Thursday, March 30, 2006

Three Out of Four Readers...

...prefer whores to nuns.

In Panopticon Celebrity Smackdown IV, the Bad Girls (led by Madame Du Barry) have trampled the Good Girls (led by Elizabeth Cady Stanton) into the mud in Field Hockey.

The final tally:
  • Bad Girls: 284 votes (72%)
  • Good Girls: 108 votes (28%)
Accepting on behalf of the victors, Dolores was thrilled.

"À nous la victoire, motherfuckers," she said when asked for a statement.

The next time I see that trophy, I'm pretty sure there's going to be a little paper umbrella sticking out of it.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Celebrity Smackdown IV: Women's History Edition

Women's History Month* is almost over, but we're going to celebrate it Panopticon style with a Celebrity Smackdown!

The contest: Field Hockey

The teams:

squaring off against:

Without in any way wishing to drag the Smackdown into the realm of educational toys, something did occur to me as the teams were lining up. It has been very difficult throughout history for a woman to become notable without first becoming at least somewhat notorious. Unless you're a nurse or a nun, you're likely going to get a bad rap - and even then your success may ruffle feathers.

There's a lesson in that, no?

The Good/Bad designation is tongue-in-cheek, with a few guidelines based on the woman's career.
Good: nurses, canonized saints, devoted wives, public servants,** ladies who wrote about nice things, ladies who pursued gentle arts like writing and painting without stirring up too much trouble

Bad: professional whores, open lesbians, those connected (horrors!) with the stage, ladies who wrote about unladylike subjects that stirred shit up
Who's going to dominate in Field Hockey?
The Good Girls (E. Cady Stanton, captain)
The Bad Girls (La Du Barry, captain)
Free polls from

*I think it's so nice how women get a month. It suggests that during the other 11 months they were getting their nails done. But I suppose it's better than nothing.

**That's how Elizabeth Cady Stanton wound up as captain on the Good side, although she really could have gone either way. Certainly in her own time realtively few men would have considered her a servant of the public good. But when she steps up and says, "I'm in charge," you don't argue.

The Journey of a Thousand Miles...

...begins with a single stitch.

My big summer project, under the watchful eyes of Ted and Marilyn, will be this, Sharon Miller's Wedding Ring Shawl.

No, I don't anticipate getting married. No, I don't know anybody who is getting married. No, I have no practical use for the item, once finished. Shut up.

Anyhow, I'm a good boy and I like swatching, so I swatched. When you purchase the (gorgeous) Wedding Ring Shawl pattern, Sharon sends along a card with samples of recommended yarns and little swatch chart, so you can try them out and see which you'd prefer to use.

Here we have Fiber A, a two-ply merino, worked on US size 1 needles.

And here we have Fiber B, DMC crochet cotton, worked on same.

I think I've decided to go with the merino.

Of course, maybe the cotton will look better after blocking.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Aristocracy Fixation

It's been so long since I posted any project photographs, I decided I'd better show you something in order to preserve my meagre allotment of knitter's street cred.

(If you're a new reader, welcome. Also, apologies. This is a very odd knitting blog in that actual yarn makes only occasional appearances. I keep meaning to post the latest ten rows of my whatever and never quite get around to it. So I draw pictures to distract you. Now you know the custom of the country.)

Here's the Regicide Scarf, front (right) and back (left).

I am still deeply in love with this yarn, which is Four Play from Brooks Farm. I can't believe how much yardage was included in the skein for a mere $14 or $16 (can't quite remember which). The scarf is 6 inches wide and a bit over 4 feet long, and I still have a good 1/2 the ball left to knit. That's generosity.

As you can see, the reverse of the scarf has the pebbly texture of reverse stockinette, because that's mostly what it is. There are traces visible of the King Charles Brocade diagonals, but they disappear at two paces. I quite like the look, especially in the variegated colorway.

C was away this weekend in New York City, so I spent a lot of time on another project as well, the square baby shawl from Elizabeth Zimmermann's Knitter's Almanac. I'm working it in Dale Baby Ull.

The shawl pattern is simple (two paragraphs or so) but includes a lot of fun stuff, like Emily Ocker's Circular Cast-On (done with a crochet hook). If unaltered, it produces a very simple square with faggot stitch dividing the four plain stockinette quarters.

I decided to put Version II of the Tulip Lace from Barbara Walker Volume I into each quarter, with the strong central line of the stem running diagonally to the corners of the square. I also plan on a lace edging using some Shetland pattern or another, courtesy of Sharon Miller's Heirloom Knitting. My first attempt was good, but not what I'd hoped for. I frogged it all completely, started over, and am much happier.

Pictures forthcoming. No, seriously.

I finished the beginning of the shawl during the final minutes of the last episode of The Pallisers, and so in honor of one of my favorite characters from English fiction I have re-named the project "Glencora." (Susan Hampshire, I love you.)

A scarf commemorating a dead king and a shawl named after the fictional Duchess of Omnium. Boy, some democrat I am.

Cast On: Episode 17

Thank you for all the enthusiastic comments about Episode 17 of Cast On. My dominant feeling is relief. Relief that my trusty essayists (C and Buzz) turned up trumps in both writing and performance. Relief that I got my bits recorded. Relief that said bits successfully arrived in Wales. Relief that I did not, in fact, sink Brenda's ship by rambling on incoherently and then making everybody listen to bluegrass.

People have been asking to see the sweater with the Latin inscription worked into it. It's here.

My Former High School

A concerned parent from Honolulu also wanted to know the name of the awful high school I went to. Here's their Web site. My disappointment at learning that the place hasn't been shut down and replaced by condominiums or a Pizza Hut knows no bounds.

I was particularly amused to find the following listed as an aspect of the school's educational mission:
Celebrates the value and dignity of each person and nurtures the development of the whole person.
I guess the faculty are no longer allowed to publicly single out members of the student body who ask questions like "Why are there no female authors on any of our reading lists?" as "stupid fucking faggots."

They've probably also dropped the lesson in biology class where AIDS is explained as God's punishment on men who sleep with men. And the attempts in gym class to find out who was gay so that they could torture the suspects.

(Before anybody starts an anti-Catholic or anti-Catholic school tirade in the comments, don't. I have [extremely] bad memories of this particular school. I don't allow slams at any religion on this blog, and I'll delete them without exception or apology. So hold your fire.)

And Finally

Hot gay cowboys on pretty horses.

See? You forgot all about how I didn't take pictures of the baby shawl, didn't you?

Monday, March 27, 2006

Dolores Responds

My gracious host and employer has given me permission to touch the Sacred Macintosh today on two conditions: that I put out my ciggies and keep liquids away from the keyboard. Right on, chief.

My mail has been piling up, so I'm here to answer it. If you ask me, it's a little early in the day for a lady to be out of her boudoir and dealing with the public, but if I don't get some of these questions out of the way now I'm going to be late for my massage.

Q. I notice you always seem to have a cigarette hanging out of your mouth. Isn't it tough to get the smoke odor out of your fleece?

You should get a whiff of my relatives. They should be so lucky as to smell like a nice, fragrant Pall Mall on a spring morning.

Q. Were you offended when Franklin referred to sheep as "fluffy, grass munching poop machines?"

As a lifelong practioner of Taoism, I find I can only pity the anger at the core of Franklin's being. It causes him to act out in this way. As Lao-tzu said to Confucius, "Put away your proud air and many desires, your insinuating habit and wild will. They are of no advantage to you; this is all I have to tell you."

Q. I notice that in one of your photographs you're wearing a red bow and purple glasses. Are you a member of the Red Hat Society?

Please consult your nearest English dictionary for the definitions of "bow" and "hat" and you may be shocked at what you learn.

Q. You are so mean. What did Elizabeth Taylor ever do to you? You are just a bitter old sheep living on somebody else's nickel and she is a beautiful, beloved legend whose fame and beauty will never fade.

Liz, I'm banning your IP address so don't bother trying to write anonymously again. It's not my fault that I turned out to be right about Eddie Fisher. Get a life, honey.

Q. Since you're living with Franklin, are you in a position to tell us anything juicy and revealing about his personal habits?

How long have you got? We could start with the way he sometimes pretends to be Cokie Roberts while he's listening to "Morning Edition" on NPR in the mornings. And then there was the time I walked in on him in the bathroom and he was singing Olivia Newton-John's "Please, Mister, Please" in front of the mirror using his beard trimmer as a microphone. I would tell you about what he keeps in the little box under the night table, but it's time to move on to the next question.

Q. Where are you from originally? Can you tell us something about your early life?

I was born on a small, rather exclusive sheep farm in a lovely corner of Vermont to Mr. and Mrs. Harold Van Hoofen. I have far too many siblings to name, and as I don't speak to most of them anyhow it doesn't matter. I was always a little different from the other sheep, and from an early age preferred curling up in the barn with a dog-eared copy of Euripides to running around the fields rolling in my own excrement. Call me a rebel.

Q. I, too, am a student of the classics. I consulted the Columbia University library about getting a copy of your doctoral dissertation on the Oresteia of Aeschylus, and they were most unhelpful. Would you send it to me?

I would love to, but my only copy is currently in the possession of Professor Eugenica Doxiades of the Faculty of Ancient Literatures at the University of Athens. Ask me again in six months, I figure she'll have finished plagiarizing all the good parts by then.

Q. Are you dating anybody? What happened to Emilio?

Emilio who? No, I don't have a steady beau. There's just too much good ploughing in Chicago for a girl to stick to one acre, if you know what I mean.

Q. I love you. Will you marry me? I enclose a picture of myself. In the event of a favorable reply, I stand ready to relocate from Manitoba to Chicago.

As I stated in answer to the previous question, I'm not looking to settle down any time soon. However, if you wish to become a stalker, I am sending an application by return of post. Thank you for your kind inquiry. (P.S. What would your mother think if she saw this picture of you, you filthy pervert?)

Okay, enough of this. Mama's gotta make herself pretty for the world at large.

Your faithful correspondent,
Dolores Van Hoofen

Friday, March 24, 2006

Sense and Sensibility and Sheep

Thanks and thanks again to yesterday's knowledgeable commenters. I feel rather better about the burning of the Cumbrian wool clip now, after hearing that it's not as though great whacking piles of lovely soft knittable stuff is going up in flames whilst the sheep farmers cry over lack of demand.

Our guide in the Lake District was full of information about Herdwicks (I remember a chart of their characteristic color changes being passed around), but apparently she wasn't up-front about how coarse their wool is. In fact, I remember her saying the yarn was full of lanolin and would give you lovely soft hands after you'd knit with it.

Perhaps she was thinking of wool that for some reason had not been scoured. But I'm more inclined to trust the words of reader Vivienne and Vivienne's mother, Jean. Vivienne's fingers bled after knitting a swatch of Herdwick when a schoolgirl. And her mother nearly maimed herself making a sweater from it. Ouch.

And I thought Dolores was the most abrasive sheep on the planet.

Jean Miles
called me on my overly sentimental view of sheep a couple weeks ago and she was right. In my defense, I'm a very typical American in that my knowledge of animals is largely third-hand, drawn from sticky children's literature and Disney films that turn everything with fur into a variation on the teddy bear.

Disney is probably the greatest culprit, come to think of it. Bambi, for example, is generally thought of as gritty and realistic because (spoiler alert!) the eponymous fawn's mother takes a hit from a hunter. But the same film also shows the wise old owl making friends with the fluffy baby bunnies, when in reality he would be eating them for breakfast.

And Beatrix Potter Heelis of Hill Top Farm is also largely to blame, which I am sure would annoy her to no end. Although she, as I recall, referred to rabbits and mice and hedgehogs as "rubbish animals," her books have for most of a century caused people to think of these animals as living in teensy little cottages, wearing shoes and jackets.

Her stories are not sentimental for the most part–the ones that are, seem to me have been produced mostly later on, when she was running out of steam and would rather have been dealing with her sheep. But her illustrations, with that charming line and that deft handling of color, are what people remember. And they are the picture of Nature Made Cute, even when the itty bitty sweeties are trying to devour each other.*

Speaking of Dolores

She will not be appearing on Episode 17 of Cast On when it airs. We had finally come to an agreement that there would be no harmonica solo, but that she could either read aloud one of her essays on metaphor and symbolism of landscapes in Virginia Woolf; or she could sing Schubert's "Gretchen am Spinnrade" as one of the musical selections. But unfortunately, when the time came, she was accidentally locked in the linen closet. Oops.

*I must add that I love them with all my heart. It was a gift copy of The Tale of Benjamin Bunny that first made me pick up a pencil to draw, instead of scribbling as small children will.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

I Used to Knit

Lakes, 2002I was searching my archives for a particular photograph tonight when I ran across the shots I took during a trip to the English Lake District back in 2002.

I was there for work, believe it or not, acting as The Smiling Face of the University on a tour for alumni. It was a dream assignment, as I'd wanted to see that part of the world almost since birth.

Beatrix Potter (one of the District's two most famous residents, the other being Wordsworth) was the first writer whose name I learned and sought out, and her drawings are undoubtedly one of the reasons that my retirement fantasy includes a stone hearth under a thatched roof in a green valley. I'm not sure how I'm going to get there, or when, but one of these days I'm moving to some part of the UK or another.

My pictures from the trip are a source of frustration to me now. I'd only had my first camera for about three months, and I had no idea how to use it. I saw shots all around, but I couldn't capture them. The most advanced picture I took was a self-portrait at Ruskin's grave in Coniston. The remote-release is hidden in my right hand.

Coniston, 2002

Most of what I got was decidedly in the tourist snapshot class. Such wasted opportunity. Sigh.

If you know the Lake District at all, you know it could just as truthfully be called the Sheep District. Aside from a petting zoo or two, I don't think I'd ever in my life seen a sheep up close and personal. Now, I was surrounded by...millions? At least tens of thousands, surely. I shot about 600 frames during the week, and if you look carefully you can see at least one fluffy, grass-munching poop machine in most of them.

We had a fantastic travel director, a local woman named Janet, who was so deeply in love with her part of England that even the stuffiest members of the group fell under her spell. She was passionate about local farming and husbandry, and so we learned an awful lot about sheep breeding and the sad state of the local wool industry. In this day and age, she told us, the modern demand for Lake District wool was so small that most of the annual clip was burned instead of being sent to market.

I'll give you a minute to recover from that one.

Near Sawrey, 2002

All those sheep, all that wool, and the only evidence of its use that I saw was in a small National Trust Shop not far from the Beatrix Potter Museum. In an effort to find some outlet, any outlet, for local wool, the shop was offering knitted garments made from local fiber and a small selection of yarns spun from same.

I distinctly remember looking at the yarn, and remarking to a fellow tour member that "I used to knit," and then walking out of the shop without buying any yarn.

"I used to knit." I think about that now, and I wonder how I can have said it. How I can have used the past imperfect with such finality. As though the idea of never picking up the needles again could be contemplated with anything other than shuddering horror.

I think there's a line one crosses, a subtle line, on the day one changes from a person who knits into a knitter. It's not quite the same as Stephanie Pearl-McPhee's distinction between knitters and Knitters, because I'm not necessarily thinking of the acquisition of technical prowess. I'm thinking of the difference between a person who thinks knitting is a nice way to spend some time, versus a person who becomes actively disturbed when kept away from his needles.

I'm thinking of the man who looked at those skeins on sale in Hawkshead, dark and lustrous in the light of a watery English September, and walked away because he had no use for them. I wonder what ever happened to him?

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Brenda Dayne Regrets

Well, she doesn't regret it yet, but the week is still young.

If you listen to Cast On: A Podcast for Knitters, then you know that the hostess and creator, Brenda Dayne, has been taking a little bitty break and allowing guest hosts to fill in for her.

Guess who the next guest host is, for the episode slated to appear this Friday?


Broadcast Preview

So far assembling the show is going well, except that Dolores is being peevish because she wants to do a harmonica solo and I'm putting my foot down. I'm not certain whether you'll hear her or not. Kinda depends on whether she's already passed out for the evening.

But there will be two (count 'em) essays on knitting from non-knitters, plus a whole lot of me.

She's a brave gal, that Brenda.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Art Crawl

My friend Tim was in town this weekend from St. Paul, Minnesota and wanted to take a spin through the Art Institute, and Dolores said she was sick of hanging around the apartment, so on Saturday afternoon the three of us joined the throng at 111 South Michigan Avenue.

Our first stop was a temporary exhibition, Girodet: Romantic Rebel. In case you've not heard of him, which you probably haven't, Girodet was a student of David who has kept a rather low profile since his heyday in the years just on either side of 1800. There's considerable buzz around the show, which was the brainchild of the Cleveland Museum of Art and helped along by the Louvre. Girodet, so the gossip goes, is a master sadly neglected and now rediscovered.

Um, no.

There are about 100 pieces in the show, ranging from small prints and drawings to heroic canvasses. All of them are at least workmanlike, several have considerable bravura, and one–his take on the myth of Endymion–could not be improved upon, especially in its use of dramatic light. But a neglected master? No. If you plan on stopping by, Endymion is hanging in the second room, so you can duck in and duck out without missing anything.

(The show's signature image, The Burial of Atala, is hanging in the final room and it's typical eau sucré from the period. Pretty? Oh my word, yes. Why, the only thing missing is the basket of kittens!)

All the same, I'm pathetically grateful to the Art Institute for not mounting one effing Impressionist show after another. I had to deal with that during my years in Boston, and it was one of the things that drove me out of the city.

After Girodet, we wandered about the galleries with no fixed plan. My mind, which turns (ha, ha) very much on spinning just at present, kept spotting works I'd never given much notice before, such as La Filatrice:

La Filatrice

Ain't she a honey? Here's a close-up of the business end of her apparatus.

La Filatrice, Detail

Then, in the Thorne Rooms (an amazing collection of miniature tableaux that showcase the history of interior design), I found this:

Miniature Wheel, Thorne Rooms

In the photograph, it's just about actual size. Impressive, eh?

Everything was just dandy until we visited the Impressionist galleries. Tim and I were standing in front of a Monet water lily canvas of which he's fond when a guard came over, tapped me on the shoulder, and said, "Sir? Would you kindly tell your sheep to please stop licking the haystacks?"

I was going to deliver a stern lecture about the effects of ovine saliva on oil paint, but in Dolores's defense it was getting to be time for lunch so I let it go.

I shouldn't have. As were leaving, we passed a children's art class and Dolores, who feels strongly about art education (she's apparently just two credits shy of her MFA in the field) decided it would not do to have the little darlings working from a dreary bust by Horatio Greenough.

Dolores the Model

We were then asked if we would mind leaving the museum and never coming back again.

You'd think I'd have learned my lesson, but no. The next day, C wanted to check out the new Warhol exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art and there was simply no keeping her at home.

Dolores at the Warhol

It was all downhill from here. Apparently the nice people at the MCA don't care what Liz Taylor did to you at Andy's birthday party in 1963. They still expect you to leave her portrait right there on the wall where they put it.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Top o' the Mornin'

No, I am not Irish, not even the littlest bit. In fact, years of living with an angry alcoholic whose antecedents hailed from County Cork rather took the zing out of St. Patrick's Day for me, as I usually got the worse end of the shamrock. A decade spent in Boston listening to the locals talk about why people like me shouldn't be allowed into their little parade didn't help, either.

However, time and distance and a new appreciation for countries full of sheep have restored my enthusiasm, so if you're Irish and not an asshole, you have my best wishes, and the above cartoon is for you.

Dolores sends her best. She started celebrating last night, to beat the rush. Erin go baaaaa.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Girls on Top

Panopticon Celebrity Smackdown III: Live Pigeon Shooting is over. I hasten to reassure all that no pigeons were harmed during this purely fictional event.

Here's the bag for each competitor:
  • Marilyn "The Knitting Curmudgeon" Roberts: 314 birds
  • Joe "Queer Joe" Wilcox: 67 birds
I'm pretty certain this is the last time the Smackdown is going to involve (intentional) bloodshed. You just don't even want to see what the carpet looks like, and I just had it shampooed.

Ever since I tabulated the results, Dolores has been driving me bonkers running around in one of my cowboy hats singing selections from Annie, Get Your Gun. Later on, after she passes out, I plan on checking her makeup case for firearms.

Cover Girl

Mornings were already difficult enough for me without seeing this across the breakfast table.

On the other hand, it turns out she makes a pretty good farmer's omelette.

We had a discussion last night about whether or not she ought to be on a shirt in the shop. [Addendum: She's on a mug now, too. You ask, I try to give.] Actually the discussion was more about what her cut of the profits, if any, should be. We finally settled on a 20/80 split in my favor, but I had to give up one of my shelves in the medicine cabinet.

Modeling comes naturally to Dolores, who as you already know first made her mark in the advertising world as the Woolrich Girl way back when. She's only opened up a little to me about that part of her life, but I know there was some kind of feud with Lauren Hutton that still stings.

"We signed on with the Ford Agency around the same time," Dolores told me. "Of course at first I was getting a lot more work than she was, and I knew it pissed her off even though she wouldn't admit it. She came over one afternoon after a go-see at Vogue where Diana Vreeland ripped her a new one, and she was crying and throwing stuff so I popped her one right in the mouth to calm her down. That's how she got the gap teeth, and you know the goddamn rest. Did she ever thank me? Hell no. Bitch."

I know what you're thinking, but it checks out. She showed me this clipping from Interview of a party at Studio 54–Dolores, Truman, Andy, Liza, and Lauren–and Lauren is totally giving her the stink eye.

Other Sheep-Related News

Susan was able to find out exactly what I've been spinning on the spindle. It's wool from a sheep who resulted from a love affair (or at least a fling) between a black Corriedale and a white Montadale. Apparently Dean, from whom she bought this ebony-and-ivory roving, also has a white Romney. I wonder if his is given to leaving hairs in the bathroom sink and lipstick on the guest towels?

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Bang Bang You're Dead

So it's come to this. External forces have pressured me to pit two of my dear friends and blogging inspirations against one another. I didn't want to do it, but she made me.

It's time for Panopticon Celebrity Smackdown III.

Marilyn "The Knitting Curmudgeon" Roberts vs.
Joe "Queer Joe" Wilcox
Who do you back in Live Pigeon Shooting?

Live Pigeon Shooting is a now-defunct Olympic event that was held only once, in 1900. The rules, according this handy site, were:
The birds were released in front of a participant and the winner was the competitor who shot down the most birds from the sky.
There you have it. Each vote equals one dead bird. PETA members and pigeon fanciers may substitute an imaginary clay pigeon. Jean Miles may pretend they are shooting at rabbits if it makes her feel better.

Who do you back in Live Pigeon Shooting?
Marilyn (The Knitting Curmudgeon)
Joe (Queer Joe)
Free polls from
The gunfire stops around 5 p.m. United States Central Standard Time on Thursday, March 16, 2007.

A Night Out

Apparently it's my turn to give the recap of Stitches in Britches, so here goes.

The group assembled as usual at the Argo Tea Café that's just spitting distance from Marshall Field's, and managed to secure a good table on the first floor in spite of the usual crowd of moms-n-daughters grabbing a quick latté before the performance of Wicked next door at the Oriental Theater.

We were honored to be joined by wit, raconteur, and bon vivant Joel, aka Faustus, MD. Joel is all too briefly in town from New York City, where he works as a freelance blacksmith in between seasons with the New York City Ballet. In fall 2007 he will dance Giselle. Joel and I were at university together, so he knew me when I had a full head of hair.

This is Joel, working on his own version of the Regicide Scarf. He is much cuter than this (sorry, Joel), but he already has a steady boyfriend so he's off limits anyway.

Andy was knitting the cowl from Last Minute Knitted Gifts using what's left of the yarn from his 20-year-old unfinished object. He brought along his completed Noro hat and scarf, presents for a niece. They are absolutely adorable. I didn't manage to get pictures of them, but I took this picture so that you can see that he hasn't had a manicure this week.

Aidan was there but he was on the other side of the table and I don't have any pictures of him. Sorry, Aidan. Aidan was knitting socks and had two pots of tea.

Jonathan, who enjoys the sort of knitting that would make other people cry, is knitting two fancy-ass multicolored, textured socks at the same time on a circular needle using the Magic Loop method. I would rather singe off my nose hairs with a butane lighter, but to each his own. The socks are awesome.

Isn't he cute? But he's not only straight, he's got a very nice wife, and the socks are for her. So you just keep those sick fantasies to yourself, thank you very much.

Oh, and Buzz came to visit and take pictures.

Buzz is my good buddy and upstairs neighbor who blogs here. I told him not to take pictures of me and he didn't listen and so I'm putting up this shot mostly out of revenge. In person Buzz is very nice looking, and smart and polite, and not married, so if you think he's hot I say go for it. I can provide other pictures of him if you want more to go on before making an offer.

Buzz is interested in joining us as our token needlepointer so I loaned him a pile of books from my needlepoint days and offered him lots of floss and canvas that I have sitting around. So if he wimps out on us it won't be my fault.

The manager of the Argo is this cute twinkie of Polish extraction who keeps asking us to let him know if there's anything he can do for us, which is kind of a dangerous question given the nature of our group.

I had two large chocolate milks and a really phat chocolate chip cookie and by the time I got home the sugar rush was making me vibrate and I didn't fall asleep until 1 a.m.

Dolores came home as I was getting ready for work, wearing a Sigma Chi sweatshirt and carrying half a bottle of tequila. She put on the stereo, wiggled around the living room to Saint Etienne's "Like a Motorway" and then passed out with her head in the windowbox.


Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Technology Is Insulting Me

Did you ever have one of those moments when you suddenly realized you couldn't live another minute without Asleep at the Wheel's recording of "Cherokee Maiden"? I did, just yesterday.

So I pulled up the iTunes Music Store to download a copy, and while doing so noticed a new feature on the home page called "Just For You." Upon closer inspection, this turned out to be the equivalent of Amazon's recommendations: "You bought X, therefore we think you'll enjoy Y."

Unfortunately, the people who will probably unveil a 400GB video iPod the size of a Rice Krispie for Christmas 2007 are having problems refining the database queries that determine what's just for me.

Here are my last five purchases from the iTunes Music Store, aside from "Cherokee Maiden":
  • "Va, pensiero" from Verdi's Nabucco
  • "Un flambeau, Jeanette, Isabella" sung by Marilyn Horne
  • "I'll Fly Away" sung by Alison Krauss
  • "Au fond du temple" from Bizet's Les Pecheurs des perles
  • The Brokeback Mountain soundtrack
Based upon this track record, Apple's algorithm or logorithm or whatever rithm is responsible for such things feels strongly that I would love to own:
  • "My Humps" by the Black Eyed Peas
  • a dance remix of "Toxic" by Britney Spears
  • "Since U Been Gone" by Kelly Clarkson
Just what, pray, are you trying to suggest, iTunes?

If this were 18th century France and iTunes were the Marquis de Fromage-Verte, I would slap its face with my glove and call for pistols at dawn.

Stitches in Britches

Chicago's own men's knitting group, Stitches in Britches, meets tonight at the Argo Tea Café, 16 W. Randolph Street, Chicago, from 6:30-9:30 p.m. I will be there. Dolores will not. She says she's going to a prayer meeting.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Spinning, A Report.

Since Dolores has been hogging the computer (not to mention the bathroom), I've spent quite a bit of time trying to make the suspended (Ted says not to use the word "drop") spindle do what I want it to do.

I have quite a bit of fiber to play with right now thanks to a generous gift from my incredibly thoughtful sister, who sent me large box of roving from an unspecified breed. It seems the janitor at the school where she teaches does a little sheep farming in his spare time. (Ah, Maine.)

I asked Dolores if she knew what the fiber was, but she just glanced up from her tattered copy of On Being and Nothingness, grunted "It's nobody I know," and went back to reading.

Anyhow, as a mark of progress I am positing this first attempt. I don't think even really counts as "spinning." But you have to start somewhere.

A few hours later I was getting much thinner, more consistent results, thus:

I think this is more how it's supposed to look. I'll know better when the books I ordered arrive. At present I'm working from the sage advice of you, my dear readers, and the brief demonstration I got from Queer Joe at Rhinebeck.

I've learned a few things I should note before I forget them:
  1. Let the weight of the spindle help in the drafting.

  2. Pre-drafting is one of those things you can have described to you or demonstrated for you ad nauseam, but which you must try yourself if you're to understand it. Hands-on practice is the only way this spinning thing is going to happen for me.

  3. Do not look to Dolores for positive reinforcement, unless you consider "What do you want, a medal?" to be ample praise.

Drinks with Dolores

There's no shortage of watering holes near my apartment, so I asked Dolores what sort of bar she'd like to go to.

"Some place with strippers," she said. "Mama hasn't seen a good piece of tushie since Oprah wore girdles."

We walked down Halsted Street to the Lucky Horseshoe, an establishment noted for just this sort of entertainment. Dolores hopped up on a stool and ordered a cosmopolitan and a bowl of hay.

"A bowl of what?"

"I said hay, bartender," said Dolores, fishing a pack of Virgina Slims out of her purse.

"What'll you have?" the bartender asked me.

"A Coke with lime," I said.

"Ooh," said Dolores. "Don't hold back, killer. You mind if I smoke?"

As she'd already lit up, I decided the question was rhetorical.

"So," she said, taking a deep drag, "I bet you're wondering what the hell I'm doing here."

I couldn't disagree, and said so.

"Well," she said, "I tried the retirement thing. Got myself a nice little condo at Twelve Willows and figured I'd just cruise along until it's time to head to the big fiber festival in the sky, but–you ever live in the country? I mean deep country?"

I shook my head.

"Too damn quiet. No shopping. The nearest decent cup of coffee was four hours away. And the goddamned cows mooing every morning at 4 a.m. was driving me batshit."

"I don't mean to make assumptions, Dolores, but I thought sheep preferred the country," I said.

Dolores slugged down the last of her cosmo. "Mother's milk," she sighed, waving the empty glass at the bartender. "Another of the same, kid, and send Emilio over here."

"I did the farm thing until I was old enough to duck out. Never suited me. I wound up on a commune outside Seattle for a coupla years, had a thing going on with this ram who turned out to be a bigamist, so I split. Fell ass-backwards into a modeling gig with Woolrich, that took me to New York, picked up an MBA in marketing, yadda yadda yadda. The usual."

Emilio, a member of the Lucky Horseshoe's corps de ballet, sauntered over to us and presented his very original interpretation of "Baby Got Back" on top of the bar.

"Oh, now that's more like it," said Dolores, peering over the top of her glasses. "Come here, honey chile."

She slipped a five-dollar bill between her teeth and Emilio deftly removed it without the use of his hands.

"Where was I?" she said vaguely.

"Yadda yadda yadda," I said.

"Oh, right. Anyway, got an ulcer and high blood pressure from agency work, so I went into academics for a while. But when Columbia denied my tenure I told them if groundbreaking work on the Oresteia wasn't to their liking they could kiss my wooly ass. Which brings us to the present, and my need for another cosmo"

"I'm afraid I still don't quite understand what you're doing here," I said.

"And I'm afraid I don't quite understand how you can nurse a Coke with lime all night, but then life is full of mysteries. Look. You need wool, I got wool. You got an apartment with a view of the lake, I got a pen with a view of a cow's ass. I give you wool, you give me a pied a terre. I call that synchronicity."

"Well, but–"

Dolores, however, had grabbed her purse and jumped off the stool and was following Emilio's retreating figure toward the back room.

"Don't wait up," she shouted. "See you tomorrow morning. Or Wednesday at the latest."

Friday, March 10, 2006

Meet Dolores

You can't learn to spin without fiber, so a couple of weeks ago I sent away to an online operation specializing in such things and ordered two pounds of Romney roving. I've heard from so many people that Romney is a good beginner's wool that I decided to go with it.

Last night after work I was kntting on the Regicide Scarf (it's coming along well, thank you for asking) when a call came up from the concierge saying I had a delivery from Twelve Willows Farm. "You want me to send 'er up?" he asked.

"Absolutely," I said. A few minutes later, there was a knock at the door. And then I opened the door, and then I saw this.

"Hi," said the sheep.

"Hello," I said.

"I assume you've been expecting me?" said the sheep.

I wasn't quite sure how to answer that.

The sheep held out a small slip of yellow paper with "TWELVE WILLOWS FARM: BILL OF SALE" printed in block captials across the top.

"Um...I was expecting two pounds of Romney roving," I said.

"No kidding," said the sheep.

"Are you two pounds of Romney roving?"

"Eventually," said the sheep.

"You're not quite what I anticipated," I said weakly.

"Yeah, well I thought you'd be taller," said the sheep.

She extended a hoof. I shook it.

"I'm Dolores," she said.

"I'm Franklin."

"Swell. Terrific. Are you going to ask me to come in or what?"

I stepped aside and Dolores toddled into the living room, pulling a small purple wheelie bag. She settled herself on the sofa, stretched out and burped delicately. There was a faint aroma of hay.

"Traffic from the airport was a bitch," she yawned.

I sat down in my armchair and we looked at each other for a few minutes.

"So, chatterbox, are you going to offer me a drink or do I need to get it myself?"

"I...well...what would you like?"

"Whisky, neat, thanks."

"I juice."

"Oh," sighed Dolores, "this is going to be some gig. I tell you what, big shot. Point me to the powder room. I need to freshen up and then we're going out for a wee drinkie."

While Dolores was brushing her teeth, C called.

"How's your day going?" he asked.

"A sheep is here," I said.

"Oh?" he said.

"Yes," I said.

"What does it want?" he said.

"It wants a cocktail," I said.

"Of course it does," said C.

To be continued, apparently whether I like it or not.

Stein Narrowly Defeats Parker

Welcome to Panopticon Sportscenter!

We're here to announce the victor in this week's Celebrity Smackdown: Gertrude Stein vs. Dorothy Parker in 3000m speed skating.

The results:
Gertude Stein: 58% (257 votes)
Dorothy Parker: 42% (184 votes)
We interviewed the competitors in the locker room.

Stein: "We were standing and she was talking and I was not listening, and then we were skating and not talking she was talking and skating, and I was skating and not talking. She was talking and skating then not skating and talking and I was not listening. Skating and talking is talking is not skating. Skating is skating. She was skating not skating and talking and drinking not skating. She was talking and drinking not skating and I was skating. I was skating and not listening and skating and not drinking and I was winning. And then I was mopping the rink with her skinny New York ass."

Parker: "When ice is not covered by scotch, I am deeply uninterested."

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Panopticon Celebrity Smackdown II

Are you ready to rumble?

Today's competitors: writers Gertrude Stein and Dorothy Parker

Today's event: 3000m Speed Skating

This poll will close around 5 pm American Central Standard Time on Wednesday, March 8, 2006.

Who will win in 3000m Speed Skating?
Gertrude Stein
Dorothy Parker
Free polls from

Friday, March 03, 2006

Spindle Notes

As I was saying to Paris Hilton the other day, don't you just adore the Internet?

You ask for suggestions about spinning on a drop spindle, you get suggestions for spinning on a drop spindle. You get many, many suggestions about spinning on a drop spindle. You get so many suggestions for spinning on a drop spindle that if you had a nickel for every suggestion, you could finally quit your day job and open a puppet theater just like you always wanted to.

I've decided that before I pick up (and drop) the spindle again it would be a good idea to write down the things I do remember about my first, brief attempts. It'll be fun (or painful) to come back and look at them later.
  1. Tall people have an unfair advantage in using a drop spindle. It's further to the floor. This must be their karmic trade-off for not fitting properly in standard airplane seats.
  2. The spindle is an inanimate object and does not respond to threats, coercion, foul language, diplomacy, prayers, or abject pleading.
  3. The process of spindling makes me wish I had four hands. Not for the first time, but for a very different reason.
  4. There's a fine line between "yarn" and "rope" and it's an easy one to cross.
  5. Crying never solved anything.
  6. A man in his mid-thirties should not have to repeatedly consult a real clock to remember which way is "clockwise."
  7. The nice lady in the "Joy of Handspinning" videos is an evil enchantress who sold her soul to the devil to make it look that easy. She enjoys taunting you.
  8. Selling your soul to the devil is not a option. You already signed it over in order to hang on to your waistline past age 30. Who's sorry now?
  9. Remember that roughly 25% of your ancestors actually raised sheep in the mountains of Lebanon. There's folk memory in there somewhere. Tap it.
  10. If all else fails, a wooden spindle makes a handsome desk toy, a striking drop earring, or a totally cool American Colonial Ninja throwing star.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Dear Marie

Your collective comments about yesterday's post made me laugh out loud more than once. This is a fun crowd, and I'm delighted you've found your way here.

There was one dissenting comment, though, from reader Marie, which went as follows:
Franklin, I'm horribly disturbed by your answers to those two people.

Outlining the reasons why would most likely only get me flamed by the cheerleading squad. I would like to say that I'm not in sympathy with either J or L and that I think L's tone was way out of line. In my religious and rather republican family, I have been the artist, the black sheep, and the liberal crusader. Once upon a time I would have written a comment just like all the others here.

I have loved your blog and your artwork. It was often the brightest spot in my day. I thought the medal was brilliant. Until today, it was fairly safe to say I was crushing on you just a bit. I don't know if I can be comfortable here now. What would a dignified, balanced, and courteous response have cost you?
I feel inclined to respond to Marie, if she hasn't bailed out already. I welcome all sorts of comments, provided they are civil. As Marie did not use language I consider inappropriate, the polite thing is to answer her.

If I may address the second message first, the message itself was couched in terms which according to the conventions of etiquette render it unworthy of response. If the writer simply had asked me, "Why did you choose to represent an event in which most competitors were women with a male figure?" I would have written a response describing my initial inspiration in the symbols of ancient Greece, where the Olympics were born; and my delight in allegory and symbolism, which I fear in our too-literal age are becoming lost languages.

However, the writer instead used a hostile tone and peppered it with obscenities. The overall effect was less persuasive or thought-provoking than absurd, and so I responded with an absurdity. Enough said.

As to the first message, I was initially inclined to write an apology. After all, I hate the thought of someone doing a lot of knitting and looking forward to the medal, then finding it unusable.

But one thing stopped me.

It was the remark about "how other people live."

J's basic complaint, stripped (forgive me) to its essence is that I have created an indecent image, unsuitable for viewing by children and churchgoers. She then infers, in her final line, that this "indecency" may be fine for those like me, but it will not meet her presumably higher moral standards.

This offended me for two reasons.

First, I do not create indecent works of art. Furthermore, I do not believe works of art can be inherently indecent. Indecency is more often in the mind of the beholder than in the mind of the artist. Ask any Danish political cartoonist.

Myron's Discobolus is a monument of world art, an early manifestation of the civilization that gave us (among other things) our own form of government. I will not countenance the suggestion that it is in any way pornographic. It does not seek to shock or titillate. It celebrates the human form which, if J would care to consult her Bible, is God's own form. In His own image He created them, did He not?

Second, to suggest that my way of life readily encompasses the indecent is a slap in the face. It is indicative of still-pervasive homophobia. Contrary to the beliefs of many, most gay men do not live lives of constant wild abandon. If we are often freer in our discussions of sexuality (and even this is not true of all of us) I attribute it to the fact that we've been forced to think about it a heck of a lot more than straight people and so we're more comfortable with it.

Upon reflection, I did not feel inclined to write an apology where no apology was needed. If J's own morals find the artistic display of the human form* titillating and inappropriate, that is her issue. I will not apologize for my own convictions, and I do not take kindly to suggestions that my own lifestyle is immoral.

I will say that I feel sorry for those like J who are so determined to see obscenity everywhere that they deprive themselves of many of the good and beautiful things that humanity has created.

So, to sum up my response to the first message, I decided it was in its way as insulting and unanswerable as the second. Absurdity deserves absurdity, and it got it. That is my point of view.

So there you are, Marie. I hope that explains it. I honestly felt my responses were perfectly dignified and wholly appropriate, given the nature of the initial communications. If you disagree, we may respectfully agree to disagree. Or you may choose not to read my blog any more, which would be sad, but this is a free country and nothing is easier than to not read what one does not wish to read.

And finally, I hate to think of the people who comment on this blog as a "cheerleading squad." I've never asked them to be that, and I hope they all understand that I don't accept only bouquets of roses.

Now, can we please get back to knitting and photography and the perils of urban life? The sheep are very bored indeed. The subject is closed.

If you want to discuss among yourselves, I'm interested to hear of any tips for spinning with a drop spindle, because I have a beautiful one (thank you forever Mr. and Mrs. Knittiot) which I am, at last, going to begin working with.

Any advice is most welcome. My very first attempts, under the watchful eye of Queer Joe, looked like poo. And I don't mean the teddy bear. Don't hold your breath waiting for pictures.

*A human form which, on the medal, is actually a one inch tall modified electronic rendering of a scan of a photograph of a copy of a marble statue, which is rather different than a Playgirl centerfold.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Medal Mailbag

I'm trying to be better about responding to e-mails, so when I got the following two amusing notes about the Gold Medal (rather different in tenor than the very kind words so many of you have sent) I decided it behooved me to immediately give them the responses they deserve.

(I quote verbatim.)

From J* in Kansas

Dear Franklin,

I am sorry to see that when you made the medal you put a naked person on it. My children and family look at my blog and so do members of my church. I worked hard and I really wanted this medal and now I can't use it. I can't put a naked picture on my blog. I wish you had thought of how other people live when you made a medal that is supposed to be for everybody.

Dear J,

I know just what you mean. I can't count the number of times I've had to answer the door or the telephone while cooking and come back to find my rice had burned and left a nasty black stain on the bottom of my stainless steel pots. And that stuff doesn't come off easily, either!

If you don't have access to one of those fancy dishwashers with a pot scrubber cycle, try this: bring a mix of clean water and 3 or 4 tablespoons of baking soda to a full boil, and let it continue to boil for a good half-hour or so. (Don't let it boil away!) You'll likely find that this helps to loosen that stubborn black crust enough to allow you to scour it away with a good helping of elbow grease and a piece of steel wool.

Thank you for writing!


From L* in Wisconsin

Nice job, asshole. You make a button for a zillion knitters who are almost ALL WOMEN and you put a fucking MAN on it. Fuck you.

Dear L,

Rest assured, it's not nearly so complicated as it seems. Here, in a nutshell, are the rules for turning the corners on your visiting card:
  • Upper right corner turned: the visit was made in person
  • Upper left corner turned: expression of congratulations
  • Lower right corner turned: indicates taking one's leave, also known as pour prendre congé
  • Lower left corner turned: expression of condolence to one in mourning
Note that in some regions meanings may differ or be differently shaded. For example, in New York City a folded upper corner (either side) often means that the visit was meant for all ladies of the family. You would do well, if you are newly settled in a strange area, to learn from your neighbors their own interpretations of this custom before turning your cards.

Thank you for writing, and I wish you every success in making new friends.

Yours very truly,

*Initials changed because, well, I'm just that kind of guy.

Rick Takes It on the Chin

That's it. I am ending this now, because I am in my heart a humanitarian.

The result of yesterday's first-ever Panopticon Challenge, Lily Chin vs. Rick Mondragon in bare-knuckle boxing, ended thus:
  • Lily: 80% (240)
  • Rick: 11% (31)

While the Medic Sheep look after the loser, and the victor writes a press release and arranges for another appearance on David Letterman, I'm considering the next bout. Apparently the taste for blood is widespread around here, and I aim to please.

O Sainte Médaille

I would like to thank everybody who took the time to write nice things about the Knitting Olympics Gold Medal. I had fun putting it together.

Since I finished my project, I guess I should display it, eh? Voilà.

There was a question about whether the medal can be adapted to have a black background. By all means - have fun with it. You earned it.

I've also had two other comments about the medal by e-mail which I'll have to answer later on, as they deserve special treatment.