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Farewell Man of Flamingo

IMG_0762Don Featherstone, fabricator of the kitschy pink flamingo, died on Monday, June 22, 2015 at the age of 79.  Mr. Featherstone was an artist by training, but who knew that the enduring medium of plastic and his eye for verisimilitude would cement him as the father of an icon in suburban garden whimsy. He partnered with Tom Herzing on a coffee table tome of “real”  folks exploring the creative limits of dressing and posing their pink flamingos:  The Original Pink Flamingos: Splendor on the Grass is still available.  I would imagine the folks at Schiffer Books are bracing for a run.    Link below if you want to check it out. http://www.schifferbooks.com/the-original-pink-flamingos-splendor-on-the-grass-962.html Who doesn’t have an opinion about the wire-legged lawn ornament?  Whether you love or loath the bird you can’t deny its longevity or its place in  American mid-century folk culture.  John Waters made a transgressive cult movie featuring them, named after them, too.  And when John Waters features your work in his, I’d say you have crossed the rubicon from American mass-culture into high-art. Fare thee well Don Featherstone.  Long live the pink flamingo!

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Tummler

Definition:  a person who makes things happen, in particular a professional entertainer or comedian whose function is to encourage an audience, guests at a resort, etc., to participate in the entertainments or activities.

From the Yiddish, “one who makes a racket.” 

Remember the hit 1987 movie Dirty Dancing?  Its setting was an early 60’s summer at a Catskills mountain resort, and to get the guests involved in their own recreation the resort employed tummlers.  These peppy social directors would rally the party games and wig try-ons, get the wall-flowers to join in on the dance floor and be sure no man was left behind in the scavenger hunt.  I’d be honored to be named a “virtual tummler,” if I can create a little bit of excitement about reading or researching a topic you never considered before you saw it in this crazy space.  Despite the lazy title, my humble blog goal is to stir up a little intellectual curiosity in spite of my own natural tendency to inertia.   The A-to-Z Challenge has been a fun way to prime both the creative pump and invite some new folks to visit, and I am grateful for both.

I’d also like to pay homage to one of the great tummlers, Lou Goldstein, who left our world a little less schmaltzy two years ago this very month.  He was known as the greatest Simon Says impresario that ever lived.

 

Apologies for the cut/paste link for Mr. Goldstein’s obit, but the NY Times doesn’t seem to have it “linkable” if you’re not a subscriber:   http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/16/nyregion/lou-goldstein-borscht-belt-comedian-dies-at-90.html?_r=0

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Normcore: Or the Fetishization of No Fashion

I’ve spent my career working in the rag trade.  I’ve worked with designers and merchants, knock-off artists and pattern-makers.  I’ve worked sample sales until my feet felt like bowling balls.  So I know that anybody can buy Fashion at the highest price, but I learned that a real fashionista knows where to get it cheap.  (And the biggest mavens of all are the ones who get their fashion for FREE.)    But what I can’t fathom is this weird, ironic hipster fetish to name everything, including basic stuff that isn’t meant to BE fashion.  Stuff like white tee shirts and grey sweat pants are now referred to as “normcore.”    In the biz we call these things basics, or commodities.  We plan and produce them in the unit of measure called “dozens.”

Now let’s look at the word fetish for a minute.  A fetish is defined as an object that inspires an irrational reverence or obsessive devotion.  Fashion may be your fetish, but you take it one step too far when you have to name every article of clothing you wear as fashion.  The elasticized-waist clothes you put on when you roll out of bed on Saturday and fart down to the corner for a bagel are NOT “fashion.”  They are sweats.  I love them; they are comfy and serve the purpose of keeping America beautiful, and that’s a noble-enough purpose, but they are neither “norm” nor “core.”

I’m dating myself here, but back in the early 90’s Kurt Cobain created a market run on flannel shirts.  I was working for a men’s sportswear company at the time, and that fall season we sold out of men’s flannel shirts ~ especially size small.  This created a double whammy problem:

1.  We missed business because we didn’t have enough to satisfy this huge demand and

2.  How the heck were we going to plan the following year??

Nobody called these garments anything but flannel shirts.  They were a was a nice business when we sold them to your grandpa, and it was a nice blip when we sold them to the aspiring grunge rockers who preceded this group of ironically name-happy hipsters.  But we didn’t kid ourselves into thinking we were redefining the shirt.

 

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Grit and Gastroliths

We’re into the second week of the A-To-Z Challenge and the novelty of posting every day is wearing off.  To keep up the momentum I need to get gritty.  So I turned to Merriam-Webster for a little inspiration, and the dictionary gave me four definitions with number 4 as my money shot:
1:  sand, gravel b :  a hard sharp granule (as of sand); also :  material (as many abrasives) composed of such granules
2:  any of several sandstones
3:  the structure of a stone that adapts it to grinding
4:  firmness of mind or spirit :  unyielding courage in the face of hardship or danger
And some great synonyms:
backbone,
constancy,
fiber,
fortitude,
grittiness,
guts,
intestinal fortitude:  My favorite as you’ll soon see….
pluck, and
spunk! 

Grit is also a new buzzword in Education.  Seems kids who have the tenacity to stick with challenging assignments are “gritty,”  and this quality is a better predictor of future success than standardized tests.   Gee, sounds to me like the old chestnut, “Success is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.”

Then I found a great new word, gastrolith.  A gastrolith is a gizzard stone found in the digestive track of some birds that helps break down hard foods to assist in their digestion.  After time the gastroliths are polished smooth by the their work and are either excreted or regurgitated.  In some ways this blog is like a grastrolith — allowing the writer to polish and refine these words until they are smooth and easy for the reader to digest.  Yummmmmmm!

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Abs: Where are they now?

Back when I was in high school we did these little warm-up exercises before every gym class.  We got changed for gym class into something called a gym-suit, sort of a onesie for teen girls.  This was a time before the development of sports bra technology and sweat-wicking fabrics.  I suppose it gave us an illusion of equality since there was noting remotely attractive, let alone sexy about these garments.  Or it made the gym teachers feel like matrons in a women’s prison….. But I digress.

The purpose of these warm-ups, set to some groovy 70’s pop tunes from groups like The Moody Blues and The Doobie Brothers, was to get our muscles ready for the intense square dance routines of gym class proper.  These warm-ups included sit-ups for our abs.  That’s what our stomach muscles were called back then: abs.

Today we don’t have abs anymore.  We have a “core.”  We have rectus and transverse abdominis.  We have multifidis, inner abdominals, deep abdominals and obliques.   Many baby boomers travel back in time to the land of lost abdominals by viewing old pictures of ourselves, over a glass of wine and some delicious cheese.

Don’t get me wrong:  we should not give up and let our bellies go to pot.  But can’t we return to a simpler time and just call them abs?

*RIP —  Gym-suit died a righteous death back in 1976 when segregation in gym class ended and both boys and girls endured the embarrassment of gym class together.

 

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Mighty, Mighty Marty

Marty Before He Was Grandpa
Marty Before He Was Grandpa

November 17 is Marty’s birthday.  He would have been ninety-eight years old this year, and I think about him almost every day.  He was a one-in-a-million kind of man.  Some facts about my late, great father-in-law.

  • He was a swinging bachelor who hung around Greenwich Village impressing the ladies with his mad skill of tying maraschino cherry stems into knots in his mouth.
  • He was an incredible dancer, and could make anybody look good on the dance floor.  I knew this first-hand.
  • He was color blind but that didn’t stop him from dressing himself with aplomb.  It also made it a lot of fun to play Uno with him.
  • He once grew so many eggplants he took them to work at City Hall and hung them from trees to watch folks’ reactions.
  • He would call his adult sons “Sonny Boy.”
  • He took the hit many times for his grandchildren so they would not get in trouble with their grandmother.
  • His sense of humor was legendary ~ and he was never afraid to laugh hardest at himself.
  • Most days he ate 3 breakfasts and he drank coffee until bedtime.
  • He was like an ant:  he could lift boxes 3 times his body weight.
  • He read a book a day and all librarians loved him.  Just like us.

We miss you Mart.  May your memory always be a blessing.

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In Praise of the Second Banana

I am an unabashed fan of “The Daily Show,” hosted by Jersey boy and satirist par excellence, Jon Stewart.  Jon took a summer sabbatical to work on a film, but left the keys to the anchor chair in the very capable hands, tush and comedic mind vise of John Oliver.  On September 3, Poppa Jon returns to his post, so it just feels fitting to take a small moment to congratulate Mr. Oliver (and the Emmy-award winning staff of “The Daily Show”) for keeping the place running, nay, shining, while the host was on hiatus.

If you missed any of the summer of Oliver episodes you can toggle over to The Daily Show here.

But let us also take a moment to celebrate the contributions of other famous “second bananas.” Can you imagine Johnny Carson without Ed McMahon?    Would you still love Lucy Ricardo without Ethel Mertz?  Think about your own family?  How many of us have parents or siblings who frequently play “straight man” to the antics of spouse or sibs?  Wouldn’t life be boring without them?

Welcome back,  Jon.  And John, thank you for giving me a compelling reason to stay up past my bedtime all summer.  Oh wait, Colbert was still on after you….