Saturday, November 28, 2009

Mr. Chicken

I created Mister Chicken as a joke.
It was 2001 and I shared an apartment with a vegetarian friend. He took it seriously, shunned leather, and even disliked Tofurkey (a turkey substitute made from tofu) because it "Tasted too much like flesh."
He surprised me one day by saying he'd gone out last night and eaten Hot Wings. Hot Wings! It was so out of character that I drew a chicken with hooks where his feet and wings should be. He glared out accusingly and said "I know what YOU did!"

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Face in the Corner

I quit ballet as a kindergartner. I told my folks I didn't like it. I lied.
I liked ballet lessons- the tights, the tutu, the little shoes. I could pretend I was pretty and graceful. I remember doing toe exercises at the bar as music played from an old record player with wooden parts. Each class ended with a mini hula lesson, complete with crunched plastic leis in crayon colors. Best of all, after each class you got a jelly bean! I loved it.
Then I saw The Face.
It was a quarter-sized flaw in a ceiling corner. A mix of peeled, paint, cracks, and water damage. It was puckered and scary looking. Each time we danced around the room, there it was! I was old enough to know it was harmless, that it was "only" plaster. Yet there it was, looking at me each time I passed it.

Soon, the Face in the Corner overshadowed the whole class. Who cared about fancy outfits, music, hula or jelly beans when there was that awful face waiting for me! I knew sharing this fear with adults would get me nowhere. Just a It's your imagination and it can't hurt you lecture. Instead I said I didn't want to be a ballerina anymore.
No more music, no more tutu, no more scary face in the corner.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Exception

There's an old notion that it's dangerous to stand near a speeding train because you'll get "sucked under the wheels." Not so, say the experts. I think they even did a Mythbusters episode where they parked a manikin near the tracks and let the trains roll. It survived.
Leave it to me to be the exception.
As a teen, my family sometimes took the train down to a day at the beach. I spent the day coasting the waves on a orange foam Boogie Board. It was almost as big as I was. A rubber and Velcro tether kept it leashed to my wrist. This came in handy: if a monster wave came I could duck under it without losing the board.
It was on dry land when things went wrong. We stood on the grass, waiting for the train home. One stopped, but when I got close I could see it wasn't the right one, and stepped back.
I didn't step back far enough. The train pulled away, creating a breeze that lifted my board like a kite. This was funny until I realized it was pulling me forward too. The train sped faster, and I found myself being tugged harder, hopping forward so as not to fall over.
I yelled and my dad pulled me away. I can't say for sure if I'd have been sucked under the train, but my board certainly would have. At the very least I'd have gone for a ride.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Don't Let the Train Hit You

"Be safe near the rails!" the public service message babbled over railroad sound effects.
Thanks for the warning, I thought. Who'd have guessed that crossing in front of a speeding freight train was, in fact, bad?
"Every two hours someone in the United States is struck by a train..." the add continued.
Every two hours? That's nuts!
A train isn't something that sneaks up on you. They're big and loud. They shake the ground. Their horn is an ear splitting bleat. Trains trigger bells and lights when they approach roads. If you still can't figure out a train is on the way, bowing crossbars are often proved.
Train don't go on chaotic rampages, like rogue elephants. Their path is predictable. They stay on the rails.
Why were people getting creamed by something so obvious? Every two hours?
I Googled some safety sites to find out.
Here's the scoop:

  • Humans are terrible at judging the speed of approaching objects. It's a dangerous illusion. One second the choo choo seems to be gliding along in the distance, a second later, Wham!
    A a camera's eye view of a approaching train demonstrates this:

  • Trains are not always noisy. Newer tracks lack the clickity clikity sound effect. Stealth trains.
  • They're much wider than the tracks. My source says they can stick out as much as three feet beyond the rails.
  • People aren't paying attention. I can see this. I'm walking (or driving) with my brain moored in the future*- what needs to be done, the lunch I'm looking forward to, should swing by the store to pick up a loaf of [insert sound of me being smacked by a train].
  • More than one set of tracks. People focus on getting around train A and get blindsided by train B.
  • People forget that something that weighs 5000+ tons and going 60 miles per hour can't stop the way a car does.

And, of course:
  • People can be reckless. This includes anyone who:
    • Tries to race the train.
    • Crosses or fishes from(!) railroad bridges.
    • Walks on the tracks (At one crossing I saw a guy wearing Walkman headphones as he strolled down the tracks. The lights were blinking, the bells were dinging, and the horn was blasting and he was oblivious! He noticed and got out of the way seconds before it roared by. )
    • People who drive around lowered gates. What are they thinking? I can't wait for a train now! If I'm late they'll kill me!
*"My brain is moored in the future"- hmmm... that line came to easy. I hope I didn't lift it with via cryptomnesia.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

It's Tough to be a Snake.

I was born without the "snakes are creepy" gene.
Silverfish are creepy. Centipedes are creepy. Worms are creepy.
Not snakes. Since I was little, they were colorful ribbons of wonder. As a kid, I didn't get why people disliked them.
I knew some snakes were trouble. Rattlesnakes, for example. They sometimes wandered into our quasi-rural yard and promptly got whacked by my dad's shovel. I felt a little bad for them, but their fang baring, tail buzzing shtick (and the fact that they could hurt you) didn't make them sympathetic.
What shocked me was that some neighbors gave any snake the shovel. I couldn't believe it. They know those aren't rattlesnakes. I thought. Why are they killing them? That's mean!
I checked out some snake books at the library. I discovered the truth.
Most of the world hated snakes.
The books pointed out that most were harmless, and in fact, beneficial. People either didn't understand this, or didn't care. One book had a realistic drawing of a man attacking a harmless one with a shovel. This upset me. That's not fair, I thought, fighting tears. The snake didn't do anything wrong!

Monday, November 02, 2009


A Wiggle-Gram is an animated gif of two alternating stereo images. The result enhances depth.
Here's some I made from old images I found on the web:

The first two are from autochromes (very early color pics) I found here:

Here's another autochrome from 1915

I like the last one the best. Part of my mind classifies 1915 as black and white fossilized age, of sorts, very different from the "real" world I live in. But Miss Autochrome in the chair looks as real as any of my neighbors and could have been photographed yesterday.

Like wigglegrams? Check out these ones someone put together from old stereo photos from Japan.