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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.

T-Shirts from the Collection: Run for the Fun

Idaho Giant Potato Marathon Tee 1

Foot-race tees are the ants of the used t-shirt world: unattractive, boring, and extremely numerous.  Okay, there’s the Famous Idaho Potato Marathon t-shirt; that’s just demented.  Otherwise, run shirts are uber-ignorable.

Every run or walk distributes hundred or even thousands of unremarkable free t-shirts to the participants:  for 5K runs, 10Ks, half-marathons, full marathons, triathlons, Turkey Trots, zombie runs, mustache runs, runs for a cure, relays for life, benefit runs for the Sunflower Elementary School PTA, or walkathons. You pay to run? You’re getting a shirt. And you’re supposed to wear it.

When the run is over, the participants take those hundreds or thousands of tees home and never wear them again. Sooner or later they’ll cram solid the t-shirt racks  at your local thrift store.  My shoulders ache from pushing them aside.

Brainwalk 1But I’ve kept a few.  Sometimes even a footrace tee can be a bit twisted.  People are good at twisting.  We get bored, and twist things.  And frankly, there’s little more twisted than this Walk for Brain Injury tee, with what appears to be a race map / maze puzzle outlined by the folds of the human brain.  What does it mean? “Solve the puzzle of brain injury?” That’s the best I’ve got, and it’s a push.

Sandman Triathlong Santa Cruz 2003 Tee

And I kept this Santa Cruz Sandman Triathlon tee from 2003 because it is such a piece of work; few are.  It glows in your hands. A slow clap for the triathlon committee, if you please.

On the other hand, the shirt below is nothing special. It’s from the annual Santa Cruz-to-Capitola Wharf to Wharf Race. It’s only in the collection because the Wharf to Wharf cheeses off my inner Mr. Wilson.

1999 Wharf to Wharf 2

The Wharf to Wharf is a mid-summer six-mile jog along the coast on the Santa Cruz Wharf to the Capitola Wharf just down the Bay.  Aside from a lead group of serious runners, it’s a fun-run for sixteen thousand amateurs.  People run with their friends. At intervals along the route, live bands serenade runners from the side of the road.  If you begin to flag, there are people to throw water bottles at you or check your heart if need be.

But if you’re not taking part in the race, it kills a perfectly good summer Sunday.  The Wharf to Wharf’s been blocking traffic for over 40 years. Barricades and policemen are everywhere, snarling traffic..

Worse: the six-mile race starts early, around nine a.m; so as soon as it’s over, all sixteen thousand runners look for a restaurant.  Kiss off brunch.  Or parking, for that matter.

Within a week those 16,000 Wharf to Wharf t-shirts start showing up at Goodwill.  In mass quantities. I bought just this one, from 1999, because it was more handsome than most.  Note that I found it in mint condition 20 years after it was printed.

Santa Cruz Hash House Harriers Wharf to Barf Tee 2I’m not alone in disdaining the Wharf to Wharf, or amateur running in general. Behold a different breed of runners: the Surf City Hash.

Surf City Hash is a chapter of the Hash House Harriers, an international network of social clubs aptly described as “a drinking club with a running problem.” Bored British colonial officers founded the first Hash in Singapore in the late ‘30s. (“The Hash House” was their name for their residence hotel, which served canned corned beef in mass quantities).

These gentlemen caroused and indulged to excess on the weekends, there being little else to do in that sun-drenched arm of the Empire. So it was decided that a Monday evening run would be just the thing for good clean British fitness.  And if they stopped for a pint or two — or five — along the way, well we were talking about British-style fitness, weren’t we?

The Japanese invasion put a hard stop to Empire jollity in Singapore, but the Harriers carried on elsewhere. Today, you’ll find a Hash everywhere the Empire ever was, or still is, or where a Brit or two of the hearty variety have settled down and sought comradeship among the natives. A Hash works like this:

One or more members is declared the “hare.” The hare leaves clues scrawled in chalk for the others to follow.  The idea is for the pack of runners to catch up with the hare (while chanting “On-On the whole time,” for some reason), but some of the clues are false, or decoys.  The pack gets lost a lot.

This is a good thing, as it keeps the best runners from getting too far ahead of the worst. There is discussion of what to do next, and of course everybody catches up at a bar or two along the way. Beer is imbibed.  Eventually the main body of the Hash makes it to the destination, which is called Religion, or the On-In. And there is yet more ale-swilling, plus singing and ritual insults.

Silliness is near-mandatory, especially since you’ve had a few: costumes, strange and not-very-serious ceremonies, vaguely suggestive Hash nicknames for all and sundry, jokes, and much socializing.  There exists a variant called “The Red Dress Race,” and yes, your imagination has not led you astray.

A hash is beyond letting your hair down; you are cutting it off and leaving it on the ground behind you.

Santa Cruz Hash House Harriers Wharf to Barf Tee

Santa Cruz is noted for liberal politics, so this 2005 Hash festival tee commemorates a weekend gathering of the local Hashes in the “People’s Republic of Santa Cruz.” Note happy socialist slogans like “MORE BEER! LESS WORK!”

So, yes, I rather liked this tee.  These people know how to run: for fun. For the fun that lies beyond the endorphin high that you body generates to dull the pain of running.

After all: that’s what the beer is for.

Stay tuned for Part 2: Marathons and Fun-Runs in Terrible Places

Yesterday’s Future — With Added Angst!

There’s a special discussion board on the Internet for people who want their pictures drawn — for free, of course.  Post a photo there, and someone just might draw you, and then post their work back for you to see.

Someone like my wife Rhumba.  But you might not get what you expect.

“They were trying to look cool,” Rhumba told me. She passed her tablet over.  “They” certainly were trying: a bearded man and a pouty woman. Rhumba had placed a flying saucer above them in the middle background; it disrupted their cool factor somewhat. She likes to add flying saucers.

“You know,” I said, “and don’t take offense, but this looks just like the cover of a cheap science fiction paperback from the early ’60s. I mean that in a good way.” I’d read a ton of them.

Rhumba readily agreed; she read them, too.  We’re both retired science fiction fans from wasted youths.

“Well, I could make it into something like that.” Rhumba will do about anything.  The rules of the discussion board state that the artist can go in any direction that they want with the photos, save the sexual.   She takes full advantage.

“We could call it — “Beats in Space,” I said.

We discussed it; then I went to bed while Rhumba started playing around.  And when I got up the next morning:

Beats in Space

“Bob Ellison” is a portmanteau of the names “Robert Silverberg” and “Harlan Ellison,” two prolific sci-fi writers of the time who wrote piles of schlock to pay the the bills before they became Big Name Sci-Fi Writers in the mid/late ’60s.

Either one of them could have written “Beats in Space,” except that 1) Silverberg’s version would have been porn, and 2) in Ellison’s version the woman would betray the guy with the beard, and they’d all smoke marijuana.

We have no idea how the photo subjects feel about this. They’ve been curiously silent.

T-Shirts from the Collection: Skulls, Part Two

I’ve already written on skull t-shirts, but there are so many skull t-shirts in my collection that — well, welcome to Part 2. America still loves its skulls, and there’s much to talk about.

Skulls and Motorcycles

Reno Street Vibrations Motorcycle Fest Tee 2

To recap the previous article, skulls were originally a sign of danger or death or outlawry; no one would wear one on their clothing.

Except outlaw motorcycle gangs.  To them, skulls were a sign that they rejected all norms  — and that you shouldn’t mess with them.  The  Angels in particular gained attention in the ‘60s thanks in part to Hunter Thompson’s bestseller “Hells Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga.” Thompson drew a picture of a complex subculture based on freedom, rejection of society’s values, internal discipline, bravery, and of course violence.

Santa Cruz Basket Case Chopper Zine Tee

“Basket Case” is a Santa Cruz-based cycle mag about Norcal chopper riders, clubs, and activities. No outlaws they, but they still offer this tee design of tough “Mother Fuckers” charging Death himself. The artist, Mitch Cotie, is a hot number in the small world of motorcycle club art and logos. That doesn’t make you rich, but it’s something.

Outlaw biker gangs played well in the theaters, starting with “The Wild Angels,” a mid- ‘60s B-movie with Peter Fonda, and going well beyond. This interest in outlaw bikers as rebels and antiheroes, some think, is what brought skull imagery into rock music and metal in particular.

Skulls are still associated with biker gangs; and it’s still cool to be a rebel.  It may be that everybody who enjoys long rides on a chopper fancies themselves a tough-minded rebel: even when their day job is in property/casualty insurancel.

So skulls still show up on a lot of motorcycle tees.  Not all, not even most; but a lot. The Ride 4 Life a motorcycle rallyt-shirt shows a chopper made of skulls and bone.  The rally may or may not be a ride for charity — there are a number of sponsors listed on the back.  But if it was, the bones give a mixed message.

Ride 4 Life on Bone Motorcycle

That said, this was probably not an outlaws-only rally: not with sponsorships from Honda and Kawasaki dealers listed on the back of the tee.  Most outlaw bikers still ride Harley Davidson motorcycles exclusively. Hondas? Pfui.

Even so: while most Harley Davidson dealers sell dealership t-shirts, most don’t feature skulls or violent imagery. Harleys may be the ride of choice of the Hells Angels, but remember that  a new Harley costs upward of $30K. It’s more of a middle-class purchase anymore.

Territorial Harley Skull Headlamp

Still, Territorial Harley of Yuma, AZ, chose to go with a skull-headlight motif with Yuma’s infamous, frontier-era Territorial Prison as a backdrop.  Skulls, Arizona, Harleys, a prison full of notorious killers: I can see the temptation.

As I waited in line to pay for this tee at the thrift store, a teenaged girl rushed up to me and asked if there were any more.  Skulls sell.

Other businesses associated with Harley motorcycles use skulls more commonly.  They want to invoke the outlaw glamour when selling accessories, equipment, and so on.  The tee belows comes from a company that sells horsepower-enhancing hardware and software upgrades for your Harley. You want to go from 90 HP to 120 HP? Well, a daring stud like you deserves an outlaw t-shirt!

Fuel Moto Harley Davidson Parts Dealer Tee

The band Guns ‘n Roses used a nearly identical image, minus the shamrock. Image searches return plenty of skull illos with some combination of hats, shamrocks, and pistols. It seems to be an Irish thing.  Fuel Moto’s owners might be ethnic Irish.  Or they could just like Guns ‘n Roses. Or both.

Big Red Machine HA Tee 1And of course there are the Hells Angels.  By their own rules, no one but an Angel can wear a piece of clothing that says “Hells Angels” on it.  I’ve never actually seen a Hells Angels tee.

“Big Red Machine” tees are for people who support the Hells Angels, but are not actually memebers. “Big Red Machine” is an alternate name for the Hells Angels.

Angels chapters sell BRM tees freely to the general public.  I’ve yet to see one without a skull. Because you may not be a badass Angel, but your Big Red Machine tee makes you badass enough.

Just Skulls

Sometimes, you know, skulls don’t seem to mean anything except, hey, a skull. Made ya look. Or perhaps there’s some twisted symbolism that only Freud or Jung would dare to speculate on. I feel that way about the Skull of Cats T-shirt.

Skull of Kittens

This is one of mutliple skulls-of-cats t-shirts on the market today.  They don’t look the same; they come from different vendors.  There must be demand, or there’d be only one design, with no imitators.  Out there, someone is probably snarking, “It was I and I ALONE who created the first SKULL OF CATS t-shirt!”

But what does a skull-made-of-cats really mean?  Is it ironic? Is it cute?  Does it allow young women (I assume) swing both ways at the same time?  Don’t ask me.  But once again, the tee does what a skull is supposed to: make you pay attention to the wearer.

Now, on to more skulls. And coffee:
Bones Coffee 1
This tee from the Bones Coffee Company shows a skull reclining in foliage, luxuriously drinking coffee.  Is this the Afterlife? Does Bones Coffee send you to Heaven? As a skeleton? I’m confused. Not especially interested, but confused.

Bones Coffee is not a coffee chain; it’s a roaster that sells online and through retail outfits.  It stands out by offering coffee of weird flavors: bacon coffee, strawberry-cheesecake coffee, even peanut-butter-and-jelly-flavored coffee.

Now, I would assume that coffee consumed by a skeleton would flow out of the rib cage. Unless skeletons drink only the PB&J coffee because it sticks to their rib bones and doesn’t escape.  Reviews on the PB&J flavor are mixed, by the way: “You might like it; you might think it tastes like stomach acid.”

There’s no story here. I smell “marketing concept.”  And there’s nothing like a skull to make things edgy, though I think PB&J-flavored coffee would make my stomach edgy all on its own.

Bones Coffee 2

That’s it for now. There’ll have to a a Skulls Part Three.


The Art Department Moves with the Times


This week at the university which employs me, I filled a dull afternoon by adding new courses to the degree audit rules for the Art BA.  The Art advisor had sent them over with a plea for immediate update.  She’s a good “customer” of my unit, and I like to give her priority.

The degree audit program produces an academic progress report: it tells the student what they’ve taken so far, and what they still have to take to complete their degree.  It had better be accurate, or there’ll be screaming down the line. And yes, justifiably.

Here’s the course description for one of the newly-offered art classes.  It made me smile.

COURSE ID: 122568

EFFECTIVE DATE: 06/03/2019



LONG COURSE TITLE: Art, Power, and Politics

Explores strategies artists use to engage political subject matter in the 21st century. Students create their own projects, research and test approaches, techniques and strategies learning from the ways national and international artists encode and convey information in creating political work.

Methods range from community collaboration to tactical culture jamming, participatory collaborative projects, activism and intervention, symbolic and gestural work, artist-led projects, performances and community projects. Students are billed a materials fee.

Well, why not?  Interesting times lie ahead.  Why shouldn’t the art students of today build activist skills that they may need tomorrow?  Relevant art: what a concept.

I posted this course description over at the Daily Kos, the website for activist Democrats. The Kossacks were not impressed; it got a few grunts and a teasing reference to the Chinese Cultural Revolution.

They’re mainly establishment Democrats over there.  They think that everything of import takes place within the party.  Even though the party keeps shooting itself in the foot. Too many big Democrats like the big money from big donors, and it tends to ruin your aim.

My thought is that the establishment Democrats will deliver for America — when they’ve been kicked around and frightened enough. Giant blood-spattered heads of Donald Trump and Jamie Dimon, carried down Wall Street by a screaming mob? That might just make an impression on the comfortable big-donor “liberal” grandees.

If so, my university’s art students will be ready with enthusiasm and paper-mache skills, hit-and-run murals on the walls of the Establishment, and so on.  Get the network TV cameras pointed in the right direction at the right time, and who knows what might happen?

As the great cartoon subversive Boris Badenov once said, “I do the best I can with the tools I got.” I do believe that he was holding a bomb at the time.

Just kidding. Really.


BoriscycleLast year, on a whim, I searched for images of Boris Badenov online and found very few.  This year, Boris, the grinning bad-boy spy from the old Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons, is everywhere.  There are vintage images by the dozen.  Artists are drawing their own original Boris cartoons, and there’s even a site that teaches you how to draw Boris Badenov.

Boris is in again.  And now he belongs to the people. What does this tell you about the times?  Break into groups and discuss.  Submit a 1000-word analysis by Thursday.



T-Shirts from the Collection: My Latest Rothian Acquisition

Excavation Crew Ed Roth Style Tee

Here’s my latest Ed Roth-inspired t-shirt acquisition.  Roth-style monster-in-a-hot-rod designs continue to inspire new t-shirt designs: this one for construction workers. Because they’re all about letting out the id; and I guess that after seven or eight hours on a caterpillar you might just feel the impulse to bulldoze an gas station or something.

Everybody knows what a Roth-style car creature  means — WILD and CRAZY!

But where do you draw the line?  What’s in the Roth mold, and what is not?

Not long after I found this tee, I came across another one that might have qualified: a sheep driving a tractor.  The tee was from some additudinal collegiate agriculture club that was proclaiming it’s badassery. They’d simply taken a clip-art image of a sheep and placed (sort of) in the diver’s seat of a clip-art image of a tractor.

But was it Roth-like? I have criteria:

  • Is the driver way out of proportion in size to the vehicle? Well, yeah, by its size that would have been a thousand-pound sheep.
  • Does the driver have bug eyes? No, just sheep eyes.
  • Did it have fangs or snaggle teeth? No, no teeth at all.
  • Did it have a maniacal leer on its face? No, just a sheep expression. AKA, no expression.
  • Was the tractor popping a wheelie? Nope
  • Was the tractor spewing flames or smoke?  Nope.

You need at least three out of the six to get into my Roth-inspired t-shirt selection. It failed.  I left it on the rack.  Sorry guys, so near and yet so far!

Oh, by the way:  don’t take this seriously.  I’m not that far gone into t-shirt geekdom.  Yet.









T-Shirts from the Collection: The Many Faces of the Slug

The University of California at Santa Cruz had no official mascot for its first few decades: just a yellow slug that crawled along the forest floor.  And everybody loved Sammy the Slug. T-shirts followed shortly thereafter.

UCSC Standard Banana Slug Tee

This Sammy Slug tee has been in print since the ’90s; earlier versions of Sammy looked a lot like this: cheerful, bookish, sometimes laid-back.

The banana slug (Ariolimax dolichophallus) was the people’s choice — if by “people” you mean the counter-culture, save-the-world students of a quirky, experimental UC campus build on a hillside.  In a redwood forest full of bright yellow banana slugs.  Above a beach town with a roller coaster. The campus’ unofficial volleyball team called itself the Banana Slugs as early as the 1970s.

UCSC students and faculty were anti-authoritarian, and want no muscled sports gladiators called “Hawks” or “Bears” to represent them.  Sports should be for everybody to take part in, they thought.  so for them, the Banana Slug made a perfect mascot: yellow, mellow and harmless.    And thus the mellow students began calling themselves Slugs.

Santa Cruz UCSC Slug Disc Club

UCSC’s early sports clubs could be non-traditional, like Santa Cruz Slug Disc. Disc sports like Ultimate are still huge on campus.

Eventually UCSC grew large enough to support  sports; some students wanted them.  The university chose a few of the less gladiatorial (and less expensive) ones: men’s and women’s basketball, track, swimming, and so on: but not football. There is no stadium at UCSC.

Intercollegiate sports required an official mascot:  so the administration told the students that they were all now Sea Lions.

UCSC Steroid Dominator Slug Basketball Tee

The intercollegiate teams insisted on a “tough” slug. This version of Sammy is called “The Athletic Slug.” But I think of him as “Steroid Dominator Slug.”

In the end, that didn’t fly. Ad UCSC students and their teams officially became Banana Slugs, or just Slugs.  And the slug became Sammy.  And people do all sorts of things with him.


This tee comes from the student chapter of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (Also known as I-Triple E). Bioengineering and the like is big at UCSC; there are many electronic Slugs.

Santa Cruz Hillel Jewish Slug Tee

Other clubs and organizations also make Sammy their own.  I favor this t-shirt from Santa Cruz Hillel, the Jewish campus organization.  Sammy in a prayer shawl and yamulka, calling out to God? Why not? I’ve yet to see a Christian group put Sammy on the cross, but it might be out there. UCSC Slug with Giant Swab Tee

Not to be missed is the curiously unsettling Giant Q-Tip Slug.  Keep in mind that a slug is only ten inches long or so, max, and the Q-Tip becomes less threatening.  It’s from a campus program that recruits students as blood marrow donors; a swab inside the cheek harvests the cells needed to classify your marrow.

UCSC Long Marine Lab Sea Slug Tee 1

UCSC Long Marine Lab Sea Slug Tee 2Marine biologists have their own idea of what the slug should be.  With this tee, the Marine Sciences Department down at Long Marine Labs honore Hypselodoris Californiensis, the Blue and Gold Sea Slug.  The University of California’s colors are blue and gold, so that makes Hypselodoris part of the campus family.

College Eight Back

Look, it’s a giant yellow “8” with slug feelers.  UC Santa Cruz students are split among ten residential “colleges,” each with its own core programs and activities and theme: science, engineering, the environment, internationalism, and so on. And once upon a time, there was a College 8.

A college is a discrete group of buildings, dorms, meeting spaces, and grounds; when they’re newly built,  colleges are given a number, not a name. Eventually some J. Wellington Gotrocks comes along and makes a mighty donation to a college: in the millions. For that, they get naming rights. UCSC College names include Cowell, Stevenson, Crown, Merrill, Porter, Kresge, and Oakes.

College 8 front

That donation can be long in coming.  After it was built, College 8 remained but a number for many years.  The students came to accept the number as an honorable name: College 8 was their academic tribe, and their home.  So it was “Long Live College 8,”  which was and is the college of environmentalism and sustainability.

Eventually a wealthy donor came along and bequeathed an awesome sum to the many needs of College 8.  And the college finally got a real name.

The donor and the university settled on the name  “Rachel Carson College,” after the author and marine biologist whose book “Silent Spring” helped launch the global environmental movement.  And quite a good t-shirt was produced for the occasion.

Rachel Carson UCSC 1

There are those alumni who say, “It’ll always be College 8 to me!” Who can’t respect that?  But “Carson,” as newer students call the college, is now a well-accepted name.

By the way, UCSC still has a College 9 and a College 10; they’ve been waiting eighteen years for their permanent names.  The possibilities are endless.  Empty that change jar in the kitchen and get in on the ground floor.

Here are a couple of more UCSC shirts, just because.

UCSC College 8 Tie Dye Tee

Tie-dye harkens back to the ’60s; so does UCSC, making tie-dye practically the school colors. Tie-dyed tees have been printed for many of the colleges.


UCSC Origama Banana Slug Tee 1

A slug is a moderately easy animal to sculpt; even in paper. This t-shirt is a wearable instruction manual for the manufacture of origami slugs.


T-Shirts From the Collection: Hokusai Waves at You

The Greate Wave

You know about “The Great Wave Off Kanagawa.” You may not know that you know. But everybody’s seen the image, and almost everybody remembers it. Even if they don’t know what it’s called, or who created it.

The Great Wave off Kanagawa is a woodblock print by the 19th-century Japanese artist Hokusai. It depicts small boats climbing a huge wave off the Japanese prefecture of Kanagawa, while Mount Fuji lurks in the background. The crinkly, stylized sea foam is hard to forget.

The Great Wave off Kanagawa  by Hokusai with Rubber Ducky Tee

The Great Wave is reprinted constantly in all sorts of media: even on t-shirts, where artists like to use it with certain, um, modifications. Like a rubber ducky. When I saw the tee above, I just had to have it.

The Great Wave can be copied literally, as above, or used as an inspiration. Below, the “surfing bus” on a t-shirt from my local transit district crests an unmistakeable Hokusai wave. Note the Japanese-style “rising sun” in the background.

Santa Cruz Metro Surfing Bus Company Picnic Tee

Below, this rather good tee for a local surf contest flips the HokuaI waves in the opposite direction and substitutes a California shoreline for Mount Fuji. Pacific Brown pelicans cruise overhead. Call it “The Awesome Wave Off Carmel.”

Hokusai Waves Carmel Surf Contest Tee

Sometimes “The Great Wave” as a symbol has a personal association. For example, you’ll find the patch below on a t-shirt from the U.S. Naval Oceanography Antisubmarine Warfare Center in Yokosuka, Japan. This unit tracks American and foreign submarine activity in the waters of Pacific. They will not tell you exactly how they do that. About all that they’ll admit to is the publishing of weather reports.

Navy ASW Tee 1

It just so happens that Yokosuka is in the prefecture of Kanagawa, so the Great Wave and Hokusai are local symbols that these sailors wanted to use– in modified form. Instead of the fishing boats in Hokusai’s original, note the trident sticking up out the water and impaling a submarine.

Flip to the other side, where a samurai warrior stabs a submarine with his sword. The text across the top is a translation of the organization’s English name. The text at bottom translates as “hunter” or “huntsman.”

Navy ASW Tee 2

On to the last t-shirt, which just about made my head explode. It is a darker version of the Great Wave — under a crazy Van Gogh sky from “A Starry Night,” perhaps Van Gogh’s most famous painting. Mount Fuji is still there, of course.

Hokusai Wave Van Gogh

This is no random act of art: Van Gogh greatly admired Hokusai. He even collected Hokusai prints. Some Van Gogh scholars suggest that the rolling waves in Hokusai’s work inspired the rolling masses of light and color in Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” sky.

We’ll never know. But the theory must intrigue many, because you can find as many different Great Wave/Starry Night hybrids as you want to: on t-shirts, as posters, and even as full-sized mounted art prints.

I do enjoy defining the riffs that t-shirt artists make off iconic images.  You should see what they do  with the cover of the Beatles’ “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album.  And when I have enough examples, I’ll show you.


T-Shirts from the Collection: Motorcycles, Jesus, and the Occasional Car

Crusing for Jesus

I track a number of recurring t-shirt themes, and one of my favorite is “Motorcycles and Jesus.”  You might not link the Man from Nazareth with vintage Harley panheads or late-model Kawasaki Ninjas.  But some people try to make it happen: on a t-shirt, at least.

Cruising for Jesus 2jpg“Cruising for Jesus” is a pretty common tag line for shirts like this: that somehow you’re serving the Lord by rocketing down US 101 at warp speed on a $30,000 bike.  Maybe you are; but somebody needs to explain it to me. “Cruising for Christ” is a popular saying on hot rod tees, too — often related to a particular religious car club, or to a particular church.

You also find tees for “The Blessing of the Bikes,” an outdoor blessing ceremony that takes place at churches across the nation around May, just before summer cruising season starts.  The blessing is for the rider’s well-being, not just the motorcycle’s.  And yes, the miinister usually blesses each bike and rider individually. It’s an endurance job, because hundreds may attend.

Blessing of the Bikes Fresno 2006 Tee

Blessing of the Bikes Fresno 2006 Tee 2“Blessing of the Bikes” ceremonies are non-denominational — just show up, Believer or not — but there’s usually a lesson, maybe a short sermon, and a sprinkle of holy water if you’re at a Catholic church or something similar.  The custom dates to 1999, when St. John’s Cathedral in New York City staged a “Blessing of the Bicycles” ceremony, which it still holds annually.  “Blessing ceremonies” can be for motorcycles, bicycles, or both, but most cater to motorcyclists.

You can find videos of “Blessing” gatherings on YouTube, and many of the bikes are pretty plush.  But since the blessing is really about rider safety, I won’t complain.

Much less seriously — and with contempt — do I treat “The Blessing of the Cars” tee from at a ritzy car show run by the Knights of Columbus at the Carmel Mission in ritzy Carmel, California, where Clint Eastwood was once mayor.

Carmel Blessing of the Cars

As a stunt at the Carmel Mission Classic car show, the Bishop himself comes by and blesses $300,000 (and up) collector’s cars owned by extremely wealthy individuals. If you want to decode the t-shirt, that’s the bish in a classic Italian racing car zipping by the mission with the Holy Water in one had while hurling blessings with the other.

And now your Bugatti is One with the Divine.  It’s a fund-raiser for some kind of good causes, but can I say it?  Crass. Very crass.

My personal opinion: if some church wants to bless a car in a way that really matters, hold a ceremony called “The Blessing of the Beaters.” It would serve all the people with battered old cars who desperately need them to hang together: to get to work, to get to school, to run their business.  Because they are too poor to pay for repairs, much less get another car.

A priest sprays a little water on your ’94 Chevy Corsica and prays that it last another year? That’s a blessing that many would like to have.

But back to motorcycles:

Santa Cruz Jesus Died Motorcycle Tee by Skateboarder

Behold this tee: “Jesus Died So We Can Ride.” Is this statement real, or just an attitudinal joke? Those are good questions, because this shirt has a history that’s all about attitude.

It’s the work of a gentleman from Santa Cruz named Jason Jessee.  In the ‘90s he was a  pro skateboarder with lucratives sponsorships from the skateboarding industry, his own lines of merchandise, and so on.  He was famous  (or infamous) for his out-there personality: objectionable, weird, willing to say about anything to make an impact.

Many of his skateboard media quotes were racist and sexist. That didn’t hurt him back then, not at a time skateboarding mainly belonged to disaffected young white males who liked that sort of thing, or at least tolerated it. It sounded bold to them. Being bold was good business.  So was also being involved in the biker/chopper building world, and wearing the occasional swastika.  The motorcycle on this tee is Jessee’s personal ride.

And Jessee drifted from the mainstream and lost his sponsorships. There were drugs. But 2010 or so, he was back in the limelight, with new sponsors much less controversy. This biker tee comes from that period; it was sold through the biker community, and sold well.

Was Jessee really serious with the “Jesus” message, or just being “bold and outrageous?” Opinions vary.  I’ll bet they varied among the people who bought the shirt.

And that’s where we could leave this; except that Jessee’s career crashed in 2018 when all the sexist/racist statements from the ’90s and beyond came back to haunt him.  What played in 1995 was poison in 2018.

Could you say his sponsors hadn’t known? Well, you can say they didn’t have to admit they knew, and when the controversy crested, they all dropped Jessee once again. And what Jason Jessee was or wasn’t, and believed or didn’t believe, will remain a controversy.

I do like the shirt.

T-Shirts From the Collection: Big and Weird

If a t-shirt is big enough and weird enough, I have to have it. Its meaning is irrelevant, save for this: some t-shirt designer climbed out beyond the world we know. And brought us a tee from the Other Side.

M.C. Escher Self-Portrait Andazia Tee 1

You’ve seen M.C. Escher t-shirts: hands drawing each other, staircases passing through the fourth dimension, interlocking lizards… You know the drill. This Escher shirt is different: it centers on a self-portrait of M.C. Escher himself, bundled with some other early Escher works, and all of it hovering above a Dutch cityscape: by Escher or not, I’m unsure.

And it’s a wrap-around. Cool, or what?

M.C. Escher Self-Portrait Andazia Tee 2

I’m from Santa Cruz; this tee was printed down here 30 years ago by a t-shirt imprinter called Andazia. Andazia licensed interesting artwork from various sources, printed the art on tees, and distributed the tees through bookstores, museums, and galleries.

For a time in the ‘80s and early ‘90s, Santa Cruz was the national font of M.C. Escher t-shirts. I even met the Andazia people once nearly 30 years ago at a t-shirt surplus sale in their parking lot. I picked up a couple of things, but nothing this cool.

Andazia’s been gone since 2003. But the tee was waiting for me at Goodwill.

Outer Limits License-Wear 90s Tee 1

Now as far as big and weird t-shirts come, they don’t come much bigger and weirder than this. The design spills across the shoulders, down the arms, and all the way to your crotch. And it stares at you. Oh my, it certainly does.

Outer Limits License-Wear 90s Tee 1You’re looking at another licensed t-shirt, this one for the reboot of the classic sci-fi television show “The Outer Limits” in the mid-90s. But the design is from an episode of the original series, “The Zanti Misfits.” Said misfits were ant-like criminals with grotesque human faces, exiled to earth by their home planet. And you’re looking at them.

Some of the design is silk-screen, and some is hand-applied. It’s some kind of masterpiece of over-the-top men’s wear. If I were to walk downtown in this t-shirt, every eye would be on me — perhaps in shock, but nevertheless on me. I’m not going to.

This tee was designed and manufactured by an outfit called Littlefield, Adams, and Company, which placed tees with licensed designs in discount department stores. Can you see this tee hanging with pride in the “Boy’s and Men’s Clothing” section of a Bay Area K-Mart, circa 1996? And it’s Blue Light Special Time…

I’ve got many cool tees, but few where the design so absolutely dominates the entire shirt. Here are some lesser but still excessive tees:

AlfaHanne Bird Skeleton Death Metal Tee

I’m no big fan of Swedish black metal bands, but I had to take this shirt home. Sure it’s all bones and skulls like so many metal shirts. But it has that special Gothic zing of the fur-clad headbangers from northern Europe and Scandinavia. A black griffin skeleton that nearly covers the whole tee? Gimme.

Hokusai Waves Carmel Surf Contest Tee

Now, I am a big fan of Hokusai waves, and this Carmel surf contest tee well rips off the Japanese woodblock print master with an elegant and over-the-top full-width design. And pelicans. The pelicans make it.

Big Dick Choppers 1

I’ve got nothing to say about this one. Nothing.

Airbrush Marilyn by Domingo Vasquez

We’ll end with an airbrush Marilyn. Nothing says excess like a crazed portrait of a relentless ‘50s sex goddess, executed by a local artist over Salinas way.

I love this job; even though I don’t get paid for it.