Tuesday, August 30, 2011

New work abloom

No. 1 in Page's Principles is “Never do business with family and friends.”

The velvet shield …
Paul Page owns Page Design Group, a traditional graphic design firm in Sacramento that's been around long enough — more than three decades — to make Paul venerable.

His longevity stems, no doubt, from following his own principles, a copy of which I received when I took a graphic design business class from him back in the 20th Century. The dogeared copy is still tacked to one of my office bulletin boards.

Having done business with family and friends, and sustained the scars thereby, I can attest to Paul Page’s wisdom.

My inferred corollary to Principle No. 1 is, “If you must do business with family and friends, make it gratis.” It’s a risky inference: Though it may protect relationships, it’s no guarantee.

Also, it tends to countermand Page’s Principle No. 16 (and last), which Paul Page printed in boldface: “The main reason to be in business is to make money.”

It’s a good thing I don’t fool with Principle No. 1 too often.

The chosen one …
Such foolery has its perqs, though. Pro bono, for me, is a grown-up version of “you get what you get and you don’t throw a fit,” to wit:

I deliver my best effort of a concept that I think suits my friend/client’s needs. Ordinarily, I would provide a wide variety of concepts (it depends on the outcome of a negotiated estimate); a Murphy’s Law of graphic design usually means a client will usually choose the solution you presented as the one so awful that the others shine by comparison.

My friend Suzanne came up with a business called Assured Communication Visiting Service. Her Website provides a more artful description, but the business provides surrogate visitation of adults in senior care residences, on behalf of the adults' families. She checks in on clients’ elderly adults, doublechecks their healthcare regimen, helps with correspondence, even entertains (Suzanne is a musician and a church music minister).

The pen accidentally dislodges a thought …
How to convey that in a logo? It was a puzzle that threatened to become a brick wall. The business has a cumbersome name, and the business idea is so unusual to me that I had a tough time pegging it to something visual. Then I put pen to paper and the solution emerged in less than a minute.

After a couple of words to jar loose some imagery, and just some go-to squiggles and jots (for some reason, I often draw a yin yang symbol to test whether it fits into the business concept), a flower emerged from my thumbnail sketches. The flower became a daisy, and the daisy chain soon followed.

The concept is ideal for Suzanne’s business (imho), because the chain implies communication and connection and continuity. It also evokes the parent-child relationship so often involved in this business transaction: The nostalgic nurture of parent to child, a responsibility that now reverses course. The flower represents a nurturing venture, and suggests a woman-owned business.

To ease the name’s burden, I suggested that “Assured” should play prominently, and “Communication Visiting Service” become secondary. Bottom line, clients want to be assured, on many levels.

Art Deco-ish …
Then I broke my own corollary and offered two variations on the concept, because I just can’t help myself. The first is a naturalistic, Art Deco-, Arts and Crafts-inspired idea that reminds me of the work poster artist David Lance Goines produces:

After toying for a long time with turning this chain into a Möbius strip, I left it as a simple chain; a princess' crown; a halo.

(Yeah, I got the name slightly wrong in this version; it's Communication Visiting Service.)

To offset this choice, I offered the same concept in a loose, juicy, calligraphic style (above).

That’s the one Suzanne chose, and based on that, I provided a bunch of variations, including the shield shape (top), and a single daisy; the chain would be cumbersome in all uses.

The different riffs on the logo create a family of images that Suzanne can use for self-promotion, primarily her Web-based marketing, which she is doing on her own.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Too forthright, he was, hm?

The outlawed emblem …
Some people won't let me live down this story:

A long time ago, in a life too far away these days, I designed this emblem for the adult patrol of Boy Scout Troop 328 in Carmichael, Calif.

Lots of Boy Scout troops have adult patrols. They serve many purposes, the most important of which is that adult patrols are formalized excuses for the adults to join in the fun but stay out of the Scouts' way. Scouting is toughest on parents and guardians because adults want their children to succeed without risk of failure, and Scouting is supposed to be the opposite — to enable boys to risk failure in repeated attempts toward self-discovery and success.

I must admit, I liked this design; it
incorporated Berthold City typefaces,
which I used as titling fonts in Troop
fliers, handouts and other communications.
At the same time, adult patrols enable adults to model success and, every once in a while, excellence. Many adult patrols will set up camp and cook fantastic meals one time through for their Troop, as a way of showing how it should be done properly and setting the bar high. After that, the adults will leave the Scouts to their own peer leadership, and periodically model patrol behavior later when they think it's needed.

Most adult patrols go by a small set of nicknames: Geezer Patrol, Rocking Chair Patrol, Old Goat Patrol.


I thought our adults should have something better and more befitting our own ideals as teachers and mentors. We could have fun, but we could also say something with our patrol emblem, something to symbolize pride.


It was perfect; so perfect I need not explain why, need I? I designed the emblem and even a patrol flag, since the Scouts had one for each of their patrols. The emblem is simple because it has to be embroidered and I didn't want to make enemies of the emblem manufacturer.

At the last moment, I acted on this thought: I'm trying to be a professional illustrator, and I'd have a fit if someone used my work without permission or recompense. I'll ask LucasFilm Ltd. for permission. George Lucas, who created Yoda and Star Wars, puts all of his creations under Lucasfilm's protection. It'll be a show of good faith. LucasFilm wouldn't say no to a bunch of well-meaning Boy Scouts.

LucasFilm said no.

A pleasant attorney thanked me for asking, even complimented the design, but said LucasFilm no longer allows use of its properties' imagery, even for a lowly Boy Scout patrol. George Lucas used to grant Marin County scouting groups to use the images, the attorney said, but had to clamp down on that.

Blame the military, he said: Too many flight crews and patrols were … modifying, shall we say … the Star Wars characters for their uses … one person's light saber is another's phallic symbol, I guess … and LucasFilm wanted to stop it.

Eh. Someone suggested, cleverly, that the bunch
should be grapes or bananas. My attempts at those
are too sophomoric to show here, even worse than these.
Once Star Wars turns you down,
it's kind of hard to gather energy.
Despite several more stops and starts over the years, I never did design an adult patrol emblem.

What'd you go and ask LucasFilm for? some asked — some of them adults within Scouting. Hmm. What am I missing here?

It reminds me of junior high, when I pointed out to my PE teacher, politely, that he had made an addition error and that in fact I had not earned sufficient points to receive special colored gym shorts indicating I had performed well in the presidential physical fitness award (I can't believe we were working so hard for red shorts).

In the after-school TV specials, the adult in this moment always praises the kid's honesty and points out how hard it must have been for the kid to bring the bad news to light, knowing what he/she would lose by doing so. My PE teacher told me I was a fool for depriving myself of the prize, and should have just kept my mouth shut.


(Why'm I writing about this, anyway? My daughter went on a college group field trip to San Francisco, and the group went to see the Yoda statue at LucasFilm headquarters at the Presidio. It just reminded me, is all. I'm mulling the idea of a statue based on an imaginary figure; sorta off kilter.)

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The best kind of time capsule

Aug. 13, 2001
Our daughter painted these exactly 10 years apart. The first was a kind of therapy when she was nine and became famous in our family for her declaration of disgust for backpacking.

Exactly 10 years later …
Her reason rang loudly and clearly off the mountainsides of the Mokelumne Wilderness, in tear-choked blurts: "BACKPACKING … IS … JUST … NOT … MY … THING!" We were four miles from the trailhead and two miles from the lake we had planned to lounge beside, at the base of a steep slope that none of our carefully packed trail descriptions had bothered to mention, and our daughter had had enough. We had redistributed her gear among the rest of us in the family, but that did not help.

We spent the next two nights inside the edge of a forest before hiking out again. The forest did not boost our daughter's mood, because it turns out it wasn't just the long walking she disliked about backpacking, it was the isolation. This was a Brothers Grimm kind of forest, and in retrospect I wonder how we all agreed to it; I can't even remember where we had gotten our water for two days.

To take our daughter's mind off matters, I let her paint in the water color satchel my sister had given me the previous Christmas. Water color papers had been stitched into a leather sheath, and the book was held closed by a long leather thong. My sister might also have given me the small box of water colors that I took with me on the trip.

As with so many other things, life gradually got in the way, and I fell out of the habit of taking the leather water color book with me on trips. I rediscovered it a few months ago in my belongings, and decided to take it with me camping with my family last week. The first few pages were painted on with energy and hope, and the rest was blank, like a mountain of notebooks I still possess for no good reason.

That's when I discovered our daughter's painting, and the date, Aug. 13, 2001 — a month before the World Trade Center fell and life changed drastically. I had noted on the opposite page, "Mokelumne Wilderness near Granite Lake," as if hopeful we'd eventually see that lake. I still haven't except in photographs on the Internet.

When I rediscovered the painting, it was Aug. 12, 2011.

None of us can be sure what our daughter was painting back then. She isn't even certain. Our son says it was our blue backpacking tent, which we still have, or one of the mountains. I guessed that it was a mountain of her imagination, and our daughter added that it might have been a cave, though no cave comes to memory from that trek.

Then 10 years later, she painted our campsite at Joseph Stewart State Recreation Area outside of Medford, Ore. ("Recreation Area," as opposed to "State Park," usually is short for, "We welcome loud partiers who trash campsites; ignore your neighbors who are camping to commune with nature!") This was camping more to her liking, with other campers nearby (though not too close; we managed to be set in a relatively remote loop of the campground) and relaxation without having to pay for it with a long hard slog into the wilderness.

This is her tent amid madrones and pines near the lakeshore. Our daughter was quickly critical of the chair and the firepit which she says are grossly out of perspective.

They are the very essence of keepsakes.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Swimming across America

Who knows what evil lurks in the floral depths of Diamond Lake?
Just plants … probably …
In my futile, doomed, disorganized, happenstance attempt to swim in every lake in America, I can at least cross two more off my list. It wasn't a big list to start with: Folsom Lake, Lake Natoma (Sacramento and Placer counties); Lake Tahoe (Nevada and California sides); Spring Lake (Sonoma County); Ozette and Cascade lakes (Washington state); (does San Francisco Bay count?). The list remained small because I had held to the wisdom, broken but a few years ago, to wit: "What fool would swim in a lake?"

(Lake Pend Oreille {Pon-du-RAY} in Idaho doesn't count. That was more of an organized attempted drowning when I was eight or nine; but that's a story for another time.)

(On second thought, if I include Lake Pend Oreille, I could try for a more bucket-listy swim-one-lake-in-every-state goal … )

Over a farewell-to-summer camping trip with my family the last long weekend, I swam in Lost Creek Reservoir (wonder why it's lost; maybe because the creek got turned into a reservoir?) and Diamond Lake in south central Oregon. Two more different lakes would be difficult to find, but I'll keep trying.

Neither lake caters to swimmers. Lost Creek Lake sets aside a paltry misbegotten swim area on the other side of steep peninsula from the narrow marina, where all the action, if you can call it that, was. The reservoir holds back some of the Rogue River, and the water level has dropped 20 feet from its max, leaving swimmers with a long, gravelly, weedy, desolate walk to the water.

At Diamond Lake, the swim area is even tinier, a rectangle of no more than 10 yards wide and 20 yards long on a narrow beach in front of its resort (where it's always yesterday, and the last good yesterday appears to have been 1964). I did not swim in Diamond Lake's swim area; since the water would have not even gone up to my waist, I would have had difficulty swimming there.

I swam in the middle of Diamond Lake instead, off the deck of a patio boat, the rental for which we splurged. I mean, how many chances are you gonna get to rent something called a patio boat (which is exactly as you would imagine, a floating patch of shaded indoor/outdoor carpet on pontoons, complete with deck chairs — it was missing a Weber™® grill — and an outboard motor on the back)?

We made a three-hour tour … a three-hour tour … around the lake, stopping to eat, stopping to look, stopping to swim, tootling along.

I didn't swim for long, because of the sudden realization, after I jumped in, that I would have a difficult time getting back on the boat. Much like an actual patio, the boat lacked rope ladders.

Knowing the effort back on the boat would be a pain, I didn't stay in the water more than long enough to note that it wasn't very deep (maybe 20 feet where we were) but very dark green and full of plants whose long tendrils crept just within the clearer water closer to the surface, to resemble fingers reaching up for my feet.

I'm not usually mindful of the flora and fauna below me as I swim, but these fingered plants made me want to get back in the boat quick. More and more these days, I'm mindful of the rhythmic risk-and-rescue that swimming is: Alternately submerging your face into the dark dense unknown and lifting it for a quick saving breath, just to risk all once again.

Shallower places along the lake were crystalline green, but I didn't get back in to look, a decision I regret.

Lost Creek Lake flat-out does not welcome swimmers. It's a powerboat/ski boat/jet ski lake (Diamond is a trout fisher's paradise where most boats plod along), so swimmers face high risks venturing beyond the swim area. My daughter spotted a floating swim deck in the middle of the lake (which seems stupid because of the high-speed boat traffic), but I didn't feel safe crossing the boats' paths to make the half-mile journey to the deck. My daughter and son and I were confined to the swim area, where the wind and chop had churned in the fine red dirt near the shoreline to a rusty murk.

It made me thankful for cool, green Lake Natoma, where a low speed limit discourages motorized boats. Except for a few racing kayakers who think it's funny to race right through a group of swimmers, most people on the lake leave swimmers alone.

Let me know of a swim-friendly lake in your state. Maybe I could make this a bucket list after all. Though I'd swim Pend Oreille again just to make matters kosher.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Industrial Light and Magic has nothing on this

You'll swear this is a movie special effect, but it's amazingly real life. This common octopus not only can mimic the background color of just about anything against (or into) which it's hiding, but can control tiny muscles in its skin to recreate the texture of the plants and rocks it's mimicking. It can even match the sway of the currents. Cuttlefish and squid can do this too.

Roger Hanlon, a senior scientist with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, frightened this octopus on a dive 10 years ago. Scientists know that the skin of the octopus is filled with millions of special color cells called chromatophores that, when clenched, can produce a wide array of colors. mirror-like and reflectorized cells underneath the chromatophores expand the animal's ability to camouflage invisibly. As it relaxes its muscles, the color cells shrink and the animal blanches.

Hanlon says the octopus appears to establish its camouflage by sight, even though it's colorblind. How it assesses — and then processes — the various and sundry complex backgrounds into which it vanishes is a mystery. The ability, says Hanlon, requires a complex brain.

Here's a better explanation from National Public Radio's Talk of the Nation Science Friday, and more amazing examples.

Hanlon says much more needs to be known about how animals perceive camouflage — or more accurately, optical illusion — saying "other animals see it very differently." I'd suggest the opposite idea: If this octopus fooled a human diver, which is rarely among its usual predators, then I'm guessing the usual predators are fooled in the same way, by not being able to distinguish visually between the plant (or rock, or coral) and the prey.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Unstoppable creativity

Twice weekly I get to work among artists in a rambling former church in Roseville, Calif. They are painters, potters, graphic designers, animators, sculptors, jewelers, artisans.

They fill the rooms of that place with the unstoppable flow of their creativity, their joy (one man delights in bringing the U.S. presidents back to life in portraiture) and even their concerns (one woman painted her distress at the tanking economy, and built a keepsake box in honor of Japan's earthquake victims). You can buy any of the exquisite works they create; the creations fill the shelves and walls, a gallery in constant motion.

They are the denizens of Studio 700, a division of Placer ARC, providing a wide variety of services and opportunities for Placer County adults who have developmental disabilities.

As this music video shows, the artists of Studio 700 know and show no limits. And this is just one bit of a vast reservoir of creativity committed daily at the studio.

Just take a look at work of animation artists interpreting Death Cab for Cutie's "Codes and Keys" off the band's latest album:

Teachers Andrea and Tristan explain:

"The class worked as a team to come up with their own unique interpretation of the lyrics. Then they created a storyboard of their final ideas.

"After that, it was drawing time. We made a list of everything that needed to be drawn, and the clients drew … and drew."

Artists scanned their final work into iMac™ computers, and used Adobe Illustrator™ and Photoshop™ to color them. They used Flash™ to animate the work, editing all of it in iMovie.™

Stop by the Studio, 700 Douglas Boulevard in Roseville. The artists love visitors with exquisite tastes.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Far away and so close

I can actually see the finish gate! This is going to be a breeze …
The first I'd been to Donner Lake, the storied Sierra lake near where the Donner-Reed Party camped, was when I swam its length, 2.7 miles, Saturday.

It was the 31st Annual Donner Lake Open Water Swim. I met a swimmer there who had competed in 26 of them. This was one down for me, more to go, I hope.

Neither the distance nor the water temperature (warm, for me) scared me — not even the more-than-a-mile-high altitude (strangely), because I held to the Underachievers' Code of Adequacy, to wit:

1. Be thou not last.

2. Be thou not one of the swimmers that the police boat will pluck out of the water if you're still in the race after two hours and 30 minutes, or if you haven't reached halfway down the lake in an hour and 15 minutes.

Though I achieved both tenets, they gave me much to think about along the long swim, such as:

How can I keep from being last? I imagine the last swimmer gets more attention for that fact than he/she really wants. More than I'd want, certainly. I don't want to be last. How can I keep from being last?

What is half of the length of the lake? How will I know I'm there, short of a police boat lifting me out of the water?

Can I really swim this before two hours and 30 minutes pass? What if I'm a coupla hundred yards from the finish; will the police boat really pull me out of the water and shuttle me to shore? That would really ramp up the unwanted attention factor — hundreds of people on the shoreline, many of them having finished the swim, watching as the police boat putt-putts you from within shouting distance to dry land. It'd be like a Monty Python sketch.
Race officials denied moving the finish gate farther back
during the race …

Eventually, I finished in one hour, 36 minutes and 24 seconds. I keep changing in the standings, according to the online posted results, between 199th and 200th overall, out of 230 swimmers. I was 13th in my 45-49 age group (out of 13; that number keeps changing as I revisit the results; the oldest swimmer, 71, finished more than 20 minutes faster than me). I swam at a pace of 35 minutes, 42 seconds per mile, which is the first I've seen that statistic provided in a race.

(The fastest swam this in 54 minutes — faster than it took my wife to walk from start to finish; I hope the last swimmer didn't notice that race officials had already dismantled and packed away the race clock before she reached shore.)

In the end, I swam as fast as I expected; I had swum a 2.4 mile race earlier in the summer in about the same time (maybe I improved my time, but I also ran back onto shore during that race after the first 1.2 mile lap to fetch a different pair of goggles because my brand-new ones flopped uselessly on my face, and ran back in to finish).

But it was long enough in the water to think thoughts. In addition to the above, I wondered:

Why didn't a T-shirt come with the entry fee? It's a really nice shirt, designed by a swimmer/artist/cellist named Deborah Brudvig, but I had to pass, saving the pennies here and there. I had plenty of time to estimate the fees generated by the race, and what they might pay for.

Where is everybody? I stopped a couple of times (halfway?) to see one swimmer waaaaaaay over to my left, another waaaaaay to the right. Why were they so far to the side of me? I saw a few dark shapes in the shimmering water behind me, the remnants of the few (about 30) slower swimmers. I was not last, at least not to that point.

Why is the water so dark green here? Lake Natoma is more of a kelly green. San Francisco Bay in June was a translucent jade. I was color swatching as I swam. The sun at my back cast my shadow deep into the water before me; hundreds of sunlight shafts danced around my shape like an aura.

Where is the damn finish line? I saw it so clearly in the mountain air, 2.7 miles away, before the swim began. Then I hit the water and the more I swam, the farther away the finish line drifted, as did the peak I used as a landmark to guide me. At one point, the bright orange finish gate disappeared. My friend Jim Morrill predicted as much: "The swim's gonna feel like forever, like you're never going to finish."

How can anyone swim farther than this? Jim Morrill, who talked me into this swim long ago and proposed way back then of us swimming from the finish to the start early in the morning, and then joining the race back to the finish, 5.4 miles total. (The Facts of Life got in the way and he couldn't make it to the swim at all, much less swimming a round trip; I'm sure he was chewing through his goggles when he realized he couldn't go.) I swam 4.8 miles from far behind him in Natoma, but as I swam Saturday, I couldn't process swimming any farther than I was going.

Another swim friend, Brad Schindler, later this month will attempt a solo crossing of Lake Tahoe, 22 miles, to be begun at midnight. As I write, 61-year-old Diana Nyad is two days into a 103-mile swim from Havana, Cuba, to Key West, Fla. It would be the longest continuous swim by a human.

(I just learned this morning Nyad made it nearly halfway through her swim before calling it off because of hazardous conditions. But still, nearly 50 miles of open ocean  …)

Just so hard to imagine swimming so far.

The constant question — the yang (more of a yammer, really) to my almost constant yin of mindful swimming — was, why am I so slow, really?

I'm following faithfully the technique I've learned over the last three years, or at least I think I am, and I'm continually adjusting and reassessing, when I'm not thinking other thoughts.

Theoretically, I'm not swimming any differently than Sun Yang, the Chinese swimmer who at the end of July set a new world record in the 1,500 meter freestyle at the world championships, breaking a 10-year mark. Terry Laughlin, developer of the Total Immersion technique I practice, hails Sun's performance as the new measure for swimming efficiency. For the first 1,250 meters, Sun used only 27 strokes per length (the jaws of experienced pool swimmers are supposed to drop here, because that is a phenomenally efficient stroke), 28 strokes per length for the next 200 meters, and 32 for the sprint in the final 50 meters. The highly efficient Grant Hackett, an Australian who held the record for 10 years, swam an average of 31 strokes over his record-setting race.

Laughlin says though he can't presume that Sun is using Total Immersion, his swim was a textbook demonstration of the technique he promotes.

I'm a tin Sun Yang; I'm swimming mindfully, methodically, trying to make sure each stroke is patient, catching as much water as possible, all the way to a quick flip of my wrist at the end. I'm making sure my hands enter the water as quietly as possible with each stroke, that my hips are high, and that my kick (which most people who've seen it regard as violent) is instead just enough to turn my hips over.

I'm doing all that, but I very quickly watch the pack of swimmers disappear ahead of me, and open the gap with aggression on the glassy water, which quickly turns to chop by the time I enter their weakening wake. It's a scene I'm getting used to. I don't blame anybody. My friend Kathy Morlan steamed the water to a personal best of 1:04 and change, and I think she should bottle and sell her secret.

I can do two things about this: Be content with swimming, realizing that very few people swim long distance, and I can do so and still be upright at the end, walking and talking without pain, with the pleasant memory of having slipped through wild water, over unknown depths. My wife prefers I think that way; she likes that I can do this at all.

For the most part, that's how I feel. As with the Fire Cracker swim, I felt I could go no faster, and if I tried, I would have floundered in the middle of the lake, out of whack and out of breath and energy. So I spent my time thinking thoughts and talking to myself about how I was doing.

Or I can figure out how to swim faster without loss of technique and sanity.

Leslie Thomas, who runs a wonderful coaching and expedition swim enterprise called swim-art.com out of San Francisco, happened to participate in the Donner Lake (and finished in 1:14 and change) and said her swim was rough until she finally settled into a groove. I found myself slipping in and out of at least eight different grooves, trying to hold onto one.

But comparison is impossible to avoid — it's literally staring me in the face, as I watch the mass of backsides receded to the finish line in front of me — and numbers are mesmerizing, if not intoxicating.

I should be able to swim faster, but maintain my technique. Maybe I can wring more out of my stroke, by turning over faster over the length of the swim.  I should be swimming sprints in the pool to build up my anaerobic tolerance; from what sprints I have swum before, I'm not anxious to continue: They hurt. Maybe I should leave it all in the water, and emerge at the end crawling up to shore, exhausted.

I don't know.

I was a lot more tired than I had expected, because when I swam with friends the next day at Lake Tahoe, I gasped for breath just swimming out to the buoy line to begin our practice. But I slowed, took a few deep breaths, and continued, getting one syrupy mile out of the morning before I swam back in.

I'll be back for Donner Lake's 32nd run, and I'll plan to swim it faster.


Friday, August 5, 2011

Spreading pestilence

A tad Hitchcockian …
Someday, I hope, T-shirts with this image will be offered for sale at the Sacramento History Museum gift shop, and shoppers will think it cool and help spread the word that Sacramento, a city that really should not have been built where it is, survived calamity (devastating floods) after calamity (near-total conflagrations) after calamity (epidemics) with moxie, stubbornness, ingenuity and heaps of righteous arrogance.

The Sacramento Underground tour tells the whole lunatic story.

Until funding makes that time possible, I just thought I'd post the image, if for nothing else than a little eye candy.
Underground comix. Get it?

If you like that sort of thing. Here are some of the early concept sketches:
Visitors find themselves under the existing sidewalks.
Hundreds of house jacks raised the city.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Logo Overlook™©®: Special exhibit

Where dung, dough and dreams collide.
By my wife's special request, the Logo Overlook©®™ has been cleared out to make room for these two pieces, representing the first of many times my wife and I wished to escape the rat race and take the road less traveled (and wring out whatever other overwrought metaphor is appropriate for the occasion).

This particular wish is the closest we came to embarking on a plan, and the only one that has come with its own logo.

Buffalo Bagels (funny, we hoped, with not too much barnyard scatology to render the business unappetizing and worthless) was our dream. We would take it anywhere people loved a good bagel and a memorable coffee, which we seemed to crave at the time.

We could open it in Hanford, where we lived and worked at the time, but not bloody likely; though we met many people who grew up there and wouldn't live anywhere else (touting the proximity of vacation destinations Sequoia National Park and Pismo Beach so often, I proposed as the city slogan whatever’s Latin for, “Two hours away from everywhere else you’d rather be”), we were strangers in a strange land. We would go back to our roots, to San Luis Obispo, where we went to college, or somewhere on the coast, somewhere enough regulars would support us in our dream.
We would make friends of these regulars, and become part of the weft and woof of their lives. I would use the little shop as a place to force myself to socialize with the people of Wherever We Lived (I'm an evergreen wallflower), but have a place to go in the back to cover myself in dough and coffee grounds and be by myself. Nancy would be the brains and soul of the operation, as she has proved on a daily, hourly, basis in our household for 26 years. She'd be the reason people came in, and the bagels and coffee would be something extra.

I was never crazy about how the descending letterforms
dripped into "Bagels," and time hasn't improved my view.
We dreamed of our bagel shop early into our early careers. Our jobs as newspaper reporters were not what we expected; I'm sure our disillusionments were not uncommon, though I don’t really know what we were expecting; I wanted to become a feature writer somehow, some way, and got distracted by new ideas of becoming an editorial cartoonist.

Plus, it was tough being husband and wife and co-workers. Most of us young reporters and editors at The Hanford Sentinel would get on each other's nerves on a regular basis, either for what we did or did not do for each other. Bosses would bug us for what we perceived them doing to us. It was difficult to have lunch and dinner and weekend conversations, because we lived each other’s lives in the office and had nothing new to tell, good or bad, because we already knew it.

Our vacations, always camping somewhere as far away from Hanford as we could afford, invariably fueled our dreams for doing Something Else, and Buffalo Bagels grew out of those vacations.

We were serious enough, at least, to design the signage. I talked the chief photographer into showing me the machinations of the image reproduction equipment, and wandered into the photo shop after hours.

This was all cut-and-paste. I copied the Frankfurter typeface out of a type book for its bagel-y chewiness, enlarged the letterforms, pasted them together and inked out the seams with a black marker. I drew “Buffalo,” “Ltd.” and “The Gathering Place” were drawn with a brush on woody paper towels, no doubt from the break room at The Sentinel, to let it bleed. I'm fairly sure I drew “Buffalo” in one shot, but the others might have been pasted and tweaked with a marker and a razor blade.

They were drawn to match the image, an homage to the animals rendered millennia ago in the caves at Lascaux, both to say “We ‘Buffalo Bagels’ as a joke,” and “We’ve got a few cultured brain cells floating around in our heads.”

We envisioned the little shop as a showcase of art and maybe a place for folk groups to play weekends.

That’s as far as we ever went with our pipe dream. It's possible that we looked into the reality of opening Buffalo Bagels, and blanched at the infusion of cash we would need, and the regulatory quagmire, and the taxes and licenses and skill in basic math we needed but lacked, and decided we would take the course that life seemed to be leading us instead, wherever that may still be.

But we dream our pipe dreams still, usually involving living somewhere else. Not long ago we found ourselves in Port Townsend, Wash., a town on the Olympic Peninsula, just off the Strait of Juan de Fuca, a town served by the Washington State Ferry system. We were waiting for one of the ferries, which I find endlessly fascinating. The odd town sat high on a bluff over a cove, and the calm cove looked like a great place for a daily swim.

“Why don't we live here?” I asked aloud. “Why don't we just move right here.”

“The woman at the ferry terminal says it rains a lot,” my wife answered.

Rain doesn't bother me, especially in a place that is built for rain. I wonder if the townsfolk desire bagels and good coffee in a friendly shop …