Saturday, July 25, 2009

Is this art?

In honor of comedian Bill Cosby's birthday this month, a local artist created this portrait from approximately 1,000 Jello shots. It seemed like an appropriate medium to artist Andrew Salomone, given Cosby's years as a pitchman for the colorful jiggly stuff.

Apparently the exhibit didn't last too long -- some of the art patrons decided to rearrange the shots to see how Cosby would look with a ponytail or as a Pac-Man. And then they ate the Jello out of the small cups.

So, if people can make art disappear by eating or drinking it, is it truly art?

A couple of weeks ago, a group in Sydney, Australia, arranged 3,404 coffee cups filled with different amounts of milk to create the shades of color necessary to create this giant Mona Lisa. I'm not sure if anyone drank the milk later, but again, I have to ask, is this art?

I'd also like to know what prompts people to look at something like jello shots or coffee cups and think, "Hey, I could use that to create a portrait." I'm familiar with folks thinking they see Jesus and the Virgin Mary ON food, such as tortillas and waffles, which I usually credit to active imagination or divine inspiration. But where does the inspiration come from to use things that HOLD food (and drink) to create Bill Cosby's head or the Mona Lisa?

My coffee cup may be a lot of things to me -- especially first thing in the morning -- but I've never considered it an artistic medium nor have I ever groggily peered into it and thought: "Mona Lisa." Ditto for my oatmeal bowl. Does that mean I lack imagination and/or vision?
Maybe I should go stare at my Tupperware collection for a while to see what it inspires....
How about you? Seen any food containers around your house that could become great art?

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Snapshots of Life

Nine family members hovered around the bed of Donald C. Cheney when his breathing gave a sense that the end was near for the 85-year-old man known for his quick wit, irascibility and pure joy of living.

Don opened his eyes, glanced around his bed and said, “Do you people know something I don’t?”

Did you laugh out loud? I did when I read this gem in the recent obituary of the former Marine, National Rifle Association supporter and 67-year member of the Boy Scouts who’d played on the 1938 undefeated Dover (NH) High school state champion team.

Even though I didn’t know Don or any of his relatives, the joke catapulted his death notice onto my list of memorable obituaries. It also made me wish I’d met him. He was funny to the end.

I love obituaries. Every time I pick up a newspaper, I quickly turn to the obituary page even though more often than not, I have no connection to the deceased or the survivors.

Only recently did it occur to me why I am such a fan: obituaries are wonderful stories. Some are better written than popular novels and I suspect more than a few are just as fictional. I am always intrigued by the type of information that ends up in an obituary, and often wonder about who and what is left out -- and why.

An obituary represents a small snapshot of a life. It’s supposed to be a portrait of a person – but it’s also history related by the surviving family and friends as they viewed it, and oftentimes it's composed by strangers at a newspaper or a funeral home.

I’m especially fond of obituaries, like Don’s, that surprise me or make me laugh (not unlike the main character in my novel-in-progress who enjoys them so much that she reads them aloud to her dog).

For example, I loved the one about the man who requested that in lieu of flowers, his grieving friends and relatives vote for Al Gore for president. I also laughed at the obituary for the gentleman who served as treasurer of the local sewer district for 23 years, “during which time there was continuous flow.”

Another favorite was about a woman who put “three meals on the table nearly every day for more than 70 years, although cooking was not as interesting to her as reading, snowshoeing, wildflower identification and bird watching.” I wish I’d had the opportunity to suggest she teach other family members to cook or learn to get takeout.

I also enjoy learning about hobbies of the deceased. It amazes me how many are ice fishermen or knitting enthusiasts. Not long ago I read about a man whose hobby was visiting Dunkin’ Donuts shops. I don’t want to be critical of the dead, but that does not seem like a legitimate hobby. It’s not like there’s an official group for DD fans like the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors, or a Family Motor Coach Association – two groups I learned about from obituaries. Furthermore regarding hobbies, I don’t think listing a person’s only pastime as spending time at the mall (as I read in one obituary) puts her in the best light.

Here in my part of the world, so many of the departed were fans of professional sports teams like the Red Sox, Patriots and Celtics that I’ve often wondered if their organizations send sympathy cards or ever worry about losing fans to the great beyond.

I do take comfort in knowing that most of the deceased will be “dearly missed,” if you are to believe their obituaries. I doubt the man who had a “crusty exterior although some people suspected he might possibly have had a softer side” was among them, however.

Being such an aficionado of obituaries and not entirely confident my survivors will put my life in the best light, I’d already composed my own. I thought it was just fine until I read Don’s obituary. I think I’d like someone to laugh out loud at my obituary, too.

How about you? Have you ever thought about what you want your obituary to say?

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Movies from a (red)box

I have discovered the joys of redbox and may never visit a video store again.

Am I the last person in America to know about this fantastic (and cheap) innovation that allows you to reserve movie DVDs online and then pick them up from a kiosk that resembles an ATM machine – or just go to the machine and use the touch screen to borrow a movie that interests you – all for just $1 per day?

I learned about redbox after complaining to co-workers about the high prices at the local video store and that we’d pretty much exhausted the collection of free movies of interest at the Library.

Actually, that’s not altogether true – but when the film advertised as “the best movie to come out of Mexico” showed two unpleasant sex acts within the first three minutes, I decided that maybe I don't want to see any movies from Mexico – whether they be best or less-best – and maybe it's time to take a break from foreign films.

(Husband No. 1 and I still haven’t gotten over “Noi,” the “best film to come out of Iceland.” I wish we’d read the reviews beforehand that revealed “Noi is one of those films in which the very lack of anything significant happening becomes the central theme and message of the work.” Geez, I'd thought the message was just: BORING. We also might have known the title character was albino instead of just another pale person in wintry Iceland. However, I doubt we would have been prepared for the 10 other characters to die in an avalanche at the end. But I digress….)

Go to and type in your zip code to learn the location of the nearest redbox kiosk. Mine is just inside the doors of the nearby Wal-Mart. I can check online what DVDs are available at that machine and reserve one if I wish. And, if you register online, they’ll send you a code for a free rental.

When you go to the redbox you pay by swiping your credit or debit card. To avoid paying an additional $1, DVDs must be returned by 9 p.m. the next night to any redbox. The machine will request your e-mail address in order to send you a receipt when you rent the film and then one when you return it. The machine has a slot to spit out the movie and also accept the return after you use the touch screen to open it.

I looked at the redbox fact sheets online and learned each fully automated redbox kiosk holds approximately 700 DVDs, representing up to 200 new release titles. New titles are available at redbox every Tuesday. That's more frequent updating than most snack machines!

Pioneered by McDonald’s (yes, the hamburger folks -- "want fries with that flick?"), redbox is now a separate company with more than 15,000 kiosk locations nationwide, including some McDonald’s restaurants, grocery and convenience stores, and Walmart and Walgreens stores in some markets.

Movies from a box for a buck? A great invention for these economic times. But it does beg the question -- what will they think of next?

Monday, July 6, 2009

Handwriting as entertainment

Although I am aware that my penmanship may not meet the standard that Catholic schools once were famous for, you’d think the man I live with might be able to figure out my handwriting after nearly three decades together.

After all, I can read his writing and it’s far worse – written left-handed in a slant that makes people dizzy. My kids -- they of the 'Net and texting generation – endured just one year of cursive training so they print if, God forbid, they can’t communicate by computer or text from their phones. This Gang of 3 claims that not only is my handwriting the worst in the house, it also can be a source of entertainment.

In fact, Husband No. 1 gets a weekly chuckle out of pretending he cannot interpret my notations on the grocery list – “What are tamdos wells?” he’ll ask trying to look innocent when clearly (at least to me) I’ve written “taco” shells. “Why do we need hot tomatoes?” he’ll say when we need potatoes. Sometimes he'll return from the grocery store without a critical recipe ingredient because “I couldn’t read your writing.” (Have I mentioned that he also hasn’t figured out that to use a cell phone to call me, he might have to bring it with him?)

Anyway, this written communication problem raised its ugly head again last week on the first day of July when I called him en route to work to ask him to flip the calendar, check the date for No. 2 son’s annual checkup and remind the child to make sure when he went into work that afternoon, to request the time off.

A short time later I received this e-mail from Husband No. 1:

"The checkup possibilities are:

July 13: "4:45 Pedo/Synod Mo Velly"
July 15: "-Dad"
July 23: "$70we"
July 24-25: "Doud"
July 31: "10:30 anyou"
Any of those look like it?"

Huh? Does my beloved truly believe notations like “$70we” or “anyou” merit being added to the family calendar? It makes me wonder what world he thinks I inhabit that I would need to remember something like “Doud” and “Mo Velly.”

It took only one quick look at his e-mail message to figure out the appointment is July 13—“4:45, Pediatrics, Dr. Symonds” -- AND NOT “Pedo/Synod Mo Velly.”
My conclusion from this latest experience is that the man is just not trying hard enough.
What do you think? Does anyone complain about your handwriting? Has it caused any issues in your world?