Tuesday, May 31, 2011

It's the Anthony Perkins Action Figure!

Goddamn it, I don't know how to get one of these, but finding a picture of one was ecstatic enough. It even looks a bit like him.

Too bad they didn't make a Norman Bates, complete with wig and a little tiny knife.

Gay? Okay.

What is it about a certain kind of man, a certain kind of gay man, a certain kind of closeted gay man, a certain kind of famous closeted gay man, a certain kind of feyly-beautiful-as-a-youth-but-ageing-into-skin-the-texture-of-chipped-beef famous closeted gay man, that - oh, shit, let's skip this and get into Anthony Perkins again.

Older women devoured him, as seen in the above shot with the frighteningly carnivorous actress Melina Mercouri. It's not often a person other than a dentist gets to see someone's entire upper teeth. There is no record of his response. He did live with older women, but completely nonsexually. He was in the closet, eh? Do you see the look on his face in most of these pictures? Was that closet the size of Hollywood, or the size of the entire world?

Hey, I liked him anyway, but it's too bad he couldn't just be, that he had to try to be respectable so he could have kids and a home. He thought he couldn't have kids and a home with the men he loved, so picked a slightly butch woman who came from money. Fortunately she willingly revolved around him as if he were a particularly strange, remote planet with a strong gravitational pull.

I like that coat with the stripes, I like it a lot, but he looks to be on the verge of hysterics. In most of these shots, he hasn't even played Master Bates yet (master of his domain, perhaps even Master of the Universe). That last one, well, I had to throw that in to demonstrate the fact that he was not only a famous closeted gay man with, etc. etc. , but that he had quite possibly the longest neck in human history. In later years, he wore a concrete brace with little, what-do-you-call-those-things, epaulets or something, to keep his head from falling off. It was only partially successful. His head had a habit of rolling down the Hollywood hills all the way to the East coast and landing in Stephen Sondheim's garbage pail.

Do you know the weirdest fact about Tony Perkins? During his five seconds as an action hero in Disney's limp space epic, The Black Hole, there was an Anthony Perkins doll which would probably go for thousands on eBay if you could ever find one. But I'll bet Melina Mercouri ate every last one.


Dear Sir or Madam, will you read my book
    It took me years to write, will you take a look

Tinker, tailor, part 2

Yesterday I wrote about a strange connection I discovered when researching Irish gypsy/traveller culture: people referred to these often-reviled people as "tinkers", and I remembered that my Irish great-grandfather was a tinker/tinsmith.

It seemed unlikely he had anything to do with a culture that was looked down upon, until I remembered the greyhound cookie cutter he made, not a practical thing because the legs of the cookies always broke off. Then I found out in my research that these Irish "travellers" (tinkers?) traditionally raised and raced greyhounds.

The hair on my neck stood up. It was the weirdest feeling. Even weirder was the feeling when I googled "greyhound cookie cutters", expecting exactly nothing, and got at least a dozen images. Most showed the dog safely standing up, with only two legs (front and back fused together). This one came closest to my great-grandfather's tin artwork. Who knows what connection he may have had to greyhounds. Could it be that he was a "traveller", too?

Monday, May 30, 2011

Don't ask me why, but I love this

Tinker, tailor, bridesmaid . . . aieeeeeee!!

Please bear with me if all this is a little disjointed: I'm working from fragmentary information cobbled together from a "documentary" (read: TV sideshow) on TLC called My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding.

I don't watch bridal shows as a rule, mainly because they bore the piss out of me. (My own wedding was minimal, but lo and behold, we just celebrated 38 years together.) But here is a culture which seems to live for weddings and first communions, the recipients of these rituals so swathed in foamy tulle and caked-on makeup that they are barely recognizable as themselves.

This is all about "gypsy" culture, mainly of Irish descent, living in various parts of Britain in communities that resemble a typical North American trailer park. Strictly speaking, since they aren't Romany (the East European itinerant culture that has existed for centuries), they aren't really gypsies at all. Such a moniker is almost like using the n-word for black people.

They prefer to call themselves "travellers", though I didn't see much travelling going on in these first two hour-long episodes. Mostly I saw little girls in skimpy, trashy outfits gyrating and wagging their butts suggestively, brides so immobilized in grotesque, tacky gowns that they had to be carried, and matter-of-fact descriptions of a culture that oppresses women so completely that no one even thinks of violating their rigid, sexist rules.

I did a bit of digging (but only a bit: I was sent reeling backwards by these bizarre extremes, and several times was nearly convinced it was a TLC-perpetrated parody), and found out that, ye gods, me own Irish ancestors, bless their shabby little souls, might have been lumped in with these people. It seems odd to me that they're sometimes called tinkers, a term used in the most derogatory manner possible. Tinkers were tinsmiths who mended things like pots and pans (back in the day when everything wasn't just chucked out and replaced). They also made various kinds of practical, useful kitchen implements.

How do I know? At my grandma's house, my grandma on my mother's side, there were two blackened old cookie cutters made of ancient tin. One was a pig and the other was a dog, a lean stretched-out dog like a greyhound. I eventually found out from my mother that these had been made by my great-grandfather before the family emigrated to Canada (perhaps to escape the potato famine: I'm still not sure about that). Which means that my great-grandfather, a tinsmith by trade, was probably called a tinker.

It's strange, because my mother never mentioned any sort of prejudice against the family and talked about her grandfather as a good honest working man with a solid trade. Did he have an old wagon with pots hanging off it and banging together, and a "tinker bell" (yes, there really was something called a tinker bell, though I can't find a definition of it anywhere) letting people know that he was coming?

And what's so awful about that, I ask you?

I think in those days, and in these days too, people get lumped together. To say that "gypsies" or travellers or whatever-you-call-them were completely innocent of some of society's charges would be simply inaccurate. Though the first couple of episodes of this alarmingly extreme program were vague about it all, a little digging brought out the fact that many of these travellers are squatters, setting up their "caravan" communities on land that does not belong to them.

Wait a minute, isn't that. . . theft? But we can't say that about gypsies!

I have a few more problems with this program. OK, a lot more. Those hideous nuclear-explosion gowns and the black leather dominatrix outfits commonly worn at receptions are all custom-made and must be extravagantly expensive. So far we've been told that the girls, who marry at around age 16, must stick to housework and raising children. But what do the men do? How do they raise enough money from, well, probably not being lawyers or stockbrokers, to pay for all this superficial, ostentatous, ludicrous-looking shit?

My research on the careers of travellers seems to be a couple of hundred years out of date, stating that traveller cultures usually breed greyhouds or Gypsy Vanner horses, which is pretty hard to do if you're itinerant and don't own any land. I don't see how they can raise those big old draft horses in a trailer park (particularly if it isn't theirs). I'm looking forward to seeing how the show gets around all that (if in fact it does), as it has already decided to be completely sympathetic to these (probable) squatters who are refusing to pay rent, yet spending thousands on these eyesplitting explosions of tulle (some laced with flashing LED lights) that will never be worn again.

Though this is the kind of show you watch between your fingers, it may just shed a little light on a subculture which has seemingly been reviled since time began. I would be fascinated to see a program about real gypsies, the Romany people of Europe, and whether or not they insert their six-year-old daughters into stiff, scratchy gowns that cripple them and leave angry red welts on their bodies.

I don't understand all this superficial display, this flaunting of - what?, and the jaw-dropping bad taste that just keeps escalating until we catch sight of the mother of the bride, so caked with makeup that her face is brown, wearing elbow-length black leather lace-up armbands to her daughter's great moment: her bizarre funhouse-mirror Disney-princess moment that signals the end of girlhood and the beginning of a lifetime of oppression and servitude.

(Just had one of those creepy moments. Real creepy. I never wondered about the pig cookie cutter; the drunk lolling in the gutter with a pig for a companion was an awful Irish stereotype. But the greyhound? I can't imagine a stranger subject for a cookie cutter, with all those long slim legs breaking off. Didn't Wikipedia mention the travellers raising greyhounds? Is there something I'm missing here?)


Dear Sir or Madam, will you read my book
    It took me years to write, will you take a look

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Flash! Best Vintage Ad Ever!!

I think you can still get these.

Ad-ison Avenue: now and then


Do not adjust your set! If you enter this site, you may never get out again. ("We control the horizontal. We control the verical." Oops, wrong program.)

This may be the best internet site I have ever encountered: more than 100,000 print ads and posters from the 1840s to the present day, culled and collected from God knows where and lovingly scanned for public consumption. You even get to choose from two different sizes.

These ads cover food, fashion, medicine, pets, even space-age inventions like the computer, which in the 1940s filled a room. Each ad is a sociological treatise in capsule form. Some are extravagantly beautiful, some stylish, some stark. Obsolete products like "brain salt" mystify, and one ad from the 1890s recommends tapeworms to cure a weight problem. A baby glugs from a 7Up bottle, beer is recommended for nursing Moms (hey, even I remember that one - I got a lot of mileage out of it), and smoking is something that soothes the throat, eases asthma and keeps a girl slim.

I may never get out of here, though I am beginning to think I should stop saving images and just leave them where they belong. This site is simple and extremely easy to use, without any of the annoying bells and whistles and things popping up and squirming around in the corners that drive me mad. There is no long wait for downloading: in fact, no waiting at all!

It's a time machine, one that I will jump back into (like the Time Tunnel!) over and over again. Try it. It's a trip.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Mystery Horse

It looks like I'm not quite finished with my comic book ad obsession. I've found so many of these on so many sites, I feel glutted and overwhelmed.

I'll be using a few of them, of course, once I figure out which ones are my favorites (most bizarre, most unlikely, most tasteless, most unrealistic, and even most aesthetically pleasing: some of these are damn beautiful!). For now, I played around with the Mystery Horse, free inside every box of Wheat Honies.

I remember cereal box prizes. Oh yes, I do. In fact, I still have cornflake dust up to my elbow. I never waited until we used up all the cereal. Oh no. Did anyone, except some idiot with time to waste? I rummaged around with my grubby little paw until I got to the very bottom of the box, then grabbed the little red fire truck ("made of sturdy plastic!") or the submarine that you filled with baking soda so it would perform miracles in the bathtub.

The Mystery Horse is not some poor unfortunate beast who was cut off at the knees. He was one of those little walking toys with a string and a weight. You sat him on the table with the weight just over the edge, and as it slowly moved towards the floor the creature would "walk". I remember a yellow walking camel that came in the Chee-tohs bag, highly prized. (How I wish I had kept some of this stuff!).

When I tinker around with these images, which is probably highly illegal (but so were all those scans I found on the comic book sites), strange things happen. Colors spring out at me that aren't really there. This time, when I reversed the colors into a negative, it created an eerie 3D effect that I've never seen before.

I want a Mystery Horse. I want a horse that walks along on its knees, a horse made of sturdy plastic. I want to go back and back, to that time before I made any really serious mistakes. I want to be a child again, but this time happy, and aware it'll all go away so lightning-fast that I'd better enjoy it with all my might.

Ahnie: even then he liked to pick up women

Monday, May 23, 2011

Mail Order Monkey

This story has been repeated so many times on so many sites, I think it's in the public domain by now. It fascinates me because I always wondered if anyone actually got one of those monkeys you could supposedly "win" from comic book ads (after selling hundreds of dollars' worth of merchandise). The chihuahua in the teacup was dicey enough, but this monkey - ummm, primates aren't known to be particularly friendly (look at humans) unless bribed, and these little buggers didn't come pre-trained. The following account is a little hair-raising. I wish there were more of a denouement, i.e., what happened to the monkey, not to mention that poor guy, after the 28 stitches?

A firsthand account follows from a guy who ordered one of those monkeys from an ad in the back of a comic book. To keep his parents from finding out, he had it shipped to a friend's house...

It came in this little cardboard box. I mean, I’m saying small. It was probably the size of a shoebox, except it was higher. It had a little chicken wire screen window in it. There was a cut out. All you could see if you looked in there was his face. I brought it home, and I actually snuck it into the basement of the house.

No instructions [were included]. He had this waist belt on, a collar, if you will, on his waist, with an unattached leash inside the box. So I opened the box up inside the cage, the monkey jumped out, I withdrew the box and found the leash. I have no idea where it came from; I assumed it came from Florida. I figured, well, it’s probably near dehydration, so I opened up the cage to put some water in it. It leapt out of the cage when I opened it up the second time! I mean, it was eyeing the pipes that I was unaware of. As soon as I opened the cage, it leapt up and grabbed onto the plumbing up on the ceiling and started using them like monkey bars, and he was just shooting along in the basement, chirping pretty loud. It was heading towards the finished side of the basement, where there was a drop ceiling, and if it got into those channels, I never would have got it. It would have been days to get this thing out of there.

I grabbed it by its tail, and it came down on, starting literally up by my shoulder, like a drill press it landed on my arm, and every bite was breaking flesh. It was literally like an unsewing machine. It was literally unsewing my arm coming down, and I was pouring blood. I grabbed it by its neck with both my wrists, threw it back in the cage. It’s screaming like a scalded cat. I’m pouring blood. My friend’s laughing uncontrollably, and my father finally comes in the basement door and goes, ‘Jeffery! What are you doing to that rabbit?’ And I go, ‘It’s not a rabbit, it’s a monkey, and it just bit the hell out of me.’ ‘A monkey? Bring it up here!’ I’m pouring, I wrapped a t-shirt around my arm to stave off the bleeding, carried the cage upstairs, and I don’t know why I bothered sneaking it in, because they fell in love with it, and it was like, there was no problem at all. They took me to the emergency room and I got 28 stitches on my arm.

Angry beaver roams through N.W.T. town - North - CBC News

A large, agitated beaver attracted a crowd in Fort Smith, N.W.T., this week when it meandered through town and got hissy with a German shepherd.

The beaver was spotted Monday evening wandering around a residential neighbourhood, along a busy street, through a graveyard and golf course, all the while escorted by an N.W.T. Environment and Natural Resources officer.

Mike Keizer, a longtime resident in the town of 2,400 near the N.W.T.-Alberta border, said he hopped on his bicycle as soon as he heard there was a beaver on the loose.

"It looked huge. I always thought beavers would be smaller," Keizer told CBC News on Thursday.

"All the beavers I've ever seen have been in water, so you only ever see pieces of them; like, you don't get to see the whole beaver."

Another Fort Smith resident, Jason Mercredi, shot video footage of the beaver moving in a ditch and on a sidewalk along McDougal Street.

"There's a beaver holding up [the] main street," Mercredi says in the video, before asking his uncle if the animal would attack.

"He's pissed," Mercredi remarked.

Got agitated, flustered
The wayward animal, which Keizer estimated was the size of a dog, zigzagged across people's lawns and around their homes.

"Every time it got agitated or flustered, it would bang its tail on the ground. I mean, I was amazed at how fast it moved when it was agitated," he recalled.

Keizer said the beaver became especially agitated when it came nose-to-nose with somebody's German shepherd, with just a chain-link fence separating the two animals.

"It never backed down once. It grabbed the fence, it was hissing, and the dog was barking," Keizer said.

"When the ENR officer went to get it turned [around] so he'd get it away from town, he had a plywood sheet in front of him, and it rushed the sheet."

Keizer said he rode his bike ahead of the beaver, knocking on residents' doors and warning them to bring their dogs indoors "because there's a wild beaver walking through town, heading your way."

"While I was there, all kinds of people were driving up in their trucks and their cars and taking pictures," he said.

The beaver wandered about another kilometre or two before it headed towards the Slave River rapids and disappeared.

Keizer said in his 17 years living in Fort Smith, he has never seen a beaver — never mind a beaver so large — come into town.

Saturday, May 21, 2011


I've been on a bit of a Stephen Sondheim kick lately, maybe because of his longtime connection with Anthony Perkins, one of my perennial preoccupations/happy obsessions. These two were similar in that they were both intricate, impossible, brilliant, and (in spite of their vast creative contribution) essentially unknowable.

Though Perkins was prematurely snatched at 60, Sondheim is still with us at 80-some. One of his many legendary shows was Company (1970), in which T. P. almost played Bobby, the still point at the centre of a comedy of couples. When it comes to relationships and love, Bobby won't commit, but committed people (or people who should be committed) swirl all around him.

Somehow Tony Perkins wasn't available. Another commitment, you see. Or he didn't really need to "play" Bobby; he was too busy being him.

I tried to find a really good version of an incredible song, Being Alive, Bobby's final soliloquy/aria/heartsong. I went through Bernadette Peters, whom I've always loved; Patty LuPone; Barbra Streisand; even Julie Andrews. Nada, naynay, nonenonenone, can't get into it and am almost at the point of giving up.

Then I stumbled on. . . this.

It's Dean Jones, yes, that Dean Jones from the Love Bug series and innumerable other Disney flicks. I didn't even know he could sing. It's a recording session, probably the original cast recording judging by the fact that Sondheim looks like a middle-aged juvenile delinquent. But what Jones does here is beyond singing. He opens his mouth, his eyes soft with a frightened vulnerability, and releases this hymn, this almost unbearable paean to the aching neccessity of love.

Jesus! He can't just sing: he can fly. Where has he been all my life? I don't know if I've ever heard a song turned inside-out like this. Along with flat-out artistry, he possesses a soaring technical brilliance, the ability to sustain a phrase in a clean, steady arc for an impossibly long time. He builds and builds the drama as the orchestra crescendos and begins to thunder at the end. . .and when it's over and he stands there with a tense, "was that any good?" look clearly visible on his face, there's an eerie silence in the studio. Sondheim mumbles something about it being adequate. Then, almost like at the end of Laugh-in, sparse applause, the sound of a few hands clapping.

When I hear something this good, which is never, I want to do something really extreme, like throw all my manuscripts on a bonfire, committ suttee or whatever it is (but my husband would have to do it first, damn it). When I hear something this exalted, I want to just chuck my ambitions and go take a long walk in the park (ten years ought to do it). But at the same time, it goads me to be better than I know how to be.

This song is about someone who can't fully live until he learns to open himself wide to the splendors and catastrophes of love. I wonder why I have such a visceral response to it. Love is at the centre of my life, and in fact, I know it is my central purpose. Of this I have no doubt. But what does it mean, what does it really mean to love? Do we ever get it right?

Grog Grows Own Tail

Can't say just what started this, but maybe it was my daughter-in-law saying, "By the way, I sent away for the Sea Monkeys."

"The. . . the. . . (gulp)". . . (I was already being dragged into the past, and all those summers at the cottage with the Jimmy Olsen Annual).

"Oh yeah, but there's only one problem with them. They only come with a year's supply of food. So what are you supposed to feed them after that? Rubber boots?"

So you could still get them. It was hard to believe, in this age of cynicism and truth in advertising, but there it was. And kids still wanted them. My own grandkids wanted them. It was all a little hard to absorb.

The sea monkeys, along with so many things we yearned for in those old comic book ads, were the stuff of legend. We never actually sent away for them or for anything else, though I considered the 100 Dolls for $1 (not having any idea what they meant by "Lilliputian cuteness": would 9-year-old girls be likely to read Jonathan Swift?). It all had to do with American-ness, the American dollar looking nothing like the Canadian dollar. We just knew it was Different. You had to send actual dollars, because no one had heard of a money order in those days, plus all these things only cost about a buck.

Anyway, back to the sea monkeys: it was a very long time before I actually saw any, and I don't recall whose house I was in. There was a small plastic tank full of cloudy, smelly, slimy water, with little multi-legged things squirming around in it. Doing tricks, I suppose. No sign of a castle or royal sceptres.

The rest of the story wasn't filled in until about 10 years ago, when my husband and I made a trip to Utah and saw millions of brine shrimp, the only creatures who can withstand the thick saline waters of the Great Salt Lake.

Oh, OK then (choke), but there was still the Onion Gum ("Tastes like. . . like. . . ONIONS! It's too funny!" This was one of our favorites. I devoted a whole post to this tiny ad, riffing on it with all sorts of different photographic/photoshop effects.) And there were the hundreds of strong man ads with pictures of nearly-nude, wildly overdeveloped men flexing every muscle at once. These seemed to interest my brother Arthur, though I have come to wonder about it since.

Comic book ads were all tied in with summers at Bondi, a resort in Muskoka that qualifies as a little bit of heaven on earth. (The fact that Bondi is still there, preserved by my friend Nancy and her brother Brian, is even more of a marvel, and somehow gives me hope). For two weeks we were absolutely free. And of course we didn't fully appreciate it: we rampaged through that time like wild horses, and before we knew it we came to that miserable moment when we began to count the days we had left.

I wonder to this day how many live chihuahuas were delivered to kids willing to sell photo-finishing door to door, or unload tubes of salve. Or that poor monkey: how would it survive, and wouldn't it be so full of fear that it would bite everyone? Attitudes towards animals were different then (and the word chihuahua wasn't even used: but for God's sake, if we were supposed to understand lilliputian, what was so hard about chihuahua??). They were freight to be shipped. I wonder how many kids just didn't tell their parents.

I used to wonder about Grog, until I saw a Hawaiian ti plant at some sort of horticultural display. You just stuck it in the ground, and, voila! a shade tree in minutes. Whether Grog kept producing another tail, and another and another and another, was anyone's guess. But what can you expect for a buck?

Seeing these again gives me that queer feeling of deeply-buried deja vu. Many of the ads have been so enhanced that they look a thousand times more vibrant than the original grainy, 2" square things, usually plastered together on a great exuberant wall of ads. (These make great wallpaper, by the way.) And I even solved a few mysteries. For example, I found out exactly what you got if you sent away for the 100 dolls.

These looked like very chintzy Monopoly tokens, all of them made of pink plastic. There were maybe 30 different designs, but the thing is, they were 2" high and about a billionth of an inch thick, standing up on bases like those farm animals I used to have. I saw a collection of them on eBay, where they are now worth a lot of money as collectibles (though only if the 100-piece set is intact: people do count them).

I don't know, I get the strangest feeling seeing these. Paradise Lost, then found again. Not having, of course, and not just looking, but coveting. We wanted these things, we ached for them as only a child can ache, a child with no money and no power and no parental approval. I know a buck meant a lot more then, but why go to so much effort for such a lousy return? And wouldn't most people want their money back?

I don't look at comics now, they're all different, though I guess you can snoop around and find vintage ones if you're willing to pay top dollar (and I'm not). We don't put 15 cents into an envelope to get Onion Gum, not when there's PayPal and the like. I don't save Kellogg's box tops and send away for little plastic submarines that you fill with baking soda. It's a whole different game.