Mikimoto Pearl Island 1992

Does anything interesting happen at the junction of January and February? I’m not persuaded anything does. At least it was warmish around here for the last weekend in January — in the 40s F. both Saturday and Sunday, with rain today to melt away much of the remaining snow, which isn’t too bad for the pit of winter. But the relative warmth didn’t persuade us to do much. At least I found the likes of Hugh Laurie in New Orleans on YouTube over the weekend.

Early February 1992

Recently I visited Toba, a town on the ocean in Ise Prefecture, Japan. That’s the place where cultured pearls were popularized, if not invented, in the early 20th century, and the popularization continues to this day in the form of Mikimoto Pearl Island.

The island, which is connected to the mainland by a very short bridge, includes a museum at which you can learn all sorts of pearl factoids; this I did. I had no idea pearls came in so many colors. You can also buy terrifically expensive jewelry there; this I did not.

On display are some items of gaudy fascination, such as a silver replica Liberty Bell (one-third scale) mostly covered in cultured pearls, complete with a crack represented by a zigzag of darker pearls. Supposedly it was exhibited at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. Other structures include a be-pearled model of Himeji Castle, a globe that includes rubies and diamonds as well as a pearls, and a lotta pearls in the shape of large model pagoda.

At Mikimoto Pearl Island I thought of what the mother of a friend of mine told me upon hearing that I planned to move to Japan. That’s where the pearls come from, she said. Guess Mikimoto’s been successful in getting the word out.

Over the Transom Thursday

Got another political robocall yesterday, but it was a first: a fellow running for a seat on the local water reclamation board, bemoaning the condition of the local water system. The subtext of his call: You don’t want to end up like Flint, do you? DO YOU? Vote for me, the clean water candidate.

Next thing I know, someone running for the Northwest Mosquito Abatement District board will call, stressing his mosquito-fighting chops because ZIKA VIRUS is going to ATTACK YOUR BABIES. (Never mind that the species of mosquitoes best able to transmit the virus aren’t found in Illinois.)

No, that won’t happen. The mosquito board is appointed, not elected. Shoot.

I don’t remember where I got this Bernie flier. Maybe when I was downtown last month, someone handed it to me, and I found it in one of my pockets later.
FeeltheBernThe shape isn’t quite rectangular. It has the shape of paper cut quickly, en masse, on a cutting board.

I also found this bookmark recently. There’s a 2011 copyright on the other side, so it’s probably been kicking around the house a while. Published by the Elks, it looks like something that gets handed out in elementary schools.

heroesSure, heroes don’t use drugs and alcohol (but just what’s in Super Chicken’s super sauce?). I don’t know about that Elk on the left, either. Looks a little pixilated to me.

Captain Sir Richard Francis Burton

I’m about halfway through Captain Sir Richard Francis Burton (1990) by Edward Rice, subtitled in its Amazon entry, “The Secret Agent Who Made the Pilgrimage to Mecca, Discovered the Kama Sutra, and Brought the Arabian Nights to the West” (but that phrase isn’t on the cover of the book). At the halfway point, Burton’s already been an agent for Gen. Napier in Sind and other places, daringly visited Mecca, and done a lot more, and now — around the time he met Speke — he’s preparing to venture into Africa for a date with a spear through his cheeks.

Wiki (to borrow only one sentence) describes Burton as a “British explorer, geographer, translator, writer, soldier, orientalist, cartographer, ethnologist, spy, linguist, poet, fencer, and diplomat.” Rice’s biography, I’m happy to say, does him justice.

“Burton was unique in any gathering except when he was deliberately working in disguise as an agent among peoples of the lands being absorbed by his country,” Rice writes. “An impressive six feet tall, broad chested and wiry, ‘gypsy-eyed,’ darkly handsome, he was fiercely imposing, his face scarred by a savage spear wound received in a battle with Somali marauders. He spoke twenty-nine languages and many dialects and when necessary, he could pass as a native of several eastern lands — as an Afghan when he made his famous pilgrimage to Mecca, as a Gypsy laborer among the work gangs on the canals of the Indus River, as a nondescript peddler of trinkets and as a dervish, a wandering holy man, when exploring the wilder parts of Sind, Baluchistan, and the Punjab for his general. He was the first European to enter Harar, a sacred city in East Africa, though some thirty whites had earlier been driven off or killed. He was also the first European to lead an expedition into Central Africa to search for the sources of the Nile…

“His opinions on various subjects — English ‘misrule’ of the new colonies, the low quality and stodginess of university education, the need for the sexual emancipation of the English woman, the failure on the part of the Government to see that the conquered peoples of the empire were perpetually on the edge of revolt — were not likely to make him popular at home. Nor did his condemnation of infanticide and the slave trade endear him to Orientals and Africans. His scholarly interests often infuriated the Victorians, for he wrote openly about sexual matters they thought better left unmentioned — aphrodisiacs, circumcision, infibulation, eunuchism, and homosexuality…

“Burton’s adult life was passed in a ceaseless quest for the kind of secret knowledge he labeled broadly ‘Gnosis’… This search led him to investigate the Kabbalah, alchemy, Roman Catholicism, a Hindu snake caste of the most archaic type, and the erotic Way called Tantra, after which he looked into Sikhism and passed through several forms of Islam before settling on Sufism, a mystical discipline that defies simple labels. He remained a more or less faithful practitioner of Sufi teachings for the rest of his life…

Wow. Previously I only knew about his career in the broadest terms, colored by reading Mountains of the Moon by William Harrison in Japan in the early ’90s (published as Burton and Speke in 1982), an exceptionally fine work of historical fiction, and seeing the movie Mountains of the Moon, which is a good adaptation.

Never mind the fellow who hawks Mexican beer. Even though he’s been dead for over 125 years, I’d say Richard Burton would still be a strong contender for status as The Most Interesting Man in the World.

Sorry, Ocker, the Fokker’s Chocker

Australia Day has rolled around again, and what better way to take note than with a little Oz slang?

In November 2000, my brother Jay forwarded me the word of the day from Wordsmith: ocker.

ocker (OK-uhr), noun
1. An uncultured Australian male.
2. An uncouth, offensive male chauvinist.
3. Of or pertaining to such a person.
4. Typically Australian.
[After Ocker, a character in an Australian television series.]

While Australian sports teams and individuals continue to soak up success everywhere you look, the average ocker is getting lazier and putting on the beef.” Daniel Gilhooly, Aussies with gold in laziness, Daily News, Sep 11, 2000.

Also in the email: the following comment from A Word A Day Mail Issue 20 (feedback on recent word of the day columns). Apocryphal or not, I like it:

From: Monica Clements
Subject: ocker

Seeing the word ocker reminds me of a story told by a friend. It took place during the Australian air traffic controllers’ strike of the 1980s, when interstate travellers were desperate for any form of airborne transport and all the light planes were full.

My friend’s father was one of the people who tried to hitch a ride on a light plane. He rushed up to the steward — about to close the plane doors — and asked breathlessly whether there was any room, only to be answered with the immortal line: “Sorry, ocker, the Fokker’s chocker.”

Spring Valley Winter

On Friday, I went for a walk in a place I don’t usually visit in the winter, because I happened to be driving by: Spring Valley Nature Sanctuary, though sometimes I go as northern Illinois is emerging from winter.

The recent snows have been modest, but enough to cover the trails and the ground.

Spring Valley Nature PreserveSpring Valley SchaumburgIn about four months, this same view of thick bushes along the trail will be a mass of green as dense as any in more torrid zones.
Spring Valley Nature SchaumburgIt was also time to document Doc Baker’s stone, also along the trail, put there in 2002. One of his life’s achievements was the founding of the Rotary Club of Schaumburg and Hoffman Estates. I have nothing bad to say about the Rotarians. The fellow who hired me for my first job in Chicago in ’87 was a Rotarian, and occasionally we had lunch at Rotary Club 1, which was on Michigan Ave. at the time.
Howard Doc Baker - Rotary Club Schaumburg Hoffman EstatesDoc Baker seems to have been well liked. Good for him.

Midwinter Entertainment: Hop on Pop

Cold but not too cold over the weekend. A dusting of snow for us as the major North American storm of the month blew through the South and headed for the East. On Saturday at about 6 pm, the full moon off to the east peeked out from behind a rack of thin clouds. In the foreground, at least from my front yard, stood the dark outline of a bare tree. Very Caspar David Friedrich.

A fragment from a letter from about 15 years ago.

January 16, 2001

Had yesterday off. That’s the first time anyone’s ever given me MLK Day off, and I spent most of it at home, entertaining Lilly, or being entertained. She is easily amused. For instance, spinning coins on a flat surface is a great entertainment for her. Lately she’s learned to do this herself.

Also, often when I find myself horizontal in some way — on the couch, say — she finds me too, and conducts a physics experiment to see what happens when her mass, about 16 kilos these days, acquires enough kinetic energy to wallop into my stomach, which has a considerable mass of its own.

Here in the present, there are no more toddlers in the house, but the dog, whose mass is about 18 kilos, often hops onto my stomach as I lie on the couch. This is only an issue when I’m dozing soundly enough not to hear the tell-tale jingle of her dog tags as she approaches the couch.

Another Round of Thursday Bagatelle

I saw Travels With My Aunt (1972) not long ago. Like a fair number of movies, I’d have to say that the book is better, though the movie wasn’t bad. Then again, I’ve forgotten most of the book, since I read it at least 25 years ago.

I was startled to see Cindy Williams as the young American on the Orient Express. She was merely a young actress at the time, but even so I kept expecting to see Penny Marshall show up. Such is the conditioning effect, even after 40 years, of mediocre sitcoms; you just can’t get rid of them. Yet even that show had a few charms, which are best watched in the form of a YouTube video collections of Lenny & Squiggy entrances. Or if you like, the setups and then their entrances. The two were the butt of essentially the same joke for years.

Apparently Teen Spirit deodorant is a real thing. I saw some at a dollar store a while ago. I had no idea is was an actual product. Entertainment lore has it that the product inspired the song name, not the other way around. On its label it promised a “girly” smell.

Naturally the Greek exhibit at the Field Museum ended with a gift shop. We poked around and I found a small owl statue for Yuriko, who’s fond of owls, but I didn’t find any postcards. I asked the clerk about it, and she posited that note cards, which the shop carried, would sell better. Nuts to that.

Someone will be the new President of the United States a year from now, so I took a look at the oddsmakers at Paddypower. That outfit calls itself “Ireland’s biggest, most successful, security conscious and innovative bookmaker.”

Hillary Clinton remains the favorite, according to Irish bookies: 5/6. Much more astonishingly, at least in historical terms, Donald Trump is next at 7/2. Marco Rubio and Bernie Sanders are at 6/1. Ted Cruz, 11/1. Jeb Bush’s many donors must be steamed that he’s 22/1. Chris Christie, 33/1. Somehow Mitt Romney is 100/1, same as Paul Ryan. Guess the scenario there is a brokered convention with either of those jamokes selected. In the can’t-get-anyone-to-notice them category are John Kasich, 125/1, and Martin O’Malley, 150/1.

I won’t bother with the others, except Rocky De La Fuente, at 300/1. Most Americans don’t know him, but I do, though I hadn’t realized he was in the race. He’s a real estate developer from San Diego, so I suppose that makes him the lesser-known real estate mogul running for president (the anti-Trump, and as a Democrat, in point of fact). I don’t know anything about his politics, but I will say he’s got a fun presidential name.

Not Too Cheap to Meter

On Saturday I got one of ComEd’s periodic notices about our household electricity consumption. “You used 14% less electricity than your efficient neighbors” (the company’s bold), the letter tells me, during the period from November 20 to December 22, 2015. By golly, that’s awfully green of us, but I can’t think what we did any differently last month than any other time.

For the year, however, “You used 7% more electricity than your efficient neighbors. This costs you about $46 extra per year.” Dang.

My neighbors, at least according to ComEd for the purpose of its comparison, are about 100 households whose dwellings are about the same size as ours. Those annoying efficient neighbors are the “most efficient 20 percent” of that group, though at least for last month, we were efficient neighbors for other people, without even trying.

One more datum: From January to November 2015, we used 5,351 kWh, down from 6,125 kWh during the same 11 months in 2014. Also how this happened, I couldn’t say. According to the trove of weather data that’s the Weather Underground, there were 799 cooling degree days in 2014 and 806 in 2015 (as measured at O’Hare, which is close enough).

That means ’15 was a little warmer, but not much, which is an important consideration, since running the AC is the main contributor to high household electric usage over a year. I know that because the handy ComEd graph of our electric usage throughout 2015 (also in the letter) spikes like the Matterhorn in July-August-September.

Never mind flying cars and all that imagined future hooey. The future (that is, now) should have included that business about “too cheap to meter.”

Mr. Grouchy at the Hootenanny Hut

America’s Best Train, Toy & Hobby Shop (see yesterday) isn’t the only retailer I’ve visited recently, though it’s the most interesting by far in recent months. Not long before that I went to a much more conventional place — let’s call it the Hootenanny Hut, not because the place deserves such a fun name, but just because it’s a fun name. And if you decided to throw — hold? stage? — a hootenanny, you might be able to find temporary decor and other supplies for it at a place like this.

Anyway, Ann and I were there, and I had a few moments to look around. There was a whole rack of faux facial hair available, including an Old Man Set, Afro Beard, Hippie Mustache, Fearsome Beard, and a Hungover Beard, among others. The simply named Black Mustache looked like the kind of vigorous growth you once saw on one or another of the Village People’s upper lips.

One hair offering in particular caught my eye: the “Mr. Grouchy” set, which included a thick black faux moustache and two thick black faux eyebrows. A helpful photograph of a man wearing the Mr. Grouchy set showed what it was supposed to look like: an imitation Groucho Marx, complete with a large cigar. No cigar, not even a faux cigar, came with the set, however.

What percentage of Mr. Grouchy buyers, or even people who see it casually, know the source material? Just idle curiosity. Fewer and fewer as time goes by, I figure.

America’s Best Train, Toy & Hobby Shop

As expected, today was frigid, near zero to begin with, and not much warmer as the day ground on. As the Monday holiday for the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr., it’s the sort of day on which school is closed and the mail doesn’t come, but otherwise there was work to be done.

There aren’t many stores like America’s Best Train, Toy & Hobby Shop in Itasca, Illinois, any more. It’s an independent hobby shop, largely but not completely devoted to model trains, with its merchandise stacked floor-almost-to-ceiling along a number of narrow aisles. Tight enough to put off the claustrophobic, no matter how much they like model trains or train toys. The store has new and used model train cars, track, and accessories of all kinds and in various scales, a room devoted to Thomas the Tank Engine toys, Playmobil, Chuggington Station — I’d never heard of that — Lego sets, plastic model kits, and a lot more.

The store has a Maplewood Dr. address, but it’s visible from Irving Park Road. I’d driven by it countless times over the years, occasionally thinking, I should take a look. But I never did until Saturday. Lilly, Ann, and I had gone to a music store in Itasca to get some sheet music that Lilly needed, but the store didn’t have it. That was annoying, so I decided to make the best of it by visiting America’s Best Train, Toy & Hobby Shop, which happened to be across the street.

I like model trains — I had an HO scale model at one time, a fairly simple layout — but I was more taken with the shop’s stacks and stacks of plastic model kits. I built some of those as a lad, mostly airplanes, but also a Saturn V. (We also had a kit for the Mayflower than was entirely beyond my talents.) I didn’t spend a lot of time looking at America’s Best Train, Toy & Hobby Shop’s model kits, but my impression is that most were airplanes of one kind or another. I didn’t see an Apollo or Gemini or Mercury or even a Space Shuttle.

There were a few fictional spaceships, such as an original series Enterprise. No surprise there. A original series or remake Galactica would have been cool, but I didn’t see those. I did see an Eagle. As in the Space: 1999 spaceships. The kit looked like it dated from the 1970s and had never been opened, and the price was high. Can there be a collectors’ market for unbuilt models? That would be strange if so.

I asked the fellow behind the counter, who probably knows everything about model trains, whether the shop had any railroad postcards. He looked puzzled. For a moment, I might as well have said, “It’s crackers to slip a rozzer the dropsy in snide.” Guess no one had ever asked about that. Thinking on it, he then directed me to one of the aisles and said there might be some cards somewhere around there. One box tucked away on the aisle had a collection of unmarked black-and-white photos of trains — mid-20th century from the looks of them — and several more boxes contained old model RR hobbyist magazines.

But no postcards that I could find. I can’t fault the store for that; it’s too tangential. Even so, it was popular subject for postcards.