Category Archives: Uncategorized

A Special Case

The package arrived from Tracy. Tracy, California, famous not much except giant distribution centers that squat at the edge of the Bay Area. The Fedex guy threw it on the porch and I rushed out to get it. I knew what it had to be. Though what it looked to be was a drab, sturdy, medium-sized box taped up within an inch of its life.

I cut it open. Inside were plastic packing pillows surrounding a rectangular object wrapped in silver mylar bubble wrap. It glowed in the sun. You could imagine it as the payload for some space shot.

I cut that open and inside were three plastic cold packs, and…. NATURE’S BOUNTY.

Oh yeah, the good stuff: a case of ultra dark chocolate chips from the gnomes at Ghirardelli Chocolate, 80 miles up the coast. When you grow to understand that sugar and milk in chocolate are only a sideshow for the kiddies, THIS is what you want. You’ll never dip below 70 percent cacao again. You can’t: to you, “regular” chocolate is now sickly sweet by comparison.

And it’s just become hard to get in these times of COVID. We order from the supermarket online for delivery, and Ghirardelli 72’s been off their menu for three weeks. Demand, supply chain snarls, COVID chaos in Africa — who knows? The world’s a crazy place. Always has been, but now squared.

So we ordered direct, and in quantity, from Ghirardell itselfi. The chocolate mother ship is usually fully stocked; it’s run its own online store for years. There’ve always been bakers in Nowhere, North Dakota who need chocolate specialties they can’t get locally. Ghirardelli is there for them.

But only a big order makes sense: shipping’s expensive, and free shipping starts high. Hence a full case of chocolate chips, and another case of 100 percent unsweetened cocoa powder coming tomorrow. We crossed the free-shipping threshhold by maybe a dollar. And if it all last lasts two months, I’ll be surprised.

Do we bake? We don’t even use the oven. This is for my oatmeal.

In retirement I start the day with a giant bowl (yes, the bowl is oversized) of oatmeal with apples, blueberries, roasted sunflower seeds, a massive amount of unsweetened cocoa and, of course, 72 percent chocolate chips.

It’s extreme. By my wife Rhumba, it’s icky. But I enjoy my gleaming bowl of purple-brown oatmeal with chips on top. I like the taste, and I like the effect.

The effect? The Aztecs knew. They jazzed their warriors up on chocolatl — expensive, because the beans came from hundreds of miles south. But with a gut full of Aztec Brown, the plumed warriors of Tenochtitlan could fight single-combat battles all day without faltering, without even stopping to rest or eat. Warriors of the other city-states fell before them.

I’m not picking up an obsidian dagger any time soon, but theobromine — the active ingredient in chocolate — dilates your blood vessels, gets oxygen where it needs to go in mass quantities, improves your use of stored energy and more. Now that I’m a retired old guy, I’d rather not feel so old.

And I don’t. Losing weight helped, too, but chocolate keeps me sharp every day — in my opinion. I feel like a fit 50 again. Entering my late ‘60s, that seems more than good enough.

And I hope it lasts, because chocolate may not. Climate change will affect prime cacao-growing regions; and chocolate is no easy crop to grow or mass-produce. I won’t go into details; but a very few decades down the line, chocolate as we know it may only be for the wealthy. The masses will at best get a low-quality adulterated version mixed with other substances (and probably a lot of sugar). Call it “chok.”

Most chok will be bad — a small amount of mediocre chocolate product mixed with cheap ingredients. But it needn’t always be that way: we have “chok” even now, and some of it’s pretty popular. The italian candy gianduja is a chocolate hazelnut mix and, actually, pretty great. If you or your children require a daily Nutella fix — well, Nutella descends from gianduja. It’s chok.

So other felicitous combinations could arise. But they would still be expensive, and they wouldn’t be chocolate. Even good chok wouldn’t meet my needs, because I want to mainline the hard stuff every day. I don’t care about candy.

Again: between climate change, drought, mass migration, breakdown of trade relations and even war, the years of mass-market pure chocolate for the masses are numbered. I like the number “30,” because I’m old. But, no guarantees for anything.

Until then, I’m scrambling up and down the supply chain to get my fix and dance with the Aztecs. I will skip the obsidian blades and feather plumes; people wouldn’t understand.

Except for the two cybernetic Mesoamerican warriors on the wall of our TV room. They would understand. I think that the one on the right has had his chocolatl.

Gubmint Burgers

In which the author discovers the power to turn beans into burgers — and a nice plate ‘o nachos.

The other night my wife and I sat down to a dinner of pasta with sauce and meatballs. All perfect, and perfectly ordinary. If you ignore the meatballs, which looked like hockey pucks with a rough finish. And were not made of meat.

Welcome to the wonderful world of black bean veggie burgers which I, an elderly man, have just learned to make. Veggie burgers are a perfect “guy” project:

Haven’t got all the ingredients? Improvise! Veggie burgers need some kind of protein (usually mashed legumes), some kind of cooked grain (leftover oatmeal), maybe chopped nuts or seeds, maybe bread crumbs, maybe some cooked vegetables of your choice — lots of maybes. Go wild.

Above all, a veggie burger needs a “binder” to pull the flaky, pulpy mess into a solid: a flax “egg” (like strange jello), juice from a can of garbanzos, sometimes even nut butters. Binders are the duct tape that pull together the entire enterprise — along with cooked grain and veggies that soak up moisture.

Is the mix a little sloppy? More duct tape! More binder, more grain, more something! If you do it right, the melange thickens into a large semi-rigid mass from which hunks can be peeled off and formed into burgers; I have a little press that makes perfect burger pucks.

And you ask… what does it taste like?

Whatever you want it to. Hot dogs and sausages don’t taste like anything until spices are added: often smoked paprika, which by chance is just the spice you add in most black bean burger recipes.

That, and a good chili powder, and chopped onions and frankly you’re going to end up with something that tastes better than most “real” burgers. Fry ‘em up — you can bake them, but I’m me — and they even turn a respectable golden-brown color thanks in part to those spices.

Eat them then and there, or freeze them and bring them back to life later with two minutes in the microwave. The wife and I make cheeseburgers with them on whole-grain bread together with avocado and tomato. We get all our aminos, and it never gets old.

And if it does, crumble them and throw them into the pasta, or make nachos with them, or tacos, or just eat ‘em like a hamburger steak with a side of whatever you want. The consistency, the “tooth,” is comparable to that of today’s average beefburger.

It’s easy; it tastes great; no animal has to live a short life in squalor just to die in a slaughterhouse. No greenhouse gases are generated. No questionable “recovered meats” or pink slime can ever be on the premises.

I’m not an official vegetarian — my wife is — but I’m getting there. I think the last straw came when scientists revealed that pigs were smart enough to play simple video games. What else do we not know about the “dumb animals” we eat? I’ll miss salami; but I’ll live, and well.

All I needed to get to this point was time on my hands — first COVID working-at-home, then retirement — and a sheaf of veggie burger recipes I was going to get around to some day. The day came, and I got around to them.

And why not, when you can get 20 of them for three or four dollars of raw material? They taste like the ones in the supermarket; after you freeze them, they microwave just as easily. And once you get your production line going, why do less than 20? Why not 40? Aim for the moon! Veggie burgers for everybody! I’m already experimenting with garbanzo burgers.

But I do get the problem: people don’t have the time. It’s not just a hard world, it’s one that wants to steal every spare second from you. Who has time to make veggie burgers when you just want to collapse at the end of the day, and the weekend is already full of laundry and chores? Easier to kick over six bucks to the corps for four frozen disks. Like they want you to.

So I have this thought. Raising livestock accounts for 14.5 percent of all greenhouse gases worldwide. And all that livestock consumes a lot of feed — very inefficiently, up to several pounds of grain required for a pound of meat — in a world where crop failures are becoming more and more common. People may need the produce of those fields directly. I would bet on it.

From these thoughts comes a proposition: call it “government burgers.” You remember “government cheese” (aka gubmint cheese) in the ‘80s? The feds distributed free cheese made from milk that the government had bought to support milk prices and then stockpiled; the stockpiles were huge. It went to recipients of government aid as a consolation prize for Reagan-era cuts to food security programs. And it wasn’t all that good.

Government burgers wouldn’t be free: but what about ten bucks for a bag of 20, subsidized by the U.S. gov? Yeah, people like their meat, but a serving of tasty protein you can melt cheese on for 50 cents? And microwave in two minutes? People’d be lining up; save money, save time, save a bit of your lives and maybe even your health.

Demand for meat would drop; greenhouse gas emissions from the raising of livestock would drop. President Biden, you wouldn’t have to wait 10 years for the technology to arrive.

It would cost some, but so does everything. Besides, we’re supporting big agriculture already by paying them to support commodity prices by growing — nothing. Why not make them earn that money by growing veggie burger raw materials? Why not employ people by setting up distributed factories everywhere? Did I mention that veggie burgers are dead easy?

I hear the yabbuts gathering (“yeah but,” “yeah but,” “yeah but”), and you do have points. But unless you’re going to tell me this is completely impossible under all circumstances, let me say this: we’ve got to think outside the box if we’re going to live. Corporate power and the global oligarchy have already got us in that box, and they nail it shut tighter every day. But one of these days that box is going to catch fire with all of us inside. Unless we start knocking out the slats right now.

Government burgers; cooperative ownership; taxation of billionaires; the social means to produce the healthy, well-educated new generations that civilization must have to survive. It’s ALL outside the box. It’s ALL yabbut food.

But the only way to survive is will be to think crazy thoughts. And to understand some ideas are only crazy if you accept the world as it is. Which will kill us.

And now I’m going to have a burger. Actually, tonight it’s some sort of nacho/chili burger thing. It’s up at the top.

Of Aloha Shirts and Spooner Dudes

I’m an old middle-class guy on the West Coast who’s never been to Hawaii. All my old-middle-class guy friends have gone, some repeatedly. I never plan to. The thought holds no interest.

And yet I possess half a closet of aloha shirts, like the one above. I have my reasons, some practical: I’m long-waisted and can’t keep my shirt tucked into my trousers. Aloha shirts are usually worn “out,” which solves that problem. And I like the aesthetic.

What you see above is a reverse-print Reyn Spooner pull-over aloha shirt made of “Spooner Kloth” (a tough 60/40 cotton-poly mix). The soft colors, the painterly floral design across the chest: it all appeals.

Here in California, many old coastal guys love their “Spooners.” We wear them all the time, and we tend to own more than one. Fortunately, society seems to understand. And wives find us easy to buy for: a Spooner, honey? You shouldn’t have!

If you’re contemplating the difference between an aloha shirt and a Hawaiian shirt: there is none. “Aloha” is a Hawaiian greeting that connotes friendliness and caring. As Hawaiian tourism grew in the ‘1920s and ’30s, colorful and airy shirts were sold to tourists as “aloha shirts.”

In Hawaii, they’re still called that; elsewhere, “Hawaiian shirt” is generic for any shirt in loud colors with a pattern of figures and pictures. And though there’s nothing innately Hawaiian about an illustrated shirt, aloha shirts are everywhere in the islands now.


The locals can buy aloha shirts made for their tastes, not just those of tourists: made and designed in Hawaii, too, by Hawaiian residents. Aloha shirts are even political.

Here’s a shot of a couple of Hawaii state legislators at a committee meeting; that’s a Reyn Spooner on the right, and a Rix on the left. Rix is one of the popular local shirt brands.

Sig Kane is another popular local-to-Hawaii brand; here at left, one of theirs is being sported by a former governor of Hawaii. The pols also favor local shirts from Hawaiian Force and Tori Richard; some even have shirts made custom by local designers.

Among all that, Reyn Spooner aloha shirts have been a Hawaii/West Coast presence for decades. Reyn Spooner (“Reyn” is pronounced “Ren”) was a Hawaii-based sportswear manufacturer and retailer. It designed and made Hawaiian- and Pacific Rim-themed themed clothing in Hawaii, and sold them in its company stores in the islands and also through west coast retailers.

Reynolds “Reyn” McCullough was an old-school men’s clothier and resort—wear designer. In the 50s, he shut his retail clothing business on California’s Catalina Island (he grew up there) and started over in Hawaii because, you know, Hawaii. But even in Hawaii, McCullough wouldn’t sell the local aloha shirts: too sloppily-cut and garish for his taste.

But in the ‘60s, somebody showed him how sewing a shirt with the colorful fabric inside-out (“reversed-print”) would get him the more muted, sun-faded colors he wanted. Without the sun. And shirts were a go.

Reverse-print shirt: note the inside versus the outside.

Along with reverse-print, McCullough’s shirts brought the Ivy League: aloha shirts with a trimmer, tapered fit on some models, plus button-down collars and more of a shirt-tail. The fabric print on the pocket always, always merged into the shirt’s overall fabric pattern. Some were Spooner Kloth, some were cotton or rayon.

McCullough and Reyn Spooner subsequently sold boatloads of tasteful aloha shirts to well-off Hawaiians and mainlanders. The concept was called “Boardroom to Beach.” Your CEO could wear a Spooner at the company retreat while maintaining his (or her) dignity. Like the Lahaina Sailor:

This design’s been on sale since the ‘60s. A Lahaina Sailor is loaded with respectable Hawaiian icongraphy; in other words, it’s dignified and possesses a very low cheese factor.

The Lahaina Sailor doesn’t sail me away, but I got two cheap at a thrift store, and it makes a respectable office shirt. I had a manager who, I swear, must have slept in his medium-blue Sailor. Because he was either never without it, or he had three of them. Note to the management team: Lahaina Sailors also come in navy blue or black for extra gravitas.

Here’s another of my favorites, yet another reverse-print pullover design with a print derived from Hawaiian quilt work. It does things to my eyes, but I like those things. Pullover woven-cotton aloha shirts were popular many decades ago, before there was such a thing as knit sportswear. Now, they’re less common, but worth it if you like an uninterrupted design across your chest.

For Spooner Dudes like myself, Spooners are like potato chips: you don’t stop at one. Fifteen to 30 Spooners is an average-sized collection for a typical old Spooner dude, and some young dudes, too. Spooner Dudes wear Spooners constantly. Spooners look sharp, not sloppy, thanks to MacGregor’s Ivy-League cut. And yet those soft colors give them a laid-back appeal.

Spooner artwork is usually of high quality and relevant to the Great Pacific Rim, if not always Hawaii. And they’re built like tanks: the Spooner Kloth models are almost invulnerable, prone only to tasteful fading and softening fabric. Spooner Kloth shirts drip-dry and don’t even wrinkle. They let the breezes in on hot days; on cool mornings, with a t-shirt underneath, they make a good, lightweight windbreaker.

Here’s another Spooner of mine, with a Japanese-inspired design: fans, cranes, and more. This one also gives my eyes a workout:

I’ve bought Spooners new, but most of my favorites are 20 to 30 years old and came from thrift shops. They all look like new except for the following one, which is from the ’70s. Some of the seams are a little loose, and it’s not even made of Spooner Kloth. But it still looks pretty good.

Spooner Dudes rarely jettison their Spooners voluntarily. So when I wear one of my thrift shop finds, I’m likely wearing a dead man’s Spooner. That’s okay: the Dude may die, but the Spooner carries on to the next Dude if at all possible. It’s The Way.

That said, here’s a Spooner that I actually bought new. They will give you a bright color if you ask nicely, and once again it’s a shirt you may have to decode. Oh, all right: koi fish. I wonder if there’ll still be Spooner Dudes in 75 or 100 years.

Reyn Spooner was a big name in Hawaiian-made aloha shirts, but it wasn’t the only name, or even the biggest. Hawaii has its own local shirt-makers and designers, always has. And other mainlanders also founded Hawaiian-based sportswear companies like Alfred Shaheen and Tori Richard (which you may have heard of, and which still makes all its shirts in Hawaii).

Above is a Reyn Spooner long-sleeve with a licensed Shaheen design based on traditional Hawaiian tapa fabric block prints — except for all the polychrome madness. This shirt gets a lot of looks. Shaheen was special.

So yes, there’s a lot of Hawaii aloha shirt talent to choose from, if you don’t mind ordering by the Internet: always has been, always will be I hope.

And that’s good, because Reyn Spooner and I are parting ways. They changed hands: twice. The second time, a new CEO and design team were brought in to “broaden appeal” beyond the aloha zone. Headquarters moved to California; the latest designs resemble medium-quality cartoon art in flat colors. Production’s been hip-hopping around Asia for some time now. Reyn Spooner no longer makes this old duffer’s aloha shirt.

But all is not lost. Because you have to ask: when you replace the old guard at an iconic sportswear company, just what does the old guard do after they’ve cleaned out their desks?

My new not-Reyn-Spooner

Why, start their own business back in Hawaii under another name and make more aloha shirts, just the way they used to. With a shop, and local production, and some online sales and distribution. I was lucky to find these guys on the Internet; but I was also motivated. I’ve bought a couple of their shirts. Here’s another one.

I suppose it would confuse the issue to say that this not-Spooner greatly resembles an old Shaheen design.

Yep, these are definitely Spooner Dude material: dignified (mainly), reverse-print, conservative, and built like tanks. The makers even have their own version of Spooner Kloth. Welcome to my new favorite shirts.

To be clear: I have no fetish for authenticity. It’s true that the world is full of generic “Hawaiian” shirts with derivative designs, usually made under contract in the cheaper parts of Asia.

But I never bought Reyn Spooners because they were “real Aloha shirts.” I bought them because they were real, period. And the ultimate cool duffer shirt.

They still are. Just, under a different name.

The Inconvenience Store

“We’re out of oatmeal,” my wife tells me about every third morning before breakfast. “And I need more paper towels, and the dish soap is running low, so…”

“I’ll get it all. Anything else?” She thinks for a moment and adds another item or two. And then I’m out the front door to our tiny garage. It holds plenty of junk but has never held a car and lately has become…

…our Inconvenience Store. Ignore the t-shirts, the disassembled store fixtures, unlabeled plastic tubs, cardboard boxes waiting to be recycled, and so much more.

Because the left-hand wall is now our go-to resource for all our domestic needs. One the rude shelving sits pasta, oatmeal, grains, canned food in colorful variety, boxes of cocoa, jars of peanut butter and apple sauce, powdered milk, bottled water, household cleaning supplies and, of course, toilet paper. We just added teff to the inventory.

The vast oversupply of paper towels? We will not speak of it. It’s leaving soon. I swear. TP supply is holding at a 60-roll surplus. We’ll keep it there awhile.

We are no doomsday preppers. The Inconvenience Store is a pass-through surplus, not a cache. We restock our kitchen from it daily, making sure each week that the lumbering truck from the supermarket leaves just a little more than we require. And thus the surplus grows.

Someday we’ll let the stock dwindle. Someday the Inconvenience Store will close. But not today. We’ve needed it this past year. The coming year will require it as well.

You know about the pandemic — let’s just call it a plague. Supply chain disruption, panic buying, hoarding: many types of food were difficult to get, especially if you were old and wanted to avoid crowds of people who didn’t all wear masks.

Beyond that our state continues to suffer severe drought. The drought brought power cutoffs designed to avoid forest fires, and finally the forest fire itself: a giant that burned 80,000 acres and licked at the edge of town. It turned the sky the color of blood oranges.

Life wasn’t great, even if your house didn’t burn down; you could always sit in the dark for a days-long power outage while your food spoiled.

Actually, life was frightening. We stayed in our house, but we had to set up contingencies to evacuate beyond the river. The fire couldn’t jump the river — right?

In the end, we were fine. But the drought and fire risk remain. Even COVID-19, now in retreat in this country, rages elsewhere in the world.

A plague’s not unlike a forest fire: if you don’t extinguish it everywhere, it could well roar back. All those mutant COVID-19 strains: they could learn to evade the vaccines. Who knows what they can do?

It was when some journo published the phrase “the mutants will soon invade the United States…” that I knew we were living in a bad science fiction novel. The mutants are invading! Actual mutants! That they’re microscopic is of no consequence.

So life will remain science fictional and dangerous — inconvenient. The Inconvenience Store is here to stay: in the end, for who-knows-how-long. I confess that all my wife and I have suffered so far is fear and inconvenience. For others, it has been much, much worse.

And the author of this disaster novel is… civilization itself. For building a world where a world wide plague was absolutely going to happen, and not preparing for it. For spawning global warming, and droughts, and famines. For not allowing forests to burn naturally, so that when fires do take hold they are fierce and fast merciless and deadly. For favoring the privileged and leaving the poor in danger. And I admit that I am somewhat privileged: white, college-educated, a homeowner, a boomer, retired. We built monsters, or allowed them to be built — and took no responsibility.

Last August, Cedar Rapids IA was devastated by tornadoes — and nobody cared. The media ignored the suffering of a town of 130,000. Because it’s Cedar Rapids — important to no one on the coasts. I sent a donation to the Cedar Rapids community foundation, with the dedication “From your fellow disaster survivors in California.” Because we’ve been through a few.

And four days later, we were on fire. And the fires will burn until we all realize that our self interest lies, first and foremost, in the well-being of others and of our planet.

WHERE’S JOHNSON? Your Compleat Weight Control System

The Body Mass Index is completely evil. It tells hundreds of millions of people that they’re fat and unhealthy, even if they’re not.

The BMI’s a quick, easy way of calculating how overweight you are. Everybody uses it because it’s simple. It’s on government sites like the NIH.

And it’s evil. It is designed to make you think you’re overweight. Or way overweight than you really are.

No, that’s not right. The BMI was designed, 150 years ago, to gauge the average fat percentage of a large population of European white males. For purposes of broad studies of a population’s health. (And in days when food could be hard to come by, a little fat was a positive thing.)

So it’s not the BMI that’s evil. It’s the doctors who tell you to worship it. They’re fairly ignorant about nutrition, and the BMI gives them an easy out to say, “You should lose some weight.” Without knowing what they’re talking about.

Here’s a case in point: I lost 50 pounds over the past year because I had to stay home and eat healthy food. I’m six feet tall. I’ve got pecs and big arms. I wear pants with a 36-inch waist. You can see my veins. And the BMI says I’m overweight. Nah. Just nah.

Now, I have been very overweight, and also very light. I’ve seen my body change. My experience has given me insight on a far, far better snap weight calculation than the miserable BMI. I’ve tested it from experience, and it works on half the human population of the globe. I call it:


I’m a guy. I have a penis; I prefer the slang term “Johnson.” If I get naked, stand up straight and look straight down, I can see my limp Johnson in top profile: a sort of lump that sticks up an inch/inch-and-a-half over the general contour of the bod.

But as I put on more fat my belly grows — that’s where men put it — and it increasingly blocks the view of my pubes, and my Johnson.

You see where I’m going, right? My Johnson and the pubes above it, are a sort of dipstick for body fat. The less pube and Johnson you see, the more overweight or obese you are. Simple, right? Useful? I think so.

There are no calculations. Everything’s relative to your own size and height.

Okay, if you regularly lift extremely heavy objects your belly may thicken from muscle alone but that’s what, 2 percent of the population? And you know who you are.

So, if you have a Johnson, it’s time to:

  1. Strip naked.
  2. Stand erect with shoulders squared but not thrown back.
  3. Look straight down, and…
  4. Ask the question: “WHERE’S JOHNSON?

Well, where is Johnson? The answer is one of these:

I CAN’T SEE JOHNSON! You’re quite obese. You’re wearing a nice thick overcoat of fat, unless that thick gut is all muscle. Or you have a microjohnson. Sorry.

I CAN SEE PART OF JOHNSON! This was me at 260. I was carrying a lot of muscle, but I could have stood to lose 50 pounds or more. Call it less obese.

I CAN SEE ALL OF JOHNSON, BUT NOTHING ABOVE IT! If you can see all of Johnson but you gut overhangs the rest of your pubes, you’re pretty overweight but probably not obese.

I CAN SEE ALL OF JOHNSON AND SOME OF MY PUBES. You’re average-overweight. You could probably stand to lose a fair amount of weight — like most of the rest of the population.

I said, “probably.” If you can see pubs and abs above Johnson, you need to fine-tune the results with a hand measurement:

  1. Lay the forefinger of your left hand (or your right, if you’re a lefty) straight across the root of your Johnson.
  2. Slide your thumb up your abdomen until the bulge of your belly begins to hide your thumbnail.
  3. Hold your thumb and forefinger in that position and examine their position relative to each other. The closer together they are, the fatter you are.


That close together? You could stand to lose some. Truly.


CONGRATULATIONS! YOU’VE attained FLAB! Yeah, you’re in the normal range. You’re just not lean; you don’t look like an athlete. Who cares?


You’ve got a flat belly, except for the natural bulge of the stomach muscle and a bit of healthy pudge. You’re a 20-year-old with a nuclear metabolism. Or, you eat way too healthy and fast 16 hours a day or run 20 miles a week. Feel free to not do this.

Everybody’s built different, so all the proportions used in this test are relative: including the size of your hand, your belly, and your Johnson. If you’re smaller, they’re usually smaller, too, in absolute terms.

WHERE’S JOHNSON is imperfect. But who could argue that a missing Johnson is a sign of trouble? Or that a near- unobstructed view of Johnson and your pubes is a rare and precious thing. And a luxury.

So, strip. And learn something. Hey, JOHNSON!

T-Shirts from the Collection: A Heady Brew from Mormonia

I’ll probably stay in Santa Cruz forever.  Sometimes, though, I research other parts of the country to retire to; it’s just for fun.  And of all places, Salt Lake City presents well as a candidate.  Reviews portray life the City of the Saints as cosmopolitan, even sophisticated.

I sure hope so. Because the owners of the Wasatch Brewery are really pushing it:


“Bring some home for the wives… Hah!”  Mormons aren’t supposed to drink alcohol, it says here.  Well, Mormon men aren’t supposed to engage in polygamy, either, but there are those Mormon colonies in Mexico where polygamy is  practiced. By American citizens, no less.

IMG_2676It may be awhile before we see the first Mormon brewpub. But I’ll bet a few of these t-shirts find their way into dresser drawers, next to the “Doctrine and Covenants.”




T-Shirts from the Collection: Mule Deer from Hell

Let us be clear: I dislike mule deer. On California’s Central Coast, I am not alone in this.  Mule deer (their ears look like mule ears) throw their bodies in front of your car.  Mule deer knock people off bicycles. Mule deer will charge you if they’re in rut, or if you try to get close to a Bambi when her mother is nearby. Mother is always nearby.

Mule deer pillage gardeners’ prized roses, and just about every other garden plant.  The nurseries sell  “deer resistant” plants that deer might avoid. But a truly hungry deer will eat about anything.

So while the Central Coast Chapter of the Mule Deer Society made a fine t-shirt, I was unimpressed.  The society’s charter includes population control, but here’s the word: they fall short.

Mule deer are everywhere in my county: in the hills, in rural neighborhoods, crowding the edges of town, and especially on the university campus where they lurk at the roadside among the trees and burst across the pavement at random intervals. I’ve left a lot of tire rubber on  the pavement.

My favorite mule deer story: I was driving away from the university in thick fog when a deer loomed out of the murk perhaps 100 yards ahead.  He was a magnificent buck, large and stately with a full rack of antlers.  He leapt a five foot fence at the side of the road with thoughtless ease.  Then he stood there on the shoulder, appraising my approaching car.

“Don’t you, I say DON”T YOU EVEN MOVE,” I shouted at him through the windshield. And I drove past him without incident, except for a blood pressure spike.

I looked into my rearview mirror in time to watch him jump over the hood of the car behind me.  It was the single most beautiful athletic feat that I have ever witnessed: a poem of grace and power and elegance.  And I’m sure it turned the driver’s hair gray.

They’re aliens.  I’m sure of it.

T-Shirts from the Collection: Out of the Past

Sometimes a t-shirt just jumps off the rack at me. It’s usually a t-shirt that touches on my own past — on things that I used to know, but haven’t remembered for years.  Here are a few.

Western Airlines

Western Airlines Alumni Tee

This 90s-era t-shirt made my eyes cross.  I hadn’t seen “Wally Bird” in 40 years.  And I grew up with him.  He was the television spokes-bird of Western Airlines when I was a kid. And I watched a lot of television.

Back in the midcentury, Western Airlines was the luxury line  of the Western States.  Western tewardesses served free champagne on every flight (21 and over only).  Steaks, cigars, punch “volcanoes” made with dry ice (on the Hawaii runs),  typewriters in the sky for the use of passengers: You got what you wanted on Western.  Hollywood stars flew Western down to Mexico, up to Canada, over to the Rockies, west to Hawaii and even to the East Coast.

“Wally Bird” was an animated bird who’d given up flying because it was much more fun to let Western take him there.  He appeared in endless cartoon commercials. In all of them, Wally relaxed on a pillow propped against the tail fin of a Western airliner in flight.  A cigar or champagne glass dangled languidly from Wally’s hand while he spoke with the rich assurance someone who knows the Good Life. .

Every commercial ended with this slogan: “Western Airlines,” Wally would intone, “the o-o-o-only way to fly….”

I lost track of Western in the ‘80s; I took my eye off it, and it vanished.  Well, not exactly.  During the era of airline deregulation, Western merged with Delta Airlines.  Delta flew the East, Western flew the West.  The marriage made sense. When the deal was signed, Western employees put on Delta uniforms . The planes were repainted in Delta colors. Life went on.

But there were no more punch volcanoes in the sky.  And no more Wally.  Rumor has it that he’s been seen atop a Singapore Airlines 787.

This tee was produced by the Western Airline Alumni, a group of former employees who hang out on Facebook and remember the days when flying was glamour.  Or at least fun.

Sista Monica

Back in the ’90s, “Sista” Monica Parker was a high-powered recruiter for talent-hungry Silicon Valley companies.  But she dreamed bigger than that.  She was a big woman with a big voice, and she loved to sing: blues, soul, jazz, gospel.

Santa Cruz Sista Monica Tee 1

For a lot of years she was everywhere on the Santa Cruz music scene.  She never became a big name, but she toured the world, recorded CDs, and lived the life.  She self-promoted like nobody’s business, kept high-tech money coming in the door, and, in the end, fought cancer for years.

I heard her sing.  The wife and I were video-taping a service at the Unity Temple, one of those success-and-positive-thinking ministries that looks like a Christian church but isn’t exactly.  The minister gave me a tarot reading once.

Santa Cruz Sista Monica Tee 2

Nobody was more positive than Sista Monica; she’d been invited to perform that day, and she ripped out a version of “People, Get Ready,” the old Impressions hit, that just about curled my hair.  You’ll have to take my word, because I no longer have the tape.  She never sang “People, Get Ready” for the camera again that I know of.  And that’s a shame, as I’ve never found a better version.

Sista Monica passed away around 2010.  I won’t say “she’ll never be forgotten.” But no one’s forgotten her yet.

Spenger’s Fish Grotto

Spenger's Fish Grotto Tee

This t-shirt from the early ‘80s came from Spenger’s Fish Grotto in Berkeley, California. Spengers was a venerable seafood restaurant much beloved by my parents’ generation.

Mom and Dad dragged me there a time or two in the ‘60s for fried cod or clam chowder.
Spenger’s wasn’t fancy, but neither was the Bay Area in those days.  Really cool, but not fancy.

In the early ‘80s, when my Spenger’s t-shirt was printed (a t-shirt’s vintage can be determined by its collar tag),  I worked just a couple of exits down the Nimitz Freeway from the restaurant. My co-workers and I would lunch at Spenger’s sometimes when we could give ourselves an excuse.

I remember the souvenirs tor sale behind the cashier’s stand; among the toys and dolls sat stacks of t-shirts.

This brings us to one of those circular moments in collecting: it is conceivable that the Spenger’s t-shirt I found at the thrift store was in one of those stacks. The shirt was made in the early ‘80s, and I visited Spenger’s in the early ‘80s.

Thus it is not beyond the pale that, after I left Spenger’s, the tee went its own way for 36 years and then placed itself into my hands.  In mint condition, too.    Stranger things have happened.

Spenger’s was bought by an out-of-town seafood restaurant chain in ’99 when the last Spenger retired; fried fish was out, ahi tuna was in.  The new Spenger’s never really clicked, though; Spenger’s closed for good in 2018 after 130 years in operation. That’s a lot of codfish and fries.

Never Give a Sucker an Even Break


I found the above on at Goodwill for a fast  $2.99: a framed needlepoint portrait of William Claude Dukenfield, aka W.C. Fields. The great man glowers across a poker hand at the world, like some shifty Buddha.

I had to have it; needlepoint is a home craft, mainly, and a painstaking one.   My wife the knitter tells me that she can knit ten stitches in the time it takes to pull the yarn through one hole in an embroidery canvas.  So what inspired all this, instead of “God Bless Our Home” over a bunch of flowers?

You don’t hear the name W.C. Fields much these days, but the ‘60s and ‘70s were different.  Nostalgia was in; attitudinal superstars from the ‘30s and ‘40s became superstars again: people like Bogart, the Marx Brothers,  and yes, W.C. Fields.

I’d have ignored Fields even so, if I hadn’t had to watch “The Fatal Glass of Beer” 300 times. Conservatively.

“The Fatal Glass of Beer” is a 20-minute parody of morality fables and Yukon Territory adventure movies. Fields made the short in the early ‘30s.  It fell into the public domain and ended up on a 16mm reel of “family friendly” shorts and cartoons in the late ’60s.  The pizza restaurant I worked in as a teen played it over and over for the customers.  After awhile, the kitchen crew could repeat entire sections of dialog.

But it was funny stuff: Fields as a settler in the snow-blasted Yukon, cutting through the badly rear-projected snow with sled dogs whose legs were too short to reach the ground.  Fields, singing a long, awful song about the loss of his fine son to the city, where he drank the “fatal glass of beer” and turned into a ravening criminal who stole a fortune in bonds and went to jail for it.”  While Fields’ audience, a roving mountie, blubbers uncontrollably.

And every time Fields opens the door of the cabin to look outside, he lugubriously drawls, “And it’s not a fit night out for man nor beast!’ And a grip, off camera, hits him in the face with a cloud of fake snow.  We kitchen slaves would say the line along with him, adding a “sploosh” on the end for sound effects.

Of course his son comes home, released from prison, and promises to never stray again or drink another drop.  His parents greet him joyously. And, quietly, ask him if he still has the money he stole.  As it turns out, no: he burnt those horrible bonds to disavow his sins.  At which point, Fields and wife accuse him of coming home to mooch, beat him senseless, and throw him out into the blizzard.  The End.

Yes, Fields was right for the ’60s. The man held nothing sacred, respected no conventions.  His most famous persona was that of a florid con man or huckster who threw bombast in all directions but was nowhere near as sharp as he thought he was.

The character did had a subversive comment for every occasion: “Start every day off with a smile and get it over with,” or  “If a thing is worth having, it is worth cheating for.” And of course Fields named his final film “Never Give a Sucker an Even Break.”

For a while, you could see old Fields movies everywhere, but that passed.  This needlepoint pattern is from the ‘60s or early ‘70s; it’s long unavailable. Back then I had the same image, as a photo poster, on the wall of my bedroom.  The only more popular poster image at the time was Raquel Welch in a fur bikini from “One Million Years BC.” I couldn’t get that one past my parents.  I wonder if you could get it in needlepoint.

Original Caption: W.C. Fields in typical poker face pose.  Undated photograph.

But in looking at the Fields needlepoint, and the image it came from, something strikes me: take away that stovepipe hat and add a thick, artificial wave of orange hair. With Fields’ scowling face, you have a pretty good approximation of Donald Trump: a man who takes seriously all the things that Fields made fun of: greed, low cunning, lechery, excess.

About his on-screen persona, Fields himself once said: “You’ve heard the old legend that it’s the little put-upon guy who gets the laughs, but I’m the most belligerent guy on the screen. I’m going to kill everybody. But, at the same time, I’m afraid of everybody—just a great big frightened bully . .”

Fields knew that his screen persona was a joke. But Trump doesn’t; he’s playing to it perfectly.  It’s his gospel.

Sadly for him: every day, a little more of the audience is starting to laugh.

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