Friday, December 28, 2012

So long 2012, hello new possibilitites!

This last end-of-the-year post will not be used to sum up the year (although it was a good one), or suss out the failures of government, or dwell on projects curtailed. Instead it will be used for shameless promotion.  

Here are the details:

This x-mas, I made T-shirts for the winner of the Rat's Nest Contest (Jenna!) and family and friends; then I thought why not sell them. Tom suggested Etsy so I signed up and posted my first item for sale: the Rattus T-shirt.

It was easy. And my model just happened to be home for the holidays!

So, dear readers, if you would like to buy a T for yourself or anyone you know, please go to:

I'm selling the Ts for $20, and if you live nearby, I'll deliver! 

The best part of this is that I got the t-shirts printed at Homeboy Industries. If you don't know them, they are an incredible organization run by Father Gregory Boyle, whose motto is: "Nothing stops a bullet like a job." In this he has worked tirelessly to develop businesses for ex-gang members: Homegirl Cafe, Homeboy Bakery, Homeboy Silkscreen and Embroidery, and many more. The people working at the silkscreen shop were gracious, and if you go there, park in the back, where you'll get an eyeful of great street art.



Friday, December 14, 2012

Past Fourth Street

(This story, with illustrations, was the last assignment for our art class, based on an anonymous year book picture. The story is fictional, the illustrations are raw, but I wanted to put them out on the page together, to see how they looked. Any feedback welcomed.)

Barbara (Bo) Weaver was not beautiful, or popular or academically accomplished, but she had something none of her other awkward, unpopular friends had and that was a boyfriend. Still, she told no one, not Lorraine or Mary or Cynthia, not her parents or pastor. She was the only one who knew, which gave her a certain power, a power she felt she deserved for all the teasing and taunting she endured, and for what? For the mere fact she had buck teeth and her miserly German Lutheran parents did not believe in spending the money to fix them. She suffered, she cried, she threw tantrums to get them to change their minds, but her parents were strict in ways no other American parent could imagine. They said no. God had given her those teeth and she had to live with them.

Her boyfriend didn't seem to mind as long as she unbuttoned her Villager blouse and exposed her healthy German breasts whenever they met behind the garage where he fixed engines. He didn't mind as long as she wore the panties he told her to wear. They had met at a dance in the West End of Louisville, or as it was called, the black section of town. Barbara had gone there with Cynthia when a friend from orchestra had handed them an address on a torn piece of paper. They drove down Broadway, past the 4th street bridge, going further than they'd gone before, to the church address on the piece of paper they'd been given. They parked and went inside, through the double doors and up the balcony stairs, where other teenagers from their high school sat clapping and bobbing their heads. 

The dance floor was packed tight with sleek, sweaty bodies, while five men on stage sang in harmony, stepping in unison: front, back, step, step, side, dipping and turning and jumping up with their hands in the air. When they shouted Baby, the crowd went wild, and it seemed to Barbara she'd never seen anything so wonderful. She watched, entranced, practically falling off the balcony, so intent was she on seeing every move.

As Barbara stared down, she noticed a man who stood out among the crowd, taller than the rest; it wasn't his height that impressed her though, but his gleaming white teeth. He had a big set of choppers like her, just like her, only he didn't seem bothered, not in the least. He smiled widely, unlike Barbara who was forever covering her teeth with her nervous lips. He was in the grove, having the time of his life, twirling girls around, bending them backwards, laughing and sliding through the middle of the dance floor, his admirers applauding from the sidelines. Barbara couldn't take her eyes off him; he was beautiful, a black angel. 

9 x 12

She knew, though, that no black man was an angel, not according to her strict German Lutheran father who forbade her to go past Fourth Street, where, he told her, she'd be raped and likely killed by men like him. But she couldn't see any evidence of it, not here, not on this dance floor, pulsating with one giant beat. She looked down and thought, why am I standing here?, and before she knew what she was doing, she ran downstairs, flinging herself about with her hands pumping overhead. 

The white crowd looked down and gasped. Everyone on the dance floor stared, disbelieving. 

You could hear the giggles and gaggles encircling Barbara, but she didn't care. She didn't care! Her eyes were closed, her arms swinging recklessly, her hair in a perfect flip, shifting side to side.

Suddenly someone grabbed her wrist and gave it a powerful tug, dragging her off the dance floor, through the double doors into the cold night outside.

What the fuck are you doing? the man she'd been watching said. Didn't she know the dance floor was reserved for blacks only?

As the man lectured her, Barbara looked around to see where she'd parked the car; she'd run to it and lock herself inside if the man threatened her. When she looked at him again, the bucked tooth man stopped and smiled.

At first it was just a smile, and then a chuckle, and then a howl, and then he couldn't stop. He laughed so hard, tears burst forth. Barbara started to laugh a little too as he began to imitate her, eyes wide, flapping his elbows, stretching his neck long, like a chicken. In between gasps, he told her she needed a whole world of dance instruction, cause she was one sorry honky chick who couldn't keep a beat. He wanted to know how'd she come downtown, and did her parents know, and by the way, his name was Jared, what was hers, and how old was she? She certainly was pretty. If she wanted, he would teach her how to dance.

And that's how it began. Her black angel boyfriend, who seduced her and made her feel loved for the first time in her life. Who taught her how to keep a beat, who consoled her when her father was murdered two weeks later in the restaurant he managed on the east side of town. Who sweet-talked her into maxing out her mother's credit cards to buy furniture for his apartment, cajoled her into forging checks when she dropped out of high school and came to live with him; who brought his other girlfriends around when things got nasty, who took to disappearing for days, saying he had appointments with his agent— whatever that meant; who kicked her out of bed one morning and told her to go back home: she was ugly and needed her teeth fixed.


36 x 50

Thursday, November 29, 2012


It's almost dark outside; I've had my tea and carrots, and I've paid my bills. I'm just now sitting down to write. What happened to the day? I can answer that: I spent half of it looking for a lost painting, a painting that should be here but vanished.

I'm finally getting around to reading "Rats," by Robert Sullivan (last year's x-mas present) and in the chapter titled "Unrepresented Man," Sullivan writes about a guy named Jesse Gray.  Gray organized rent strikes in New York, using the symbol of a rat to show what life was like in Harlem—in a word, squalid. I bring it up because Gray worked at a time, in the sixties, when the conceit of urban renewal was killing the city, "paving over old neighborhoods in New York in the name of progress." According to Sullivan and everyone else on the subject, the master schemer of this way of thinking was builder Robert Moses, who squashed opposition and smashed flat functioning neighborhoods, replacing them with high rises, isolating and alienated the very people who ended up living in them.

Robert Moses

I bring this up because, while reading, it sparked a memory of a neighborhood in the West Village where I spent some time; a beautiful tree-lined street with an old Jewish cemetery and a plaque on an elegant 19th century townhouse, which proclaimed Charles Ives lived there.

 The Second Cemetery 
of the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue
Shearith Israel, 1805-1829
(W. 11th St. btw 5th and 6th Ave)

I hadn't realized at the time but this street, and further west, was saved by Jane Jacobs, an activist and writer, around the same time Gray was operating in Harlem. 

 Jane Jacobs

Jacobs' activism was hatched when she tried to save her own West Village neighborhood from Moses, who wanted to build the Lower Manhattan Expressway through Washington Square Park. Jacobs and other residents organized and fought Moses and aligned city bureaucrats, and won! You might know her for her seminal book, "The Death and Life of Great American Cities," (1961), a treatise on what makes a city livable, still studied in colleges today. She may be the most influential thinker urban planning has ever had, yet she didn't have a college degree and never studied the subject.

But, okay, bear with me, I bring this up because, and this is really what i'm trying to get at, Jacobs used to go around as a child talking to her imaginary friend Benjamin Franklin, explaining how things in the modern world worked. He would ask questions, and she would answer and they'd have whole conversations, a regular talker that Franklin. What ties Jacobs, who ended up living in Toronto, to Boston (a city you cannot accuse of urban planning) is that Beantown is dominated by Franklin, who, like Jacobs, was an observer of life and a believer in good common sense. He's called the father of American pragmatism, for heaven's sake. Next time I gaze up at this statue I will think of Ben and Jane, and how much our urban spaces owe to both of them. 

Benjamin Franklin at Old City Hall

And to our city rats!

Well, perhaps that's stretching it, but there must be a connection between Ben and Jane and rats and urban planning, don't you think? When we got back from the east coast, where we spent Thanksgiving, I looked anew at my rats. Do they make observations? use common sense? I don't know the answer to that, but I admire their tenacity for living. Here are my own rats most recent portraits: Blu and Lily.

(never noticed before, but Blu looks a little like Jane Jacobs, don't you think?) 


                                                                                                      (scared Lily)

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Dog over Manhattan

Toot Toot!

Excuse me for tooting my own horn, but I just found out that a drawing I did a year ago has been used to illustrate a story in the newly released book, Still the Same Hawk; Reflections on Nature and New York, published by Fordham University Press. The drawing itself was controversial and although the editorial assistant wanted it for the cover, it was nixed because it showed a dog's penis. But he, Will Cerbone, my savior, fought for it and the powers that be finally decided that it wasn’t going to kill anyone if they saw it, so they used it, and I thank them. 

Dog over Manhattan

The illustration accompanies Robert Sullivan's story, "The Dark Side; or, My Time Spent in the Nature that People would Rather Not Think About." Sullivan is the author of many books, one of which is titled, RATS: observations on the history and habitat of the city's most unwanted inhabitants.

Thanks also to Melissa Cooper who commissioned the painting for her wonderful nature blog, outwalkingthedog. Here is the original post:

More about the new book at:, search for "Still the Same Hawk."

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Winter Sky, library and some drawings

Day after election, caught on the wind, these words:  
"All I want from Obama in the next four years," said jogging guy to buddy, "is something small, humble and achievable."  Small, humble and achievable. That stray bit of conversation became my mantra for the rest of the day: smallhumbleandachievable; smallhumbleandachievable. I kept repeating those words like a prayer.

White sky
tonight coming home from the Central Library, where Jonathan Letham and Daniel Mendlesohn (The Lost) were in discussion about the "essay." Their conversation flowed back and forth about writing, about structure, about length and form; about fiction v. faction, (i.e., what is made up, possibly based on fact, or not, versus what is fact, based on one's own perceptions, which may be, or not, true, got that?). Nothing was said about politics, though we were all floating on the historic moment.  

For someone who's been working nights, it was nice to be back in the library hearing a weighty discussion about ideas. Something I'm realizing from taking courses at Art Center: artists don't necessarily tell you why they do the things they do. They don't sit around discussing the who, why, where, when and what fors like writers do, like these writers did so openly tonight. They handle "what's behind the curtain" (Jonathan L's reference to why he began writing essays) in a different way. 

Whenever it snowed in Louisville, where I grew up, the sky would turn white, like it did tonight. I can see that winter sky, with bare cold branches silhouetted against it, the clouds low and heavy, with a light snow coming down, making the road slippery. Let's say I'm heading out of the East End in my VW, through the park towards downtown, taking the curves with a slide.

For most of my childhood I didn't even know real artists existed, and definitely not in Louisville, but one day I saw an ad in the newspaper announcing an art show in the West End, so my friend H and I went, and we discovered that the West End, or, as it was called back then, the black section of town, wasn't so far away, certainly not as far as we'd been told. Also discovered were real artists, living real artists' lives, and from that point on, we went back as often as we could, or at least til the end of senior year. During that winter, the sky was the same in the West End as it was in the East End, with those dark bare branches silhouetted, and I was amazed it had taken this long to find out.

Bringing art back into my life is like revisiting the West End, meeting artists who approach life in mysterious ways, taking bits of reality, mixing it with how they see the world and producing something more beautiful than beautiful, truer than true, realer than real, or the converse, taking something and destroying it, the same as writers do, framing, structuring, making shit up, exploiting circumstance, forming words into what isn't necessarily real, but true.


Some drawings/paintings from my contemporary illustration class with the Clayton Brothers, Christian and Rob. Check out their incredible work at:

ALOUD Program at LAPL: 

Click on pics to see as slideshow

Tuesday, October 30, 2012


If you—the two of you, you know who you are—are still looking for the rat, I am leaving one more hint, a pretty big hint due to the fact that there is only one day left. Here is a comic I made, showing that I am w-a-l-k-i-n-g down my hill. If you know where that is, then you are almost there. Find the secret gate and climb over and it's in sight (to your right, how much more explicit can I get?? Gee, I must really want to make some T-shirts!)! Okay, good luck!

Full details at:



I'm proud to announce the winner of the Rat's Nest Contest! Many people came by to look at the rat, but only one person found it on her own. Congrats Jenna! I believe you were determined to find it when you wrote "Tomorrow morning or Bust!"
Jenna Blaustein and Rat


Saturday, October 13, 2012


Dear Readers;

Last week I had a mid-life crisis and created a contest called The Rat's Nest Contest, but as you know, there can be no contest without contestants, and so far, the Rat's Nest Contest has zero. Despite the low turnout (!) the challenge to look for the korner/ed rat and win a one-of-a-kind Rat's Nest T-shirt continues. Deadline is October 31st (midnight!)

To summarize: I drew a rat somewhere in Mt. Washington:

 korner/ed rat

Here is the area where the rat lives:

And here are the updated rules:

The first ten people to find the rat will receive a-one-of-a-kind Rat’s Nest T-shirt, looking something like this: 


Here are some photos of friends I dragged into the canyon to see the rat.


Julie S and Augie

And one clever pic from my friend Melissa who wins a T-shirt in xxxxxxxxxxsmall:

So, dear readers, I hope I have wet your whistle to join in the fun. For further details of The Rat's Nest Contest go to:

Sincerely yours,

The Rat's Nest

Friday, October 5, 2012

Making Things by Hand: North Bennet Street School

Let's do something pleasant today, like not follow the talking heads spinning off their axes after the debate...Let's turn to violins, instead!

two violins in fieri

While on the east coast I visited Katrina, my son's girlfriend, who goes to North Bennet Street School. Every hear of it? Me neither, but I wanted to take a look. The school's located in Boston's Little Italy section, one of the more interesting areas of the city, and is known for teaching traditional crafts: cabinetry, fine furniture, piano tuning, jewelry, book binding and violin construction. 

Inside, students make beautiful, functional objects. Tools serve as these students' books. And obsolete machinery, the kind you'd find a hundred years ago, is everywhere. 

 Book Presses

 more presses

 Inside the cabinetry shop

K makes books. She sits at her desk all day and works with her hands, practicing tooling, gilding, gouging, binding, and constructing book covers and boxes. She makes her own paper too, or when she has the money, buys it from Cave Paper, a Minnesota company that makes paper, like witches (if they made paper), in big bubbling vats inside a cave.

K works on gouging, while her benchmate Jeanne works on a box
Guilding tools, called fillets and gouges

Handmade books, bound two different ways,
with different papers and covers

Upstairs, above the bookbinders, are the violins. Gorgeous, glowing, intricate: one student said if you're off one centimeter you can ruin 6 months of work. The teacher is diligent and patient, overseeing students' work for three years. What these students were doing was nothing short of extraordinary— making two violins at once!

Danny shows his duo violins' delicate necks

 another student chisels the scroll

A small article appeared in yesterday's LA Times about the Polish violinist Bronislaw Huberman (1882-1947). 

According to the article, the city of Czestochowa is renaming its orchestra after Huberman, a Jewish violin virtuoso and native son. But what intrigued me most was wondering what violin he used. I looked: it was the Gibson Stradivarius, ex-Huberman, ex because it was stolen twice, once, in 1919, out of a Viennese hotel room, and returned, and the next time, in 1936, out of Huberman's Carnegie Hall dressing room by a musician named Julian Altman. Altman went on to use it for the next 50 years! On his deathbed, he confessed to his wife, who returned the violin and received $236,000. When Joshua Bell bought it in 2001 he paid 4 mil. Violins have lives like you and me, only longer and more expensive!

Katrina doesn't quite know where all this is taking her— book conservation? art? academia? She may continue in a PhD program, or she may just continue making beautiful books and paper. What ever she does she will use her hands.

holding a hand made treat for a friend