Tuesday, June 28, 2011

… like eating potato chips …

What a photographer my son Liam is: catching me
between jiggles so that the flapping skin resembled
Challenging endeavors I overcame this month:

1. Drew caricatures of sleepy teenagers at a high school grad night. One or two caricatures were passable; the rest were simply atrocious, but the grads were too tired or too kind to tell me.

2. Served as emcee at a weeklong early evening camp for boys 7-11 and their adult leaders. This turned out to be an easy gig, because my job was to ramp up the kids' energy level, and I had almost forgotten they don't need much encouragement.

3. Swam from Alcatraz Island to San Francisco's Aquatic Park for Sharkfest 2011.

No. 3 was easiest, easier even than leading a bunch of kids in "Boom Chicka Boom." Or more accurately, steady planning and work toward overcoming obstacles made this endeavor manageable enough to seem easy. Most important, I guess: It was a goal I strongly desired to achieve.

Neurotic about arriving early, I had plenty of time before the swim, so Nancy and
I strolled along the breakwater of Aquatic Park to get a better view of the goal.
My sister Tara, daughter Mo, son Liam and wife Nancy, once all was said and done.
I won this paper cup …
I knew the moment I hit the water around Alcatraz Island, so warm compared to the snow runoff of Lake Natoma, that I had prepared well for the Alcatraz crossing. My next goal  is to draw lessons from the moment, and from the moments leading to the moment. You know, all those corny lessons about setting goals for something worthwhile, goals just out of reach, then making the steps to reach them. Cleaning my office, for example; but for that I'd have to decide it's worthwhile.

I take so many memories to heart: Walking barefoot and bare-chested with the stream of swimmers over to Pier 41 and the ferries … riding atop the ferry, getting as cold as I could stand … cutting my toe on the sandpapery texture of the ferry deck, and truly wondering at that moment about the absence/presence of man-eating sharks … hearing a volunteer tell me, "I used to be as crazy as you" before he helped me out of the ferry with a firm hand … seeing San Francisco from the swells of the Bay, watching it flatten and obscure the landmarks I was hoping desperately to distinguish … clonking another swimmer on the head with my forward stroke, and hoping I hadn't ruined his swim … getting Nancy's help with big and little things throughout the morning … wondering at times whether the shore would ever really appear, whether I had sighted on the proper landmark, whether I had turned in toward the breakwater at the right time … watching a throng of people at the finish line cheering all the swimmers, and seeing my family waving for my attention, happy for my feat … seeing a gigantic tanker chug through the channel between Alcatraz and the shore, just as kayakers corralled the last of the swimmers toward Aquatic Park … not shivering, not even using my towel, on the shore.

More corny stuff: I have so many to thank. My wife and family for supporting me, not only from the time I started swimming but coming out to see this happen over the weekend. My sister even drove up from the Southland to be part of the scene. My parents would have loved this, and it's appropriate that my sister and I were together (too rare an occurrence) on our parents' 50th anniversary.

(Shortly before she died, my mom told tales of her life as we recorded them, and described what a strong open-water swimmer my dad was. Amazing what a mom or dad or anyone you know and love might neglect to tell you! I think of the conversations I could have had with my dad; I remember him encouraging me to keep a steady pace on a really long swim — no more than 100 or 200 yards, I'm sure — that I was supposed to complete for swim lessons when I was 8 or 9; maybe he mentioned he was a strong swimmer, but I chose not to hear.) 

More thanks: My somewhat scary experience trying to swim as a Boy Scout leader, which spurred me to become a swimmer. In the spirit of kaizen (Japanese for "continuous improvement," which reminds me: Thanks Terry Laughlin and your Total Immersion swimming technique which helped me swim without wear and tear on my aging bones), maybe I should say, continue to become a swimmer. I have so much to learn about swimming.

Interesting facts: 1. Only 73 male "skin" swimmers (I like that
better than "non-wetsuit" swimmers, because it's vaguely naughty)
with 27 female "skin" swimmers out of some 900 total;
2. I was not last, though a fellow Cal Poly graduate, same age
from the same year (whom I've never met), finished first among
male "skin" swimmers, third overall, 19 minutes ahead of me;
3. I'm intrigued by Paul and Mark Machin, finishing 43rd and 44th,
respectively; they're the same age with the same unusual
last name, and they finished three tenths of a second apart.
Are they twins? Did they resolve to swim together? Were they
tethered, mechanically or biologically? Is it the same person,
registered twice with two different sets of vitals? I really wanna
know! (Looking at the overall results, posted online, I notice
many more incidents of people with the same last name, finishing
just tenths of a second apart from one another; is this a thing,
I wonder? Do siblings/couples/parents and children make pacts
to swim together on this? Some of these pairings came in very
fast. Hmm, gotta talk my family into joining me in the future.)
More thanks: Leslie Thomas and the people at swim-art.com, for advice and opportunities to swim in the Bay. My swimming friends with Sacramento Swim Enthusiasts, which boasts many eponymous enthusiasts who share my growing love for cold water and are willing to go out very early in the morning, sometimes twice a day (even if it's not the same group each time), to swim.

I joined Team Hydro (on the web site team photo, I'm the only one wearing the pink cap, in the center) on the swim, to raise money for a disease called hydrocephalus. Two brothers started Team Hydro in honor of their sister, who suffered from the disease and who died last November. What started as two brothers, their sister, and two friends four years ago, has grown to 126 swimmers this year (including the youngest in the race, a 10-year-old boy who has hydrocephalus), raising $110,000 to fund two research grants into the disease, for which no cure is yet known. I didn't know what I was getting into when I joined Team Hydro, and wasn't sure if I could do the right thing by raising money. But friends came through big, and it was one last good vibe to carry me into the swim.

It turns out Team Hydro, which got to wear pink swim caps while other swimmers wore yellow, comprises mostly Stanford and Cal alumni, and not being part of either or a college rah-rah type in general, I didn't hang around too much in the Team Hydro section at Aquatic Park. I was grateful for their hot tea at race's end, though.

Alcatraz to me is like scarfing potato chips: One isn't enough, and I've got to have more. I want to swim longer distances, and figure out how to swim faster within the framework of the techniques I learned. Like Team Hydro professes, I'll take it one stroke at a time.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Alcatraz awaits …

Though I don't look anything close to the ├╝berswimmer on the right, I don't look like the dude on the left anymore, either.

Swimming longer distances more frequently, nearing the end of my quest to swim from Alcatraz Island to terra not so firma in San Francisco, has changed my shape to something in between.

Saturday, I reach the goal I set some seven years ago, swimming in Sharkfest 2011, weather willing (a friend planned to swim last year's event, which was canceled as the swimmers were ferried out to the starting line at Alcatraz).

Even four months ago, this seemed like a really stupid idea. I was swimming a bit more than a mile most days, but my open water experiences were exasperating tragi-comedies as I sputtered and thrashed in the cold water, and beat myself up over not being able to transfer my pool practice into the chill of lakes Folsom and Natoma near Sacramento.

But steady open water opportunities with the Sacramento Swim Enthusiasts, and encouragement from my newfound friends in that group, has closed the gap. I swim longer distances and practice against all those open water obstacles (no lines, no walls, no clear water) that can throw pool swimmers.  I decided back in February to figure out how to swim in the cold water without a wetsuit, and now I'm accustomed to it and plan to swim Alcatraz that way, in the tradition of the South End Rowing and Dolphin clubs at Aquatic Park in San Francisco, the finish line.

I'm also swimming for Team Hydro, raising money to find cures and treatments for hydrocephalus, a debilitating and life-threatening disease that affects more than 1 million Americans. I'm helping raise money. Wanna donate? Go to teamhydro.org, or my own Team Hydro Web page just for that purpose.

Alcatraz awaits. I can't wait.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Yin yangin' it

The finished art and accompanying pocket art for the 2009 camp shirt.
Each year I get to design a T-shirt for Larry Carter and his jiu jitsu (he spells it jujitsu) summer camp in the far north state.

The design if money were no object.
Each design has featured a dragon and a tiger in some variation of yin and yang. This  follows the tradition of the camp rather than any particular tradition of this martial art. There is no particular dragon style or tiger style to the jujitsu Larry teaches, for example.

In this year's design, which I'm working on feverishly today and will post when approved, dragon and tiger break free of the yin yang constraints and take advantage of camp's offerings, namely jumping off a cliff into cool water.

While I crank on that, I'm also posting previous designs and variations that didn't fly because of budget considerations.

The multicolor version below is a prime example: Budget limits would not permit multiple colors, gradations, the shadow, etc. I wanted to augment the inspiration for this illustration: Japanese cut paper art. Ultimately, the style came through in the budget version, and maybe even emerged bolder:

The two-color version is starker and bolder, IMHO.

The first year was also less yin-yangy, but kept the concept of intertwining while also evoking Children's Day in Japan, celebrating and honoring children in part with colorful banners: 
Again, the budget required limitations, so we tossed out color and focused energies on helping the screen printer print the gradated highlights on the dragon and tiger's faces. The screen printer was kind but hated this challenge; I just wanted the gradated mesh tool from Adobe Illustrator to magically become the gradation on the printed piece, but I think I had to create a hamhanded series of half-tone dots to mimic what I had created. It was probably a lot of work, which is probably why I have forgotten what really happened.
… if Donald Trump or his ilk was bankrolling the project …

The pocket designs had to match or complement the shirt back. Here are some variations for the first year's version:

It's always a design problem I'm happy to try and solve, and I'm grateful to Larry to giving me wide open space to take up the challenge.
I like the optical illusion the intertwined horn shapes create. The ribbony yin yang version was chosen.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Mr. Garamendi, also, is upside down

Just the usual chicanery for which politics is so well known.
Rep. John Garamendi last week pulled what the San Francisco Chronicle's Joe Garafoli called a "rookie mistake" by jumping headfirst into the public meatgrinder that is Stephen Colbert's "Better Know a District" segment of the Colbert Report. It's the semi-regular feature in which, with purposely insipid questions and crafty edits, even the sharpest tool in the Congressional shed comes out looking like an idiot. Garamendi, no rookie, did not miraculously change the outcome of this feature, instead emerging as said idiot.

Colbert repeatedly harped on the incongruous and unsettling fact that Garamendi does not live in the congressional district he represents; his front yard is in District 10, which Garamendi represents; his home is on the other side of the line in District 3. Presumably he has a card table and mobile phone out on the District 10 north (or south?) 40.

Not only did Garamendi, who never met a political office he didn't run for (he was state insurance commissioner twice, lieutenant governor, state assembly in two districts and senate member, plus deputy U.S. interior secretary and candidate for governor) come out the buffoon, he gave me an excuse to showcase some of my editorial cartoons about him. I mean, there's public service, but there's also wondering if Mr. Garamendi might have any other job skills.

At one point, Garamendi's wife Patti got into the act, running for the state Senate office her husband was vacating to become insurance commissioner. It put party opponent and Assembly member (and former Garamendi aide) Pat Johnston in the strange position of competing for the seat against the dubious Garamendi dynasty (below).

The Garamendis "liked" the cartoon so much, they wanted to buy it. Star struck, I may have actually sold it; it's the last time I was asked, thank goodness, because I'd never do it again. My goal was to get the Garamendis to cancel their subscription to The Stockton Record.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Urgent correction

In a previous post, I inadvertently published this photo:
This is not correct, it was pointed out to me.
and really was supposed to post this pic:

This is more like it, as revealed in a follow-up fact check.
Coincidentally, my wife agrees. I apologize for any unfortunate consequence of this mistake. Stand by for further updates as events warrant.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Mr. Brown is upside down

Monument to the Old School politician. In these and the following, you can see Pat Oliphant's influence.
Then he re-formed into Da Mayor. Note the overwrought Ethics watchdog
in the top two cartoons.
I just read that a preparatory school named after Willie Brown, in San Francisco's under-served Bayview neighborhood, is closing because it could not deliver on its academic promise to students. In fact, it was one of the state's worst-performing schools.

It's too bad because, despite the former Assembly speaker and  San Francisco mayor's many faults and flaws, I think it's safe to say he looked out for the people he served.

Willie Brown was the target of many of my editorial cartoons, and if any of the Powers that Be ever even saw my cartoons, he would have cared the least. By far. He would have said "So what?!" because he bought weapons-grade Teflon®™, not the flimsy stuff Reagan wore. Nothing could bring Willie down, not scandals, ethics investigations, not even the Kryptonite that fells every other politician: Term limits. He just decided he'd like to be "Da Mayor" of The City, and took the job.

Brown was an Old School politician, no doubt having learned at the knee of his Assembly speaker predecessor Jesse Unruh, famous for two Old School quotes: "Money is the mother's milk of politics," and, about lobbyists, "If you can't eat their food, drink their booze, screw their women and then vote against them, you have no business being up here."

Even John Wayne couldn't do this. This was for what I believed was a
syndicate. That chicanery deserves its own future blog post.
That was Willie Brown, taking as much as he could, pushing the political envelope, and always seeming to one step ahead of his enemies.

Ethics investigations and FBI stings couldn't do it: He managed to elude any dragnets that ensnared others in his party.

Even those in his party couldn't get to him.

Lawmakers tried redistricting to nibble away at Brown's power. Nope, that didn't work, either.
et tu, Assembly?

Of course, I could be using the Bayview School's closing as an excuse to run my Willie Brown cartoons. Which is why I strongly encourage President George Herbert Walker Bush, former governors George Deukmejian and Pete Wilson,
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, former Attorney General John Van de Kamp, and anyone still bumbling about from the Reagan and Bush I administrations, to begin tweeting inappropriate pictures of themselves immediately.

George Deukmejian, Willie Brown, former Sen. Pro Tempore David Roberti … all part of that long tradition
of getting served by …  I mean, serving the people.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Proof of life

Delightedly goofy?
Seven years ago, I would not have emerged from any body of water looking so goofily delighted (or vice versa).

Whenever I resurfaced back then, the result resembled the pic from a previous post (below), indicating the throes of death or imminent hospitalization.

On land or at sea, not a good look.
It's the way I would have looked that spring, after the canoeing instructors had required all us scoutmasters and assistant scoutmasters to swim out a distance, maybe 50 yards, in a lake before the weekend clinic began, just to show we could. I flopped ashore as nonchalantly as a sea elephant, trying very hard to keep my death-rattle pant under radar, and to avoid, if at all possible, making the lead story on the evening news, about the tragic death of a scout leader who really should have known better. And it's certainly how I looked that summer, after the summer camp waterfront directors had given me another try to complete 16 lengths of a pool-sized swim area, as part of the requirements to become a Boy Scout lifeguard. I made it, barely; it's difficult as a lifeguard to convey a sense of confidence among swimmers when you can hardly save yourself.

After those embarrassments, I began swimming for my exercise, and it became my happy habit. Early on, I set a goal of swimming from Alcatraz Island to San Francisco, and eventually realized that my homegrown hurky-jerky swimming technique (or lack thereof) would never get me from Point A(lcatraz) to Point B. After stumbling upon a technique called Total Immersion, I have followed it faithfully, and I think it's finally going to get me across that ship channel. I swim amid the crowd for Sharkfest 2011 June 25. No wetsuit. Can't wait!

Looking back on another 1.3 mile swim on Folsom Lake …
{In addition to the personal challenge, I'm also swimming as part of Team Hydro, to raise money for research into hydrocephalus, a brain disease affecting more than a million Americans. The money raised from each Team Hydro member sponsors the Kate Finlayson Memorial Grant for Hydrocephalus Research. Kate passed away from complications linked to hydrocephalus; she underwent more than 100 brain operations to treat her condition, and lived in chronic pain. Her brother Peter started Team Hydro to honor his sister's brave spirit and and example. All donations toward the grant and all contributions are fully tax-deductible.

You can donate on my Team Hydro Website (and/or see what a terrible fundraiser I am to date, take pity on me and change matters for the better; you'll also see I'm raising the money in honor of my parents, Bonnie and Bill, who had their own life-threatening conditions and passed away from heart attacks, but would have been at once thrilled and horrified that I was swimming Alcatraz.)

Or mail donations to: 
Hydrocephalus Association
Team Hydro — Sharkfest
870 Market Street, Suite 705
San Francisco, CA 94102
(indicate Sharkfest 2011)}

Sure, to you it's Jack Lalanne's
"before" photo, but it's definitely
Shawn Turner's "after" photo
from seven years before.

Total Immersion is (my description) an  old-person's swim technique, designed for folks who never really swam before. It teaches that hips drive swimmers, not arms and legs, and since I've used it, my shoulders no longer burn with stress. Many really good swimmers come by this technique naturally, and I've had to relearn how to swim in order to achieve it. Total Immersion gets its share of eye-rolls and gentle derision from some other swimmers who have grown up with the sport, which I find funny. They're right: I'll never be the fastest, but I am faster than I was, and I don't ache at the end of the swim. And all I want to do is swim … and maybe not be last in any swim.

I'm either so lightning quick with my movements that my
photographer son could not catch them, or I swim armless
like an overturned tugboat. Probably that.
Even before my first Alcatraz crossing, I've set my sights on more. I hope within the year to swim the six miles or so (with the current!) from the Bay Bridge to the Golden Gate Bridge, and to swim four miles along the length of Lake Natoma this summer.

How my wife feels about my swimming.
No, she really likes it, but really wants me not to
drown. She probably also wishes I would post
a better picture.
Fun swimming postscript: My swimming friend Tom tells me about a Florida cancer surgeon, John "Lucky" Meisenheimer, who opens his spacious lake home to the world each morning, to join him in a 1-kilometer round trip in the crocodile-inhabited lake that edges his property. Swimmers come from all over the world, and each swimmer writes his/her name on a wall and gets a patch, and swimmers who reach certain accumulated distances earn more accolades. He's larger than life, and he also organizes for Special Olympics swimming events. A good guy. If I'm ever in Orlando, I'm heading there instead of Disneyworld.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Singing Pat Oliphant's praises

Go gaga over Gaga, palpitate for Palin, if you must. I'll obsess over Pat Oliphant, the Ted Williams of editorial cartooning, as in: "Look, there goes Pat Oliphant, the best there ever was."

You'll soon tire of my admiration of Oliphant, if I have anything to do about it — such as how I think he should just win the Pulitzer every year, or how that particular award should be named after him — so I'd better get started:

1. The man has been drawing editorial cartoons in the United States for 47 years (and for nine years before that in his native Australia), and never phoned one in. He gets better.

2. He's one angry dude (can't picture having a coffee with him), and the cartoon is his hair-trigger weapon. He is the true Keeper of the Editorial Cartoon, the unwavering artisan of the idea that editorial cartoons should comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. No one escapes his wrathful humor; sometimes even I get mad at his viewpoint. I'm not sure whether he really wants to change the world, or derives twisted delight in the truth that corruption and stupidity continue unabated, and only the faces change.

He also walked his talk, upholding the treacherous ideal of what Voltaire may or may not have said: "I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it." I just read that Oliphant filed as a friend of the court to defend Hustler publisher Larry Flynt against libel charges; I also remember that Oliphant lampooned Flynt mercilessly for pushing the free-press envelope.

3. The guy … can … draw! So many cartoonists simply eliminate backgrounds to focus on their salient points. Oliphant draws  entire worlds boldly, in perfect perspective and in working order, creating symphonies to support his brutally acid opinions. He draws with authority; I think that's an art geek term for knowing what to draw and how to draw it well, and it puzzles me how he knows how to draw so many things; his morgue (what art geeks call their visual reference collection) must take up a room or two, pre-computer.

Here's an example of what I'm talking about, which came at the exceedingly pleasant surprise of a gift from my friends David Middlecamp (our friendship survived being college roomies!) and his wife Linda Kramer Middlecamp. This is from a collection appropriately titled Oliphant!, covering the Carter years (man, Oliphant hated Carter!):

I'm immediately taken by the weight and dominance of the U.S. ship, and then dynamism that the  ship and the nimble junks create. Then I notice Oliphant's craft of rendering the junks, their weight established by the just-so shading, how they sit in the water and sail away. Finally, I notice the U.S. flying deftly in the background, just a subtle reminder of the parties involved in this particular lunacy. Juanita Kreps was Carter's secretary of commerce.

Here's another one, from the same collection, that skewers me and everyone else who don't do enough, not by a long damn shot, for our veterans:

Simply insert add Iraq and Afghanistan on the sign, and you have the last Memorial Day weekend. See David Middlecamp's recent and excellent photos, in case you don't feel guilty enough and need prodding to do more for those who sacrifice for you.

Oliphant can make his brush line dance, pushing it brutally to create weight or finely to create the ideal completion of a devastating caricature. And every line just so. I spent years trying to achieve that.

From time to time, I'll show you my own examples, and readily refer to my slavish devotion to Oliphant's inspiration. At least I didn't copy his penguin alter-ego, Punk, who always presents a rim-shot aside (Tom Toles uses himself as Punk in his cartoons; he can't draw nearly as well, but if he didn't have such gut-punching viewpoints, I'd rag him for stealing Oliphant's ideas).