Monthly Archives: October 2019

T-Shirts from the Collection: Electric T-Shirts

Vendors to the construction trades love to give away t-shirts.  They run heavil to penis double-entendres (“Our doors are well-hung!”); flames and fire; giant tools; studly men holding giant tools; and big-breasted women.

Give workers a tee that they want to wear, and you’ll get all the job site advertising you can eat. That’s the idea. But I’d never seen a gimme shirt like this one from Ilsco, a California electrical components vendor:

Ilsco Electronics by Duane Flatmo

A horned centaur/fish holding a  mystery tool with electrical contact points on its horns? Say what?  Then I saw the artist’s name: Duane Flatmo.

All became clear. Flatmo is a working artist and gearhead from California’s North Coast.  He paints and draws; he builds things.  His seminal influences include Ed “Big Daddy” Roth, cartoonist-of-the-grotesque Basil Wolverton, and Pablo Picasso (heavy on the Guernica).  Maybe you sensed that.  If not, here’s a t-shirt design he did for IES, another electrical distributor.

IES Milwaukee Tool Duane Flatmo

Flatmo’s best known for his kinetic sculpture: self-powered art vehicles that roll, hop, or sail .  They love him at Burning Man, where his El Pulpo Mecanico  is legendary a 25-foot-tall tentacle-waving, flame-spewing, traveling octopus. Check out this video.  There’s a Ford 250 under there somewhere.

I first heard of Flatmo on an old reality TV show called “Junkyard Wars.” Flatmo and his kinetic-art friends would built wild machines to compete in games with some other team of gearheads.  The other side would be uber-competitive, while Flatmo’s mob would just enjoy the sunshine and fit pieces of junk together in aesthetc ways.  They usually won, too.  But gears aren’t all that his art is about.

Duane Flatmo Tangerine Beer Tee

This one’s more Picasso, but les Guernica. A sweet piece, and something special to stare up at you from a beer bottle.

Some day I hope to talk to Flatmo and ask, what’s with the ram’s horns?  I’d also ask why he does so many t-shirts for Ilsco and IES (he does many), but I can guess: they know him.  How many actuators and miles of conduit do you think he needed for El Pulpo? He’s probably a good customer. They may even sponsor him.

That leaves the question: what makes  electrical supply companies want Flatmo’s odd designs on gimme shirts for Joe Electrician?
Dwayne Flatmo IES Milwakuee Tools 2
My working theory: “special” companies hire special artists.  Take IES, Independent Electric Supply.

The tee below (which may or may not be by Flatmo) touts  special sales events at IES warehouse stores.  You know how those things usually go: hot dogs in the parking lot, a ball player or two for autographs, some custom cars, and a sweepstakes drawings.

IES Lucha Libre Demonstration

But not  with IES. Their big draw was: live Mexican wrestling! Lucha Libre, baby, with the capes and masks and all.  Right in the parking lot!

Now that’s special..
IES Lucha Libre Demonstration 2

T-Shirts from the Collection: T-Shirts from a Long-Age Commute

Santa Cruz is a t-shirt-heavy town. We print tees for all kinds of activities.

Few have been printed, though, for the tens of thousands of poor slobs who daily make the mountain-vaulting commute on Highway 17 from Santa Cruz to Silicon Valley, just so they can afford to live here in Paradise.

But I have t-shirts that remind me of what the trip was like, back in the ‘90s when my wife Rhumba and I commuted to the Valley together.  This one is from that era.

Emily's Bakery Santa Cruz Zebra Tee 1

Emily’s Bakery has been around for almost 40 years; and for almost 40 years it’s been the only place to get a good coffee and pastry to go at 5:30 in the morning.  We had jobs in Milpitas, 40 miles away, with a 6:30 AM start time; the early schedule cut 30 minutes off the commute each way.

Emily’s was our launch pad; around 5:40 am, we’d pull into the brightly-lit  parking lot and run in for coffee and a bag of rolls for the road.

In the pre-dawn darkness, Emily’s was the only spot of light and activity on Mission Street: a strange, busy depot that fueled not cars, but people, for the long trip over the hill. Andd it was decorated with images of zebras.

Cars came and went constantly, headlights gleaming. Person after person in business casual  trudged through the door under the sign “Relax. You Have Plenty of Time.”  You lie, Emily, or we wouldn’t be coming to you for caffeine and sugar before the sun comes up.

On leaving the lot, almost every car headed north on Mission, to 17. We went with them, sipping coffee and munching rolls as we ascended and descended the mountains and swore at the other drivers.

Emily's Bakery Santa Cruz Zebra Tee 2

Twenty-odd years later, we no longer commute.  Emily’s still opens at 5:30 am, without us. I imagine that the early commute is more popular than ever, and that those who drive 17 in darkness still launch from Emily’s.  They don’t seem to sell t-shirts anymore, but zebras are still the bakery’s icon.  Emily liked zebras, from either end.

Moving on: a commute over 17 is a wrenching 30-something-mile journey over a twisty, moody four-lane mountain expressway. The road climbs and descends 1800 feet in a relatively few miles. High-speed performance cars dominate the inside lane; slow semis, the outside lane.  If you’re neither, it can be Hell.  This t-shirt represents part of our Hell. King Crane 1

King Crane was a Santa Cruz-based crane rental and lifting services company.  Several times a week in the early morning, red-and-yellow King Crane truck-mounted cranes would grind up and down Highway 17 at 25 mph for an assignment in Silicon Valley.  Other big trucks moved slowly, but few seemed as slow as a King Crane.

Getting stuck in the slow lane behind a King Crane was about the Fifth Circle of Hell (anger), because breaking into the fast lane meant braving the German sports sedans hurtling along at 75 on a road meant for 50 MPH max.

Many’s the time we were making okay speed in the slow lane only to round a turn and find ourselves rushing up on a crane truck. You had about two seconds to make a choice: either slam on the brakes and accept your fate, or check the side mirror, say a Hail Mary and swing into the fast lane.

Once you squeezed in, there’d likely be a beemer on your tail flashing its lights in the 30 seconds you took to pass the truck and merge back over again.  God, I don’t miss that.

That was a long time ago; the King Crane company since moved to San Jose. I doubt that their red-and-yellow monsters still haunt the morning commute. I’m sure, though, that some heavy vehicles just as slow has taken their place.  Is the Spring Water tanker still making the trip?

Highwy 17 Almanack Tee

Finally, this: a t-shirt from the ‘90s touting a magazine about Highway 17.  Highway 17 is dangerous enough to be notorious, and yet it’s also Santa Cruz’s lifeline to the outside world. Someone thought that a magazine of Highway 17-related content was in order: The Highway 17 Almanack and Gazeteer.

They were wrong.  It lasted three or four issues. I skimmed a copy once; but after you’ve commuted on 17 for a few weeks, you know just about everything you need, or want, to know.  I’m just glad that I don’t have to know it anymore.

T-Shirts from the Collection: A 5K at the Edge of Empire

Bastion Full Moon Run

Welcome to Part Two of Running/Footrace t-shirts.  It will not surprise you that our boys in blue, navy, green, and green are avid runners.

The Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines each have a Morale, Welfare, and Recreation command, or MWR.  MWR’s job job is to keep service families together, keep the troops and dependents occupied in their spare time, and help maintain physical, mental, and emotional wellness.

US MWR Army Zombie Fun Run in Kuwait Tee 2

ARMY MWR Logo, off the front of a fun-run t-shirt.

And one of the things that MWR likes most of all, is a fun run: anywhere in the world.  It’s a nice distraction.  Distraction is their job.

Say it’s Halloween in Kuwait. How about a Zombie Apocalypse Run for the troops at Camp Buerhing? MWR is on the job.  And there are t-shirts for everybody.

US MWR Army Zombie Fun Run in Kuwait Tee

Or you’re a med tech at Guantanamo Bay Naval Hospital in Cuba, at the butt end of an island nation that wishes you’d leave.  What better to take your mind off your troubles that a marathon/half marathon in the Carribean sun? With a nice t-shirt.

Guantanomo  Hospital Pre-911 Fun Run Tee 2


Memorial Day 5Ks in Kabul, volleyball tourneys at counter-terrorism bases in the wastelands of Djibouti: MWR never quits and never will.  T-shirts for everybody!

Camp Lemonier MWR Lizard Volleyball Tee 1

It would be controversial to talk about what goes on at Camp Lemmonier, so the government mainly doesn’t. Blazing hot, too.

By the way, MWR activities are funded by profits from the base exchanges where troops and their families spend their money.  In other words, the troops pay for it all, not the taxpayers; not that they were asked. Support Our Troops!

My personal favorite is a t-shirt for a Cinco De Mayo 5k. In rural Afghanistan in 2013.  At night, under a full moon.   In a city-sized military base in the middle of nowhere. Which no longer exists.  With a t-shirt featuring …. Death Herself.

Camp Bastian 46th ERQS Guardians Cinco Run Tee

Pretty boss, huh? The hot babe is painted up like a Mexican calavera (skeleton totem).  Ignore the fact that calaveras have nothing to do with Cinco De Mayo, a patriotic holiday, and everything to do with Dia de Muertos, Day of the Dead.  Unless you mean that death is a woman, and if you’re a soldier you dance with her every day in Afghanistan.

And that may be the case. Because this t-shirt, and the 5K, is all about people who did.

Camp Bastian 46th ERQS Guardians Cinco Run Tee – Unit Patch

For answers, decode the shirt. The patch  on the left-hand sleeve is the shield of the 46th Expeditionary Rescue Squadron (ERQS), a US Air Force unit whose job it is to rescue wounded or stranded soldiers in dangerous territory and bring them back.

ERQS Guardians are the closest thing that the US Gov has to superheroes; the Air Force gave them a superhero name, after all.  Note the angel’s wings on the patch: guardian angels.

Guardians get two full years of grueling survival, combat, and rescue training.  They’re trained to shoot their way in and shoot their way out with the wounded over their shoulder, on foot, by parachute, by water, and of course by chopper. They operate under the Air Force’s somewhat obscure Special Operations Command.

If you ever watched the science fiction TV series “Stargate,” Special Operations would have been the outfit that was sending heavily armed airmen through an inter-dimensional gate to fight godlike aliens on other planets. The Guardians would probably be up for it.

Camp Bastian 46th ERQS Guardians Cinco Run Tee – Version 2To confuse the issue, your average Guardian is referred to as a PJ, short for “pararescueman.”  The troops may also call him a Pedro, after the choppers that many PJs fly in:   HH-60 Pave Hawks. “Pedro” is the call sign for all military rescue choppers, back to Vietnam.  That’s why there’s a stereotyped Mexican on the tee’s right-hand sleeve. PJs do use other aircraft as well.

The Guardian motto is “So Others May Live.” PJs are highly admired by the average soldier.  Somebody who scoops your bleeding body out of a trench and drags it to safety while shooting the bad guys? You tend to admire them.

Camp Bastian 46th ERQS Guardians Cinco Run Tee 2

And that’s what this t-shirt is all about: see this logo on the front of the tee, over the heart:

This 5K run in Camp Bastion, Helmand Province, Afghanistan, was staged on behalf of the “So Others May Live” Foundation. And it’s not the first one that was.  I’ve got photos of a run that the Camp Bastion Marines put on for the foundation a few months earlier. There was one at the top of this article.  Here’s another:

Camp Basion Full Moon Run 2

Even superheroes die: in combat, in a chopper collisiion, in all kinds of ways.  The SOML Foundation provides aid to the families left behind. This tee bears the shield of the 46th ERQS because that squadron operated out of Camp Bastion, pulling wounded NATO and Afghan troops out of godforsaken fire bases and flying them home in its Pedros  to Camp Bastion hospital.

That’s what Camp Bastion was for: to support NATO operations at hundred of bases throughout a large part of Afghanistan.

The British built the camp in 2006 in Helmand Province because Helmand was the most Taliban-free area that they could find.  There were British, Danish, U.S Marine and Afghan Army camps within Bastion’s eight square miles.  Thirty thousand people lived in what was called “the safest place in Afghanistan,” for its  multiple layers of electronic, physical, and human security.

Soldiers routinely ran for exercise on paths just inside Camp Bastion’s outer walls.  Why not? Bastion was a safe and busy place, with the hospital, a large airport, gyms, bars, public utilities and a police department, total Internet access and yes, Pizza Hut.

But things had changed.  By the time this tee was printed and this race was run, the 46th had pulled out of Camp Bastion; NATO operations in Afghanistan were starting to wind down.  After most of a decade of trying to stabilize a country that wouldn’t be stabilized — most Afghans had little reason to love their corrupt, Western-backed puppet government — the West was getting out.

Camp Bastion wasn’t even “the safest place in Afghanistan” anymore.  Its very existence and reputation goaded the Taliban into a suicide attack the year before this benefit run. A force of Taliban breached Camp Bastion security, blew up aircraft, and killed several people in an hours-long firefight.

By 2014, a year and a half after this tee was printed, NATO was out of Camp Bastion.  By 2016, most of Camp Bastion had been demolished and carted away except for one section still occupied by the Afghan Army.  And the miles of walls, and a few buildings that nobody cared about.

By 2018, the Taliban controlled half of Helmand Province and was on the rise thoughout much of Afghanistan.  The U.S. accepted “peace talks” with the Taliban in 2019 to find some compromise peace plan that would bring harmony to Afghanistan. Then President Trump decided to cancel them.

So, what was that all about, those 14 years in Afghanistan? All the money and the death and superhero PJs and Pedros in the sky, and international cooperation?  Stand outside the derelict walls of Camp Bastion, and perhaps Shelley would come to mind:

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

What are we doing in the world? Or to the world? Really? And for who?

Meanwhile, the 46th is off somewhere unnamed — probably Iraq —  heroically supporting Operation Inherent Resolve, the campaign against ISIS and in aid of rebel forces in Syria.

I wonder how Operation Inherent Resolve will turn out, in the end; according to the latest news reports, possibly not any better that things did at Camp Bastion.  The Guardians can’t rescue us from Washington.  Or Wall Street. Or ourselves.

Oh, what the hell. Who’s for a 5K?

T-Shirts from the Collection: Biting Humor

Health care professionals like to kick out the the jams with a good t-shirt from time to time.  Tell me, if you worked for the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula (CHOMP), would you have fun with that acronym from time to time?

Santa Cruz Out for Blood CHOMP Blood Center Tee

Of course you would.  It’s a natural for blood drives.

CHOMP Blood Drive Tee 2

CHOMP had so much fun with that first tee that they rolled out an even more extreme blood drive tee a couple of years later. Remember, giving blood doesn’t hurt a bit.

Community Hospital Monterey Coronary Dept 1

And why stop with the Blood Center?  CHOMP’s Pulmonary Wellness program has its own tee — an arty take on the cardiopulmonary system that you can wear right over the real thing.

On my side of the Monterey Bay, the boys and girls at Dominican Hospital Radiology Department declares its edginess with a skull t-shirt.

Dominica Radiology Skull Made of Bone Names Tee

Skulls are popular on clothing these days, for reasons I’ll leave to the experts today.  But this one is made up of the individual names of each bone in the skull, in proper position.  Very good.  Some have remarked that it’d make a fairly boss album cover.

Cabrillo College RN Program 2

Cabrillo College RN Program 3 – Version 2Down the road at Cabrillo College, the Registered Nurses training program offers a woman’s sleeveless tee. Its design symbolizes the components of registered nursing: Love. Medicine.  Hypodermic needles.  Of all nurses, only RNs gives injections.

I hate needles.  They don’t make me happy. Neither does the California Dental Association, which wants you to love a trip to the dentist as much as a trip to visit your dear old granny.

Cal Dental Association Tee

They made a cute t-shirt. Sadly, having sharp metal objects pushed into our mouths will never be as much fun as a plate of Granny’s fudge. Even though Granny’s fudge may _result_ in a trip to the dentist.

Surreal Estate

Mice have made a little beach head in our kitchen.  They visit nightly and leave little trails of piss and mouse shit behind them.  Field mice don’t care about clean restrooms.  The world is their restroom.

But we make progress. We’ve purchased humane traps which work quite well.  Humane traps present their own problem, however: what to do with the mice you’ve caught.

I find them  jittering inside in the metal traps at 6:30 in the morning. And though I need to get ready for work, first things first: time to take little Squeaker for a ride.  Far away.

A couple of days ago at sunrise I drove down to the levee to release a mouse into the riverbed.  Atop the levee, on the riverside bike path, two gentlemen of the road with bikes and backpacks amused themselves with exercise equipment that an eccentric city had chosen to dump there.

I walked past them toward the river and put the metal trap on the ground.  I opened the top with gloved hands.  The mouse sat there for a moment, processing.  Then it arrowed down the levee at great speed.

I wished it good luck and walked back to the car with trap in hand.

“Hey!” one of the road knights shouted. “Izzat a drone?”

“No, it’s a trap.”

“A ANIMAL trap!”

“A mouse trap.  I just let a mouse go.”

“It doesn’t kill them?”


“GOOD.  That’s HUMANE!”

“Yah!” the other one said. “HUMANE! AWRIGHT!”


I almost always interact with the odd on these missions. When I go to places where no one should be, I run into  people who need such places.

A night or two back, I barely had time to clean and replace the traps before a mouse thrust itself into one.  Leave the kitchen for 20 minutes and see what happens, right?  That left me with a mouse to dispose of in the dark of night.

One does not go down to the levee in darkness; unpleasantness may occur.  So the mouse and I cruised the Westside together lin search of a good spot.

I found it at Neary Lagoon Park: a park only in name.  It’s a facade of green that conceals the sewage treatment plant and, of course, the lagoon: a wetland of reeds and ducks fed by streams and acquifers, spang in the middle of town.  With giant white carp, six feet long.  They float below the surface like ghosts.

I turned into the entrance: there’s a restroom building, a small lawn, a rocky vacant lot, and not much else but chainlink fence and behind, mysterious trees.  I parked on the lot and turned out the headlights.  The place was dark, deserted.  Perfect.

This peace lasted perhaps 30 seconds.  In a blaze of light, a postal van roared up behind me and stopped.  A bicyclist hauling a trailer pedaled up to the restroom building. Out front, under a lamp, sat a large outdoor washing station. It was almost a fountain.  The bicyclist busied himself at it.

A woman piled out of the postal van and ran to the rear of the building.  Those restrooms lock up at sundown, but maybe she had a key.  Or, not.

I got out of the car, donned a pair of gloves, and retrieved the mousetrap.  The woman reappeared, having achieved something in some way. In the glow of the lamp, she bent over the washing station with the man.

I put the trap on the lawn and opened it.  The mouse arrowed away to the chain link fence, the trees, the lagoon, water, food, a new life. Unless one of the carp gets it.

And I thought about this strange tableau: two strangers bent over a basin together under a cone of light in the darkness, while a hulking stranger with a metal box releases a mouse into the void.  Is this reality as designed by the surrealists?  In the lair of some extra-dimension being, does this scene endlessly replay itself on whatever passes for a wall?

I got in the car and backed away.  Behind me, the postal van also moved out, leaving behind a man with a bicycle, under a light, alone: until someone else shows up.  That might take awhile, or only five minutes.  In this town, the solemn, empty spaces are quite heavily used.