Tuesday, July 30, 2013

¡Adiós pelota!

The Giants are dead. Long live the Giants.

Yeah, I don't know what that means either. Maybe an Elizabethan form of "Wait 'til next year!"

With the Giants these days, I don't know what anything means.

Except that they're dead. Of that I'm certain. I'll call time of death 9:43 a.m., July 30, 2013, in Philadelphia, city of brotherly love.

They died long before, of course. I'm just being charitable. What fans see now are the undead, going through the motions, pantomiming hitting the ball and fielding grounders and running bases with regard for rules.

The wake will commence tonight and continue through Sept. 29, the last game in the regular season. Undead but twitching, the Giants will put on as good a show as they can muster until that time.

They are a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside a wasted scoring opportunity.

Most mysterious is how the 2012 World Series winners (the very same team, save for some parts and pieces) could be so horrible this year.

It's greedy of us fans to want three World Series titles in four years. But it wouldn't be unreasonable to expect the Giants to rattle contenders, to hum along in second or third place, raising hopes of a dynasty.

No chance of that. After many many days of Manager Bruce Bochy telling reporters "These guys are really trying hard," and sports commentators saying, "Maybe now they've reached rock bottom," the Giants have in fact reached rock bottom. They've become the lowly Chicago Cubs.

Worse, they are lower than the lowly Cubs, who swept the Giants in San Francisco over the weekend.

This time it wasn't the pitching. Matt Cain (the workhorse!) threw 115 pitches deep into the game Friday, good enough for the win. Then a ball skipped through the usually sure-handed first baseman Brandon Belt in the ninth. The Cubs won 3-2.

Madison Bumgarner pitched eight shutout innings Saturday! Cubs still won 1-0, on a ninth-inning homer by former Giants Nate Schierholtz.

Tim Lincecum struck out 10 Sunday, 30th 10-strikeout game in his career! And got the Giants' best hit! Cubs won, of course, 2-1. Was it this year Lincecum threw a no-hitter? Good God.

But pitching had faltered before. Also, players got injured; center fielder Angel Pagan is gone for the season, having hurt himself May 25 in the Giants' last truly great moment this year, scrambling for a game-winning inside-the-park home run.

Then hitting failed, then once-solid fielding. Then all these together, for game after harrowing game.

Twice in the last three days, Giants loaded the bases with no outs — and couldn't score. Saturday, after loading the bases with no out in the eighth and failing to score, the Giants loaded the bases again in the ninth with one out — and Tony Abreu grounded into a game-ending home-to-first double play.

None of the Giants' hitters, including the powerful Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval and Hunter Pence, could hit the ball out of infield. Most Valuable Player Posey hasn't hit in the last six games.

Hunter Pence, trying hardest of all — accounts are widespread of his prodigious pre- and post-game workouts, his paleo diet, his quirky intensity — still has popped up on the first pitch to blow one scoring opportunity against a tired pitcher, then swung at three pitches in the next county to blow another opportunity.

Like commentator and former Giants second baseman Duane Kuiper said, the right guys were up at the right time all weekend and couldn't get anything done.

What's going on? Even the players don't know. More in sorrow than in anger, everyone has a theory.

A San Francisco Examiner writer calls it the curse of The Dawg, when a longtime Giants fan, so nicknamed, was told he could no longer roost along the outfield fence after he interfered with a fly ball that an Atlanta Braves fielder might have caught.

Feelings hurt, The Dawg left and didn't come back and the Giants fell out of first place.

Well, The Dawg finally returned to AT&T Park over the weekend, but he did the Giants no good.

Within the spectrum of possibilities, I'll even accept that the Giants are throwing games for some reason, or that nefarious forces are threatening their families if they win. My guess is as good as yours.

My guess is that if the Giants can somehow play for love of the game, rather than for countless unrealistic expectations, they'll improve. 

Of course, fans are angry. Talk shows tingle with recriminations and simultaneous demands and denunciations of trades. The trade deadline is today; we'll see. I hate baseball as business.

To the old saws of firing Bochy and General Manager Brian Sabean, fans have added calls for bringing in the fences at the Giants' ballpark, because so many of the Giants' long fly balls would have been home runs in just about any other ballpark.

Maintenance crews could have pulled the fences in front of second base and still not helped the Giants this weekend.

The only good news in all this: Such a shockingly impotent performance only elevates the brilliant pitching, hitting and lattice of lucky breaks that enabled the Giants to win the National League in two do-or-die series last year, then sweep the Detroit Tigers in the World Series.

How rare and precious such feats!

As long as fans continue to clad themselves in the gear of their heroes and put their butts in seats, even this malaise is profitable, entertainment so bad it's good.

Thousands of other fans commiserate, some faring better than others. Multiply that by the thousands of fans of at least 20 other miserable teams, and a strange kind of comfort blankets the continent.

While the Giants floundered Sunday, my mother-in-law asked if was praying for them. God has better things to do, I said.

Besides, I understand zombies are popular these days.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

In praise of Prismacolor®™©

Our son's looking at cars … I put this monster in one of his top choices …
For bouts of drawer's block, I recommend inventing monsters.

Who knows what monsters lurk in your heart, after all? Only you. Release them. They want out, to live and move and have their being where and when your pencil goes. So let your pencil go; follow it around until the first line meets the last. Monsters form, drawer's block disperses.

This monster came to in such a way. With two projects looming last week and doubt about where to start, I took black Prismacolor©™® (Item PC935) pencil to sketchpad, circling around the inflamed eyeball until this dude tattooed the page.

In one swell foop, I inflamed two long-lost loves, one going all the way back to childhood.

The other is Prismacolor©™pencil, which I'd abandoned years ago. But looking over old stuff — stuff predating the necessary evil of digital illustration — reminded me how much I love it. It's just my speed, not slippery like pen, not thin and wanting like graphite pencil.

Prismacolor®© black skates over the paper in full rich black black lines, which take repeated goings over to thicken and feather outlines, but can also whisper over the paper for texture, letting the unseen nooks of the paper show.

The "lead" is soft enough to flow, but hard enough to keep its point a while, and doesn't break within the wooden shaft like other pencils do. Too many times I've sharpened lesser pencils down to the nub in futile exercise, as the lead falls out with each sharpening.

I like to photocopy Prismacolor™® drawings onto thicker bristol board and paint them with watercolor. The toner resists water, so the color falls around the black line, letting it stay true and bold over the color.

Thus this monster was colored.

Black ("Noir") Prismacolor®™ pencils come dear, though; I had forgotten. They are the only pencils missing from the Prismacolor©® display in art stores. I might have to score a black-market supplier.

In this sketch I married my beloved pencils to my beloved monsters.

How I craved those bug-eyed, lamprey-toothed monsters that drove hot rods so hard their very chassis warped in the frozen motion! I always stopped what I was doing as a kid to stare at the stickers and cards and magazines where they lived. The beasts of Ed "Big Daddy" Roth's airbrush come foremost to mind, but he was not the only one. In fact, the research this sketch impelled tells me it was Bill Campbell's "Weird-Ohs" who stole my child heart.

The bulbous wild bloodshot eyes, the rambling wayward tongue! The stuff of waking dreams. A childhood friend from long ago, Emile Duronslet Jr., showed me how to draw Martians that sort of looked liked this (left). I'm thinking Emile too had fallen under Bill Campbell's spell.

Campbell had one of those careers to die for, a career made dead by the 21st Century: He painted the cover art for the boxes of plastic models of cars and planes, depicting the real things in four-color action. From that he unveiled his monstrous "Weird-Ohs" and "Silly Surfer" creatures. That's what Emile always called them — creatures — as he made up stories about them.

Drawn by the art and caught up in the zeitgeist, I began making those models; every boy was. It was the logical next step.

Just not the right step for me. I was a butcher.

The patience required, the fine motor skills! Good god! The emotional plummet of realizing, upon successful completion of Step 9c, I missed a fold on the instructions and skipped over the crucial and linear steps 3 through 9b, with their sanding and priming and painting.

And mom incessantly and feverishly warning me not to sniff the glue. "There's a reason it's called dope!!" I was convinced even the smell of glue would melt my brain out my nostrils.

Elbows locked, fingers failing, patience shredded, I was doomed to leave a miniature glue-ruined pick-and-pull lot in my bedroom for years to come.

The model manufacturers took pity on me and created Snap Tite™© kits, no glue required, simple steps, water-based adhesive stickers the only trick. It was like having a toy car with some assembly required, except once assembled nothing worked except for the ample swooping surfaces, which were good for collecting dust.

They matched my inchoate skill set, though. I could put the parts together and stare at the 3-D realizations of the cars "Big Daddy" and Bill Campbell and others drew. An industrial designer named Tom Daniel, I learn, created the concepts for many of those models that saved my dignity.

Sometimes I muse about testing my model making skills as an old child; so far, no move made. But I still love to draw them to my heart's content. I've even riffed on this genre for pay. I'll make more and post here.

Draw yourself a monster.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Best logo ever, now-it-can-be-told division

Sacramento sports finally gets it right!

After a long and ho-hum history of generic, mix-and-match, meaningless team names (what in hell is a River Cat, anyway?) Sacramento has rooted one in its barbarous soil.*

Long may it grow.

Granted, "Sacramento Republic FC" is derivative of European soccer club names, but its parts are pure Sacramento, forged from the city's strange and wonderful history.

Those responsible unveiled the team name and logo last week in front of a sell-out crowd at Raley Field, where the Minor League Baseball River Cats play.

Between exhibition games, the latter a "friendly" between Norwich City FC in the English Premier League and Dorados de Sinaloa from Mexico, (with fine logos of their own — fun fact: a dorado is a fish, which you might know better as mahi mahi!) the team owners showed a video designed to pump up the people with the Sacramento team name and logo.

Sacramento Republic FC is set to join the United Soccer Leagues, which serves as a professional development program for Major League Soccer. Long range, the team owners want to turn Sacramento Republic FC into a Major League Soccer expansion team.

With MLS teams a healthy distance apart (San Jose Earthquakes south and Portland Timbers north) and people mad for soccer (a couple of the nationally ranked high school teams are here), the time and place feel right.

Until the logo unveiling, our household were co-conspirators, sworn to secrecy.

That's right, we knew about it. Read and weep, suckers!

Our daughter interns at the company that created the film, going off to undisclosed filming locations these last few weeks. She asked us to be extras in crowd scenes at Sacramento City College's football stadium, but told us not to blab about it.

Plied with ice cream on a warm summer evening, we did what extras do, hurried up and waited. I couldn't see how the filmmakers were going to turn fewer than 200 people into a packed stadium, but the promotional commercial proved me of little faith. It sure looks like a wild riotous crowd. Don't blink.

The film company and the pro soccer promoters and the president of the ownership group were extremely pleased for our help, told us so many times. During lulls, the big cheeses took questions from the faux crowd. When and where will the team play? Will you hold tryouts? Will there be a women's team?

Then one guy in the stands asked if anyone is concerned that the big red star in the crest might provoke people to think of the Soviet Union or communist China.


I forget the diplomatic answer because I was still choking on the question. My answer would have been: Seriously? Have you checked the California flag lately, not to mention the U.S. flag? Stars!

Geez, let's rethink "Republic" while we're at it. Plenty of sinister governments go by that name.

(On the other hand, so what? Intrigue never hurt marketing.)

Still, I'm sure that's why the star on Sacramento Republic FC's crest is brick rather than bright red. The club says the crest, designed by AugustineIdeas advertising firm in nearby Roseville, pulled the colors from the California flag, thus the muted antique tones. It also took the grizzly bear, California's state extinct animal, for the crest.

My favorite part of the crest is "Urbs Indomita," the city motto adopted in 1863. "Indomitable City." The team wanted to honor the city's past, born of the Gold Rush and made manifest by the city's collective stubbornness. Despite years of floods (it was built in haste at the confluence of the American and Sacramento rivers) and fires and terrible disease, the city survived largely by lifting itself nearly 10 feet on average, clear of the raging rivers.

Sometimes I invoke the motto when I lead tours of the Old Sacramento Underground, unveiling the story of the city's rising.

I'm pulling for the soccer team because it's pulling for the city. It really wants to intertwine.

The Sacramento Kings could still leave and become the Something Something Kings, Anywhere USA. It's a generic name, also used by the National Hockey League in Los Angeles. Sacramento got the team from Kansas City nearly 30 years ago, and despite the Sacramento's herculean effort to keep the team, the Kings could still take its name and run without a dent in our psyche.

The River Cats used to be the Vancouver Canadians baseball club in British Columbia. Kind of a dumb name; the team still exists up there as a lower level minor league club.

The River Cats ownership organized a name-the-team contest, giving us one chance to tie the team inextricably to the area. After all the kerfuffle, "River Cats" is the winning name, following the hollow marketing trend of naming minor league teams River Something Somethings. We have River Bats, River Dogs, Riverhawks and River Bandits. Anywhere there's a river, the River Cats may move without much modification.

The baseball team rejected my proposals: Sacramento Robber Barons (after the Big Four railroad magnates and most politicians today) and the Sacramento Americans (a twist on Vancouver Canadians that would also pay homage to our two rivers).

Damn right I'm bitter. My world, my blog, my rules.

Sacramento has suffered with a string of so-so team names, including the Sacramento Surge (what?) and the Sacramento Mountain Lions for pro football attempts. The Kings ownership group had an indoor pro soccer team, the Knights, and a Women's National Basketball Association team, the Monarchs, which made for a matching set with the Kings, but still had nothing to do with Sacramento. (Fun fact: One of the Knights' charismatic stars was Antonio Sutton, who plays the No. 10 striker scoring the header in the Sacramento Republic FC video.)

Sacramento's longtime Pacific Coast League baseball team before the River Cats was the Solons, the nickname headline writers in the 20th Century sometimes called lawmakers in the state's capital.  Solon was the name an Athenian lawmaker. Yeah, you have to look it up, and the discovery doesn't excite.

Jump-starting the new soccer team's debut, Sacramento Republic FC has already penned a team chant, sung to the tune of the "Battle Hymn of the Republic," and invented a cheer squad, called the Tower Bridge Battalion (the city's golden bridge linking Sacramento and West Sacramento across the eponymous river). Waving banners and blowing vuvuzelas, the burgundy-clad battalion marched onto the field after the logo unveiling last week.

The Portland Timbers seemed to pull off the same feat, putting team chants and cheer squads in place even before the community could embrace the team, creating instant ancient tradition.

I hope it takes root here. Grow, team, grow.

*Rooted in Barbarous Soil, a great collection of essays about California's gold rush.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

You win some

After all these years, my first kill fee!

Not that illustration jobs haven't ended awkwardly before, or disappeared without a trace. They merit their own posts someday.

But this is the first time a project ended prematurely in a purely professional manner — with the client calling it off and paying a fee for services up to that point.

The so-called kill fee! Sounds tough.

Funny thing is, I hadn't stipulated a kill fee. I stopped stipulating long ago because it never happened and clients don't profess to read the paperwork anyway. Which is obvious because my paperwork also stipulates a third of project costs before work begins, then a third midway, and the final third on delivery.
How many have paid that way in nearly 20 years? I can count them on one hand. I have long learned to live by 30 days net. Hurry up with the illustration, wait on payment.

(I know, I besmirch the professional standards for all illustrators by my actions. Or lake thereof. Branded. Break my pencils across your knee, kick me out of the club.)

This kill fee was happenstance, the client being one of the few to read and honor the third-third-third stipulation. A stand-up gesture.

No names here. It's a startup venture and the business partners want a mid-Century pinup girl to augment their ancillary promotions, tying into an overarching theme.

I had provided work before to Partner A in another venture, and this partner called me in to work on the new project.

Red flags flew from the start.

Partner A: This is a startup operation and budget is critical was the first red flag. Though frank and upfront, it's also code for "I'd like more than I can really pay you for." Better a client lays out a number at the start, and we figure out how to fit illustration services to it.

Next was when Partner 1 summoned me for an appointment on site to explain the scope of the project.

Except Partner 1 was late. And Partner 2 had never heard of me, didn't know why I was there. A sign painter? No. Partner 2's eyes clouded slightly when I explained. When Partner 1 finally arrived to reiterate this unilateral decision, Partner 2 shot Partner 1 sly sidelong glances while keeping composure with me.

Sexy redhead cartoonish character is how Partner 1 described the project to me at first contact. A vixen delivered from a Vargas or Elvgren painting is the way Partner 2 wanted it. In an illustration likely to be printed in two colors. I could feel the continents drifting apart.

A realistic digital line-art woman, with proportions edging toward Jessica Rabbit, and a few color options depending on budget — that's the project we talked out on the spot, the project we agreed to, the project I quoted in the paperwork.

A bit Scarlett Johansson. I'm never entirely sure
how drawings will turn out …
Proceed, said Partner 1.

So began a flurry of sketches. Though I proposed a short series of very quick poses for the first round of the project, I sent instead more developed drawings, fleshed out, you might say. It isn't really a matter of under-promising and over-delivering — a practice I endorse. It was more like me trying to prove to myself I can do the job.

I've done that before, told a client, "I can do that!" and once off the phone, "Can I do that!?" and proceeded immediately to sketch, full of furious hope.

To the Internet! That's my morgue now. Time was I used to collect all kinds of photo scrap as drawing reference, and put them into manila folders and into a four-drawer file cabinet, the "morgue." But the vast array of visual art available at my fingertips is breathtaking.

After looking over pinup art to see what I've gotten into, I found photos that inspired some of the pinup art. I even came across what appears to be a fetish site, of women appearing to have been x-rayed in softcore poses. Don't know nothin' 'bout fluoroscopy, but I'm gonna guess these skeletal images, with the faint outline of the body, are digitally rendered instead.

Nonetheless, I took the images as a challenge and drew a few of them.

Though no longer self-conscious about drawing in public, I was skittish again drawing half-naked
women, people looking over my shoulder or ask what I was drawing.

More than a dozen sketches later, I sent the first round to Partner 1. Partner 1 sent screen captures of pinup girls that Partner 2 likes. A day later, Partner 2 sent the same samples. Left hand, right hand, moving autonomously.

No comment, just the samples. OK … so I drew variations on those samples, cladding them faintly.
How's the logo coming? Partner 2 asks. We need it for the Website ASAP.

I need the logo so I can fit the girl to it.

You don't have the logo?

No.So it went.
A cell phone picture of a photograph of the logo painted on a wall appeared, and I drew seven more quick poses incorporating the logo.

Partner 2 picked a pose. After prompting, Partner 2 also sent a sample of hair and clothes to emulate.

I drew a tighter sketch, sent it, and waited.

Tighter sketch, version 1 … strange hand corrected …
It needs to be closer to the Vargas and Elvgren girls, said Partner 2.

Tighter sketch, version 2 …
By this point I had over-delivered, even for me. I asked politely for more direction, sent another sample of the same pose trying to hit the mark, and said I'd proceed with a new round after the first third of payment promised.

A day passes. Partner 1: We do not feel we are on the same track with this project. Kill fee to come.
Tighter sketch, version 3, never sent, post kill fee …

Forensics are futile. I don't think I'll really know why this job didn't finish. Opaque communication didn't help. I'll accept I need to attend anatomy class and hone my drawing. My gut tells me I didn't present my profession well, nor describe the process as clearly, that sketches would start rough, become refined and eventually lead to final art.

I think Partner 2 was counting on Varga paintings from the get-go.

Back to the drawing board. These sketches would otherwise go unseen …

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Now is the summer of my discontent …

… made bleak midwinter by this four-day break from baseball.

Fie! you say. 'Tis the great American game's greatest night: The All-Star Game®©™, vainglorious showcase of the best and brightest.

To quote my wise daughter once again: Meh.

The All-Star Game©™® is like a dress rehearsal, a walk-through for some big event that never takes place.

It's a cream puff, enticing at first look and lick, but souring the stomach and melting the mind with regret.

It's all way, way too much talk and half-speed action. It's a popularity contest, comprising some players who deserve All-Star®© honors, and most who don't. Oh yeah!? Who says?!! Says me!

And that's the point: Countless worthless arguments about who should be an All-Star®©™, which generates hot air, which lofts the hype, which inevitably leads to someone somehow taking your money.

I'm not watching, in other words. I'm stewing instead, waiting for baseball to resume Friday.

(Stew stew stew stew.)

Better the All-Stars©™® get a nice banquet in their honor, a free suit, a trip to Disneyland™©, and let's get on with the season already.

I'll make it, though. Don't worry about me. Friday will come eventually. Meh.

I'll survive on the memory of how the San Francisco Giants retrieved their championship play right before the All-Star®© break, including a no-hitter by the fans' favorite Freak, Tim Lincecum.

Nearly two years of flabbergasting performance by the little ace vanished in one gutsy game, the two-time Cy Young award winner with the 812-step pitching motion somehow putting all 812 steps in perfect synch to pitch a nearly perfect game.

So many games Tim Lincecum has looked lost on the mound, his eyebrows upturned in supplication, his little mouth opening and closing like an aquarium fish, throwing right into batters' swings with fastballs that have become less and less fast in a blindingly brief time.

On Saturday his mouth was still going but his eyes were hard and unmoving, and three innings after he had lost his best stuff, he kept baffling San Diego Padres hitters. No no-hitter happens without a lot of help, and after third baseman Pablo Sandoval speared a bullet deep up the line and threw out the batter with a laser throw to first in the seventh inning, right fielder Hunter Pence dove to catch a line drive off the grass to end the Padres' eighth.

Pence looked like he was going to cry running back into the dugout, so grateful to have preserved Lincecum's big night.

Now, of course, the people who ruin baseball for me — the money people — talk about how the no-hitter raised Lincecum's value for the possibility of a trade.

I hate those people. Let baseball be baseball.

After weeks and weeks of horrible baseball, the Giants walloped the Padres over two games.

Sure, the Padres walloped back in the third game, the last one before the loooooooooong All-Star™© break. Sure, the Giants broadcasters resorted to their horrid habit of  wishful broadcasting:
(As the Padres' rookie call-up Colt Hynes comes in at the top of the ninth to close down the 10-1 drubbing Sunday:)
Broadcaster Mike Krukow: He's gonna have a rough debut …

Kuiper: You mean a 10-run comeback?

Krukow: That's what I'm talking about.

Friday is so far away …

Thursday, July 11, 2013

All float on OK**

With daily care, your butt buoy should give you a year and a half of useful service.*

Actual mileage may vary.

My mileage didn't — almost all of it came in the flat, calm water of Lake Natoma. The only stress on the device was me, tugging it through the fresh water behind me, 1.3 to 2.4 miles at a time.

Swimmers who use the Safe Swimmer®™ (the actual, far less interesting name) in fierce rivers or in the ocean may have to replace their devices more frequently. I don't know; I'd like the opportunity to find out.

As pictured, the SafeSwimmer™© is a bright orange inflatable bladder and dry sack designed to enhance a swimmer's visibility in the water. Some open water venues require swimmers to use such devices.

Mine finally sprang a leak, tearing at the welded vinyl seam. The bright orange web strap has yellowed with sun and use, but is still strapping.

Forty bucks or so later to the International Swimming Hall of Fame and the fine folks who drive all over dropping packages on your doorstep, and I have a new one.

It's different from the last one. Instead of a sturdy blue plastic handle kinda thing that attaches the bladder to the leash around my waist, the new one has two small plastic tabs that the leash is stitched to. Nor does the new one encourage me in bold all-cap type to "SWIM 4 HEALTH" and "SWIM SAFELY."

The new one just has the clip art-inspired SafeSwimmer™©® logo. Encouragement? I'm on my own there.

Given how few people in the world even use these things, I can see how the International Swimming Hall of Fame wants to pare production costs per unit.

Believe it or don't, it's not the only swimming safety device on the meager market. You can buy a belt with a flag on the back, that rocks with your rhythm and lets boaters know you're in the water. My long-lost swim friend Stacy has a boogie board fitted out with stretch cargo netting, a deep plexiglass fin and a foam-noodle arch and a flagpole for visibility. It'll sustain a swimmer on a 500-mile journey, as long as no wind blows to knock the thing over.

This swim bladder is the best in my narrow opinion. It floats benignly behind a swimmer, like another head, bright orange, on the water. The makers say you can use it to rest on in a swim, but I don't want to stress it more than it endures already.

"Does it cause drag when you swim?" is the question almost everyone asks right away. Not at all — though I should say yes and use it as an excuse for being so slow. It bumps against my butt, which I take as a sign I'm keeping my hips high for proper technique.

In the dry-sack pocket you can store keys, clothes, whatever — a feature I began using the day after our cars were broken into during a swim.

Buoy, I hardly knew ye … Me: "Can you take a picture of my swim device for a blog
post?" Son: "What kind of picture?" Me: "I'm getting a new one because this one died.
I'll leave it up to you." His solution!
Believe it or don't, the International Swimming Hall of Fame isn't the only provider of such devices. Some swim organizations sell them as fund raisers, and a United Kingdom group called Chillswim  (promoting what else? My kinda folks!) sells a large variety of similar devices.

Chillswim calls these tow floats, which is better than Safe Swimmer™©. But not the best name, not by far.

I used to call it rower repellent, because I swim by myself a lot in the flat lake, a mecca for many rowing crews.

(Who move backward through the water, so the device really doesn't do me that much good. It's false comfort …

… though it did stop a wayward rower from plowing over me last week, because he saw the orange blob in the rear-view mirror clipped to his ballcap.)

But I'm convinced the sudden proliferation of these devices in facebook photos of swimmers from around the world owes to the genius of a woman named Kirsten Bratti Lewis. She's a triathlete I swim with sometimes.

At first sight of the day-glo®™ bladder swinging from behind me like a rabid inflatable pitbull with jaundice as I waddled to shore for a swim, Kirsten said, "You brought your butt buoy!"

I've used the phrase ever since, and ever since, more and more swimmers have shown up in pix towing their own butt buoys.

I'll gladly accept a cut of the promotional fee. You're welcome.

* Yes, the narrowest of niche declarations. You have the power to make it more commonplace: Swim the open water and get yourself a butt buoy.


Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Be careful what I wish for

Don't say I didn't warn me:
I know I said I didn't care if the Giants didn't win the World Series again, because they'd won two in the last three years. But I didn't realize how hard it would be watch them play like mortals.
— Shawn C Turner, June 4, 2013
Still true.  But even I couldn't imagine, a month later, how horribly true.

Here's how bad the Giants are: When the July 4 game in Cincinnati was rained out, Giants and their fans were happy.

That's right. The 2012 World Series champions now look poised to lose any game. Maybe poised isn't the word.

Though thousands of little crying kids were deprived of the most American of spectacles — baseball on the Fourth of July in Middle America on the banks of the Ohio River, with baseball's first professional ballclub, a century of rivalry, $14 hot dog in one hand, $4 glove in the other — Giants fans were ecstatic.

Imagine that.

Just hours ago — this morning, in fact — the Giants lost to the New York Mets 4-3 in 16 innings. Except for its length, the game was a tableau of Giants woes stretching back to the last time the Giants showed their championship mettle …

(Cue flashback sequence …)
That was May 26, when Angel Pagan won the game on a walk-off, inside-the-park homerun.

The crowd went, you know, wild.

Then Pagan went lame, injuring his hamstring so badly in that play he needed surgery and will be out for the season, depriving the team of his leadoff strength and rangy centerfield.


His centerfield play wasn't all that spectacular before he got hurt. At times he played as if he was on the visiting team, unaware of the quirks of AT&T Park's jagged outfield walls. He was prone to diving for fly balls that squirted past him, and overthrowing the cutoff man to try for the big putout, giving up runs instead when the ball rolled away.

Replacement outfielders inherited these horrid habits, as last night's game attests.

In quick time injuries plagued Giants starters, keeping one, then another, then several out for weeks. Though defense tightened up for a while, ineptitude bubbled up again and the Giants resumed making plays champions wouldn't make, much less professional players who train every day to account for every possibility on the field of play.
(An aside: I cannot possibly imagine what it's like to fail in front of 41,644 people  counting on you not to fail. I solemnly acknowledge I'm taking for granted how difficult it is to do what these players do. Not that I think they should be paid so highly for it, but that's another post for another day …)

It was as if Pagan's departure cast a spell — a curse! — on the Giants …
This morning's 16-inning game showcased the most curious of the Giants' problems: Somehow, almost all of the Giants hitters have gone cold.

Not just one or two hitters … almost all the hitters have gone into a slump. The exception is catcher Buster Posey, who got five hits in eight trips to the plate, including a two-run homer in the first inning. But the Giants didn't score again until the seventh, and couldn't push a run across the plate for nine more innings.

First baseman Brandon Belt, dubbed the Baby Giraffe for his limber galumph, went 0 for 8 with five strikeouts.

(I've been scrambling to compile the stats that would lay out in grand panoply just how bad the Giants have been, but that's really all that need be said: Posey keeps on hitting, but everyone else is woeful.)

Pitching is not as bad. The late-inning loss masked Tim Lincecum's surprisingly strong performance as he kept the team in the game; fans and analysts have been wondering for a couple of seasons what happened to Lincecum's ever-slowing fastball, and whether his small frame and wildly gymnastic pitching motion have worn him down.

But too many times the Giants' starters have been surprisingly bad, pitching impressively in the first inning, but then doing everything but announcing their pitches to the batters by megaphone in the succeeding innings.

Though I'm not experienced enough to remember another championship team that suddenly went so wholesale cold, I doubt there are many.

A guy I work with sometimes, who slips me Giants' scores when I can't be near a radio to get updates, told me he's no longer following the Giants because they didn't make the crucial changes before the season to strengthen the team.

Wait a minute: The Giants have kept almost all of the players from the World Series team. Sounds like a good plan to me, as it did to the general manager and the fans. Who expected almost the entire team to go bad at once?

Even the managers and coaches fell down, accidentally batting Posey out of order against the Los Angeles Dodgers Sunday. His run-scoring double was negated, the batter for whom he was wrongly batting was called out, and Posey then batted next in his proper order — to hit a grounder for the final out instead. No score.

The Giants' announcers have fallen into an annoying habit of wishful broadcasting. With the Giants down four runs in a late game, for example, a Giants batter would get hit by a pitch.

"And the rally started with a fastball to the ribcage …" announcer Mike Krukow would say.

I feel their pain. They're trying to keep an even but upbeat tone. They want to broadcast wins. For now, fans still fill the beautiful ballpark, entertained by their loveable losers. They're just waiting for the Giants to do whatever it is to realize their talent and play like it.

So are we all.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Independence Day, third try

Though I have a digital image of this, I scanned the postcard that's been hanging from my
bulletin board, to show warts and all, including the hole where the thumbtack goes. Drawing
mostly to entertain myself, I still get a narcissistic kick out of looking at this.
Ten years ago, I changed my business name from somerset words and pictures co. to shawn turner illustration (all lowercase, e. e. cummings style, for optimum irk).

The first iteration, somerset, was my declaration of independence from the traditional work world. After long desire, I finally squirmed out of the rabbit warren of cubicles when a wise colleague and friend — and a former mercenary; I thought it unwise to disbelieve his story — told me, "You're gonna die here if you stay. If you don't go out and try your idea, I'm gonna kick your ass!"

He had street cred. Off I went. Eighteen years ago today.

Our toddler son became the symbol of my first independence, the illustration based on his successful escape from the waves at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park.
Somerset suggested the place we lived; the variation on somersault an attempted hint at smart fun. The rough-hewn dictionary entry form of my company name declared, Hey, I'm a writer, man! Write on!

The second iteration, shawn turner illustration, declared a new independence, dumping words for pictures. Though I like writing — as this semi-weekly blather attests — I wanted to concentrate on illustration, and force myself to rely on and get better at it.

I discovered that everyone is a writer —true, or false — and words are immensely malleable. So some clients changed my work. Sometimes a lot, making me wonder why clients hired me in the first place.

My moment of decision came in a phone call with a client about an early draft of copy I had written for his client, a maker of an inconsequential product.

We need to make some changes, my client told me in even, measured tones, as pleasant as he could make them. In the background, his client was saying the same thing — except in shouts and imprecations punctuated by what sounded like feet stamping or fists hitting a dashboard. They were riding around in my client's car. "What's this guy thinking?" the client's client shouted. "This isn't what I had in mind at all." That sorta thing. Minus the pointed name calling. This is a family blog.

You'd think I had tattooed the words on his client's butt with a rusty fork tine, rather than written them in the ephemeral algorithms of a Word document, delicate as mouse clicks.

Screams and shouts no longer seemed worth my trouble.

Pictures are intractable. For the most part, anyway. Clients hire illustrators, I still believe, because they are not illustrators themselves, and truly need such services.
A client once altered my illustration without consulting or asking permission. Though physically possible — just get into the illustration program and monkey around — I hadn't thought it feasible until then. It is no longer a client.
The change in business coincided with our family move, thus the postcard above. Get it? It's announcing that I have moved my office, but the move is emotional. I'm not sure a lot of recipients got the maudlin fun that I had making this.

As independence goes, this was stepping into the void: I'm not trained as an artist or illustrator (which may not surprise you), but as a news writer. Being an artist was an avocation, not a living. Except for one art class at Cal Poly, where I got a C, I bypassed art class and art school.

But I've always drawn, always drawn to it. I've learned by observation, learned by doing (the Cal Poly way!)

The new direction gained steam, as more and more people recognized me as an illustrator rather than writer. I sent out postcards like the one above, made calls, and little by little, gained illustration clients to match what I once had for writing clients.

The wheels wobbled about the time the World Trade Center towers fell. Businesses reined in, budgets fell. I fumbled around for a while, then found teaching as my savior. Got a credential, taught for two years, then the economy for teaching imploded.

The smartest move I'd made in a while was to keep shawn turner illustration open, somehow maintaining long-term projects while working very early mornings and very late nights just trying to keep afloat as a rookie teacher.

When I decided pursuing new teaching positions in a broken economy — standing at the end of a line behind veteran teachers also laid off — was just wasted energy, I re-ignited my business.

It was a Rip Van Winkle moment. The Internet got invented in my absence, and marketing (my thorniest challenge as a business owner) took on new twists. But also more opportunities, which I set aside as much time as I can to explore.

This is my third independence, slowly rebuilding shawn turner illustration, doing what I love, which is what it's all about, ain't it?
I'm celebrated independence today by swimming the length of my home Lake Natoma, a haggard cramp-hampered four-plus miles under a strong current. It's called the Firecracker Swim, but each year I say it really needs to be called the Salmon Run.
Happy independence to you.

Self same card back. Don't send anything to suite b: Even though the U.S. Postal Service told me it's a
a great idea, really it's not. And fax? What's a fax. Better you should email me. It still works …

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Hot enough for you?

Temperatures should climb to 108 today in the Sacramento region, up to 110 tomorrow, cooling again to 108 again for the Fourth of July. The famed Delta breezes, drawing in from the ocean at night, have failed to deliver us: Dawn broke at 85 degrees.

This treatment for a book cover a while back might have been for a steamy jungle somewhere (who knows? Somewhere. A jungle from a dream.) One variation shows an encampment above the foreground fronds. It hangs on my office wall as a remembrance of how I somehow managed to let the white paper speak, and didn't overwork the charcoal.

Today I regard the whitespace steam as mist, the scene as a cool morning, a place of rest.

If it's hot where you are, hotter than it should be, I offer this vision as a palliative.

Be cool.