Tuesday, October 24, 2006

poe-etic justice

It’s hard to put things past someone who’s seen most all your shows.  Poe Dismuke in Bisbee, AZ.(the man up there hiding behind the clock) knew about the Big Ball, playing catch, guberburgers, and well, just about all our checkered past--thanks to someone sending him the tapes last year.  And he still let us visit!

Poe and his wife Sam relocated a few years back to Arizona from Sebastapol, CA where he was among other things, an artist-in-residence at the local dump.  Turns out he pretty much created that position, but it’s still a great credential.  Poe assembles things from junk, some large and metallic , sometimes kinetic, for outside, some like his clocks and toys more suitable for easy indoor use.  He’s big on ducks (as figures, not targets), duct tape and miniature golf.  But as he points out, fun as they are, most of his ideas so far seem to be “money repellent.”  We trust that will change with all this Public Television exposure to come!

We actually met Poe for breakfast at Dot’s Diner, which fed us both cheaply and well, with a stool for the Ball to occupy too. In all, Bisbee was a definite revelation, what with its old mining town charm and tolerance for the offbeat. This TV Weasel recommends a visit.

And this TV Weasel has turned the Ford Freestar northeastward now, heading home with many, many tapes to start turning into shows.  At last count, we’ve put over 12,000 miles on the van (and ourselves) shooting these shows.  Wish us luck (and no tickets)...  

Music in the Van--Frank Sinatra “Fly Me to the Moon”, Neil Young “Unplugged”, Rolling Stones Rarities 1970-2003, Fiona Apple “Extraordinary Machine”

Monday, October 23, 2006

trailer valhalla

Sometimes you see something so amazing you just have to have it. In this case, it was a foot long hoagie at the grocery store for $5.99 that could also double as a weapon.  We bought it purely for the visual joy it seemed to bring, and the thought that with enough of these things, world hunger might be manageable after all...

And even though we weren’t planning a picnic, we did have the super sub handy for our visit to the Garden of Gethsemane near downtown Tucson. The garden is a collection of concrete sculptures that Felix Lucero made to pay back God for letting him survive WWI.  The Last Supper’s the biggest, but there’s also a crucifixion, a tomb scene and even a self-portrait that Felix did while he lived and worked “down by the river.”

But Bisbee was our real destination.  The brochure says the little mining town near the Mexican border was once the biggest city between St. Louis and San Francisco.  Hard to believe, but it’s certainly very charming, and has one heck of a big hole (copper mine) nearby.  Naturally, we played a little catch outside said hole, and wouldn’t you know, even pulled out the guest lefty glove so Ron from Colorado could join in too!  

As clouds continued to roll in, we pulled up at the Shady Dell Camp Ground--known for the nine vintage travel trailers in which folks can stay.  There’s teeny little ones, and longer, more swanky versions of the rolling homes that Americans fell in love with back in the 40s and 50s. Wesley, the owner, admits that it might be an easier sell if it was closer to something like Route 66, but then again, the weather takes less of a toll here than it might elsewhere.  And Dot’s Diner, a picture perfect retro eatery next door pretty much seals the deal.  We know where breakfast will be tomorrow!

Music in the Van--Van Morrison “Astral Weeks”, Bob Dylan “Modern Times”, Emmylou Harris Starbucks Artist Choice

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Metal for the mind

Cowboy movie star Tom Mix died in his Cord on Highway 79 south of Florence, AZ when his metal suitcase slammed into the back of his head.  We hoped not to meet a smilar fate in our Ford, courtesy of the Big Ball!

Good news.  We made it to Tucson, where Jerry Hall was waiting for us.  Jerry runs a landscaping business, and keeps his own World of Imagination.  That’s what he calls his yard, and all the stuff that he’s packed into it, including a spiral staircase made from water heaters that leads up to his treehouse.

Jerry started with a wild west theme many years ago, but has diversified dramatically.  Metal insects, animals (mythical and otherwise) populate nearly every inch outside, and in the house there’s more made with marbles and tin cans.  Sleep?  He’s trying to do more of it, he says, but you know how it is...

We met up with our old chum Annie Andre and her husband Bill at Jerry’s place, and reconnoitered for snacks and a beer at their fabulous folk art filled home.  Great to catch up and strategize for tomorrow’s trip to Bisbee.  Thanks guys!

Music in the Van--Golden Smog “Weird Tales”, Sean Lennon “Friendly Fire”

Saturday, October 21, 2006

More rockin’ in the ol’ dry heat

The Phoenix sun bakes you pretty good, even in late October.  We found that out visiting two notable art sites today in the north part of town. Stop #1 was the Sunnyslope Rock Garden, built over a 22 year period by Grover Cleveland Thompson in the yard where he’d retired.  Apparently his wife wasn’t near as keen on his dishware flecked fenceposts and historical heads (we think that’s Red Skelton above) that make the place such an outsider art eyecatcher.

So much so that after his death in the 70s, Sunnyslope caught the eye of a New Yorker named Marion Blake, who couldn’t resist buying it and relocating.  Even though she admits, she really likes cooler weather!

Marion has been a stupendous steward for this whimsical, upbeat assortment of concrete, Fiestaware and whatever else Mr. T had on hand when he was sculpting.  The fact that it all began when he was 65 gives us good reason to believe the best is yet to come. However, it is also worth noting that this TV Weasel strained his back a bit lifting a concrete something or another while trying to help!

Speaking of seniors, Gus Brethauer, the man who calls his yard “Over the Rainbow,” is a spry 82.  And by his estimation he’s spent something like a million dollars collecting pieces of Phoenix area history, petrified wood and cacti that he’s spread in mazes and relic-filled trails around several acres. (Don says several miles.)  Wanna see some of the city’s old underground sidewalks?  He’s got ‘em?  Amusement park rides that Barry Goldwater rode on?  A solar system in rock? A temple of doom, fossils, meteor pieces... Did I mention petrified wood?

And inside, a huge movie collection and 30,000 LP’s! In the category of obsessive collectors, we now have someone who runs neck and neck with the late Max Nordeen.  Gus, take a bow...

Music in the Van-Loudon Wainwright III “Little Ships”

Friday, October 20, 2006

Say it with fire!

It’s only fitting that a day which ended with a flame-spewing Trailer Trash Man in someone’s front yard actually began with a search for another atomic cannon.  “Another” because we’ve seen the grandaddy of this really bad idea outside Fort Riley in Kansas, and wanted to compare Yuma, Arizona’s specimen.  But it turned out to be more difficult than we’d planned, due to lack of good signage, which led to lots of aimless driving around outside the Proving Grounds. Advantage Kansas definitely--both for size and marketing!

Actually, it turned out to be a War & Peace mini-tour, since US 95 out by the Proving Grounds also runs by a tiny white church.  We did some comparing with others we’ve seen in the Midwest, and agreed this classic six pewed beauty was a true title contender, with better than average paneling inside...

Roadside attractions were really the order of the day, continuing in Gila Bend, AZ with the Space Age Motel.  This one went up in the 60s, and has stuck with its spacey ways. Duke Fox, the owner says it’s a lot of fun running a Best Western like no other, what with its saucer topped lobby and NASA graphics throughout.  Plus he and his wife were muy generoso with Space Age mementos and shirts.  Can you say TV Weasels?

And then we hit Phoenix.  Or at least the traffic that surrounds it.  After a bit of wandering we drove by Mr. Lee’s Oriental Rock Garden.  Unfortunately, he passed away a few months back, so no use stopping in...  But the place still looked great, and we rolled a little tape in his honor as we rolled by.

The real destination was Scottsdale by dark.  That’s where Richard Wizardry demoed some of his pyrophonic creations, like Toaster Boy and Trailer Trash Man.  He recycles appliances and kitchenware, metal and wire into sculptured forms and cues them with a keyboard to SHOOT FIRE!  Right there in his front yard while we whooped in approval.  And roasted weenies and toasted s’mores.  Very impressive, and definitely nothing quite like we’ve ever seen before.

Music In the Van--Dixie Chicks “Long Time Gone”, David Byrne “Grown Backwards”,Shout Sister Shout” (Tribute to Sister Rosetta Thorpe)

Thursday, October 19, 2006

The man and his mountain

Don’t even ask about our night’s accommodations.  According to Don, the Calipatria Inn was the second favorite place he’s ever stayed.  What was first?  Everything else!  (He’ll show you the pictures.) The thing is, it was only 10 miles away from Niland, which meant easy morning access to Salvation Mountain, one of outsider art’s most incredible environments.

The mountain (and everything around it) is the work of the smiling man above, 74 year old Leonard Knight.  He started back in 1974, with a simple plan to tell people that God is love.  Now, 100,000 gallons of paint later, his rainbow hued peaks loom over the desert floor below.  Which he’s painted as well, in the form of a beautiful blue ocean. 

There are signs all around, reminding us that we should repent our sins, and love the Lord.  But Leonard himself doesn’t preach at visitors.  If you’re there for the art, that’s fine, and if you want to talk religion, he might do that too.  He used to ride his bike around to find raw materials, but now he’s got a car.  No electricity, phone, or water though.  He mostly lives a hard scrabble desert life, painting, meditating and talking directly with “his preacher.”

Turns out we weren’t the only film crew looking for Leonard today either.  A movie (Into the Wild) directed by Sean Penn that was shooting in the vicinity wanted to use Salvation Mountain for a scene or two, with Mr. Knight making a small appearance.  We took him to lunch first, and told him we’d do most of the talking, so he could rest his voice.  Thanks, Leonard.  It’s a take!

Afterwards, we wandered off to see how much of a mess the nearby Salton Sea really is. Plenty of dead fish, and very few people at this bizarre water hole in the middle of the California desert.

Speaking of incongruous, how about the Center of the World?  Did you know it’s in Felicity, just a few miles from the Arizona border?  That there’s a plaque and a pyramid?  And stairs from the Eiffel Tower?  But it’s closed from Easter through Thanksgiving, so we couldn’t really learn the finer details.  That still didn’t stop us from speculating on some of its Francophilic ways during some lively parking lot catch.  Put me in coach, I’m ready to play...

Music in the van--new Madeline Peyroux, REM “Eponymous”, Jayhawks Rainy Day Music” 

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Desert with a view

Talk about varied ecosystems.  We started today in LaJolla, peering out at the Pacific from Mt.Soledad, where our search for what were known as the Munchkin Houses turned up nothing except McMansions and a great view.  And while we were in the high-priced neighborhood, we also rolled up LaJolla’s gravity hill.  Not your big-time no-holds-barred thrill ride, but way better than our feeble attempt months ago in Salt Lake!

Then we hightailed it down to Primitive Kool in Ocean Beach, the only outsider art gallery in a hair salon we’ve ever seen.  Lynn and Paul, the owners, were haircutters first, then art lovers--who’ve found a way to display their inventory right in the salon.  Stories were shared (Dr. Bob and Big Al in particular), art was purchased, and the Big Ball sat under a dryer. No cuts, trims or waxing for any of us, though...

We really didn’t have time anyway, since the desert was waiting for us.  The Desert View Tower near Jacumba, that is. It’s an old school roadside attraction that’s been there since 1922, offering up a spectacular panorama of rocks and sky, with an assortment of folk art sculptures out back to boot. Ben, the current owner, bought it five years or so ago, because, he says, he’s “a misanthrope” and the desert’s a good place for guys like that!

Stories about the good old days when cars struggled to climb through these hills and desert rats drank in the tower’s bar, as well as new ones involving the Border Patrol kept us listening raptly.  Souvenirs aplenty were liberated from the Tower Gift Shop (it’s a good one) and we left with only one small wound, suffered when Don slipped on his way up the boulder trail. Pass the Neosporin, and get ready for Salvation Mountain tomorrow!

Music in the van--Jim Lauderdale & Ralph Stanley ”Lost In the Lonesome Pines”, Janis Joplin’s Greatest Hits, Sting “Dream of Blue Turtles” 

Don’s found money count--$5.70 (including a really great beat-to-a-pulp Kansas quarter)

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Do you believe in magic?

Yesterday Encinitas, today Escondido.  Kinda confusing, though one’s by the water, one’s a bit further inland. And today in Escondido, as the 300,000,000th American was being born, we saw our first Muffler Man actually still holding a muffler!  He’s downtown at Joor Muffler, where he’s been standing at attention for more than 30 years. With a pencil-thin mustache and rugged physique, he’s a truly striking specimen of mannus gigantus! 

   That was fine and dandy, but in no way prepared us for the jaw-dropping splendor of Queen Califla’s Magic Circle in the city’s Kit Carson Park. It’s a semi-stealth (very few signs) fiberglass, rock, tile and concrete installation in a distant corner of the park, created by a self-taught French-American artist named Niki de Saint Phalle.

   Niki got the idea from an old Spanish tale about an Amazon queen who ruled California (at least we think it’s fiction), which would speak to the state’s poly-cultural blend.  She wanted to create museum quality work in a family-friendly outdoor environment, and judging from the folks wandering through today, we’d say she succeeded in spades!

  There are totems, snakes, birds, female forms, funny faces and of course, the queen herself riding an eagle in the center.  Niki died before the work was finally completed, but the crew she assembled made sure that her wishes were carried out, and the Magic Circle has been open since 2003. With this much color and beauty staring you down, how can you help but believe?

Music in the van--Elvis Costello’s Starbucks Artist Choice

Monday, October 16, 2006

Oh yeah, we can dig it!

Here’s a bit of irony.  We’re driving south towards San Diego, the city with the country’s best year round climate--and it’s rainy and a wee bit chilly. After Oregon had been dry and in the 90s!

Encinatas was our actual destination, but the first stop in this bustling beach town turned out to be less than fruitful.  The topiary Cadillac we’d read about in front of the 7-11 was, in the words of the sales clerk, “no mas.”


 At least the city’s renowned boat houses were still there.  A pair of most distinctive ship-shaped properties that Miles Minor Kellogg built from recycled materials 80 some years ago.  Like Don said, “one’s Ginger, one’s Mary Anne.”  And they might be really handy in a tsunami.

But today’s focal point was a site that may well be gone in another six months--Richard Margolin’s Rock & Roll House.  The problem  here is that the place is a rental, and the whole block may soon be condos.  Which means that the purple swirls and playful pieces of semi-psychedelia which this tree service operator has blanketed the grounds with are at serious risk. 

The founders of rock’ n roll are all honored here (quite colorfully)--from icons like Chuck Berry and Muddy Waters to the Rolling Stones, Elvis and Dylan.  Also Buddy Holly, Mama Cass, Ike & Tinas, most of the Beatles (not Paul though) and artistically related figures like Lenny Bruce, Timothy Leary and Albert Einstein.  Hey, it’s Richard’s house, he can put up whoever he wants! 

We brought the Big Ball out to sit on Little Richard’s face, and snapped pictures a plenty, knowing that history was being made here.  And trust us, Mr. M., we really can dig it.

Music In the Van--Little Willies, Counting Crows “New Amsterdam”

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Boats, hold the water

John Taylor is a landscape architect by trade.  He’s also a man who builds boats unlike any we’ve ever seen before.  And it’s not because he loves to sail.  John learned years ago that the ocean was better in theory than reality.  But he does like the shapes, the engineering challenges and the stories they can inspire.

So he crafts one-of-a-kind vessels from scrap wood, computer parts, hockey sticks, lawn chairs and whatever else gives him the “imperfect” results that he meticulously seeks.  “If it’s an exact replica, there’s no room for you to really wonder about it,” he figures.

From his standard issue suburban San Juan Capistrano garage, John gleefully puts his saws to the test, sending bits of circuit boards and old furniture flying through the air.  Do these boats float?  Not likely, he admits. But that’s hardly the point of them, now is it...

John and his korgi Abbey were fabulous hosts, serving coffee and even sharing a “Lost In Space” soundtrack CD with us.  (More talk about what a lame villain Dr. Smith really was.) Afterwards, we headed off for a glimpse of the famous mission where swallows religiously return--only to find it had closed at 5:00.  Some quick catch outside the gates soon led to a lost ball over the wall! Hopefully, a wandering friar can put it to good use...

Music in the van--Elton John “Madman Across the Water”

Don’s found money count--More than $3.00 thanks to a certain unnamed coffee chain!!

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Where Noah left his art

First of all, who’d have thought we’d need long sleeves in the desert?  And that after so many days without rain, we’d finally encounter it out here?  

But that’s how it happened today outside Joshua Tree, at the Noah Purifoy sculpture park/environment.  Pat and Roger, who work as caretakers couldn’t have been nicer, showing us around the acreage and telling tales of their time with Noah before he died in 2004. “I make assemblages, I don’t do maintenance” was one of the artist’s credos, so he’s fortunate that this retired couple do it so well.

Noah used all kinds of discarded materials to fashion complex shapes and forms, as well as structures you can literally walk into and through.  Some are playful, some, like a water fountain for “whites and colored” are not.  As an African-American who’d first studied social work, then lived and taught in Watts, he had plenty of experiences from which to draw--and this cactus covered space in the desert apparently fired him up well into his 80s. 

Once again, since we’re far luckier than we deserve, the rain held off for real until we’d departed. and disappeared altogether as we stopped for gas and ice at Cabazon.  The refueling location wasn’t completely random.  We knew that Claude Bell’s giant dinos (as seen in Pee Wee’s Big Adventure) were there.  Though their recent re-shaping into an anti-evolution exhibit was really pretty shocking! Say no more.

For a brief bit, we found ourselves back on I-10, then veered southwest toward Lake Elsinore, trying to recall whether it was from Hamlet or Macbeth.  “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead” is all Mike could say, and that was good enough.  

After grabbing some coffee at a Starbucks that apparently opened yesterday, we wandered around the lake in question to G&R Mufflers, where a family of metal creations in the yard has become a local staple.  Gary, their maker, wasn’t bending pipes today, so we made up a few stories about the figures on his behalf.  We’ll check with him later to see if we’re even close!

Music in the van -- Neko Case & Her Boyfriends, “El Rayo X” David Lindley, “Freedom” Nneena Freelon 

Friday, October 13, 2006

One beard, many bottles

Elmer Long doesn’t think people smile enough.  That’s part of the plan behind his Bottle Tree Ranch on National Trails Road, a stretch of old Route 66 outside Helendale, CA. He says as soon as he put up the first tree someone stopped to take a picture, so he put up another...and another, and now there’s well over a hundred sprouting up from the desert sand in his front yard.  No admission fee either, although he keeps the gate shut so his dogs won’t get out.

  If he sees you’ve stopped to take a look, he’ll usually come out for a chat, and maybe point out the significance of all the salvaged materials that adorn his treetops.  Everything from traffic signals to firearms and parking meters!  Most of them have a story that corresponds, and Elmer loves to reveal why they’re there.  As for the beard, well, that’s been a part of him for more than 40 of his 60 years. 

   We took a souvenir rock with Elmer’s blessing, and even though we’d heard it was closed, made the ten mile drive out to Exotic World, the Strippers Hall of Fame on the other side of Helendale.  The ornate gate at the head of the long drive was badly bent and solidly padlocked.  Clearly, no famous G-strings were going to be ogled today.  So we headed back to Victorville, Roy Rogers’ old stomping grounds for some tasty felafels and hummous, and a quick glimpse of a plaque in the park.  Not honoring Trigger, but Brownie the Railroad Dog, who loved greeting trains there til one day he greeted one too closely, and the love affair was over.  It’s in Victorville’s Forrest Park, and I’ll just say that Roadside America’s warning about unsavory characters in the vicinity is right on track (no pun intended.)

    More desert driving ensued, though doing 70 in the 55 was nowhere near fast enough for the 90 plus crowd that roared around us.  We wrapped the day and this particular show with some catch outside the Integratron, a futuristic dome that Venusians supposedly told George van Tessel how to build back in the 50s.  We brought guest gloves in case any extra-terrestrials wanted to play, but alas, today it was just us throwing the ball and witty banter back and forth across the rocky road.

Music in the van--Amos Lee, Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers, “Magical Mystery Tour”, Gram Parsons “GP and Grievous Angel”

Don’s found-money count --$1.01 (Starbuck’s lounge chairs very profitable it seems)

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Semper fi very fine

Some days really remind you that we’ve got a great job. This was one. It didn’t hurt that we managed to skate down the Hollywood Freeway with minimal traffic mayhem, and cruise out to East LA more than half an hour ahead of schedule.  That included a stop to see the Latino Muffler Man at Tony’s Transmissions.  The guys at the shop wondered if we were location scouting for a movie, and were somewhat disappointed to hear otherwise, but no one chased us away.  

Then we were off to Montebello, home to more restaurants advertising pastrami and tacos than any town we’ve ever seen.  Actually, donuts, pastrami and tacos at one! 

However, we passed up food in favor of getting to Elias Telles’ neat and tidy home on Spruce Street.  Elias served in the Marine Corps (the hat above is the one he got in boot camp), and has worked ever since as a mason. Five years ago he began painting on scraps of wood and whatever he had around--mostly old baseball players from the Negro Leagues, and little known figures from the Civil War.  He took them to a swap meet in Fairfax where movie biz types attend, and they started selling. “Being a mason, you get a pretty thick skin,” he says, explaining why he wasn’t worried about rejection. The joy of the work comes through in piece after piece, some of which he treats with his own special “coffee wash” to richen the colors. 

And speaking of coffee, he and his brother Pasqual, along with his agent/dealer Tracey kept us in food and drink almost beyond our wildest dreams.  What a deal...Humble, generous, talented--these all apply to our favorite member of the Corps since Sgt. Carter!

From Montebello, we hooked into a section of the great Mother Road itself, Route 66, that’s changed quite a bit in the last 50 years.  But there in Rialto, the Wigwam Motel #7 still stands in all its teepee-riffic glory. New owner Manoj has done a remarkable job greening up the grounds and making the units all spic n’ span.  With a few lessons from the Mike Murphy TV Weasel Acting School we had him pleading his case for Americans to pass up those motel chains, and sleep in a wigwam once again!  He thought we might know Oprah, but had to let him down easy on that one... 


Music in the van--”Hits” Joni Mitchell, “Legend” Bob Marley

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

A grail, finally gotten to

I think the first time I saw a picture and an explanation of Simon Rodia’s Watts Towers was in an old Kansas Grassroots Art Association newsletter.  That was sometime in the early 80s.  Today, thanks to this silly show, I finally got to go there.  Wasn’t disappointed either, although Mike did say when we first came around the corner that it was smaller than he’d expected.  Maybe...but the detail work with all that colorful tile and crockery is way more fabulous!

Our guide was Zuylema Aguirre, the lady in charge of conservation, who pointed out the ladders Simon cleverly built into the spires to make construction easier, and his various barbecue pits and ground level decorations that often get overlooked.  And yes, she say, he really did bury his old Hudson out back to fool the cops who wanted to speak with him about certain traffic indiscretions!

There’s an Arts Center onsite too, which furthers the notion that the towers still enrich the community--a place where kids can escape some of the harsh realities of life in these parts and fuel their imaginations.

And learn to recycle too--which takes us to today’s other main mission--finding the self-proclaimed 10th Wonder of the World.  In case you didn’t know, it’s on 62nd St in south LA, at Lew & Diane Harris’ house.  Or should I say it obscures, covers and dominates their house. 

Lew was a truck driver, which gave him a chance to see just how much stuff industries around the city threw away.  So for the last twenty five years, he and his sister have been hauling metal fans, turbines, pipe and more back to their yard as raw materials to make sculptures with. 

  “One piece at a time” he says. He’s even come up with his own kind of plastic--Lewcite, naturally.  Diane and Lew sit out front 24/7 and wave to passersby, who can’t help but be amazed.  In fact, one woman asked if it was OK to get out and look. When told that it was, she jumped out of the car, left it in the middle of the street, and proceeded to squeal her approval.  Just another day at Harris Sculpture.

The rest of our time was spent gawking around Hollywood like the Midwesterners we are, and crawling in traffic, being glad we’re really the Midwesterners that we are.  Oh, and a lady bus driver was very hostile at me, but I’ve already forgiven her...

Music in the van--”Celluloid Heroes” The Kinks