Apr 10 2014

Why We Like the Grossest Stuff on You Tube

Published by under City Life,House Love

Last week, sent me a You Tube link and told me to check it out. It had 31 MILLION hits. That’s this many: 31, 000, 000. It showed a guy popping a boil on his back. Apparently there’s a huge audience for this kind of pussy spectacle. In fact, you can find just about any gross subject on You Tube: if it can be imagined by the human mind, somebody has filmed it.

But let’s consider the spectacle of a man popping a festering boil on his back. Why should 31 million people find this of interest? Most of us have known somebody, like a childhood friend, who was proud of showing off the marble-sized booger he extracted from his nose or the cheesy chunk of pumpkin-colored wax he pulled from his ear or the coin-sized scab he peeled from the cut on his knee. The gross object is never so gross that we don’t want to see it.

We watch because we’re surprised that our own bodies can produce such things. On the surface, the human body is quite tidy and well-contained. We take for granted that our bodies know what they’re doing and can handle just about anything. Really, we are spoiled by the body’s efficiency. That’s why we’re appalled and filled with wonder when the body goes awry: it becomes amazing in most unsettling way.

Nowhere is this clearer than in Philadelphia’s Mutter Museum. It’s a museum of bodily wonder and, in fact, belongs to the city’s College of Surgeons. There, you can find a tall cabinet filled with tiny toys and other objects extracted from children’s noses. Also the bubbly corpse of a woman who “turned to soap”; the largest colon in the world (removed from a man who could not defecate); wax models of superating eruptions and festering nodules on the faces of hapless patients; even the skull of a woman whose forehead sprouts a ramlike horn.

It’s carnival freakshow stuff and, frankly, I can’t get enough of it. Jill and I have been to the Mutter many times. Needless to say, calling it a “museum” legitimizes the visitors’ morbid fascination with the human-body-gone-wrong. Part of the attraction is that we who gawk and gape at these awful things are reminded vividly that we are more fortunate than the “victims” who are on display.

This is not to say that we take delight in others’ misfortune. It’s more complicated than that. Part of us understands that, with a little bad luck, we could be the guy on You Tube with the steamy red boil on his back. Or the patient with a nose that looks like a smashed persimmon. Life is rife with frightening possibilities. So, it’s with gratitude that we watch somebody else drain the puss from his startling wound. Our gratitude mingles with awful wonder, too, as we consider how something so intimate to our own selves–our bodies–could, like a sudden turn in a funhouse, bring us to a frightening end.

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Apr 01 2014

When a Cat Loves A Dog

Published by under House Love

Our cat, , loves our bulldog, . I’m not sure when we noticed it but, soon after we brought home from the rescue shelter, Frankie strode up to her, put his head to hers, then gave it an affectionate butt. stared at her in surprise, it seemed. We knew was okay with but you never know the extent of that okay until it’s tested. Frankie was willing to test Sadie to the max, probably because he sensed that Sadie is a gentle soul. are intuitive that way. Frankie would never head-butt our basset hound, for instance.

The cat/dog dynamic is fraught, as you know, because we assume a dog will chase a cat. But cats are smart about this, too. A cat will not run from a dog if it knows it can’t get away. Instead, the cat will hunker down and/or puff up, readying for a fight. Often times, when a dog charges a cat and the cat doesn’t budge, it startles the dog. like a good run after something. A cat that won’t run spoils the fun and some in such a situation simply don’t know what to do.

Sadie’s history involves no interactions with cats because Sadie was chained up for most of her life–until she was rescued. We’re not sure what makes Sadie so gentle, except that she was used as a breeder, which is to say she’s had a lot of pups in her time. So she knows about nurture. When Frankie starting courting Sadie, he surprised us becasue we didn’t see Frankie as an especially affectionate cat. If you watch their video (part I), you’ll see that Frankie won’t leave Sadie alone–he wants her to want him.

It’s all quite innocent, mind you. It seems that Frankie wants Sadie to groom him. So Sadie obliges, licking Frankie. Sadie would like more action, actually. She wants to play but, compared to Frankie, she’s a giant. When she attempts to lay a playful paw on him, Frankie can’t bear the weight. At first, we were afraid that, in her exuberance, Sadie might inadvertently harm Frankie. But that hasn’t happened. Our second video will show this.

The current video shows Frankie in full courtship mode and Sadie sleeping through every bit of it. We think this video should be sent to people who aren’t getting along, and especially to people who think war is a solution to disagreements. No two creatures could be so different in temperament and inclination than a dog and a cat. They are the yin and yang of the pet world. As such, these two-Frankie and Sadie–give credence to that now-old utterance of optimism: Make love not war.

Video here: When a Cat Loves a Bulldog

And here:

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Mar 19 2014

Why I Love Tin Tin

Published by under City Life,writing & arts

I was twenty when I first read the Tin Tin strip. I found it in a small shop that specialized in magazines and newspapers. These shops are rare nowadays, but back then most cities had one or more. The best “newsstands” had periodicals from all over the world. The shop I visited was such a place and there, in a stack, were the Tin Tin magazines — they were printed in sumptuous full color, every page a feast for the eyes, and each magazine contained one long tale about the boy reporter’s adventures.

Georges Remi (1907–1983) — known as Hergé — was the Belgian artist and writer who invented Tin Tin in 1929. For the next two decades he serialized the boy’s adventures, then in 1950 he collected these in series of books, each about 50 pages long. They were wildly popular, have been translated into 70 languages, and continue to entertain adults and children alike. Hergé was among those rare talents who could play to both audiences. The people he draws are caricatures that children find funny and engaging but these characters’ surroundings are stunning renderings of places most adults would find fascinating. The vivid and meticulous artwork drew me in first.

Then there are the stories, each containing just the right mixture of comedy, drama, culture, politics, intrigue, and mayhem. Tin Tin himself is an enigma. He appears to be sixteen-years-old but he could be twenty. Like a boy circa 1940, he wears knickers (always), not trousers. He has no parents, no romantic attachments, and seems to have no close friends except his faithful terrier and an alcoholic sea captain. He is supposedly a reporter, though it’s a wonder how he stays employed, since he’s always running off to solve a mystery whose solution will save many lives, if not the world.

Tin Tin’s purity — his derring-do, his unwavering confidence, his unshakeable ethics — makes him the nearly perfect boy hero. But he isn’t perfect because he is often duped: he makes his share of mistakes. Still, he always triumphs and, as we might expect, his victories never go to his head. The genius of Hergé’s invention was that Tin Tin had to be this pure in order for the adventures to work. The counterweight to Tin Tin’s purity is the world of corruption, conspiracy, venality, and deception. If Tin Tin were more complicated, he would distract us from seeing this world as fully as Hergé hoped we would.

Most Americans had not heard of Tin Tin until Steven Spielberg/Peter Jackson’s recent recreation of the boy’s adventures as an animated feature film (2011). I put off seeing the film for a year because I didn’t want to be disappointed. But Spielberg and Jackson were faithful to the original and the film turned out very well. The likeliest explanation as to why most Americans hadn’t heard of Tin Tin is that we Americans don’t cotton to foreign heroes. Or put another way: we Americans have more than enough homegrown heroes to go around. Tin Tin is European through and through: In the movie, he has an English accent; in actuality, his accent would have been French. None of his adventures (with one exception) take him anywhere near the U.S.A.

That, for me, is one of the appeals of his stories: they feel quite exotic. The primary appeal, though, is the boy’s simplicity: he wants to make the world right. So does his dog, Snowy, who doesn’t talk but whose thoughts we can see (in thought bubbles). During my last two years of college, I bought nearly all 23 of Tin Tin’s adventures. Each was the same cost as an admission to a movie. But, with a Tin Tin magazine, I could linger over the beautiful drawings and escape in ways a movie wouldn’t allow me. And I, too, wanted to make the world right. Hergé’s stories allowed me to dream impossible dreams.

For the most part, Hergé’s heart is in the right place. Rarely does Tin Tin wield a gun and, despite the ill-treatment he receives at the brutal hands of his adversaries, the intrepid boy never kills anyone. Although Hergé’s depiction of Africans is appalling, he does better with stereotypes than most of his peers. In The Blue Lotus, for instance, Tin Tin befriends a Chinese street urchin and declaims against the prevailing stereotypes about the Chinese. Irrespective of race or class, fair play prevails, albeit sometimes with a patronizing air.

To this day, I treasure my Tin Tin collection because, when things get really tough, I’ll retreat to my study with a Tin Tin story and sigh with relief as Hergé takes me on a journey in the good company of a honest young man and his ever-faithful dog — to solve a mystery and maybe save the world.


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Mar 07 2014

How I Discovered a Rat’s Nest in My Camper Van

A couple of months ago, we decided that a mouse was getting into ’s car in our garage. The mouse had shredded a plastic grocery bag — for nesting, we assumed — that was the first sign. Later, it got into a bag of cat food we’d left in the car, and, later still, we discovered a shredded fabric mat in the far back. I figured I’d set a few traps and get the rogue rodent eventually. But then the electricity in ’s car stopped working. was convinced the mice had gotten to the wiring. She was right. It cost $500 to repair.

At about that time, I was preparing my for a long trip. I had laid in all kinds of provisions. When I went to check on them, I found that my van had been pillaged: every bag and package of food that could be opened by rodent teeth had been opened: lemon cookies, chocolate bars, five-grain crackers, brazil nuts, soy nuts, granola, dried apricots, and more — all gone. It was like a rodent motorcycle gang had rioted in my van and carried away everything they could get their furry paws on. I felt violated!

I cleaned out the cupboards in my van, wiped everything down with alcohol, then, on a hunch, I went to the far back and looked under the floor, below my toilet. There, tucked into a corner between the raised floor and the van floor, was a nest made mostly of toilet paper. So that’s what had become of the roll of toilet paper that went missing! I’d thought I had only imagined its disappearance. Much to my dismay, I saw that it wasn’t a mouse nest but a rat’s nest! You can tell the difference by the size of their droppings. There’s no mistaking which is which.

All the food was there, in heaps and mounds: piles of cookies, a rubble of nuts, broken crackers, and all kinds of doggy treats, like beef jerky and salmon-flavored kibble. The had enough stored away for the winter. But where had the gone? I poked through the nest before cleaning it out. Nope: they were gone. Apparently, they had moved from Jill’s car to my van, after discovering the mother lode of goodies in the latter. But then, before they could settle in, I closed up the garage.

That was the problem: Jill and I had gotten lazy. We weren’t locking the pedestrian door at the side of the garage. And we hadn’t replaced the glass in that door (rats are really good climbers). And there was a gap at the bottom of the automatic door, where the metal had bent. I pounded out the gap, replaced the glass in the side door, folded rabbit into the garage chimney hole and into the floor drain at the back of the garage. And now we always lock the side door.

As rats multiple (they’re multiplying in our neighbor’s yard), the newbies seek out nesting sites. Our open garage was more than inviting. I should have known they were rats after my many mouse traps went untested. Rats know better. You should know: you can’t get rid of rats, you can only close them out. It reminds me that, despite our species’s many advantages and so-called advances, we are never far from our ancestors’ lives in caves, when the best they could do was ward off danger with a blaze of fire and, for the smaller beasts who were a nuisance — scurrying underfoot and over precious larder — make with them a tentative peace.

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Jan 30 2014

How I Remember the Beatles and the British Invasion

Published by under music

I was 10 when I saw the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show. Music wasn’t a part of my life yet. I was aware of it and, in fact, had enjoyed a few of the summer hits, like the Tornadoes’ Telstar (1962) and Beach Boys’ “I Get Around” (1964). But I wasn’t following any bands. That was for kids much older — the twelve-year-olds, say. I didn’t know who the Beatles were until a friend told me. Afterwards, when I heard “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” on the radio, I wondered what the fuss was about. Their appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show changed my mind.

It was a media event. Even my parents were talking about it before the show came on. Virtually everybody in America watched Ed Sullivan on Sunday nights. So, really, it was impossible to miss the Beatles. My mother said all the talk show hosts had fought over who was going to get the Beatles first. Ed Sullivan’s variety show — airing at a family-friendly 8:00 PM and offering an act for every taste — made the most sense. And Sullivan pretty much owned TV at the time.

What amazed me about the Beatles wasn’t the music at first, it was the spectacle. Keep in mind that the only heroes for boys at that time were soldiers and sports stars. The aura of our fathers’ triumph in World War II dominated our daily play. If we weren’t digging into our backyard dirt, striving to be G.I. tough, we were trading bubble gum cards of professional baseball or football players. I played my share of “Army” but had no interest in sports and was starting to geek out on the fringes with interests in comics and monsters and private art projects that I hid in my closet. The spectacle of the Fab Four — these commanding young men — holding sway cooly over countless hysterical girls, was a revelation. Here was real power, even a form of magic.

In other words, here — on stage as a musician — was an alternative path. I could hardly sleep that night. My mother heard me bouncing in my bed and came in to ask what the problem was. “I’m pretending to be a Beatle!” I said. She laughed. Little did she know that I would become a musician and spend years on the road chasing the dream musicians chase.

However, I didn’t become a Beatles fan immediately. The Beatles were just a part of the mix. There was so much good music coming from every direction at the time. I was just as happy with the Gary Lewis and the Playboys’ “This Diamond Ring” as I was with the Beatles’ “Help,” both hits in 1965. I didn’t see the Beatles’ movies until years after their release. I did watch their cartoon show on Saturday mornings and I remember many pleasant melancholy nights humming “Michelle” as I pondered my latest crush.

Dare I say it? I became a Monkees fan first! The Monkees — with their madcap weekly TV show (directed by Paul Mazursky) — were accessible as the Beatles were not. Obviously, the Monkees copied everything they could from the Beatles and their show was a pale imitation of Richard Lester’s brilliant direction of the Beatles in their first two films. Perhaps the Monkees’ mediocrity made them a more comfortable fit for aspiring musicians like me. Still, when the Monkees were revealed to be a pre-fabricated fab foursome of non-musical actors (with the exception of Mike Nesmith), I and so many other fans left them cold. In truth, only Mickey Dolenz had no musical training and eventually the Monkees took control of their own music. In hindsight, they got a raw deal because half or more of the pop and rock hits on the charts in the 1960s had been penned by professional songwriters (like Carol King and Neil Diamond) and performed in the studio by hired guns like Hal Blaine (drums), Leon Russell (keys), and so on. Even the redoubtable Peter, Paul, and Mary had been a fabricated trio, not some organic creation of the primordial folk pond.

The Monkees were entertainment. Nothing more, nothing less. But we cool teens couldn’t see that at the time because we were chasing after authenticity — the real deal, the original, the genius, the revolutionary, the iconoclast. The one thing we didn’t want was another Hollywood hype. So, by the late sixties, it was very important, perhaps most important, that a musician write his or her own songs and make his or her own records. That’s where the Beatles won out. By the time they released Magical Mystery Tour, you had to pay attention to them, if you hadn’t already — because they kept doing the coolest musical things. But there was still question about them because they released at the same time an odd, undisciplined movie to accompany the album. As a result, some critics worried that the Beatles would tank themselves with excess and self-indulgence as so many others had in this, the age of excess and self-indulgence.

The Beatles dispatched those doubts once and for all with the amazing Sergeant Pepper’s. The first time I heard “A Day in the Life,” I was stunned. It was more than “a tune” or “a song,” it was a profound experience: it took me somewhere, it left me with things to think about, it haunted me. The Beatles followed up quickly with the greatest album of all time, officially titled The Beatles but now referred to as the “White Album.” It became the sound track of my life when I was 15. Musically it offered everything from folk to heavy metal. Above all, it set the standard for musical auteurism, illustrating how serious musicians experiment, explore, and achieve excellence in the studio. Your indie rock favorites today would not be who they are without the White Album.

That said, the Beatles were not the British Invasion. Not really. There was the Who, Cream (Clapton), the Moody Blues, and Fleetwood Mac, to name only a handful. Even Hendrix came to us via Britain, accompanied by two brilliant English sidemen. So much good music from such a small country but made possible only by the irrepressible and thoroughly original roots of American rhythm and blues. Rock music is nothing less than one of life’s miracles and, when I’m feeling optimistic, this achievement, as much as anything humans have put their hands to, gives me hope for the future.

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Ron Tanner is an award-winning writer of fiction and nonfiction, author of A BED OF NAILS, KISS ME STRANGER, and other works. For more on his latest activity, click here. Or go to: