypse.  And do some good for others at the same time.

Vaughn passed at the end of 2013, four years later than he was supposed to.  His mother asked his team members and friends to honor him by wearing their Team Dead Cat shirts to his memorial.  I’ll bet you a dollar that they did, too.

It’s a good story, gleaned from news media websites over the past few years.  The thing about good stories is that they want to live.  They’ll spread from person to person, place to place, website to website.

I tracked Vaughn’s story around the Internet beginning while he was still alive .  The story came and went on various Bakersfield sites, and after his death even popped up in New Zealand. His sister had moved down there.  She’d volunteered for a local cancer fundraiser; and she told the story of her brother, and Team Dead Cat, to the local newspaper.

And now, I’m passing it on.  Humans like stories; I suspect that we even think in stories. Not all stories are good; some promote greed and hate.  So it behooves us to keep the good ones moving along. Not that we could stop ourselves; a good story wants to live.


A Way of Life

I continue trolling thrift stores for interesting t-shirts. It’s a hobby; it keeps me off the streets. But once, I had other hobbies.

Celesticon 1

And that’s why I was so pleased to find a tee bearing a crudely-drawn picture of the bridge of the Starship Enterprise (1701A) with the full original crew.  I emphasize “crudely” here.  It’s amateur hour all the way.

And above it all, the title “Celesticon 2013.”

Call it a phaser blast from the past: those three little letters that spell “con.” This tee invokes a whole subculture that I, and my wife, used to inhabit.  It’s called fandom, and for some it’s a way of life.  And if you want to understand it, you must go back, back to the past.. Where, in the time of  Coolidge Augustus, on the river called Hudson….

…there was Hugo. Hugo Gernsback.

Hugo published many magazines, among them Modern Electrics, and Science and Invention.  Hugo was a radio enthusiast himself. And besides, it seemed in the 1910s that every young man with an idea and copper wire and a soldering iron and a dry cell was trying to make a breakthrough.

You, know: to perfect the wristwatch television or the electric chicken plucker and Make Your Fortune.  In your garage. This garage start-up thing goes way back.

Or beyond that: perhaps, communicate with Mars.  Or preserve food with electrical impulses.  Or design giant radio robots to play ice hockey at 200 miles per hour.  Something.

Yes, it was the Dawn Time of the Geek, the rise of NerdNation: big ideas, grandiose dreams, large and fragile egos, awkward social skills, and all.  All these people needed was someplace to be: to be themselves, or somebody they dreamed of being.

This would soon be arranged.

Because it was All Good. Good for Science and Invention, certain.  And since Hugo’s readers were dreamers, and dreamers like a good story,  Hugo began to publish imaginative fiction in the back of the magazine — he called it “scientifiction.  About bright young men who traveled to other planets, and levitated magnetically, and rescued green princesses — all with the power of Electricity, and Rockets, and good old American spunk.

And this also was Really Good.  So good that Hugo started another magazine for scientifiction alone.  And it was amazing.  Truly: it was called Amazing Stories.  And around it grew a virtual nation of science fiction fans that eventually named itself Fandom.

Fans showed creativity, enthusiasm, an ability to organize, and a fetish for shortening words. (Like “scientifiction.” That didn’t last long.) They jammed Amazing’s letters column (“lettercol”) with their opinions.  Opinions about the stories, opinions about science, and opinions about other opinions.

And soon there were more science fiction magazines, local fan clubs, and sci-fi fan magazines (to be called fanzines, and later just ‘zines.) All this fan activity, or fanac, lead to bigger meetings of the “fen:” whole conventions of fen, everywhere.  And yes, they shortened the word to “con.”

The flagship science fiction con, Worldcon, launched in 1939 in NYC, and not long after came big regional cons like Boskone, Westercon, Norwescon, and then dozens of other state and local cons run by fans, for fans.  Because the fen were everywhere.

Some of the cons based themselves in one city; others, big ones like Worldcon and Westercon, change locations each year, and fan societies in different cities compete to host and run them.  Worldcon even leaves the country from time to time, and of course other countries host their own cons.

Girl Fan Tee 1And at these cons the fen would conduct much fanac: they would talk, and drink “bheer,” talk to authors, exchange ‘zines, feud with one another, and speculate about science and the future, After all, they were mainly young and male and had a lot of futures to consider.

A few women were there at the beginning, of course, because they dreamed, too, and not just about a house and a husband and 2.3 children.  Though if you wanted to find an intelligent young man in your life with a future ahead of him: well, the odds were good, even if the goods were slightly odd.Girl Fan Tee 2

Eventually women would reach parity in fandom, in power if not always in number.  I have a tee for a women’s science fiction community that proclaims women’s absolute equality, if not superiority, in geekish fandom.

Meanwhile, back at the cons: the fans brought their bad fan artwork (except for that which was very good) and competed in the con’s art shows; or their amateur Buck Rogers or Dejah Thoris costume  for the con’s costume competition.  And yes, wore them around the con, often.

Or sat up late at night sinking punny “filksongs” about science fiction — or other fans — which they’d written themselves.  They invented their own fantasy games, too; Dungeons and Dragons and the like evolved from fannish gaming.  As well as the themes that inspire modern computer games today.

All this because cons are a place for the geeks and the nerds and the dreamers to be themselves. Around people who are just like them, don’t mind, and might even applaud.

And don’t think that fans didn’t stay up late at night trying to make all this creativity and differentness into a career for themselves. And some of them succeeded, and are Guests of Honor of today’s cons even as we speak: as professionals producing science fiction and fantasy for print, video, movies, games, and beyond.  Others went to space or designed advanced technology..

Do you watch the television series Game of Thrones? Millions do. It is based on the works of the fantasy writer George R.R. Martin, who has been a serious fan since childhood. He climbed the whole comics/science fiction club/fanzine/con ladder into the professional science fiction magazines and beyond.  And there are others like him. From the zines to your screen: so much of what you watch and consume has made that journey.

And some fans achieved within fandom itself: the skills gained from active fandom are not inconsiderable.  My wife was in on the ground floor on Trek fandom and helped organize and run a Worldcon. She even founded a con herself: for ‘zine publishers. She ran it for two years and sent it on its way as a wandering convention that moves from city to city.  It’s been sustaining itself for 34 years now.

She also founded a public access TV show about science fiction, where I met her. We traveled to cons and pushed video cameras into the faces off big-time authors and showed the results to the indifferent denizens of San Francisco.  I remember interviewing a famous author at poolside at some regional con while a unicorn danced in his lap. Okay, it was a one-horned goat pretending to be a unicorn … but that’s even better.  Good times.

Persistent fanac like this is its own reward, because if you stay in Fandom long enough you’ll become a Big Name Fan (BNF), known and blogged about and respected by all.  That’s not nothing.  Some Big Namers stay in Fandom all their lives, even those who became professional creators of one type or another.

There’s an old fannish acronym: FIAWOL. “Fandom is a way of life.”  Truer words were never abbreviated.

Fandom is verging on 100 years of age, and it has never grown up; that’s the point. But it has become known throughout the land.  And the innkeepers of the land say, “Verily, these fen be tight with a dollar, but at least they don’t smash up the place like those Shriners, yea, it is written…”

And here’s where fandom has gone truly science-fictional: like some alien creature that reproduces by fission, it split up.  The tradition science fiction cons remains, big and small. But new fan groups and cons have appeared that specialize: they’re only about fantasy or horror, or only about costumes, or only about artwork, even only about filking, or only gaming, or only media.

The comics cons arose; the Trekkies organized their own cons as well, as did fans of other TV and movie franchises.  Some people even run cons as profit-making businesses, but noble committees of geeky volunteers still organize and run most cons.

And yet while fandom split, the pieces stay in alliance.  A fan might still go to the old school Westercon for traditional written science fiction action, where you might have found me, once upon a time.  But now they can also go to CostumeCon for the cosplay, or God help them even to a filking convention, or a gaming convention, or the World Fantasy Con or the World Horror Con.  Or acquire armor and a sword and join the Society for Creative Anachronism. There’s a feminist con, too.

Fandom has changed from one big department store to a gigantic mall of fandoms.  And you, you shy person who dreamed big, were welcome at all of them. And might see your friends there, or make new ones.

Which brings us to Celesticon, which is about gaming only: an entire extended weekend of nothing but gaming out on the far edge of Silicon Valley named Fremont. Dungeons and Dragons and role-playing games; card games, board games; games in costumes and games without; giant strategy games played on beautifully-detailed dioramas with hand-crafted figures to make a model railroad fan gasp with envy.

And in your gaming, be who you are, or who you want to be:

Celisticon 2

Gaming all day. Gaming all night.  Gaming for the kids and yes, you can check the latest games out of the con library and play them without buying them — although maybe later, you should.

I had to grab the Celesticon tee shirts when I found them at Goodwill because frankly, most cons don’t issue tees.  Fans love printed tees, but they usually wear their own to cons, chosen carefully to express their chosen image or subgroup:

League of Gamemakers
I looked up on Celesticon online, and such a classic group of fan/geeks you’ve never seen. All the more classic because many had developed their own games and gathered groups to play them and give feedback. Fans create.

Celesticon is a classic local con: 400 to 500 members, more or less nonprofit and volunteer-run, in a medium-sized city where nothing much happens.  This is where fans are at their best: if nothing’s happening, they’ll try to make something happen. And draw in like-minded people from the hinterlands for a gathering of the tribes.


And yet — there is no more Celesticon.  The organizers cancelled Celesticon 2016, because the con committee could find no venue that their fans could afford.  The price of rooms helps fund the use of the hotel’s convention space, and the local hotels’ quotes were sky-high.  The rising price of everything in the Greater San Francisco Bay proved too much for a small-timer like Celesticon.

And yet, there’s always hope.  The organizers keep the Celesticon website alive, just in case.  There are other gamer cons not too far away. And frankly the fen are nothing if not inventive. Something may arise.

For example: there’s an annual con in my town, at the university.  Its organizers would not call it a con. They call it a “social fiction conference” and got the university to sponsor it. Notice the letters “con.”

The  conference runs as an academic event using university facilities. The cost is small; ten dollars gets you two days of activities.  There are panel discussion of popular science fiction books and games and movies, and how they reflect modern society. There are demos of games; group role-playing games; “augmented reality’ games; an escape room; tabletop gaming; cosplay on the lawn with cookies and lemonade; and featured speakers on technology, sex and technology, and UFOs.

Yep.  It’s a con.  There will always be cons, because there will always be dreamers who need to be fans. And gather together.

The Great Library, Part Two: The Drudgery

(Note: Here is the link to Part One.)

I’ve been out in the garage a lot lately.  Kind of a guy place to be, if you’re manly and want to tune up your ’87 Taurus or make legs for that side table you promised to the missus. You know, guy stuff.

So what am I doing? Color-coding the necks of white plastic coat hangers with fifteen different colors of electrical tape.  Lucky for me, the definition of “guy stuff” expanded to include hand-painting lead soldiers and collecting old video game consoles.  I’m definitely in the groove.

By the way, were you actually aware that electrical tape came in fifteen colors? Me neither.  Actually, more than that, but my colorblind eyes can’t tell the difference between light gray and light pink or mild violet.  So I only use the gray.

All this knowledge comes to you courtesy of my colossal museum of t-shirts, which is  taking up more and more of my time — and my garage.  I’m moving hundreds of tees out of storage tubs and into wondrous, color-coded order on 40 linear feet of closet rod.  Here’s about 30 percent of it:


This is not a one-weekend job.  I have to:

  1. Pull two storage tubs of tees out of the catacombs.
  2. Photograph the 100-ish tees, sometimes several times.
  3. Upload them into a photo database/editor.
  4. Crop and adjust 100+ tee photos, including fronts and backs. Name the files.
  5. Create records for each of the 100 tees in the database and code each according to a system of colors and letters of my own device.
  6. Import the 100+ photos  into the 100 records.
  7. For each tee, use electrical tape to code the neck of of its hanger with the color/letter sequence on file for it in the database.  The final color is always white, so that I can write code numbers on it with a permanent marker.
  8. Hang the actual tee on the hangar, cover it with a clear plastic bag, and throw it in the two-level clothing rack I built down one wall of the garage. I use the same plastic bags that your dry cleaning comes home in. Thank you, U-Line Products.
  9. Repeat steps 7 through 8, 100 times.
  10. When finished, return to Step 1 and repeat.  I figure the job will be done in ten cycles.  I’m on the fourth cycle.
  11. When all tees have been tagged and completed, organize them on the racks by their two levels of color-coding and two levels of alphabet codes. I should be doing it as I go. I don’t want to.
  12. What a nerd, eh?

But after I finish, I’ll be able to walk into the collection and head straight for tees from Santa Cruz (Orange, top level) from building or trades contractors (Yellow, second level) that incorporate humor (H, third level) and bad taste (B, fourth level). Because you never know when you need to find for someone a building contractor’s tee with a penis joke on it.

Not that those are rare.

It’s a lot of work.  I’d rather be doing something else. But I have to do it to get where I want.  Sometimes I wish I had unpaid interns to abuse: “Here, kid, wrapping electrical tape around coat-hangers will be valuable experience toward your career in biomolecular mechanics!” “Yowsah!”

Though it’s not completely awful.  There’s a rhythm to coding the hangers and hanging the shirts long into a weekday evening.  I also get to admire shirts that have been stowed away for years.  It’s like running into old friends at the supermarket.

And there’s entertainment. My laptop goes to the garage with me so that I can look up each shirt’s color/letter code in the database. At the same time, it streams endless ‘90s music videos from YouTube. It’s cultural enrichment: I heard tons of ‘90s pop on the car radio, back when I commuted to Silicon Valley. But I never knew what the songs were called, or who sung them.


Now I know: Smash Mouth, Ten Thousand Maniacs, the Cranberries, Blind Melon, REM, Alanis Morissette, Joan Osborne…

And Sheryl Crowe. I hear lots and lots of Sheryl Crowe.  Not intentionally, but she’s in every playlist, to the point where her voice has actually colonized part of my brain.  I call it Sheryl.  When I’m trying to decide whether to do chores or just kick back, “Sheryl” retrieves for me the musical phrase “If it MAKES you HAP-PEEE…”

In a weird way, this drudgery does make me happy.  I don’t see the fun in collecting things I can’t see, can’t sort, and can’t share without immense effort.  The tee shirts that appeal to me most have stories behind them.  I’d like to tell the stories.  I tell them now, to anybody who’ll listen.  And they seem to like listening.

So, why not fully research those stories and write them down. From that I’ll have a full package of images and stories that I can, I dunno:  make a book out of? Post on the Internet? Exhibit at our local “kewl” museum?  All of the above?

I’m good at seeing things that others don’t — small things that are overlooked because, well, they’re small.  But show signs that they came from something larger.  I enjoy following the trail to that larger thing that birthed the small thing.

But, then what?

Remember my “Police Blotter Haiku” book? Haiku based on crime reports from small-town newspapers? I published a volume; it, well, underachieved with the public.  But it was worth doing, and I learned from a few mistakes that I made.  I figured out how to do it better. Yet I’ve been stalled nine-tenths of the way through Volume II for about two years.

This life pattern repeats:  I have a great idea, I work on it, but let it go if I hit a bump.  I lose energy; the project stalls and disappears.

Hey, I was once a minor hero on the early Internet.  I had a website that some considered so juicy that I was declared a god in Boulder, Colorado.  And no, I won’t explain.  But it was too much trouble; I didn’t keep at it. There was money to be made. And later I’d look at some satire website like The Onion and say, shit, I was doing that in 1995, and better.

It’s probably lack of self-esteem. Or focus.  Or organization. Some damned thing. At any rate, I do try to fight it from time to time, and I think I’m trying again. I think I’m unconsciously building my Great Pyramid of tees to up the ante: make such a huge bet on this collection and its development that I would never dare walk away. That I wouldn’t want to.  It would be too good to ignore.

If I fill an entire garage with a collection of stories in t-shirt form, collated and organized and tracked, even I can’t flake out. I will have made a black hole of small things, the things I love most to study and tell stories about.  I have hopes that their accumulated gravity will draw me in, so that I can no longer escape to indolence no matter how I try.  I guess that’s a way of saying that I really love this stuff.

And the black hole’s pull will only strengthen, because I can’t for the life of me stop buying tee shirts.  I’ll tell myself, damn, I haven’t found anything lately, and Rhumba will point out a foot-tall stack of tees that materialized over the past few weeks.

Luckily,  tee shirts leave my collection as well as enter, or I’d be neck deep in them.  Over time, my tastes change. Since I now value most tees for the stories behind them, I can jettison the tees that, on reflection, have no story — unless they’re just really cool. .

And aside from every other reason, cataloging the collection is just — something to do. Right now I don’t do much of anything except the necessary.  Don’t even blog that much anymore.  So this is — something.  But it’s a lot of something.

I had to figure out how I was going to hang the collection by adapting an old shelving system we already had and not spending an arm and a leg.  I now know the cheapest place in America to buy closet rod center-support brackets.  Thank you, Midlands Hardware of Grandview, Missouri. You’re a third the cost of Amazon.

I had to figure  out how to keep dust off the tees.  I bought the same system that dry-cleaners and tailors use to slide a clear plastic bag down over your sport coat. I’m actually pretty good at it now. Hey, it’s another skill. I hung a few shirts up in the garage over the moist, rainy season to see if the plastic bags kept them clean and dry.  They did.

I spent weeks devising the color-coding system: what colors, what medium (beads, plastic disks, colored tape). I settled on tape, and for weeks prowled websites like Identi-tape and Tape Planet, “a brave new world of tapes to explore.” Do you know how many kinds of adhesive tape this world holds? Dozens. Hundreds.  I had a false start with paper labeling tape — many colors, but it didn’t stick well to the hanger necks  — and settled on electrical tape.  I field-tested it, too.


I had to pick a database, something for the Mac.  Something cheap and easy that stored photos as well as text.  I could have spent a zillion dollars for FileMaker or almost nothing on some free SQL-based database that would take all my time for a few thousand years.  Fortunately, an independent Canadian programmer named Brendan up in Calgary  made a simple — thank God — and cheap database that would do everything I wanted, including hang graphics files and documents off every record.

And then I had to learn the database, at least on a primitive level.  At this point, I have no more patience with people who complain about current affairs and rant, “Why doesn’t somebody (somebody else) DO something?” Dude, do you have any idea how much work it is to DO anything?  From scratch?”

Now some of the (few) people reading this blog have built small businesses from scratch, restore antique airplanes with their bare hands while playing the guitar, and are possibly running some component of the global financial system with an iron first.  No doubt, as you read this words,  you’re all serenading me with the world’s smallest violin. If you got this far.

But I’m just some guy who sits around thinking goofy thoughts and, sometimes, writing about them.  All I really want in life is something to research, something to write about, and someone to bullshit about it all with.   I’m just bummed with, sometimes, how much work you’ve got to do just to get there.

And I’m doing it.  But I tell ya, Interns are looking better and better.  Though then you’ve got to stand over them and make sure their iPhones don’t suck out their brains.

And yet, and yet… in a few months it’ll be done, or done to a point where the archive is functional.  And I can start doing things with it.  As I’ve always wanted to.

(“If it MAKES you HAP-PEEE…”) Cut it out, Sheryl!

The Golden Mirage

I am waiting for my sandwich at the only good deli in town.  The front of the store opens to the outside; warm air wafts in on the sunshine.  The weather is perfect: absolutely perfect. We get that around here.  Actually, we get that a lot.

I have a paper slip with my order number on it.  Near me, holding the same, stand two Cool Moms and their only slightly gawky teenaged sons: 19 years of age or so.

The mark of a Cool Mom is that, at first, she looks like her teenager’s sister. This requires a certain attitude, good genetics, time for diet and exercise, hair and skin care, and money to pay for.it all.  You can read money on the boys, too: well over six feet, flawless skin with good color, perfect teeth.

Only through laughter do the Cool Moms prove that they’re moms after all. Their smooth faces crease into smile lines — as much a sign of experience as age. And then you notice that their skin isn’t quite so pudding-smooth as their children’s, and that their facial features are larger and better-defined.

The four of them settle at an outside table and chatter like school pals, relaxed with one another. My eyes turn to a middle-aged Leonard Nimoy, drinking artisan cherry soda at another table. He frowns down at a small blue book which, apparently, contains no pictures.  There is no way for me to read the title; I so want to, though.

The street itself is calm.  This is the downtown business district, but at 3 pm on a weekday most of the citizenry are stuffed away in concrete boxes doing things for a paycheck, here in town or 30 miles away in Silicon Valley.  No sunshine and cherry soda for them. Meanwhile, a couple of muscle-bulging 50-somethings jog past the deli together.  They have tattoos.

I am doing what I love most: people-watching, and telling myself stories about the people I watch. My wife Rhumba enjoys doing this with me, but she’s down the street buying a cheese slicer.

It’s only because of Rhumba that I can indulge myself on this fine afternoon: when I should be in my office slaving away at tasks that do not suit me. Rhumba is retiring from her job of many years, and we had to go to the Social Security office to sign up for Medicare B.  Rhumba doesn’t drive, for a number of medical reasons.

Her co-workers never stop marveling at her imminent departure  “It’s time for her to enjoy life!” one of them told us as we headed for the door.  “What’s she going to do with all that time?”  Apparently Rhumba’s empty schedule is a source of puzzlement.

They don’t take appointments down at SS, so we both took three hours off and hoped for the best. You know bureaucracy: lines; packed waiting rooms.

At least I though I did. When we got there, we found nothing but solitude: rows of empty waiting-room chairs, and not a worker in sight save the security guard.  Cheaply-framed photos of President Trump and Vice President Pence hung on the wall, tilted slightly. They seemed ill at ease .

“Enter your name and social on the ticket machine, and it’ll give you a number,” the guard told Rhumba.  She did; the machine spit out a ticket: number 135.

Instantly someone shouted, “Number 135!”  A man popped up from behind a counter, grinning.  And the paperwork began.  Documents passed back and forth.  The counter clerk could obviously do this in his sleep.  He could probably grin in his sleep, too, because he never stopped.

Save for us, the office kept on being empty. “Did we pick some special, magic time to come here when no one else does?” I asked him

He shook his head. “It’s completely random.”  He passed the final piece of paper, grinning of course. “There you go.  Now you can enjoy life!”

Ah yes, enjoy life.  The golden years.  I do wonder why most of us have to wait so many decades for them while we run to a schedule, doing tasks we don’t particularly care for and scrambling to pay bills.

All this, for the promise of a few years at the end doing what we want, while our powers of mind and body diminish. And while we spend increasing amounts of time in doctors’ waiting rooms.

If we make it that far. I’m in my early ‘60s, and it’s kind of amazing how many old acquaintances didn’t make it this far.   I could die tomorrow, or Rhumba could.  That’s true every day of your life.  Deferred gratification: is it prudence? Or a trap?

Some people “make it that far” by 60 or less. Sometimes much less. They’re lucky, or good with money, or both; I don’t hold it against them. I’m watching them in the deli, hanging out in the sunshine and nibbling on muffuletta while our fellow citizens sit in cubicles or stand behind counters robotically saying “Have a nice day” to people who, in the majority, are not having one.

If a young person today were to ask me, how to plan for the future, I would say: don’t wait for the golden years.  All years are golden.  Follow your dreams now.  Take risks; learn; fail.  Be golden.  Stay out of debt — if you can.

Because you could spend your whole life in harness and not make it far enough to reach that distant, shimmering golden vision.  Or find that your hard-earned pensions and funds vanish in a financial crisis or predatory fund management. I no longer have faith that the present is the future.

I have a pension.  I have funds.  I have Social Security. Will I have them in five years?  Anymore, in a system so rotten as ours, I cannot rest easy in that regard.  And so I can’t tell a young person to follow my path, because it might lead off a cliff.  And I am absolutely sure that, for better or for worse, their options in older age will be completely different than ours.  This system won’t last that long.

But in the meantime, Rhumba’s ready to launch, is in fact having her retirement party this week. And I’m going to do my bit to make her time post-workplace as long and golden as possible.  And join her there as soon as I can. Maybe there’s a way to accelerate my schedule.

Because the only possible answer to the people who ask, “What are you going to do with all your time” is… “everything.”

Our Bright Commie Tomorrow

(This one’s a little loopy.  I’ve had the flu.)

Greetings, Comrades!  The capitalists are now so entangled in their own greed that the end of the corporatist, globalist world order can be clearly seen.  The means of production will be freed from theownership classes and their running-dog lackeys, and given to the people. They will be equitably used by all, and for the good of all. And soon!

How do I know this?   Because today’s capitalists, most of them, won’t make a microwave oven that lasts five years.  Not can’t do it — won’t do it.  At least that’s what it looks like from where I sit. We got our first microwave in the mid-80s: an Amana of moderate size and feature set.  Even in those days microwaves had a million modes — of which we used maybe three or four, as most do today. Fast-forward 25 years.

The Amana finally died.  It didn’t really have to — we had a decent appliance repair shop back then, and the techs found the problem.  But the (inexpensive) part that we needed was no longer available.  The faithful Amana went to recycling.

And in the seven years since, we’ve bought  three more microwaves.  They die in two to four years. We just got our latest.  They all look like the Amana; they all have the same feature set.  Their magnetron tubes are a little more powerful,

But they don’t last.

They all cost about $140; pay more, and you get power and features and size that we don’t need.  The Amana cost about $260 back in the ‘80s — I remember this, because I was and am cheap.  Inflation-adjusted, in 2018 dollars, it cost us around $550.  So you get what you pay for,right? In 1986, sure.  But not now.

If you spread that $550 across 25 years, the distributed capital cost is about $22 bucks per year. If you spread the $280 we’ve spent for two ‘waves that died in the seven years since, the distributed cost is $40 annually. We’re paying more for microwaves now — not less.

It wouldn’t cost much to make microwaves last longer; somewhat better parts, slightly better engineering. If they’d lasted even seven years each at $140 a unit, the cost per year would match the old Amana’s.  But then the corporations wouldn’t sell as many microwaves. They wouldn’t keep the factories humming — factories sited in the cheapest possible labor markets. And people who buy microwaves would hang onto money that they could be giving to the stockholders of the world.

So: thirty years of technological advancement have NOT been applied to make microwaves cheaper and better.  In fact, they are now expensive and worse.  And more waste is produced: the endless stream of shoddy microwaves has to be recycled.

Intentionally inferior goods, waste of resources, regulation flight, the decline of first-world manufacturing, and higher prices: this is what globalism has brought us.  While it has created and fattened a surfeit of billionaires who want to buy the governments of the world, and are doing a good job at least at that.

So I’ve got this new, really cool-looking stainless-steel Panasonic microwave that will probably be dead in just over four years.  I know this because the retailer offered to sell us a “free return” insurance policy on the oven — for up to four years.  Everybody knows.

Your mileage may vary, but if a modestl microwave can’t last last at least seven years, after decades of microwave production, somebody’s doing it wrong.  On purpose.

And the world can’t take it forever.  It can’t waste the resources.  The people can’t continue to be paid less for their labor but pay more for the goods that they must buy.  The swelling billionaires cannot hoard the wealth of the world at a time when we’ll need that wealth to save the world.

Left to itself, it will all collapse.  But people are starting to catch on. This past Year of Trump has mobilized progressives and Democrats (there is some overlap, he said with a bit of sarcasm). And it has caused honest conservatives to consider the difference between true conservatism and a shameless, honorless kleptocracy which has stolen conservatism’s name.

Let’s hope this year’s elections at least kill the momentum of the kleptocrats and rock them back on their heels.  It’s for their own good, after all. Because if the people aren’t taken care of by the system, they will eventually take down the system itself.

All it would take is for Americans to start asking themselves: “If somebody works hard all their life, or as hard as they can, isn’t that enough? Should their worthiness to survive depend on knowing how to invest?” Americans believe in “fair;” if things get bad enough, we have the mindset to act on that.

And the Glorious People’s Revolution will come at last! I remember a quote attributed to hero socialist Eugene Debbs: essentially, that the United States will be the last advanced country to go socialist, but the first to go communist.

We do tend to get overenthusiastic when we buy into something new.  I see a wondrous wave of all-American communists spilling across America in red electric SUVs with gun racks, wearing t-shirts of Karl Marx hoisting a beer glass and shouting, “To each according to his needs!”

It’s so American.  And the capitalists and their lackeys will be issued blue uniforms and s be put to work building low-income housing or teaching underprivileged children to read.

Believe me: it’s much, much better than the tumbrils.

The Great Library

It’s a little-known fact that the fabled Library of Alexandria had an annex for a small but select collection of t-shirts.

Sarajevo ParkTees were an integral part of Graeco-Roman culture. When Caesar led his army to Gaul, his vanguard of muscular young Legionnaires wore the message VENI VIDI VICI block-printed on oversized tees (to accomodate their armor).

No visitor to ancient Greece would ever return home without WHAT HAPPENS IN ATHENS STAYS IN ATHENS written across his back on a fine tee of Egyptian cotton: beige for the masses, purple-dyed for the upper classes. Or the ever-popular PLATO DID IT WITH LOGIC.

Clutch Couriers PhillipsThen as now, people wore t-shirts to make a statement.  Roman t-shirt shops were busy printing tees with the cultural and political statements of the day.  Woe on the man wearing a POMPEY THE GREATEST tee shirt in an alley full of Crassus’ supporters. But a VISIT BEAUTIFUL VESUVIUS tourist tee would get no one in trouble.

Tragically, the fabled tee shirt archive vanished with the rest of the Alexandrian Library collection.  And the tee itself vanished from western civilization for 1500 years.

But it’s back.  And I’ve taken it upon myself to rebuild the Library.  In my garage.

Sanford Marial Arts Savage BuddhaFor years now I’ve been chasing this mutant white whale: the meaning behind t-shirts.  Not the ones that people sell to make money, but the ones that people make to represent themselves: tees for business, sports, causes, personal events, hopes, fears, and particular times and places where — something happened.  Or was supposed to.

Tees are powerful. If you don a tee with a message on it, you become the message.   Everyone around you will see you that way. There’s almost no other medium that makes people into walking memes  with their full cooperation.

Ride 4 Life on Bone MotorcycleWhy do people make these tees? What are they saying? What’s the word they want to get out? And why do people happily slip a meme-on-cotton over their heads and wear it off to the Olive Garden?  Or, and this is the kicker, even pay for the privilege of doing it by actually buying the tee shirt?

I’ve been chasing meaning ever since I picked up a tee at Goodwill for a Minneapolis beer ba, one that read FEAR THE CHEESE across the back in dire block letters. What the hell did that mean? It was like a secret message. You had to be there, to know.

Unnamed CA Gang Task Force 2009 Tee 1I took it home and found out over the Internet.  And I’ve been taking them home to find out ever since.  Hundreds of them. Thousands, maybe.  Sometimes there’s little to know.  Sometimes there’s a lot. And sometimes it’s a trip to Oz, only — and here’s the important part — the people who made the shirt think they live in no such place.  They might wonder, doesn’t _everyone_ live in a place nicknamed HogSkin County? What’s there to be curious about?

Eel River Organic Brewing Drink Naked 1I’ve got tees from the Guantanamo Bay prison guard detachment. From the poor devils who spent years in Iraq looking for the weapons of mass destruction.  From some tiny town in the Carolinas that held a Collard Greens Festival because they had nothing else to boast about.  I got a tee from a bunch of musicians who gathered in a quake-ravaged city to set a world record for the most people to play “Shake, Rattle, and Roll!” at one time. Outside, among the ruins.

Justice for Janitors 1And more: surfing carpenters, apes in hard hats swinging drywall hammers, Sarah Palin in a dirndl serving beer (for “Sarah Pale Ale,” and yes, it’s real). I’ve got tees from the godfsaken base where  death drones launch themselves to terrorize Yemen, and from the bar with the only decent margaritas on the Persian Gulf. Heartfelt memorial tees for teenagers who died young, or for firefighters who died in 9/11 — standing with one foot on the bar rail while Jesus mixes their drinks.

Asleigh Swain Funeral Shirt, 2011And many more that I can’t remember.  See, that’s the problem.  Most of these shirts are stuck in the Catacombs, a shack out back filled with  towering stacks of silver-brown 30-gallon plastic storage tubs (available from Target at the low everyday price of five dollars plus tax). Every one of those tubs is stuffed with tees.  Some of them have been sealed for years.

What good is a collection you can’t see and search? Can barely even remember? For all I know, the concentrated presence of all those message tees ripped the fabric of the universe, so that alien tees from strange dimensions are spilling into the Catacombs even as you read this.   Peek  inside one of those tubs, and you can’t say it’s not true.

Master of Cloning 1So over the last few months, a plan has materialized.  The garage walls have been painted and patched.  Racks sufficient for a thousand tees have been constructed on one wall.  Hundreds of hangers have been purchased, and protective plastic sheathing. A database has been created, and a system of color-coding by which each particular shirt can be located. There’s even a heat pump in the garage now to keep things from getting too cold, too hot, or too damp.

Kong 1Now all I have to do is unpack, photograph catalog, color-code, and hang 1000 tee shirts.   It’s slow going. Talk to me in six months.    At which point the Great Library will stretch out before me, and I will be able to find for you an Italian restaurant tee shirt illustrated in the low-art style of Ed “Big Daddy” Roth with the flick of a key or a sharp eye for the right color code on a clothes hanger.  Or a U.S. Army basic training tee with homoerotic themes. Or a tee commemorating Sarah Pale Ale  Or a tee memorializing the life and death of a local tee-shirt artist.  How meta can you get?

Greenway Santa Cruz Marijuana Dispensary 1Why dot this? Why not? I want to show off.  I love this stuff.  I love the stories behind the tees.  So many things in this world come, go, and leave nothing behind but a tee to say that they were even there.  Tees are a small thing, but I like to find the big in the small.  It’s in there, somewhere.

And after the Library is in order, I’ll write up the history of every single tee, as best I can.  It’ll be, practically, a book.  And then, who knows? Put it all up online and let the world have a shot, I’m thinking; I could call it “The Tees of Mystery.”  Californians will get the joke.

Hillary 2016 Bayside 1Because four out of five people hear about what I’m doing and go cross-eyed with puzzlement and boredom.  But the fifth smiles oddly and wants to know more.  Here’s to the lucky fifth, and I’ll see you on the Internet someday. In the meantime — stop in for a tour if you’re ever in the ‘hood.

Send in the Calaveras

My wife Rhumba and I went to a movie a couple of months back: “Coco,” the latest animated film from Pixar, and the first Pixar flick in a while that isn’t a sequel.  “Coco” is about Mexico and the folklore of the Dia de Muertos.  It’s beautifully conceived and animated, respectful to Mexican traditions and to the Mexican people.

And it’s about 20 minutes too long.  Rhumba dropped off twice.  “You okay?” I asked.  Her eyes were closed. “Oh yeah, it’s a quality picture…. zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.”  She’s an easy sleeper, but her eyelids drooped not at all for “Wonder Woman” or “The Martian.” Still, it was hard to leave the theater, and “Coco’s” warm and endless Mexican night.

But no worries: we stumbled out of the theater into… a warm Mexican night.  Seventy-five degrees, humid as the tropics. Five hundred miles north of the border.  In late November.  It reminded me of Costa Rica.  Later I’d check the weather forecast for downtown San Jose (Costa Rica), and find it similar.

Rhumba must walk with walking sticks these days. They glow: she wrapped them with strings of multi-colored LED lights, battery-powered. Citizens turned and smiled as she strolled past, and called compliments.

The night was indeed merry. Visitors and locals in lightweight clothing crammed our downtown streets .  Music gusted out through open doors, rose from the street musicians and spiraled up into a black-velvet sky.  Long lines of cars cruised by at walking speed. No one seemed in a hurry.

Calavera Revels

We were almost, it seemed, in “Coco’s” dark but colorful city of the dead: full of spirits who let no little thing like death ruin a good time. I saw no calaveras, of course, those skeletal spirits of Mexican lore. No bony specters strode down the boulevard or danced to the music as they did in life, and in “Coco.”  But in a way, they’re always with us. And we are always them.

KatrinaCalavera figures — skeleton figures in wood, maiche, wax, and on paper — are popular around the Dia de Muertos in Mexico, and increasingly in the States. They remind us of who’ve gone on before us. Who never really die, as long as they’re remembered.That’s “Coco’s”  main plot point.

I think about the past around Thanksgiving.  You can’t give thanks without remembrance.  If I built an altar to long-gone friends and relatives, as is common around the Day of the Dead, many would be the calavera figures and drawings:

Couple CalaveraThere would be the calavera of a short woman and a tall man, holding hands tightly.  The woman will smile anxiously;  the man is a skeleton that does not smile.  That’s no mean trick; but I’d expect it of him.

Nearby, the calavera of a plump old woman tells dirty jokes in Portuguese and laughs at them herself. A skeleton in a polo shirt holds a bottle of beer in one hand and offers a beer to you from the other.  He stands next to a horseshoe pit. There are tools in his pocket.

Nearby a fat calavera in chef’s whites and a short beard offers food to the living and the dead.  He draws on a joint. The calaveras of long-gone aunts dress a table for Thanksgiving, while my many dead uncles — bonier than in life — puff cigars and pipes until they vanish in the haze. One of them, the drunkest, falls into the horseshoe pit.

Farther back, the calaveras of dead lady friends primp and beckon. Skeletal  co-workers from long-gone companies wander the streets with PC keyboards strapped across their chests like bandoliers. A tweedy calavera, elegantly bearded in silver,  sits at a bar and toasts me with a G&T.

And a hundred others besides. I’m old, I’m old.  I remember too much.  But that’s okay: if you remember long enough, you’ll always find something to smile about.

AdmiralEven death.  What’s death but part of life, to be acknowledged and enjoyed? Mexican culture has a nuanced view of the matter: death is omnipresent and inevitable. But… why not have some fun with it?  Hence the calaveras, in drawings, in sculpture, in candy.  Skulls and bones meant not to intimidate, but to celebrate.  American culture has warmed to this idea. Ask the Grateful Dead, among others.

The master of the calavera was a Mexican lithographer named Jose Guadalupe Posada, active from about the 1870s into the early 20th century.  He produced a flood of engravings for all sorts of popular publications, including cheap broadsides and pamphlets for the masses.


His calaveras were famous: they both celebrated the dead and mocked the pretensions of the living. In the end, Posada’s calaveras said, we are all bones: but that truth makes life no less sweet.  I’ve scattered some of his calaveras through this article: calaveras of the revelers, of the warriors, of the great and exalted and pretentious.  Even of the cats.

El_Guapo CalaveraA woman in these parts does wonderful — and affordable — calaveras painted in on ceramic tiles.  Some are original, some not. She offered me one that looked for all the world like — me, as a calavera. At least, I saw it that way.  (A handsome devil, to be sure, long and lanky in a blue hat with a colorful serape, much like the aloha shirts I wear.  And smiling, of course.  I took the painted tile home and hung it on the wall.

Don’t ask me why.  I’m not dead.  Don’t want to be, either: I plan to go at  age 114 in a traffic accident.  And yet, it tickles me to see myself as bones.

Later, the woman offered us more calaveras: my favorite was that of a cat, and again I had to have it.  It is the prettiest skeleton you ever saw.  Like our cat: she’s a cutie, even in her old age.

And kitty’s had a hard year:  three times now she’s clawed at the scratching post of death.  She’s not in the greatest of shape even now, though she’s sitting next to me, purring, as I type this.  The next week or two are… uncertain.

Pretty Calavera

Perhaps for that reason, I’ve not put her calavera on the wall.  I might mount my own calavera while I’m alive, for my own amusement. But not someone else’s, not even a cat’s.  Not until it’s time.

She will probably be our last cat. As Rhumba and I age, taking care of only ourselves will be more than enough work. And so when our cat passes, the calavera will go on the wall to honor her, and also all the other good old cats who’ve come and gone from our lives but not from our fond memories.

And then I will put up one more calavera on the wall:  one of her and I together, or seemingly so.  The artist even got my shirt right.

Calavera and Cat

Remembrance: it keeps the past alive, and the present more precious.