The Horned Rim Fan

I’m a big fan of David Hockney; always have been.  That’s really why I bought the robin’s egg horned rims.  However, all similarities end there, although old Hock paints a mean woodland.  My current fascination continues to be with my elephant ears who will shortly leave me for winter recess.  Therefore, I am excited to cross the finish line with two colocasian compositions today, although I’ve still got a couple more yet to pass the halfway point.

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The Ear Whisperer

Rather than attempt to focus on technical accuracy I have endeavored to capture sheer vibrance as I interpret these fascinating, partying perennials in the chaos of my very own verdant oasis.

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I took entirely different approaches to each pachyderm plant portrayal using oils, brushes and knives and I had a thoroughly great time, visiting each one from time to time, along with some outdated music, whenever I felt motivated.  For both shrubbery shrines, I used the firmer, smoother Gessobord, which was a welcome break from canvas.

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Although I’ll likely lose my ears to frostbite this winter, my gesso greenery will hopefully harken back to the hazy days of midsummer.

 

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My Goddess of Mercy

The least religious guy I know just installed a 500lb Buddha in his backyard.  My new friend Matt has an affinity for all things Thai and likes to import stuff, and I have a long-developing soft spot for the Buddha.  As we all know, historically, the Buddha was male: his name was Siddhartha Gautama.  The king of his tribe in Nepal, he called himself “Buddha” because it connotes being awakened by light.  So far so good I’m thinking as no one in this story has yet died for my immoralities.

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Much heavier than it looks – the statue too

This Buddha, however, she is female.  Long since pioneered by the likes of the Goddess of Mercy, Guanyin, it is possible for the Buddha to transcend gender and even, shock horror, take an enchanting female form.  Today this is all conceivable even while the Rotary Club of Hamilton, Bermuda remains strictly male only (I did get to take my lovely wife to dinner there as a reluctant guest).  Guanyin is considered a goddess of healing and a Taoist immortal, among other reverential appellations.

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Devotees arrived within minutes of the installation

As a bonus my new Buddha also has a third eye, or Chakra: a gate that leads to inner realms and spaces of higher consciousness.  So many fascinating features!  I look forward to her good company in the years ahead, and yes, she will be decorated at Christmas.

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Radiating peacefulness

Four Wheelchairs and a Femoral

“I am not a number,” I mumbled under my breath; “I am a free man.”  Well, at least I was, two interminable days ago.  Unlike Patrick McGoohan in my deep-rooted teenage treasure, however, I know the reason I’m here.  But the hours have slowly casseroled into days and there is no buffet in sight: I have no exit strategy.  Even the Prisoner of Zenga was liberated eventually, I told myself reassuringly.

In what must be some morbid remake of Misery, I am imprisoned by an even meaner Kathy Bates.  This low-budget, foreign language version of the movie is Hecho en Madrid.  In the Spielbergian overly-long opening scene, as they always are, I am already hopelessly hobbled and strictly confined to a low-budget gray metal-framed cot.  Bedridden and brooding, I’m staring soullessly at an adjacent matching low-budget gray metal-framed chair where my personal effects have been unceremoniously crammed into a bin liner, like some rumpled tent dismantled hastily in a downpour.  Not one of those big industrial black rubbish bags, but the smaller Febrezey white ones with the handy built-in ties.  From the bulge and imprint puzzle on the bag I surmise that clumsy Kath has dumped my open backpack in there upside down, no doubt resulting in some Apple-themed detritus interspersed with my priceless collection of cheap hotel pens.

Filmed with a handheld in grainy black and white, in the next lugubrious scene my mind wanders, although it still looks as though I’m staring intently at the bulging bin liner.  No: I’m thinking back to this morning when I was violated; plopped like a cadaver into a wheelchair and shuffled to the showers where I was stripped of my dignity.  Sponged all over with the small exception of “todo,” which she said repetitively while pointing the industrial grade sponge.  I assumed that was Spanish for clean your own willy.  Nobody expects the Spanish imposition I thought, with a visual of Michael Palin riding an old London bus.

Shamefully returning to the confines of my cot, cantankerous Kath shoved my bin liner aside and dumped my carcass into the chair, like a proverbial hot potato.  My badly-aimed bottom apparently managed to entrap the divider curtain over the chair resulting in a semi-automatic staccato of snapping curtain hooks as my cheeks greeted the old hard-plastic seat at 9.81 m/s2.  Clunky Kath barely noticed the collateral damage as she went off brusquely scanning for her next victim.  I loudly shouted “fuuuuck!” after her as she left abruptly—just so she’d know she’s not getting the whole 5 stars for the service—as I did earlier when she joltingly administered my Siberian shower.  Why wait for Yelp?

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Cane and Able

As I reached gingerly to contain my hotel pen spillage on the old sterilized linoleum floor I wondered how long I’d be trapped here.  Just four days ago I’d been enjoying the sights and sounds of marvelous Madrid, when a growing, searing pain mysteriously enveloped my right leg, and just like successive Black Sabbath albums it got worse and worse, until I simply could not walk.  In writhing agony, I had to be trundled to the hospital in a wheelchair.  And we couldn’t work out what was wrong.  My doctor’s office back home emailed that I should be checked out for deep vein thrombosis, but it wasn’t that apparently, and, after a bunch of x-rays, the hospital merely administered intravenous pain medication with episodic doses of careless Kath.

So, I decided that I’d had enough and I would leave the hospital henceforth, commandeer a wheelchair and fly home immediately to Washington DC to embrace the fleeting benefits of Obamacare.  But I couldn’t walk; otherwise I would have just gotten up and left like I did in Venice that time when I had a staph infection in the other leg, now known lovingly as my good leg.  Funny how that goes.

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Hockey is a Always a Priority

Like some low IQ version of Stephen Hawking I lay there helplessly, quietly conjugating my Spanish verbs, all the while hatching my devious escape plan like Antony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs.  “Tienes un bastón por favor,” I practiced over and over, which roughly translates to, “My kingdom for a cane,” or, “I’ll give you one thousand dollars for a walking stick.”  Everyone who came within earshot of my bed was subjected to a well-practiced Solicitación en español, even the visitors.  Finally, El Doctor came on his last round of the day, and, like a broken record, I trotted out my little overused Spanish phrase.  He said, “OK, but are you able to leave on your own?”  “Oh yes, no problema,” I retorted with great confidence, lying my ass off like Donald Pleasence before he tripped over the guy’s leg while trying to retrieve the carefully positioned tiny needle from the floor.  (That’s a really relevant reference to the most awesome scene in The Great Escape for those older than, say, 50).  With all my might, I stood up and concealed my abject agony, and for winning best actor in a low-budget foreign-language drama he brought me my cane.  (I decided not to do a joke here about Kane and Able, but I did think about it).  In good but halting English he said, “OK the nurse will remove the intravenous drip and you can get dressed and you can go.”  “Thank you,” I said with genuine sincerity.

As he walked away I thought, fuck that, catheter Kath ain’t laying another finger on me, as I professionally removed the contraption from my vein, having already practiced said maneuver when I escaped previously from the hospital in Italy.  They had cats in that hospital by the way.  Anyway, I modestly positioned my half-curtain and delicately started to dress, as the doc walked past one more time.  Thinking my curtain wasn’t closed appropriately he helpfully tugged on it moving the half towards him revealing my glowing harvest moon to the lovely visiting family at the next bed.

My dignity now shredded, it took every fiber in my being to walk out of there with the walking stick, while trying not to show how much pain I was in.  Turns out I had a very bad case of sciatica, which took many weeks of injections and physical therapy to heal.  It took four wheelchairs to get home from my Spanish slammer: four wheelchairs and a femoral.

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It’s Always Nice to be Met at the Airport

A Favorable Juncture of Circumstances

At the crossroads of happenstance, ambition and aspiration one may find opportunity. While many of us may drive continuously through an eternal grid of indistinguishable meandering roads, most of us never get there. Some of us may come close, but we either dead-end or get scooped onto the highway to dwell.

Bert Keith realizes this, as for him, opportunity “beckons like a whore.” “Just reach out and take it,” he cries persistently, his voice almost breaking with frustration and sincerity. Underneath, the bass pumps and drops and the 70s-sounding rock guitars riff haltingly, like a braking locomotive. “Where do we go from here?,” Keith barks. Where indeed.

Written by Steve Mackereth, Alex Smith and Bert Keith, Opportunity was produced by Dragan “the man” Stojkovski.

A Soul For Every Sleeper

“Churchill will win,” he yelled irrepressibly after constant taunting by the vicious guards, and in return he swiftly received the most severe beating of his life. “You don’t do that twice,” he said decades later. “You quickly learned anger management in the camps.” After the ocean liner Empress of Asia was attacked by a fleet of nine Japanese dive-bombers in the Banka Strait, Mick G. was one of the fortunate survivors, who was then unfortunate to make his way to Singapore just before it fell to Japan on February 4th, 1942. Many of those prisoners were conscripted to build the infamous Burma Railway, or Death Railway, as it became known.

A Soul For Every Sleeper by Two Worlds Apart features Steve Mackereth on Vocals, Alex Smith on guitars and Dragan Stojkovski on percussion.

Free My Trade

Bert “Stands With a Fist” Keith creates another solidarity classic in his tribute to working men and women everywhere. On the back of an upbeat groove, folkster Keith croons “Let me work, you know these hands can work.” While the world may be turning upside down on who gets employed and who doesn’t, his chant is not about nationalization or globalization. More essential than politics, more vital than industrialization or automation, it is about application of the human skill, putting to use practiced hands, hands that have been trained for years—through apprenticeship, through mentorship, now prepared for the short span of a human career. Not to be confused with the current political nationalist fervor, it is a more fundamental ode beyond Walesa or Lenin.

Produced by the brilliant Dragan “Less is More” Stojkovski, who brings out the simple clarity of the music with a paucity of instrumentation, augmented by hammer-like percussion during the breaks, reminiscent of the mechanics of construction.  With Bert Keith on vocals Alex Smith on guitars.

Cultivating Colocasia

I’ve always liked elephant ears: Big rubbery, flappy happy-go-lucky heart-shaped semaphores that appear designed solely to convey optimism and joy. So rapidly do they appear in North America’s summertime that one day there is nothing, the next small packs of fine Cohibas unfurl here and there, and by the end of the week you’re in the Day of the Triffids.

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And thus the quintessential English landscaped garden is transformed instantly from order, symmetry and standardization to a haphazard playful phalanx of emerald and avocado. It is perplexing how such gangly, delicate fronds endure high winds, incorrigible children, darting dogs, and inept conscripted gardeners. Nonetheless, when one is damaged irreparably it quickly and calmly makes way for a new leader, restoring order, beauty and balance to the herd.

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With the dawn of a new year, I thought I’d start a new series of paintings, somewhat more novel than previously attempted. In my mind, such a bold shrub deserves to be tackled intrepidly with suitable tools and materials; more knife than brush, more board than canvas, and mixed media to boot. Since oil paint takes so long to dry, especially when mixed liberally with linseed oil I will attempt several projects simultaneously. Shown here are the first three in the series—all unfinished at this time, and I am considering various oversized print applications.  I will update as I make reasonable progress.

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The Glasgow Voyager

I think it was Billy Connolly who famously said that Scotsmen only sing about Scotland when they’re far away from home. Well folk crooner Bert Keith has taken that a bit further and written a gusher of a Christmas song, all about life and the streets of Glasgow and, to the best of my knowledge, he has never been! Now Glaswegians might think, gonny no dae that, but I would urge them to give this a good listen first.

I have to say, when I hear him chant I do think about wintertime Glasgow, where rain-veneered streets reflect a leeching mix of soft amber and stark white streetlights, and there is a distant echo of a can being kicked inadvertently down some nearby street by a stranger hussling to catch the last bus home.

I believe Bert has played folk music in various pubs in Ireland, but I wouldn’t compare the stark streets of Belfast or the brimful byways of Dublin to the fortitude and grit of Glasgow. No, if I had to make a comparison to my Scottish hometown I would say it was more like Philadelphia, though with fewer Americans.

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Whenever I think of George Square there are always leaden skies and Traffic Wardens.

Nevertheless, this provenance is no more a stretch than some short Australian playing William Wallace in a County Antrim field. On a side note, take a look at the foreboding size of William Wallace’s sword in his rock star namesake monument. Sorry, but no way Mel: Just not plausible.

Confidently reaching for the highs, his liberal legato and relentless retention of those last notes, Bert appears to have captured that authentic pub-enthused croonerism that your Caledonian dad and uncles would indulge in—usually after a few whiskies at any commemorative occasion; with an audience of at least one and devoid of musical accompaniment. Geez a song Big Yin.

The Glasgow Voyager by Two Worlds Apart. Lyrics and vocals by Bert Keith, music and guitars by Alex Smith, keys and percussion by Dragan Stojkovski.

The Cambodian Chronicles (Part I)

Amid thunderstorms and choppy dark seas she struggled valiantly to line up her F-14 Tomcat on an unusually steep approach to the American aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt.  It had been a long slog of a night on a marathon weeks-long mission, discharging precision ordnance in the direction of the evasive Bosnian Serb Army in support of Operation Deliberate Force. This was her third successive landing attempt in an uncooperative Adriatic sea, which pitched and rolled the carrier’s deck unremittingly.

Finally, the Tomcat smacked violently onto the wet metal deck, the tail hook barely grasping the arrestor cable, but just off center causing the jet to crab somewhat, but within normal operational limits. However, the restraint on the ship’s port side suddenly malfunctioned, sheering all four of its large retaining bolts causing the taught cable to slice erratically as the Tomcat dragged it several hundred feet down the rain-soaked surface. Only after coming to an abrupt halt and deplaning did she realize the scale of the collateral damage: Two Navy servicemen were dead, killed instantly when the cable cleaved diagonally across the deck decapitating both of them.

“Oh my goodness,” exclaimed Timothy, “what a tragedy! What a story!” “But wait, there’s more,” Stacey said, sipping her drink intermittently between lengthy episodes. She went on to tell him that after completing a difficult assignment in the Balkans, she retired from the Navy and went on to obtain several marksmanship awards from the National Rifle Association back in the States. The petite blonde then saw success and accomplishment in a creative variety of otherwise impressive endeavors as a horse trainer, an executive movie producer and a singer songwriter with a substantial investment in a recording studio.

Timothy was engrossed from the commencement of the Bosnian conflict and it was only after hearing about her intriguing sources of song writing inspiration, he realized he had not even touched his squash stuffed roasted poblano. Since his unexpected divorce last year he had dated a stack of women; nevertheless trim, attractive Stacey, his twenty-third on-line arranged first date, had the most remarkable life story by far. By. Far.

As Timmy recited his tale in lucid but jumbled detail, we passed power tiller after power tiller—those strange looking two wheel tractors with Peter Fonda style handlebars, awkwardly pulling trailers full of unrecognizable vegetables and rice to some hitherto unseen markets. Our enduring views of the bucolic Cambodian countryside were punctuated only by our driver’s innate need to lean on his horn when we rapidly came up behind anything with wheels. He also honked at stray dogs and wandering cattle, although I sensed a difference in his animal staccato.

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Had I asked a Monk to pose, this’d be it.

Tim and I were traveling together throughout South East Asia for a couple of weeks, catching up on our important life events amid temple and shrine visits and assorted idolatry. He had started yakking about a couple of his twenty-three dates earlier when we left Phnom Penh, but with hopeful grace, I had listened only peripherally as it wasn’t really that interesting. But when he got to Stacey I was all ears.

After the Stacey power-lunch, driving back to his newly purchased home by the Spokane River in Washington, Timmy was oblivious to the changing scenic fall textures all around him as he replayed portions of Stacey’s incredible life story in his mind. What an amazing woman he reflected; she had told him so many profoundly stimulating sagas that he kept overlooking then recollecting whole chapters of her adventurous past, albeit in seemingly randomized sequences.

Following a lovely but lonely dinner for one as the sun set gently on the Spokane River, he ruminated on the day’s events and recalled some of the more dramatic moments—her two failed marriages and recent beastly boyfriend experience. Husband number two had divulged to her late one night that demons commanded him to murder her, causing her to fly the coop, and her recent ex-honey horribilis, who was a disgraced ex-cop, had pulled a knife on her over some trifling squabble during dinner. Then someone stealthily poisoned her two large Great Danes, twice. Nevertheless somehow the dogs, named Rock and Roller managed to survive the rat poison, but it was touch and go apparently. Lying in bed later that night he slowly realized that Tracey hadn’t inquired about him over the overrated stuffed pepper dish: Not a single question, now that he thought about it. Nor had he the opportunity to butt in and ramble about himself during the Stacey Show.

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Like a kitten in a tree, getting up is the easy part.

“That was odd,” I interrupted, “that she wouldn’t want to know anything about you.” We seemed to be now wedged in a dry dusty traffic jam in the middle of nowhere, just north of Lake Tonle Sap on the road to Siem Reap where Toyota Camrys and Lexus Rx300s started outnumbering the trudging tractors. “Yes,” he replied, “I didn’t realize until afterwards that I didn’t get a word in edgeways.” Then he continued, somewhat hesitantly, “and I tried to check her out online and couldn’t corroborate much of anything. She said the pooch poisonings were in the local paper, and you would’ve thought the sailor beheadings would have made the news. Couldn’t find anything on her extensive movie production career either on the IMDb website.” Glancing furtively left and right at the clogging chaos all around us he continued, “The only thing that really checked out was a description of her house—a rental ranch on four acres at the edge of town.”

Recollecting that Stacey had mentioned, between career changes, that she would be out all the next morning taking her poorly pooches, Rock and Roller, to a veterinarian in the next town, the Timster thought that it would be a nice touch to deliver a small floral arrangement while she was gone. Sensing a post first-date inkling of magnetism and knowing roughly where she lived, Timmy thought this’d be a wooing no-brainer.

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At first you think the praying and idolatry isn’t you, but gradually you just get into it.

Six miles out of town and around the leafy winding road he saw the house as accurately described to him less than twenty hours earlier: A long white hacienda on a sprawling flat tree-lined lot just beyond the bridge. “It was worse than the Beverly Hillbillies,” he remarked matter-of-factly, shrugging his shoulders. “The closer I got to the property, the dingier it looked: Dingy as in abandoned. There was an old trailer sitting haphazardly in the brown dirt with old cars and other non collectable objects strewn around, and I had to walk around some automobile that was parked right up at the front door,” he continued. “The screen door at the front of the house was made of plastic that probably used to be clear, and was covered in sun-faded stickers.”

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Tim was always looking for a restroom.

Standing awkwardly between the front door and the old car, Tim momentarily inspected the yellow flower arrangement in his right hand while wondering if he had come to the right house. He squinted at what he thought was an old washed-out NRA sticker when unexpectedly inside, two large dogs bounded to the door snarling raucously. The door immediately swung inward and a large, white haired man filled the doorway and blurted, “What you wantin’?” Unnerved Tim said, “Oh is that Rock and Roller?” nodding in the general direction of the barking bedlam as the unknown white-haired man just glared at him. Tim spluttered, “I brought these, er flowers for um…” as he retreated proficiently, clearing all vehicular obstacles without looking back.

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Sometimes you just come across something novel, and for me it was at the end of a long, hot day in the Angkor Thom temple complex.  With most of the tourists gone, we turned a corner to see two frolicking, dancing, happy Chinese ladies.

As our car passed by the oversized night market and endless tee-shirt stalls, we finally approached our rustic hotel in the center of Siem Reap. Tim said conclusively, “The guy looked like he lived there, and I don’t know if he was the demonized husband or the knife wielding disgraced ex-cop, and I wasn’t waiting to find out. Ten bucks I paid for those flowers,” he went on, “ but a good investment to find out that she’s a fucking nutcase!”

Twenty Nine Years

Twenty Nine Years by Two Worlds Apart

A quote attributed to teen-popster-turned-naughty-girl Miley Cyrus is, “A true friend is someone who is always there during the ups and downs; I actually have a song called True Friend.” Well, she really is a damn good singer and we are all probably pleased to hear about her friend status, though to be fair this quote was from the younger, more innocent Miley and Cyrus. TWA songs can be a tad more sinister and complicated albeit significantly less popular. Sung by the keen folkster fixture Bert Keith, Twenty Nine Years is no exception on a shady scale of surrender and despair.

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While the song generally has a melancholic minor musical progression, Keith’s singing vacillates between contemporary folk and neo progressive rock in some parts. When he is on top of the world he is vaguely reminiscent of that eons-old one-time hot band Marillion from rural Aylesbury in the UK. The instrumentation, seemingly by design, is threadbare—mainly one acoustic guitar, gracelessly strummed in a Cobainesque fashion, some oblivious guy having loads of fun with a cranked-up Rickenbacker bass, and the spotty kid next door on the drums. However, the overall sound is tight, even campy, and while the overused genre is life’s ups and downs, Twenty Nine Years is a fairly big down, but it’s not a downer.

Twenty Nine Years by Two Worlds Apart, with Alex Smith, Bert Keith, and Dragan Stojkovski.