Wednesday, March 31

Knisper! Knasper! Knusper!

More plundering of the in-laws' house has turned up this gem:

Amazingly, it fell out of a book I had intended to read. No sooner did I open the hard cover than it came sliding out, into my palm. On the back is stamped: "© 1970 KELLOGG CO." and it feels like it's made of a very soft plastic. Not quite rubber and not dissimilar to today's silicon products, it's at once sturdy and flexible.

This thing was manufactured the year I was born! (And yes, my 40th birthday's coming up and I'm pretty displeased about that.) Look at the difference between the toy surprise of yesteryear and the crap we get today. Four decades ago, a kids' cereal company thought nothing of crafting a complex stencil of its own breakfast mascots for the entertainment of children! Today, you get some doodle on a piece of cardboard or an injection-molded animal on wheels that don't work. (And let's not even bring Cracker Jack's inglorious fall into this.)

This stencil, being made the year of my birth and having survived twoscore years intact--indeed, nigh-pristine--I had no other choice than to mark an impression with the stencil onto paper. I found a nice, dark gel pen and tried to put it into the first sluice of Crackle's hat... and was blocked. The slits were far too narrow for a pen. I selected a long, thin pencil with a very slender tip and discovered this, too, was still too thick for the stencil. Any child who first attempted to utilize this "toy" doubtlessly met with the same mounting frustration and irritation I began to experience.

However, I have an unreasonable and desultory collection of writing implements. It was no effort to find a mechanical pencil and extend the lead too far for writing but just perfect for this stencil. When I completed Crackle's head, however, I decided this was too demanding an effort with too little kickback to merit completing the trio. Making sure every last tiny space and dot was filled up was tedious, and compressing the stencil rigidly in place with my other hand developed a burning cramp in my forearm. In the end I had a seat on the porch--our weather is currently lovely--and discovered the necessity for more than adequate lighting for this activity: many of the slits are so small and thin they cannot be detected in light any degree of dim.

My cat hopped up into the chair beside me and kept me company while I traced out these three friends. I heard an anecdote that these elfin figures represented three Depression-era immigrant groups, revealed by their costumes: Snap was some form of Scand (my memory is leaky on this point, and what nation wears both chef's hats and neckerchiefs?), Crackle was French, and Pop was German. However, I was completely unable to find anything to corroborate this theory online, the past having been rewritten. Anyway, ten minutes later I had my tableau.

It seems that the succession of faces degenerated, purely the fault of the stencil. I had some fun coloring in Crackle's hat, but coloring in Pop's entire eye made me wonder what had gone wrong. Perhaps nothing is meant to be colored in by the pencil: you simply trace the outline and then color it in? That sounds reasonable, though those lines are so freakin' thin, there's very little coloring to be done.

And, of course, they look nothing like their contemporary interpretation:

Friday, March 12

DIY Challenge

How exciting: one of my collage postcards has reached its destination! Well, all three of those I've sent have, but this is the first online documentation of receipt. I'm unfamiliar with the Multiply Web site, but I'm unwilling to start an account there: I already have online image storing facility and am part of too many communities as it is.

I'm on Facebook, and a friend of mine posted a little online challenge, I suppose one might call it. The friend in question manages Lunalux and the challenge was this: the next five people who respond to this will receive something handmade from me. Further, the respondents must post the challenge on their own profile and entice five more people to respond. I signed up for this and reposted on my profile, thinking no one would see it: I think most people have me blocked because I post so much crap with games there.

But five (technically six) did respond, and now I'm dreaming up what I'll send them. Stationery for sure: maybe some collage or personalized postcards, maybe some writing paper and envelopes, and maybe linocutting will be involved. I think the deadline is that these things have to be out by the end of April of this year. I'm encouraged by who responded and look forward to producing something for these people.

Thursday, March 11

Christian's Gold Cross

Today I'd like to highlight one of my favorite writing implements, a Cross fountain pen.

I don't know what model it is, and I can only guess it's around ten years old. It has survived considerable damage and wear-and-tear over the years, as evidenced by the picture on the left: the end of the pen just tore and pried off, right under that metal ring at the end, and I had to reaffix it with Super Glue. I don't know that it really affected the working of the pen, but it looks nicer with that smooth nub rather than a jagged maw of torn plastic.

Likewise, the pocket clip became bent--that is, bent away from the cap--and when I tried to reform it, it simply broke off. This isn't a cheap pen, I'm not saying that, I'm just saying that I've put it through quite a lot and yet it still functions as a reliable pen. Perhaps I'm so willing to keep it because it was my first really expensive pen ($80), or maybe it's just the emotional value it has for me now.

I bought this fountain pen as a replacement for another one. When I was in high school we hosted a German exchange student, Markus Meister, who was a senior when I was a junior. He was quite popular and I was quite unpopular: my schoolmates would wave hello to me as they came in to the room we were sharing and took him away to some party or another. I didn't hold their thoughtlessness against him, however, and he taught me a lot about not being such a social retard. When his parents received him at the end of the year, they gifted me with a very nice desk set: a pad of paper with personalized letterhead, a stack of similarly embossed envelopes, and a lovely fountain pen with my name engraved on the side. I believe it was a Parker, with an arrow for the pen clip, and it was a medium nib with cartridges. And the German ink cartridges were so clever: when you thought you ran out, you'd unscrew the body of the pen and simply tap the end of the cartridge wherein a reserve of ink was stored. This way you could finish whatever you were writing and knew you had to replace the ink soon! So clever. That was over 20 years ago and I've never seen this ingenious system replicated in today's ink cartridges.

Did I bring this nice pen with me when I left for the Army? I don't think so. I think I discovered it among my stored stuff when I returned home in 1991 and started taking classes at Anoka-Ramsey Community College. Desperate for a touch of class in my formless life, I used this fountain pen whenever possible. And it was at ARCC where I was first introduced to the Pilot Varsity disposable fountain pen, in fact, which quickly became a favorite sidearm in my stationery arsenal. Bold lines of deep, deep black ink prompted me to buy a box of this pen all for myself.

But as it happened, I left my Parker behind in a Nutrition class one day. I don't think I forgot my books, but I was without my pen for the next class and I ran back to look for it and it had disappeared. Whoever found it didn't bother to return it to the name engraved on the side, and I imagine they just got frustrated with trying to make it work and threw it away: I stored it in my pocket and this caused it to snap in half. I could still use it, but I had to hold it a certain way to keep it from jack-knifing in my grasp, on top of the special way you hold a fountain pen anyway.

Years later, when I was temping in downtown Minneapolis--we can guess circa 2000--I passed a watch store in the skyway. On display was a rack of fountain pens. Having reached my third decade of age, I decided I should start behaving like an adult and part of that meant attracting the accoutrement of adulthood: I would have a nice, new fountain pen. Among those models, however, I was driven to select the least expensive and so I came away with this Cross. I call it my "Gold Cross" because of the tip, and with this pen I learned that I prefer a gold nib for smooth writing. Steel has too much drag for my liking, and the verdict's out on iridium.

I have other fountain pens: Kaweko, Lamy, Retro 51, another Parker. The Cross remains my go-to pen. I don't use cartridges anymore: I use the screw plunger to refill it with Noodler's or Mont Blanc ink. I read an article where the refillable fountain pen is a "green" solution over disposable pens, so I'm pleased to do my little part to reduce my carbon footprint with this lovely pen.

Wednesday, March 10

Straightening Things Out

I'm spending a happy evening updating my online postcard collection. I'm listening to Cocteau Twins, going through my Postcrossing postcard wall, and geotagging all the postcards in Picasaweb. Sounds tedious to most people, I'm sure, but I derive an amount of pleasure from it.

For one thing, I'm discovering that the collection of postcards on my hard drive is incomplete: my Postcrossing wall shows several cards that I never scanned in. Those were scanned in and uploaded to Postcrossing by the people who sent them, so when I registered the card, the image of it just showed up and I had no need to scan it in. Now I'm going through my postcard album and a large black box filled with old postcards, digging out the missing pieces of my collection and scanning those in appropriately.

I deleted my collection of postcards in Picasa because I just couldn't get the folder renamed appropriately. It was one thing online and another name on my computer, so that made it tricky to upload and keep in sync. I just did away with it by deleting all online albums, renaming the folder on my hard drive, and reuploading it all over again. Fortunately, geotagging the postcards in Picasa on my machine automatically geotags them in the online Picasaweb album. This is important because it cuts down on a step: when I go into Postcrossing and look up the postcards I've received and the users who sent them, there's a link to the users' hometown in Google Maps, and clicking on that provides me coordinates that I can feed right into Picasa. Now I can see a map of the world and an array of postcards from their nation and town of origin, and that's all I really wanted.

Next, I'll see how difficult it would be to link this to Google Earth, however it does that.

Monday, March 8

A Blast of Stamps From the Past

Oh, my Postalators! I have to tell you something I'm very excited about, though the circumstances around it are unfortunate.

My wife and her sisters find themselves in the position of needing to clean out their childhood home (Green Bay, WI) and prep it for sale: their parents now live in Minneapolis due to certain medical conditions. They love being closer to their family--everyone else lives in or around Minneapolis--but they are faced with the daunting task of cleaning out the house and keeping it maintained while trying to move it in this profoundly lugubrious housing market.

This weekend Rebecca made a second trip out to Green Bay with her sisters and they dove into picking through their old property, salvaging clothes and artifacts from their teenage years, going through furniture and household supplies, all that stuff. But my wife, my beautiful and clever wife, look what she's come back with.

After each of her two trips, she returned with entire sheets of brand-new (or at least unused) stamps from the previous decade--some of these stamps are 20 years old! Some of these stamps could drink, vote, go into the military, and do stuff with girls. I even remember buying some of these postage stamps (the Classic Comics in particular) when I used to more heavily correspond through the postal venue with friends around the nation. I used to look for interesting stamps and they were easily had, and now I've got them all over again.

They're in smaller denominations, of course, First Class isn't what it used to be. But they still work: one American Illustrators (34¢), one Big Band Leaders (32¢) and one James Dean (32¢) will carry a birthday card to Oisa, Japan, regardless of chronology. What a gift! Rebecca was so excited to turn these over to me, knowing quite accurately how thrilled I'd be with their discovery.

Consequently, the new correspondents I connect with over Postcrossing are going to receive a very interesting selection of stamps unlikely to come from any other source. Heads up, Finland! Keep your eyes peeled, Ukraine! Puerto Rico, I'm talkin' to you! I'd even like to extend the invitation to anyone reading this. E-mail me your street address (put "Old Stamps" in the subject header so I can filter for spam) and I'll send you a postcard or even a short note with these vintage stamps. One way or another, I expect they will go very quickly.

(The only exception is the Mars Pathfinder stamp: that will be preserved and prized, never placed on an envelope and sent away.)

Friday, March 5

Postcards to the Edge

I sent out a couple postcards upon request. When I donated to Postcrossing and became recognized as a supporting member, a lot of people suddenly contacted me to exchange cards or begin correspondence. I don't know whether this is because now I'm considered part of some elite cadre or just because the announcement of my status raised me to the community's consciousness.

A woman in Russia asked if I could please send her a postcard of a jazz/rock musician or an actor. I asked my wife to pick up some suitable cards from the downtown Barnes & Noble, as the B&N I went to in Edina doesn't carry postcards, apparently. She selected images of Bob Dylan and Prince, as they are representative of my city, Minneapolis, and I applauded her decision.

Dylan used to live in Dinkytown, the campus town outside the U of M campus. I saw the building where his apartment once was, but of course there are no longer apartments there. Minneapolis manifests some attention deficit disorder when it comes to buildings and businesses, you see, and someone may point out exceptions like such-and-such farm that was preserved, but the fact is this: if you lived here, went around town for a couple months, then hid in your apartment for a year, when you came back out you would barely recognize the city. Not only would the businesses you knew have changed hands, they would have done so three times.

Uh, anyway. I never met Bob Dylan. I know he's popular to emulate at karaoke, for some people. I think there's an album of his, The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, whose cover photo features a familiar location.

Then there's Prince. When I was in the Army, a fellow soldier asked me if I ever met Prince, because he idolized him (pronouns here are intentionally ambiguous as Prince idolized himself). He explained how Prince taught himself 28 instruments, and this soldier endeavored to do the same but started out with the tambourine, which he would play, rhythmlessly, all night long, prompting him to take naps all the next day when he should've been working. As a punishment to me, my sergeants used to pair me up with him for chores. He sucked and I hated him.

But Prince is just a huge ego trip on wheels. I worked with a former hairdresser to his entourage and she confirmed he hated to pay his musicians. They would barge into his office, demanding their back pay from however long ago, and he would sulk and order his guards to throw the bum out. He had a club in Minneapolis, Glam Slam, which I never went to until it was sold and became Quest. The pillars in that place make it difficult to get a good view of the stage, but the bartenders were exceedingly professional. I never met Prince, either.

Thursday, March 4

Troubles with Postal Calculation

Ugh, sorry about not posting anything in here for a week and a half. I haven't been terribly active, postally.

I wanted to tune in briefly to warn people away from using the postage stamp calculator I had formerly linked to. It's shite. It sounds like a good idea but it's shite. Here's the sitch: I'm sending a square postcard to Russia, and that entails one 98¢ stamp (int't rate) plus 13¢ (square card = manual processing), so, $1.11 in total. (Note: the post office does not print 13¢ stamps.)

I have stamps in these denominations: 10¢, 28¢, 37¢, 42¢, and 44¢. I entered all these into the postage calculator, and it's supposed to find the minimum number of stamps in combination to satisfy the postage requirements. It suggested two 44¢ stamps and three 10¢ stamps, coming to $1.18.

Except I put two 37¢ stamps on by accident, then realized that a 10¢ stamp and a 28¢ stamp would come to $1.12--only one cent over! The postage calculator would have made me waste six more cents beyond that. And you might scoff at the difference of six cents, but why would you spend any money you didn't have to?

So don't bother with that postage stamp calculator. Actually, it's probably better for my mind (in terms of Alzheimer's prevention) to just figure out my own postage solutions. It could be a riddle, and I like riddles.