Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The road less traveled

Kids! Take it from me, Shawn Turner — backpacking can only lead you
down the road to ruin! (These and many more wonderful photos by
Liam Lewis Turner.)
A week of rare things is now a wonderful memory: the most miles and nights I've backpacked in one trip, and time alone with my son in his brief escape from college town. Sore hips and knees gingerly remind me of the fun we had on the Skyline-to-the-Sea trail, 30-some miles from a ridge above Saratoga at Skyline Boulevard,  to wind-tattered Waddell Beach north of Santa Cruz.

After pestering my son for months to take the route in reverse (I'm far better climbing and almost useless descending), I shut up about it after the first day, which somehow comprised just enough rising slopes to make me wonder whether we'd ever reach sea level. Bizarro days ensued, entailing more climbs, seemingly, than descents. But oy, the descents, when they appeared!

Day One was the mystery, not only in finding where to start the trail, but where to pay. We ended up driving the 24 miles round trip into the heart of Big Basin Redwoods State Park, our Day Two stop. Later that day, the know-it-all park ranger checking our credentials told us how we could have saved ourselves the trip: We had driven within a quarter-mile of the kiosk to Castle Rock State Park near the trailhead, without seeing it. Oh well. We drove all the way back up to the start, said goodbye to my wife, who camped with us the night before, and dropped slowly out of wind and drizzly fog to the first camp.

Tranquil Silver Falls distract from the
knee-jerking descent.
Day Two was the Slog that Never Was. True, we trekked the farthest at 10+ miles, but we inadvertently pushed it too hard and arrived in Big Basin before lunch, as we did each day. The trouble with backpacking, we remembered, is rarely having something to do once you reach camp; the journey is the point, not always the destination. Luckily, the destination this time included a store, where we gorged on ice cream bars and a bag of Fritos to supplement our meager cup-a-soup meals.

Day Three, into the redwood rainforest, was the Day of the Banana Slug, when we encountered most of the dozens we spotted.

Our planned detour from the main trail did not plan for this!
Serendipity! One of my favorite words and concepts.
Our stop that night was Sunset Trail Camp, described in one pamphlet as the Sunset Magazine Camp; instead of the split-level four bedroom experimental house strewn with ferns, and Aryan kids strewn in the sandbox made of railroad ties near perfect parents dining on cucumber-and-pistachio salads with pomegranate iced tea, we found 10 remote bare spots deemed campsites. There it rained just as soon as we arrived. After soaking and stewing, we decided it best to stake out a shelter and nap through the storm.

Day Four was Day of the Newt (or Salamander). They lived in a Jurassic paradise of Berry Creek, which spilled into three distinct water falls. Golden Cascade, named for the bright ochre Santa Cruz mudstone the creek washed downstream, looks in its striations like the temple ruins of a jungle-choked civilization; Silver Falls falls in tiers, every turn of the twisty steep trail revealing another level; Berry Creek is the big daddy, a Robinson Crusoe-desert island kind of tropical waterfall. We saw not a soul until we reached the last camp, and are reasonably sure we did not accidentally send any salamander/newt souls heavenward by crushing their slimy mortal coils under our boots.

The last day, potentially the most nerve-jangling, worked out almost perfectly, requiring a pre-dawn trek to the beach to catch the only bus into Santa Cruz, there to spend the day until Amtrak could trundle us home. We wandered to the city wharf, and our worries about smelling up the place and looking out of place soon dissipated when we realized we were just two of a great number of smelly backpackers in the city. We grabbed a newspaper and coffee, and sat as lotus eaters on a wharf bench, listening to the sea lion harems arf and reading with sadness the tragic loss of Buster Posey, and cringing at the front-page picture in which Posey's feet seemed to turn at anatomically impossible directions.

Could a velociraptor be around the next corner? Nah.
More likely a newt (Gingrich). Squish!
The only damper to the last day was our needlessly wandering through town waiting for the ride out, because my son's foot was aching badly.

Aboard the train, I wanted to tell my son about the strange Australian outback-style home set in the Suisun marsh, with its great wraparound porch and the wind tower jutting out of the center of the home to regulate the indoor temperature, but I was too tired. He would have thought it nonsense from a dream.

Ocian in view! O the joy! We are in view of the ocian, this great
Pacific Ocean which we have been so long anxious to see.
Final tally:

75 banana slugs, the last one entertaining us from before dinner to bedtime with its glacial parade through our campsite.

21 newts. Or salamanders. Probably newts. The sign said newts. The sign described two newts, too, so we think we too saw two kinds. Also.

2 rabbits.

4 deer.

2 big fat gray squirrels, one dead.

Back in civilization, we receive the bad news.
2 ice creams, killed dead. Same for a bag of Big Scoop Fritos.

2 raccoons, each surveying our feast and each giving up without threat; they could learn something from their brazen brethren on Angel Island.

4 Steller's jays, one for each camp. Their strategy seems to be intimidation, their ugly squawks meant to separate us from our food, but they're really just crazy clowns, their heads dipped in night.

2 cars wrecked on the slopes of the first day's hike. Two mysteries about how the cars got there (it's not obvious they ran off roads), and why after after the decades they haven't been hauled out.

Happy and sad to see the end.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Blocking out the scenery, breaking my mind …

Signs bloom like wildflowers in Old Sacramento and, in the absence of protests to the contrary, I'm going to show you more of 'em. These pix come courtesy of Heather Lavezzo Downey, the city's interpretive specialist. The signs are part of a broader project by the Historic Old Sacramento Foundation and the Center for Sacramento History to inform visitors about the origins of Sacramento.

Somewhere in back of this Waterfront Park sign (left; click to get a close-up) is a real steamboat, the Delta King, which did its work (including as a troop transport during World War II, painted Navy gray!) in the 20th Century, and now is a hotel and theater. Though part of Waterfront Park, the restrooms are not the focus of the sign. You can find smaller interpretive signs along Waterfront Park now, too.

Heather got much better pix than I did of the Lauriet Assay site, where signs have blossomed as well (left and below). It's a quirky site: You can see below the sign the foundation of the buildings and the hollow spaces beyond. Someone has put doors where the brick-barrel vaults were, and created small narrow shop spaces (unused at the moment). Right behind the sign would have been the Assay office, where Prof. Lauriet weighed miners' gold and assigned value to it.

Heather wrote the text for the signs, and has a great way of engaging visitors to think about how they would have lived in Sacramento during the gold rush, and the decisions they would have made.

I'm sure I mentioned it before, but "gold rush" wasn't in use until 1860, more than a decade after the gold rush began. California-bound gold seekers were more likely to call their venture "going to see the elephant." Since a circus elephant was sure to be the most exotic thing Americans had seen up to that point, adventurers equated their Westward journey with it. Whether they struck gold or not (and it was usually the latter), they would say they had seen the elephant.

Also, they often called themselves Argonauts, after the Greek myth of Jason, assigned the task of finding the golden fleece. Jason and his sailor searched aboard the Argo; thus, Argonauts, sailors of the Argo, because whether traveling by actual ship or covered wagon across the plains (which is hard to do in a ship), they looked like windborne sailors on a mission. Now you have 1/47 of my Underground Sacramento tour for free. You're welcome.

Signs have gone up around the base of Pioneer Park, so that while visitors approach the strange sight of cast-iron pillars holding up nothing but the shade, they can find out why these ancient ruins are there. While one person reads and learns, another, having read and learned, refreshes himself with drink; a little girl uses her sign to hide; the traffic cone seems transfixed by the new information.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

How to win your age group in a swimming race

My fool-proof plan for any fool:

1. Make sure few, if any, racers are also in your age group; by any means necessary, if necessary.
2. Badger and cajole race officials into narrowing the age group by needless constraints.
3. Be old … er … ish.
4. Don't drown.

— or —

5. Stagger out of the water like an evolutionary throwback, and become pleasantly surprised that all three conditions conspired to make you the recipient of the hallowed blue ribbon.

I went with Step 5 in the 500-meter race, finishing at 11 minutes, 41 seconds and a few tenths (think of the iconic running scene from Chariots of Fire, except without music or the need for slow-mo camera effects, and swimming instead of running, of course) at the Spring Lake (Santa Rosa) 2011 Swim Saturday.  Nonetheless, I trounced the male, 45-49 age bracket.  I might also have taken home second- and third-place ribbons in that category, but the race sponsors were not feeling that generous.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Politicians have affairs. Also, water is wet.

Must honor … my personal moratorium … on that former governor … of California … who now has admitted to his philandering. Only wonder … what will become … of … his "Governator" cartoon extravaganza. Knowing the way the world works … probably become … a mega-hit.

Luckily politicians and affairs go hand in hand, as it were, to the point that infidelity could become a major new political party. I was just reviewing a rogue's gallery — and what a long gallery it was, as if they all figured fooling around is a perq of office — of politicians who had affairs and denied them, even railed for political gain against the tearing of our social fabric by heathens and scoundrels and sodomites (the ones you have to watch out for, of course, are the ones who rail the loudest and longest; they're the ones likely participating in the things they denounce). Among the rogues, Sen. Gary Hart of Colorado, the 1980s version of John Edwards, so chock full of hope and charisma, how could he not become president and lead our country to the promised land? But rumors of an extramarital affair spread, and Hart, that clever tactician, challenged the news media to tail him, which they did, to find him in no time with Donna Rice, including on the yacht Monkey Business:

Donna mastered the art of turning a scarlet letter into fortune and fame, representing something called No Excuses Jeans.

Occasionally I piled on against other philanderers in cartoon form, but I'll save those when the need arises.

Two technical notes: Here is another unpublished square cartoon (right); for whom I can't remember. Also, I signed the top cartoon "Esti," which I did for a short while (the phonetic spelling of my initials). Coincidentally, my son has named a side business after the phonetic form of his initials. I know, riveting stuff.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Introducing Itch-A-Sketch™®*


Mood level: Pinkish red, chasing
away the pale. Not too happy having
to rewrite posts in the wake
of whatever happened to Blogger
last week …

* no resemblance is intended to that damnably counterintuitive "drawing" toy, namely because I've never heard of that toy.

(Also, the evergreen answer to the question, "What are you drawing?" is "I don't know," because I usually follow the point of my pen or pencil to its completion, and usually have no idea where that will lead. Oh, I'll have a notion, but the result on paper so often falls short of the synaptic dance in my head. The following barely makes the cut …)

Itch-A-Sketch,™® a byproduct of shawnDRAWN,®™ is simply the result of my getting an itch to sketch something, usually when I'm bored or should be doing something more important. I was going to call this Sketch-of-the-Week, but I didn't want that pressure.

The game I made for myself: Draw from memory sense a  baseball player ('tis the season). The goal is that it has to bear authenticity. It doesn't have to be super-realistic, but it must have authority, conveying the idea of an actual player in motion. (My cartooning hero, Pat Oliphant, draws with authority: Everything is cartoony, but everything is in the right place and looks right in his twisted world.)

It's harder to achieve than it seems. Where are body parts in relation to others during movement? Arms and legs start in one place but end up in seemingly illogical other places, and without photo reference, it's a trick to get limbs to go where they should.

Should Lincecum ever
cut his hair again,
that would really
be freaky.
I've been trying to draw from memory Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum's Koufaxian archer's bow of a windup, with legs and arms and hair flying like a whirling Dervish, but I still haven't gotten all his parts and pieces to look freaky enough to resemble The Freak.

kinda sorta Tim Lincecum-ish. eh …
Head, hands and feet are way too big for the body in the top sketch, but I think I caught the movement right, the moment the hitter has shifted from his swing into taking the first explosive step around the bases. The bat, gripped so hard in the previous eye-blink, is deftly released; the body's heft that propelled the ball now begins to propel the body toward first. He put a good swing on the ball, one of the clichés of the day among ballplayers now. In the process, I've managed to make him somewhat Bondsian (Bobby, not Barry) with a hint of Willie Davis, though he hit left-handed.

Somehow the hitter that emerged came from the '60s or '70s, with the flannel uniform, the stirrups (why no stirrups anymore? It's time for a comeback!), lack of batting gloves and the helmet-hat (which wasn't going to save anybody from anything).

Better to wear the helmets with the double ear flaps at all times. Like I do.

Rest in peace, Harmon Killebrew, whose profile, I just learn, may have been the inspiration for the Major League Baseball logo (the logo's creator reportedly disputes this; I've always wondered how that batter was supposed to be able to turn on that pitch in time); Harmon was one of those baseball storybook heroes come to life, hitting the home runs he promised sick children.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Masquerading as a teacher

Mood level: Pinkish red, chasing
away the pale. Not too happy to
have to rewrite posts in the wake
of whatever happened to Blogger
the last coupla days …
(the briefest of prologues: I was an elementary teacher for two years, having embarked on a new career that I thought would take me into old age. The economy tanked, California bleeds now, nearly to death, thus a quick dead end to that path. All the teachers who were supposed to retire in advance of this hyper-promoted great wave of new teachers —the one that swept people like me to universities to figure out all over how to be a college student — instead held on for dear life, and new teachers, the ones who are supposed to have the new energy and idealism and research, live a last-hired-first-fired fate with no consideration for their efforts or potential.)

One of the facets of teaching I found hard to reconcile was to subsume who I was in order to become one. Though a writer, I couldn't imprint my experiences on students because news reporting and copywriting are often  constant and conscious violations of writing rules. Whatever I did to teach nouns, verbs and adjectives — even acting out verbs like I had the St. Vitus dance — became like pouring water on sand. Students seemed to forget quickly, almost always right before test time.

As an artist, I found it difficult to teach art because (1) it interfered with reading and math and (2) my art and curricular art are vastly different, and (3) I couldn't figure out how to teach without triggering widespread panic and mass cries of "I can't do this!" within moments of starting.

Strangely enough, I felt most confident teaching math, my weakest subject. Students seemed to grasp the tricks and songs and chants, all repeated daily, that conveyed the concepts.

But I couldn't completely lock out the illustrator in me. I had to let him out to design worksheets, classroom newsletters, even the parent-teacher meeting signup forms. Here are some samples.

While in teacher credential school, I designed a booklet for science experiments on sound (top). Our instructor let us adapt simple experiments for selected grade levels, and plan and teach the lesson by dividing the class into teams that would work together. I got second grade and decided to make the lesson more accessible with cartoons. The school mascot is a beaver, so I drew it slapping its tail on the cover and trying the experiments inside. I had the booklets translated in Spanish, and even tried a simple social experiment to see if girls and boys were attracted to more feminine or masculine looks (they couldn't have cared less.)

All the planning was undermined by something I didn't know to account for — the fact that the teacher had never let the students work together, even in pairs, and therefore they didn't know how to. The lesson collapsed into a failed labor relations workshop, with crying and flailing frustration. Even the kids acted up.

My supervising teacher while I was student teaching came up with the "Place Value Avenue" concept, which I ran with in this worksheet (left). The more I visualized math concepts, the better I could understand and teach from them.

In both classes where I taught full time, I created newsletters as the primary way to communicate with households (left). Somehow I managed to publish almost every week, trying as much as I could to feature student work. The type is too small to read here, but a blurb at the bottom lets families know that our ONE field trip, not three miles away from the school, had to be canceled because the school district ran out of money.

(the briefest of epilogues: [remember when many Quinn Martin TV crime dramas ended with a titled epilogue? How quaint.] California and the country are screwed, probably within the next generation. We will have shortchanged the children we expect to advance the country we dream and talk about.

Teachers and their union are occupying the halls of the State Capitol this week, trying to convince four Republican Assembly members to provide the votes to extend some state taxes, thereby averting another round of cuts that has already swept hundreds of teachers from classrooms, filled the remaining classrooms with more students than are conducive to learning, and cut resources that are meager to start with.

A solution is unattainable, because it requires the mother of all paradigm shifts. We must decide as a people where our money should go: To new discoveries and an improved quality of life and unexplored frontiers; or to someone paid ungodly sums for being able to sing, throw a baseball at 96 mph with cut, act in a movie, be a public jerk, or make money for the sake of making money. We must decide whether our free time and disposable income are better spent improving each other's lives, or playing video games in which we shoot and kill other people.

OK, stepping down from my soapbox now.)

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Will they stay or will they go?

The Sacramento Kings will remain the Sacramento Kings, not the Anaheim Royals or the Anaheim Anything. For Now. Maybe. We'll see. I dunno.

That's the gist of the story so far. The city of Sacramento with mayor and former NBA star Kevin Johnson, majority Kings owners and developers are all coming together, hats in hand (the hatless have even bought hats to have them in hand), resolving to build a new arena so the Kings will stay forever, and the majority owners say they may pay for more of the new arena. I guess. I dunno.

What I do know, and this cover I drew for the Sacramento News & Review is proof, is that the new arena, and who pays for it, have haunted Sacramento for years; long before this cover, even; probably the day Power Balance Pavilion (nee Arco Arena) was built. Once the last rivet was hammered and the last bin of dust scooped, someone on the construction crew must have said aloud, "No, this is not it at all! What were we thinking?" Or some such.

Anaheim apparently is holding out hope no good thing will come of another year for the Kings in Sacramento: One site even has what appears to be a countdown for when Anaheim might be eligible again to host the team.

Rabid fans of my work (thank you for your foamy loyalty!) will notice I savaged another illustration, with portraits of Lincoln, Washington and Franklin on their respective dollar bills, to build this arena made of money. Ethical? I dunno. I guess. Maybe.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Encouraging signs

A sign, serving its humble purpose! Success!
Two-thirds of the signs I illustrated for Old Sacramento have been installed. Hoo! Ray!

The signs went up at Pioneer Park (right) and at the Lauriet Assay Office. I know you join me in anxious vigil for the Waterfront Park signs to appear. Smoke 'em if you got 'em.

Seeing the signs for the first time last week, I did three things:

1. Wiped off pollen and smudges with my shirttail,
2. Wondered morbidly when someone would deface them, and
3. Realized they are awash in a great ocean of signs in Old Sacramento; so many signs, each so different from the next, you'd think they're what holds up the buildings.

Named for a bakery … that occupied
the site next door.
These new signs are necessarily understated, a dark chocolate on a cream background, designed by Lisa Park to blend in to the 19th Century surroundings, and then become visible to provide handy information the moment visitors wonder what the heck they're looking at.

Though I understand that, I wouldn't mind a little neon, or maybe another sign telling visitors, "Hey! Look at this cool sign!"

As I guide visitors through Underground Sacramento (in the character of an Irish lout-turned-clerk) I tell them with a wink the signs are new and that I'm familiar with the artist's work.

Though the signs are pebbles in a pond, I'm happy knowing they're part of a much larger long-term plan to reveal more of the lunatic history of Sacramento, in which founders built too close to the Sacramento and American rivers, and solved the problem of their own making by lifting the city out of the floodwaters.
A good place for a sign answering,
"What the heck is this?"

Eventually, as The Sacramento Bee reports, the state would like to re-establish two levels of the city in what seems like an empty lawn at Front and I streets in the heart of the old city — the 1849 level of the city, where foundations are still intact, and the post-1864 city level, some 20 feet above.

I'm hoping sooner than later, and that the economy turns around to make it so.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

One big walking pimple*

Such a happy, deluded kid …
Is this vaguely R. Crumb-y?
Lengthy correspondence with a friend from high school long ago (thanks facebook!) forced me to reckon with the fiery trial through which we pass: Junior high (or middle school, if you insist, though a different name doesn't improve that hell) and high school, especially the Making Our Way in the World part.

The memories led me to confront my sophomore year at Cabrillo High (best mascot ever, as long as you ignore the genocidal pedigree; unbelievably awesome aquarium and graphic design lab, long after my time, sadly; remarkably considered and consistent use of logo elements), when my uniform looked like this (left):

1. A Greek fisherman's hat, worn every single day. I got it at Fisherman's Wharf  on an eighth grade trip to San Francisco because (honest to God!) I saw an ABC After School Special in which the teen-aged protagonist treasured the Greek fisherman's cap given him by his late father. My dad was quite alive.

[Note: I make tangential connections to the world. The reasons I'm a San Francisco Giants fan, for example, are that one of my aunts has lived in and around the Bay area — mostly around, in Marin County and the south Bay — and I found the place exotic and fraught with adventure, and because an older cousin, nowhere near the Bay Area, could imitate Flip Wilson doing his Geraldine character shouting, "Hit that ball, Willie (Mays)! C'mon, Willie, hit that ball!"]

Tabbed for your convenience!
Just clip it out and clad me to recreate
an exciting night at Huyck Stadium!
2. A rugby shirt. Even though they're typically long-sleeved, I insisted (to myself) on wearing a short-sleeve version, because I read that drug users like to hide the needle tracks on their arms with long sleeves, and I didn't want anybody thinking I used. What a full-out weird kid I was. I had several of these, and occasionally wore a collarless polo shirt (there was a name for these, but I've forgotten it) to break up the monotony; you could get them from Miller's Outpost (anybody remember that place?).

3. Jeans, but not real ones, not even real denim. My parents usually bought from JC Penney or the Vandenberg Air Force Base Exchange, and found less expensive bluish looking, kinda stretchy pants that resembled jeans, from a distance.

3a. Sometimes I wore corduroys. Anyone remember corduroys? Where did they go?

4. Those shoes you got at K Mart. They must have had a name — someone told me they're "Clark desert boots" though I think the name may have been (knockoff) Wallabees  — but I call them, "shoes you got at K Mart." They were high-topped (mid-ankle) the uppers made of tan suede, and the soles made of "crepe" if that's what bright, hardened layers of rubber cement means. A ridge of fabric ran from the top of the shoe around the toe, holding the three pieces of suede together. Usually they had only two or four lace eyelets. Everyone wore them at the time. I haven't seen them since.

5. On Friday nights during football season, I wore the same thing, except I added a backbreakingly heavy ivory colored Irish fisherman's sweater, to complete the evening ensemble. It would have kept me warm during a hearty gale, if we ever had one. It did protect me from the fog so common on a Lompoc evening, and any girl who may have even accidentally entertained a molecule of thought about going out with me. I really thought I was something, with a style neither imitated or duplicated, probably with sound reason.

I was, quite plainly, a plain dork. I think I must have seen myself in a mirror or a photo, and decided by junior year to lose the uniform.

But I give myself credit for daring to exhibit what I thought passed for style. My body had thinned from the junior high pudge (think Bobby Hill without the buzz cut), from a lot of running around Mission La Purísima where I grew up (I was hoping to make either the 1976 or 1980 U.S. Olympic team. Honest to God! Don't tell me a rich fantasy life has no benefits!) and I wanted to exult in my sleek form a bit, celebrate a la Walt Whitman. And I credit my parents for not calling me out (maybe they thought it looked good, but having seen their old stepping-out photos,  I don't see how they could). Mom drew the line at a Navy pea coat; that fell into the "get a job and buy it yourself" category. For the most part, my parents let me find my own way; I remember once my mom let it slip that my dad had a conversation with her along the lines of, "No son of mine is going to draw and paint …" but my dad never discouraged me directly from exploring art.

Thanks for coming along on my catharsis …

* Thanks to Carol Burnett for her concise definition of adolescence.

Monday, May 2, 2011

… so long as we keep our foot upon his neck … *

Osama bin Laden, dead.

A caricature rendered in frustration, nearly 10 years ago.

The cheering: I'd have thought people would be too bone-weary or too young to remember.

But they remember.

And we must remember to be vigilant.

Quoth Stan Lee:
'Nuff said.

* The world is all the richer for having a devil in it, so long as we keep our foot upon his neck — William James