I'm in the habit of folding the paper covers of disposable chopsticks into improvised chopstick rests. Until last week, this was the standard model:
Which was adequate if you were careful, but it was not very efficient; as the top was level and there were no guards at the ends, the chopsticks would often roll off the sides and end up on the table.
So last week, I experimented a little and came up with this new design:
What it lacks in beautiful simplicity, it more than makes up for in effective function. The raised ends keep the chopsticks securely centered. And I should be able to do something to make those supporting cross members less clumsy. That will be my objective the next time I dine at a Chinese/Japanese/Korean/Thai restaurant.
Apparently, during the Upper Paleolithic period the Greater Los Angeles area was home to a species of mastodon with very short legs. The suddenness of its extinction is attributed to predation by early humans. Very probably, the unusually short legs prevented the creatures from effecting an efficient escape as hunters closed in.
Today I finally went to see The Avengers at the AMC 20 multiplex in Norwalk, with friends Scott and Andrea. We had planned originally to go a couple of weeks before, but personal circumstances had kept us from going together until now. Anyway, the movie turned out to be well worth the wait and we enjoyed ourselves immensely... however, that is not the point of today's entry.
As we left the theater we noticed a pair of pigeons had set up housekeeping in a trash receptacle just outside the doors. They must have just built the nest while we were inside watching the show, since I'm quite certain we would have seen it on the way in if it had been there earlier.
I'm not overly fond of pigeons myself -- for one thing, I think there are way too many in Los Angeles leaving way too many messes on people's balconies -- but I have to say this was pretty adorable. And strictly in terms of opportunistic (I don't mean that in a bad way), ad hoc architectural design it's an admirable job; that depression looks the perfect size and shape to fit a nest in (at first I wondered how the birds managed to plug the hole, but now I realize the top part must be an ashtray).
I'm sorry to say though, that I don't foresee a particularly happy outcome for this avian attempt at urban domesticity. Once the theater staff became aware of the situation they would probably be obliged to clear the premises of unauthorized squatters forthwith, for hygienic reasons. Also, once curious humans started milling in for a closer look, Mr. Pigeon might well attempt to keep them away from Mrs. Pigeon by forcible means, which would necessitate an equally forcible response to keep theater patrons safe from the wrath of the pigeon. I hope the lovebirds will give up and relocate voluntarily before such a fate befalls them -- they can always lay more eggs somewhere else.
One of my favorite insects (this individual was residing in Japan a few years ago).
And a faux-insect from the other day (right outside my office here in Downey, California).
It should be noted here that I almost stepped on that second object while out walking, and it was only at the last instant I noticed it and turned my foot to avoid smashing it flat. Only then did I realize it was not a bug, but a piece of plant detritus. One might say it 'survived' because of its accidental resemblance to a living creature.
Which reminded me of a wonderful bit of satirical speculation from Charles Fort, the American iconoclast who spent decades of his life uncovering strange and odd events that were reported in newspapers, then quickly forgotten because they were 'absurd' and did not fit conventional views of the world. In regard to the evolution of leaf insects, Fort first presented the conventional evolutionary hypothesis -- that once upon a time some species of insect came into being that accidentally somewhat resembled leaves; that they were more likely to escape being eaten by birds because of this accidental mimicry, and so surviving disproportionately, they passed on their resemblance to their offspring. And of those offspring, the ones that resembled leaves still better survived disproportionately to pass on their greater resemblance, and so on.
He then imagined that creatures from some other world who happened to visit Earth after the extinction of humanity, upon seeing paintings in art galleries, might well suppose that once upon a time some canvases that were randomly daubed on with paint appeared. That, of those canvases, the ones that just happened to resemble real objects were protected, and so on until paintings that exactly resembled people and objects came into being, all without conscious intention by painters.
An intriguing piece of thoughtful humor -- but of course, Fort lived and worked before the flowering of Abstract Expressionism in the mid-20 century. Abstract paintings do not depend on protective mimicry to survive.
Gone are the jewel-like bold colors and the hard contours of the earlier stages, replaced by a somber, meditative light remindful of the quiet water in a pond, and an overall softening, an interpenetrating of light and shadow that imbues their form with a strange dreamy quality. It's as if they were trying to remind me of something long forgotten. I wish I could remember what it is I've forgotten -- but if I did remember, would I be glad I did?
Jacaranda trees are common in the part of Downey where my office is located. They line the sidewalks in the neighborhood where I like to take walks. Every spring they explode with what look like millions of small flowers that overwhelm the green and brown and turn the trees into great glorious mushrooming shouts of violet.
However, when those millions of flowers fall, they leave millions of messy brown stains on the sidewalk. They are also quite slippery, so one must be careful when walking through them.
One day last week, as I was walking along that route during my usual midday walk, a flower happened to fall right in front of me. Which gave me the idea of photographing the flowers as they were falling. So I waited around to watch a few more flowers fall, and soon realized catching them in midair was not a practical goal. The flowers were just too small and too fast; it was just like trying to photograph hummingbirds taking off -- and I know only too well how much patience and luck that takes! I therefore decided that, as soon as I spotted one falling, I should swing the camera down toward its presumed landing spot and blindly press the shutter button, hoping to luck out. Using this haphazard 'technique' I took dozens of shots over three days, and for my effort I was rewarded with several qualifying images, of which the best are shown below. Obviously zooming in for a close shot was not an option, so all of the following images are severely cropped details from much larger originals; in some of them the flowers were barely inside the frame, so even after cropping they are at the edge of the image. On the other hand, photographing the flowers so close to the ground turned out to be a good thing, because having their shadows included in the shots really adds an extra oomph -- also known as 'dimension' -- to the shots. Isn't that last one amusing and precious?
In East Asia the magic fox is a familiar figure in folk tales. Sometimes a fox, having managed to live an unnaturally long life, acquires magic powers, including the ability to assume human shape. Most often, the stories are of vixens who transform into beautiful women and seduce men, although their disguise is not always perfect -- some foxy characteristics may still remain and give them away, like the big bushy tail that must be kept hidden under a long dress, for instance.
In the early decades of the 20th century, when lighter-than-air flight was more common, it sometimes happened that a dirigible passing too close to a power line would be pulled in by the magnetic field generated by the electricity and get stuck to the line. Electricity was expensive back then and the technology for delivering it was clumsy, so it was a big deal to turn the electricity off, affecting thousands of customers, in order to free the craft. While local officials argued over procedures the crew of the craft might be stranded in the air for hours.
On one tragic occasion a member of such a crew, overcome by anxiety, suffered a heart attack in the air. Upon learning of the news a gallant technician on the ground took up a fire axe, cursed the bureaucrats and chopped right through a cable. He suffered electrical burns in the process, but the stranded craft was freed. Despite this heroic effort, however, the crewman died before help could reach him. Since then dirigibles have been legally required to fly much higher.
Tuesday was May Day. Which meant there was a convergence of multiple protests and demonstrations in downtown L.A. Which meant heavy police presence, traffic detours and (more than usual)general rowdiness.
HELICOPTERS OVER PERSHING SQUARE
The evening rush in my downtown neighborhood is bad enough on ordinary days, but with a number of lanes in the heart of the jewelry district closed to vehicular traffic, the streets had turned into virtual parking lots. Still, I figured I just needed to be patient and presently I would be home. Complacent fool me, I had forgotten my own dictum: "Everything costs more, takes longer and hurts worse than you thought". As I approached my building I found the street was closed off at both ends of the very block I needed to access in order to enter the garage. As there are hundreds of residents who park in the building, I imagine there was many a disgusted curse pronounced in the direction of City Hall Tuesday evening. Anyhow, I decided the best thing to do was to get out of downtown, have a leisurely dinner elsewhere -- taking as long as possible -- and come back after a few hours. Which is how I ended up in a Mexican diner in Hollywood at 8:00 PM.
In the end, the evening worked out all right. The food was delicious, and while I was making inroads on my chile relleno a young woman came in who had an interesting tattoo on her calf -- in addition, I'm certain, to others that were not visible, as well as piercings other than the one through her nasal septum. Naturally I had to ask for permission to photograph it, which she was happy to give.