Saturday, April 25, 2009

Brush'strokes of Genius

The Portland Art Museum has an exhibition of "La volupte' du gout: French Painting in the Age of Madame de Pompadour". Which roughly translates into...the voluptuous art of the era of Madame de Pompadour (the official mistress and in her case, official taste-maker of Louis XV).

My wife and I both hadn't been to the Portland Art Museum for many years, which is really shameful, considering what a wonderful experience it really is. This showing drew us both, but also re-introduced us to the museum as a whole. We will not be strangers in the future.

We looked at all the different galleries (not just the Pompadour exhibit) and they featured, ancient artifacts, sculptures, modern installations...but it was the paintings that really hit me. I have somewhat of an art background, but just going and enjoying the varied eras and styles was, well...very very cool.

The "Pompadour" showing was like the cherry on top. We ended there after going through and looking at everything else. It also got me thinking about my perception of art.

We started in one of the galleries that featured Chinese and other Asian art. There was a Zen painting of Mount Fuji done by a 20th century Japanese artist. It was simple, one brush stroke to make the mountain, one to depict a cloud going across in front of it. Two beautiful brush strokes and the entire scene was created. You knew what you were looking at, and understood what the artist was showing you, all with black washes on paper...amazing.

The flip-side to that was a huge painting in the Pompadour exhibit called "The Abduction of Europa" by Jean-Baptiste Marie Pierre. A large (8 foot by 9 foot) glorious painting, featuring beautiful colors, incredible detail, and flowing subject matter all in the lush style of the Madame de Pompadour age. You literally had to sit down in its presence.

The Japanese Zen to the French Voluptuousness, opposites yet equally beautiful, two brush strokes as opposed to tens of thousands of brush strokes. You might say they're "apples and oranges". I say that's perfect! Apples and oranges make a great still life, and feel free to use as many brush strokes as you want...that's what art is.

A simplified take on art, but one with a message: Visit the Portland Art Museum.

The pictures are from the Portland exhibit.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival

My wife and I met some friends at the annual Tulip Festival held in Woodburn yesterday. It's the start of "Festival" season, sun, fun, food, and friends. There are all kinds of fun festivals from now until the fall. This Tulip one kicks it off with a reminder of the beauty of nature. Pics were taken with my iPhone, and the flowers were so bright it washed them out a bit. Lots and lots of tulips, every color you could imagine. Cool cars and old farm equipment were there too. Check out the link over in "departures".

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Absolute Cool

The other day I walked back into the lounge area here at the Retrodrome looking for a snack. The fridge held all usual workplace items, abandoned brown bags, clear to-go containers from three weeks back, a leftover meat tray from last Friday night's dress like a pirate party. Everybody went Somalian, not so much Caribbean, stupid bandwagon jumpers. Anyway, I overheard Tim, Sandra, and Steve talking about what was the coolest hippest thing they'd ever seen. It could be anything or anybody, but it had to be hip. I jumped over the couch and joined in on the discussion.

Steve said he once saw a guy wearing a backpack made of old cassette tapes all woven together, he was cruising down the sidewalk on one of those really long wood skateboards, and he had an iguana riding on the front. He was wearing a kilt and a plain white T-shirt, with tattoos all over his arms, even up onto his bald head. The guy was "Uber Cool" according to Steve. The rest of us agreed it seemed a little mid-90's and a little forced, but ok.

Tim decided to share. One time, he said, a Japanese Elvis stole his vintage Ray Bans while he was at a restaurant called the "El Pee Cafe". The place serves sushi-mex fusion on plates that are old record albums. '80s hair metal blasts and the waiters only speak pig-latin. The Japanese "Elvis" was at the table next to him and took the sunglasses when Tim went to get a fresh chipolte soy sauce bottle at the condiment turntable. He said the whole experience was a hip overload, so he went home and watched Little House on the Prairie (the later Albert episodes) to calm down. He said that was the coolest day ever, and shuddered when he said it. We all thought about it, yes, that did seem pretty hard to top.

Sandra said she thought it was cool when her boyfriend came over and they watched American Idol together snuggled up on the couch. They would fill a big bowl with Combos and drink Vitamin Water, all while pretending to be judges themselves. ...the sound of crickets stopped the conversation cold, we demanded that she leave the room. I think she was crying.

I decided to unleash a story of unparalleled hipness on my remaining coworkers. I was just outside Vancouver BC at a small organic fair-trade chocolate shop called "Brown" (with umlauts over the "O") picking out some huckleberry creams to take home. I couldn't believe it but...Rob Zombie parked right in front of the place driving a primer black 1967 AMC Marlin. He walked in, didn't even look at me, and said he wanted 44 acai berry truffles stuffed into the burlap sack he was carrying. The guy behind the counter got them and put them in the bag. Rob tossed a wad of 100 dollar bills at the cashier, said he hated us, and drove off fast leaving a patch of rubber behind. We looked at each other (me and the cashier) and said "Sweet!". It didn't get much cooler than that...

A sound came from the doorway. Randal the janitor had been listening to us, and he gave a disapproving huff.

He said, as he leaned on his broom, he hadn't always been the guy that sweeps up our filth. He was quite the up and coming artist in Beverly Hills back in the '70s and early '80s. He told us of an installation piece he did in a warehouse right before he went mad. He painted it all white, just a huge open 8000 sq ft space, every inch white. Then, dead center on the floor, he placed a single cinnamon roll. He finished it by somehow getting the famous Paul Lynde, coincidentally just days before his death, to record a voice over that said "Spiral Agony". He played it on a loop through unseen speakers in the warehouse, over and over spiral agony...spiral agony...spiral agony. Randal said he went crazy after that, but it was considered one of the great installation art pieces of the 1980s.

That was hard to top, I mean he went crazy for his art. We all agreed, wow, that was the ultimate hip, and our stories paled in comparison. Randal stopped us right there, he said absolute cool was impossible to achieve. It's like a water skipper on a pond, it looks like you can grab it...maybe if you're quick, but you never will. It's elusive, the more you try, the more you fail. Cool only happens in the absence of trying, and absolute cool, almost never happens. We all realized Randal was right, all those things we mentioned were contrived to be hip, making them more lame than anything.

That little boutique with industrial fixtures and a bare minimum of "designer" items all displayed like the crown jewels, isn't cool. That guy with blue hair, rings in his face, and iPod headphones hanging down, isn't cool. Some guy painting urban hip-hop boombox designs on alley walls, isn't cool. T-shirts with offset art nouveau scrolls and European graphics, aren't cool. Cupcake wedding cakes, venison meatloaf, and Icelandic coffee drinks, not not not cool. They all try, and in trying they fail.

Randal continued sweeping, and Tim, Steve, and I all sat quietly. I turned quickly with a sudden thought hoping to prove Randal wrong, Frank Sinatra I yelled over the couch. Randal pursed his lips and shook his head slowly in a no. I got up, grabbed an apple out of the fridge, and went back to work.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Banned on the Run

In a small park tucked away in a southwest neighborhood of Portland, they meet. Before the fog has even had a chance to get burned away by the rising sun, before the mothers come pushing strollers, and before the swings are filled with laughing children, they arrive. They have to be there early, they need a spot away from curious eyes, they need to be finished before society judges them, or authority catches them. They are the Extreme Jarts League, or EJL.

Everyone knows about Jarts, the infamous lawn game, part horseshoes, part darts, all insanity. It now resides in the annals of Dangerous Banned Products, for obvious reasons. Yet, it's those reasons that draw the EJL. They're thrill seekers, danger lovers, adrenaline junkies...they're down-right crazy.

The traditional rules of Jarts are simple. Two teams of two players stand two on one end, and two on the other end, about 35 feet apart. They take turns tossing the Jart toward a yellow circle (with their teammates safely out of the way) on the other end. Scoring can vary, direct hits or closeness, but the idea is the same. A team gets points based on their accuracy. Both teams do this back and forth...basic stuff. There are variations but you get the idea.

Extreme Jarts takes this simple concept and twists it, perverts it. The two teams are there still, but now they face each other in the field of play, the danger in this is obvious, but if that isn't enough by itself, each team is also limited in movement by a roughly 10 x 15 foot box lined out on the ground...ramping up the danger even more. That isn't all though, the last aspect of Extreme Jarts takes the very reason they were banned in the first place, and spits in its eye and slaps its face. Each team has a third member, or "stooge", who stands in the yellow circle blindfolded. The stooge can only be told which direction to move by the verbal commands of his teammates (called callers), and only after the opposing team has released their Jarts into the air. Timing is everything, listening is everything, everything.

I'm not going to mince words here, this is only for the most extreme Jarts players, and people do get hurt...even die. That is why they gather so secretly, and leave before the parks get busy. They come from all walks of life, doctors, business men, students, and sometimes even women. The EJL decided to let women play in 2004, and the idea of forming their own WEJL is in the works as well. Right now though, it's mainly men, but still all kinds of crazy.

Players coordinate on the internet, gather quickly, wear bandannas over their faces to hide their identity, and after six rounds of play they leave just as quick. The teams meet afterwords in a secret location, tally the points, and adjust the brackets. The Northwest league has about 12 teams all across Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. The playoffs and Jartbowl take place in a different location each year, usually far from the eyes of the public, and more importantly, the Government. There are hard fast rules, referees, and an entire underground fan network. But the first rule of EJL, is don't talk about EJL.

There is no protection allowed, no helmets, no shoulder pads, no steel toed boots. If you need those things, don't even show up. Players make custom cases for their gear, but the Jarts themselves cannot be altered. The simple blue & red projectiles, and yellow plastic circles must remain all original. A referee stands outside each box (way outside after an incident in 1993) and makes sure all the rules are followed. I don't know the specifics about the verbal commands (calls), or any of the other rules really, but I do know they all take it very seriously.

I found out about this shadow sport about a month ago. It was my reputation as a guy that "finds the unfindable" that brought an old gent to my door. I've had my share of classic boxed Jarts, and lots of the knock-off lawn dart games as well. Word must have gotten out, and a Mr. Mean Right came looking me up with a firm knock.

I didn't have any Jarts at the time, but I did ask him why he wanted them. He told me he was going to a reunion for the old Jump Darts League being held in Dayton Ohio. He was a big player in the early 1900s and... What are Jump Darts you ask?

Well, I did too. Mr. Mean Right proceeded to tell me the REAL history of America's favorite banned lawn sport (and underground league).

Jump Darts has been around since...well as long as man has. Man's been flinging sharp objects at each other ever since sharp objects were invented, it was called "War". Jump Darts took this simple idea and turned it into a sport. It gained in popularity in the early 1900's and leagues started to form around 1908. Mr. Mean was just a young man when he started playing here in the Portland area for the new start-up team "The Flingers", around 1910. The Flingers went on to take the championship in 1911 with the talents of Mr. Mean. He started playing in the Stooge position but worked his way up to Left Caller right away. He was good. Here is an excerpt from his autobiography "Death from Above". He gave me a signed copy, his words tell it better than mine.

My real name isn't "Mean Right", of course. We all had nicknames back then, One Eyed Nickle, Lobotomy Joe, Limp Leg Lester...and I was Mean Right. I got the name because of something that happened, like how most nicknames are applied to a fella. It was my first day as Left Caller, and ol Jimmy Cowlick was playing Stooge. The San Francisco Limp Wrists (different reason for the name) just let fly and I was callin for Jimmy to get to a no-hit zone. I was going "...left, forward, left, left, LEFT! No God...I mean RIGHT!!" The jart stuck in em, and the new name to me. Incidentally, Jimmy was called "Jimmy Diminished Capacity" after that day.

We had some good times, everybody knew our names. I couldn't walk down the street without some kid asking me to sign a gum card or a hat with a hole in it. We were on top of the world. Hell, I even did a radio ad for Corn Flakes. It went something like this, "Don't get stuck buying some other vitamin corn flake. Buy Kellogg's All Corn Flakes, infused with Pep-ti-go G and jump Jump JUMP to a great day!". It was a good paycheck. Those sunny days didn't last long though, a guy by the name of Adolf almost put an end to Jump Darts.

WWII rounded up the boys in the league, their skills were particularly useful in Europe. Tossing Jarts turned into tossing grenades, and the league had to be halted in 1943. We thought that would be the end of the sport we all loved, but in the '50s it came back, but it was a bittersweet return.

Some Madison Avenue types got a hold of our beloved life-threatening sport, and re-packaged it for a post-war backyard suburban America. They sold it as a safe, fun, exciting, jet-age game, and made the colors bright and the rules simple. There was no risk for the players, and in my opinion, no fun for the players either. Stores across the country were sellin our game, but it wasn't our game. Us old timers used to talk about the new version, we called it Standing Still Darts or Sarts. We thought that our time was finally over, but rescue came from an unlikely source.

In 1988 the Consumer Product Safety Commission banned the sale of Sarts, er...I mean Jarts. The lure of the "you can't have" proved to be too strong, and their reputation of danger turned into a forbidden desire. Black market Jarts were being traded and sold, underground games were being formed, and new life was being given to the old Jump Darts sport. You could say hipster scofflaws saved my sport...

Mean Right went on to tell me that he had been, in fact, the commissioner of the EJL for the last 18 years. He was retiring this year at a ceremony after Jartbowl. He was going to Dayton to meet with some of the other original old Jump Dart players to help him plan the ceremony. He stepped out of my front door after thanking me for my time, took off his hat in a "goodbye" gesture, and then he was gone. I noticed though, when he lifted his hat, with his gnarled fingers clinging to the tweed. His wisps of gray hair didn't even come close to hiding the scars on his scalp. I swear he did that to show me that they weren't just scars, but badges of honor from a bygone era of a dangerous sport.

Do Not Attempt Any Jart Game Playing: Dangerous