Monday, February 27, 2012

The People's Park: Part Two

The rainy season hit hard for the people in the park.  Mud and dampness made for a perpetually wet camp and often sent them into the bathrooms adjacent to my office to get their fix.  The acrid smells of chemicals afire hung in the air.  Their marathon smoke sessions infuriated me.  I was being poisoned, and soon their paranoia seeped into my office too.  I was forever denying their accusations that I was a NARC and the existence of cameras in the trees.  But maybe there was some truth to their suspicions. 

As a kid I’d duck below the front windows when Gordy passed.  He was a teen who lived in the corner house.  I’d heard that he’d fried his brain on drugs.  Like Victor he walked around shirtless with unfurled curly hair.  I wanted to catch a glimpse of him, but I didn’t want his eyes to meet mine.  I was captivated and terrified that part of a person could be erased and that drugs could be the eraser. 

After school specials preaching “just say no” only fanned my paranoid flame.  My brother and cousin teased me with such pranks as blowing piles of baby powder cocaine in my face with an oscillating fan.  I screamed in panic, and to this day am unsure how nine year-olds acquired such contraband. In fact, my paranoia lead me to become an amateur NARC.  I’d creep up to my newly renovated bedroom carefully looking for joints in the cracks of the sub-floor.  I’d overheard my Mother worry over the “hippie” painters who looked like they were on drugs.  I was certain I’d find real evidence.

At the park I was among genuine hippies—at least some of them were.  They were sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, and mothers and fathers, but most chose at some level to inhabit the park.  Petra, the toughest woman in the park, would often remind me of this saying, “I have a home; I have daughters,” yet she remained in the park as its best hustler and perhaps the most feared individual.

Petra and her entourage would repeatedly and respectfully ask me what I was doing at the Park.  I didn’t fit. They and everyone else could see that I wasn’t from there or even California.  I could never answer their queries.  My supervisor told me I’d been hired because I had character.  I knew they had their doubts about my toughness but I managed to convince them of my desire to work with the homeless.  I thought I saw them differently, had aspirations of community art projects, and a handful of ideals that seemed ridiculous when I looked into Petra’s eyes.  The truth is I wanted a job, but what was I really doing there?  Other than a bus pass there certainly weren’t any perks, and my ideals went up in crack smoke.

Petra wasn’t the only one to question my presence.   I was a cultural oddity.  I spent hours talking to the bike police, the man who emptied the trash cans, local park advocates, passers-by, and park people.  They’d stand in my office door trying to get me to join the police, join the union, or become a customer hustling their merchandise discarded items, drugs, and sex acts. One morning I even let a toothless drunk kiss me on my cheek.  He’d been celebrating all night long.   I’d try to assess their sanity and sobriety---my opinion forever wavering—in hopes that I’d find a reason why I was there.

Eventually a park person torched the free box, and I soon departed People’s Park.  My boss from the deli called the park “a failure of the left,” and I felt his comment could have applied to me as well.  I left the park corrupted.  I had been fried on drugs and left only with additional fear and paranoia.  I was lost more than ever and upon reflection realize how much I had in common with the park inhabitants.  I was desperately trying to figure out who I was, too.  Nonetheless, I closed my office for the last time after meeting my replacement, a happy looking student from the university.  I ran from the park before I could recognize myself in the eyes of its people.

The People's Park: Part One

One Saturday while working at the park, somebody defecated on my cinderblock office.  The tar-stained smear blurred the colorful, yet carelessly painted mural.  Sadly it wouldn’t be the last time I had to purge human excrement from my small stronghold.  A shameless sliver of me smiled at the defamation of the murals, which I had wanted to repaint if it weren’t for anticipated grassroots protest of park advocates like Nathan Nightgown, the “Boobs Not Bombs” lady and Arthur.  The University owned the park and I worked for them, but in reality, the park really belonged to the people and we feared their retaliation.  I hoisted open the wide, garage-like door to my office, put on two pairs of gloves and began my rounds.  The park was beginning to wake up.

I walked counter-clockwise around the public space--the size of a city block-- picking up garbage, debris, and bio-hazards. The empty basketball courts awaited sweaty afternoon pick-up games.  The Free Box sat overflowing with a recent donation.  The deceased man’s possessions were scattered like ashes in the dewy grass.  Vinyl records snapped in half, un-paired shoes, open luggage, and other ransacked personal items were strewn across the park.  The valuables had been plundered for resale rendering the rest useless.  I ceremoniously collected them for the dumpster. 

The tall fennel plants leaked their licorice smell.  Laying belly up near the community garden was Charles Chicken Bones.  His round girth resembling a moon in its fullest phase was partially exposed revealing soft, smooth skin.  With his stocking cap perched on his head and his tight leggings he reminded me of a garden gnome.  Always at the west end of the park and unencumbered by a pillow or sleeping bag he slumbered freely.  Legend has it that he planted chicken bones in the community gardens.  I’m probably just as discouraged by the results as he.  Today, I hovered around him trying not to disturb his sleep while I gingerly picked up wet napkins and squished ketchup packets. 

In the southwest corner between scratchy bushes and a small tree dwelled a patch of land belonging to Victor.  He belted baggy, black sweatpants and wore white sneakers.  Shirtless and in fairly good physical shape, he karate chopped trees and kick boxed thin air.  The majority of the time, Victor was peaceful, but I had seen him retaliate very angrily when someone threatened his territory or crossed him in some way.  I even saw him hurl a stick or two with alarming speed at trees.  Grey haired and bearded he’d press his palms together and bow to me, “Good morning Sister-Queen-Of-The-Universe.”  On my first day in the park, my supervisor introduced me to Victor and asked him to watch out for me.  How do I explain to my worried father the security I felt with Victor in the park.

Ernest slept in the wide-open space in the middle of the park.  He didn’t have anything to hide and his normalcy was a relief.  If he wasn’t in his spot, I’d be concerned.  This central space also housed a stage, which was the site for various special events: battle of the bands, protests, and regular vegan food donations from Food Not Bombs.  I was warned to never succumb to the soup kitchen style handout no matter how hungry I was.  A coworker had once had trouble chewing his salad, which happened to be tossed with a piece of dreadlock.  Is hair vegan?

Aside from renting basketballs to students and chess sets to the brilliant but unemployed, I documented criminal proceedings in the park, presided at special events, and called the police if fights broke out - particularly if weapons were involved. 

With another sort of dread, I plodded to the wooded part of the park at the east end. The extra coverage provided protection, encouraging small groups of young pock-marked kids with rotting teeth to roll out sleeping bags and string up makeshift tents.  With bikes propped upside down, they would tinker endlessly, fashioning elaborate carts to pull their belongings and items to sell at the resale shops.  They’d often exceed the limits regarding creating a campsite, and I hated confronting them about their transgressions knowing that I conveyed an absolute lack of authority.  Though it wasn’t their used needles, which I’d carefully confine to a sharpie box, that I feared most but their gaze.  I was afraid of who I’d see in their eyes and even more scary who’d they see in mine. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


I'm sending a flyer for circulation at the school fundraiser.  Here is the collage I made for it.  The bird might be British  . . .

"Luck" Pillow


"Luck" Pillow
I finished this pillow last night, and today I'm dropping it off along with a Ragtag Rug as raffle donations at a local elementary school.  I really love doing embroidery.  I am fairly certain I was part of making the Bayeux Tapestry in a past life.  Good luck to the winner!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Ragtag Rugs

Rug Sandwich
I finished weaving three rag rugs this weekend despite the best efforts of the stomach flu.  Two went into my Etsy shop, and the other is being donated to a local school's fundraiser.  Aside from thinking of these rugs as little color studies and as challenging puzzles that combine scraps into a cohesive whole, I have been dreaming of them as magic carpets that travel internationally--well, in my imagination anyway. And so, each rug is being assigned a name of a city.  So what is your favorite travel destination or home city?  I need inspiration for my next rugs!  Here are some photos of the recent process and product.  P.S.  If your hometown is Oak Park or nearby check out Green Home Experts on South Blvd. for more Ragtag Rugs.

Winding Warp
Beginning to tie warp onto loom;  Abe and I liken it to Rapunzel's Hair.
Threading the loom

Threading through reed
Thread through heddles
Tied onto back
Wrapping Excess Warp around Back Beam

Positano Rug, I use T.P. as a filler in between rugs
Beginning Jajapur
Beginning to weave Jajapur Rug




Wednesday, February 15, 2012

February Mash-Up: an examination of holidays and traditions

Chocolate Valentines
     Valentine's Day is a welcome brightness to a dreary February.  Although I'm not completely devoted to this holiday of romantic love, I do enjoy the cheery colors, cut paper decorations, and the snarky conversation heart candy.  In grade school I was much more fond of the holiday and met it with great anticipation and expectation.  I was an expert at reading into those clever superhero messages.  "You Make My Spidey Senses Tingle" was enough to give me hope for weeks to come.  As an adult the holiday means little more to me than an excuse to put away red and green and pull out red . . . and pink, and purple.  Furthermore, it is challenging to find romance in the thick of the zealous marketing efforts of clever card and candy companies.  So why do we celebrate romantic love on the 14th of February, what is its origin, and what does a Roman, Christian martyr have to do with any of it?
    Actually there is evidence of three St. Valentines, all martyred and possessing legends relating empathy and perhaps romantic love.  However, the establishment of a feast day was motivated by more than their lives and deeds.  It seems that the fifth century Pope Gelasius purposefully declared the 14th of February devoted to one of these martyrs as a counter to the popular Roman ritual of Lupercalia which occurred February 13 -15.  As is often the case, the Christian feast day was established as a means to de-emphasize its pagan predecessor.  Although the two holidays share a day on the calendar, they have little else in common.
     Lupercalia's inception dates back to the 5th century BC, and the tradition endured until 5th century AD with the official initiation of St. Valentine's Day.  In the old Roman calendar, February rounded out the year.  As the etymology of February indicates,  this month was dedicated to purification in preparation for the new year.  (Februa means month of purification.)   Lupercalia's ceremonies referenced the founding of Rome.  Luper meaning wolf, was set in the cave in which the legendary she-wolf nursed the founders of the eternal city, Romulus and Remus.  In the same cave they sacrificed a goat for fertility and a dog for purity.  The blood of the goat was smeared on the foreheads of two naked priests called Luperci and then wiped clean with wool dipped in milk.  The Luperci would then commence in chasing young women around the Palatine hill whipping their exposed backs with strips of goat skin.  This gesture (probably symbolic of rape) brought good luck, purification, and fertility to women recently married or barren.  After feasting and other revelry, some believe that there was a lottery to match eligible young adults together ,and at the end of the year, these pairings would often result in marriage.  In other words, it was for ancient Rome.
     The perseverance  of Lupercalia is stunning.  Although the population who practiced the rituals changed through its thousand years from patrician families to commoners, it survived through centuries of Christianity.  It required banishment dictated by the Pope and the establishment of St. Valentine's day to really squelch the tradition.  Ironically, in 1969 the Pope removed February 14th as one of its feast days and thereby disassociated the church from the secular ritual that has evolved over the last seven centuries.  It was Chaucer and the people of the middle ages who popularized romantic love, and somehow between Chaucer's love poem and the belief that February was the month of breeding birds that February 14th was associated with Romantic love.  In recognition of their popular saint they gifted cards and baked treats for one another in gray Februaries which must have been particularly gloomy in the dark ages. 
     What will happen to our February rituals and holidays over the next centuries?  In what traditions will we continue to partake and which ones will become obsolete?  One thing is for certain, if latest scientific studies are accurate, romantic love is biologically addictive.  Hence, we will be forever finding and inventing ways to get our fix whether it be through the thrill of a chase or the words of a poem.
      A few weeks ago, I had a haunting dream in which I was being hunted by a haggard wolf with a steely gaze.  She watched me very carefully and closely followed me no matter how I tried to escape.  My only defensive action was to shield my toddler from her hungry jaws.  It is only now after researching Lupercalia that I am reminded that the wolf was the Lupa of early Rome.  I have sympathy for her now as I imagine her pulling those quivering twins out of the Tiber and generously nursing them in her protective cave.  Now that is love.    


Thursday, February 9, 2012

Full of Holes: Part Two

      The girl watched the pop-up camper being cranked up and inflated like a balloon.  She loved the little home it made.  It was so compact and efficient.  Her Mom cooked dinner over the fire while she and her brother made mud pies where the cooler water had been dumped.  They also played army in the woods.  Her brother dressed in full fatigues blending seamlessly into the shrubs and needles.  After burning their mouths on hot pie filling and other campfire desserts, they climbed into the camper finding a nook in which to sleep.  Her sister, sandwiched between the Irish girl and herself in one wing, told her stories of grizzly bears and how they were taller than the van when standing on their hind legs.  The girl ran her finger along the flimsy seams of the thin canvas feeling the whisper of outside air.  Wondering if a grizzly stood on the other side, she was unable to fall asleep.
    In the morning they carefully spat their toothpaste on the fire embers.  The girl sat in her pop-up wing watching her Aunt neatly fold her clothes in tissue and put them in plastic bags and then in her suitcase.  Then her Dad cranked the camper down into a neat rectangle.  Pulling the camper behind them, they made their way to the Grand Canyon.
     She stood with her toes near the edge as she looked into the gaping hole in the earth.  What if she fell?  Her brother chased after a lizard as she listened to her mother inquire about the donkeys.  For some reason we weren't able to ride the donkeys down into the depths.  The girl couldn't decide whether she was disappointed or relieved by this prospect.  She'd overheard her older brother enthusiastically  mention that donkeys were afraid of snakes and upon sight were in the habit of throwing their riders off their backs.  On steady human feet they descended down the narrow trail.  Their steps disrupted sand sending it off the ridge and trickling down the cliffs.  She clung to the wall tracing the layered grooves with her finger trying to comprehend how and when water cut the rock away.
     After a couple miles down, several family photos, and a session watching a squirrel, the group turned around to hike back to the surface.  Her socks loosely encircled her tired legs.  Though thankful there hadn't been a snake sighting, she felt the weight of her exhausted body and dreaded the seemingly endless ascension.  It also seemed impossible to match her stride to that of her parents and siblings.  After struggling to keep up she asked her Dad to carry her on his shoulders.  Her Aunt immediately protested suggesting her Dad's heart would be taxed.  Her Dad was built to carry things----the radio during Vietnam, coolers packed densely with ice and meat, furniture out of the attic or into the basement.  She didn't believe that carrying her would pose much of a challenge.  Still several paces up a steep hill on a hot  afternoon left him winded.   Her Aunt continued to worry over her Dad's heart and insisted the girl complete the rest of the trek on her own two feet.  The girl caught wind of her Aunt's fear and now worried for her Dad.  She asked him to remove her from his shoulders.  Every step was pregnant with risk.  She begged him to let her down.  He refused-- carrying her all the way to the top despite all protests.  As the sun set, the girl gazed into the hole one last time as it now seemed merely full of guilt and threat.
     In San Diego they had a break from the pop-up camper and stayed in the home of her Dad's war buddy.  Although dark had fallen, her Dad was forced to inflate the camper to retrieve her Mom's tampons.  Her sister had the misfortune of receiving her first ever period and was too embarrassed to ask the war buddy's wife to borrow from her supply.  Later that night in her sleeping bag, the girl felt the earth tremble and heard the far off din of her Dad and his buddy laughing through crunched beer cans.
     In San Francisco they visited old and beloved neighbors who now owned a glass shop.  They each picked a memento, a fragile trinket to cart home.  The girl picked a teddy bear holding a heart.  The heart was red glass.  They soon headed home weary and tired of living so close to one another.  Once home her studs were removed from her infected ears, and the holes closed up.  Her hair grew longer, and her Aunt pasted together a thorough log of the trip.  She wouldn't visit the mall to re-puncture her ears again until she was 13.  Accompanied again by her Mom and sister, she'd commemorate the beginning of her first period.

Full of Holes: Part One

Van by: Abe Sluka
      She twisted the tight stud in the raw hole.  Her ear twinged with pain.  The holes, only recently punched out, had been replaced with stainless steel posts and sparkly stones.  She'd have to wait until after vacation to swap them for the plastic hearts she bought.  Her sister had already lapsed in her duty of cleaning and systematically rotating them.  And so, they hurt and were red and swollen.
     At age 6 she had received her first bad haircut from a delinquent basement hair dresser who unevenly clipped her already short hair.  "One ear's a bit too low!" she heard Red say.  It was in the sure hands of Red the barber that her butchered head now rested.  Her Dad joked with his trusted barber as the girl heard the clippers evenly buzz the misshapen mishap.  Red was quite adept at cutting hair for men and boys.  She now resembled the latter.  Even the promise of a Dumdum sucker couldn't quiet the distress of her uneasy stomach.  To counter the masculine fix, she accompanied her mother and sister to the mall to right this gender confusion.  So this was how she came to have her ears pierced.
     Wincing at her tender ears she watched her Dad pack the nude color van and pop-up camper with rolled sleeping bags, boxes of food, chilly, green coolers, and golden suitcases purchased for a honeymoon.  They loaded themselves into the van, too.  A Mom, a Dad, two brothers, a sister, an Aunt, a recent widow, and a girl foreign exchange student from Ireland.  Early that morning they hit the road towing the wobbly camper behind them.
   She sat next to her Aunt in the back seat.  Her Aunt explained to the girl that she needed to carry in her purse salted peanuts encapsulated in an old medicine bottle.  Without a healthful dose of protein she'd get sick.  Shuffling a deck of cards in her small hands, the girl asked her Aunt to play a game of rummy.  Her Aunt declined citing the need to closely follow the Dad's driving route.  She was going to make a scrap book of their trip once home and needed to record accurate data.  So, the girl pulled out a safety pin with embroidery floss and pinned it to the seat in front of her.  She tied knots making stripes of color--pink, yellow and white--as she listened to her Mom read aloud Where the Red Fern Grows.  The book was on her brother's summer reading list which he was trying hard to ignore.  So, the book was passed amongst the literate passengers each reading a page or two.  After awhile the girl grew sleepy and climbed into the rear of the vehicle nesting in a little square which her Dad carved out for her.  Among the stacks of bags and boxed sandwich fixings, she fell asleep  to the lull of the road. 


Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Rug Weft or Dido Knows Best

Add caption
In a perfect world I'd have every t-shirt in my possession cut into strips before weaving my rag rugs.  I'd love to have all colors available at all times, but because the task of cutting is time consuming beyond measure, this never happens.   I'm way overdue to weave some rugs and have some awesomely dyed t-shirts ready for cutting.  If there exists a more efficient method to achieve the t-shirt to weft transformation, I haven't discovered it.  In fact, I think part of me resists streamlining any portion of the process.  Weaving is time consuming by nature and that's part of its beauty.

Rug Weft

Rug Weft

I'm often reminded of a Classical myth of Dido when I'm cutting t-shirts into weft.  

The King of Tyre (in Phoenicia), Belus, wanted to split his kingdom among his two children:  Pygmalion and Dido.  Upon his father's death, Pygmalion seized the throne and killed Dido's husband forcing Dido and her followers to flee to the north of Africa.  Iarbus, the local ruler of the land, promised Dido he'd sell as much of his land as the hide of a bull would cover.  Clever Dido agreed to this seemingly foolish bond.  She cut the hide into small strips which encircled a vast amount of land which became her kingdom (queendom?) of Carthage.

Rug Weft

Story referenced from:

Calling all Latin and Greek students to set me straight if I've misrepresented Dido's story. 

Friday, February 3, 2012

Calendars for Charity

Detail from the Dolphin Studio 2012 Calendar 
Inspired by my sister's-in-law annual Christmas calendar gift and a long history of making my own by hand, I'm considering producing my own calendar to raise funds for Annunciation House.  By exploiting the creative potential of current and former volunteers and guests I think we could have an incredible bounty of art and poetry to be showcased in a calendar.  Not only would sales of the calendar benefit the non-profit organization, but it would help spread awareness and celebration of a unique community on the boarder.  Some hurdles and perhaps A-house board member(s) could weigh in:  what's the precedent for A-house participation in this type of fund raising?  I'd be happy to assume the cost of production (although I haven't priced a thing), but would there be enough help in spreading the word to get submissions?  Enough interest in submissions?  Ability to sell calendars in wide variety of cities, markets, etc?  The best thing about calendars is that everyone needs a new one each year.  The worst thing about calendars is being stuck with a stack of unsold ones from the previous year.  We could call it the "New Mayan Calendar"or "Mayan Calendar Part Dos"?  Just Kidding! The world is going to end.  Any ideas?  Manitas, do you want to get in on this?

Logo At Last

Pinwheel Painting Detail
Pinwheel Painting

Pinwheel Collage
Pinwheel Collage Detail
If you're reading this you've probably noticed the new banner at the top of this blog.  After hours of painting a pinwheel piece pictured above, I decided it wasn't working.   Perhaps it has another direction to which it needs to go? I may revisit it later.  I decided to start over and pull out some paper scraps.   In less than an hour I cut and pasted a new pinwheel that I like much better.  I think it works well on the screen, and I'm hoping it will look equally great in print.  I've got business cards and tags next on my list!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012


     Whatever my Mom cooks up in the kitchen, my Dad always washes the dishes, and unfortunately for him, she only prepares food in soup kitchen proportions.  He is methodical in his approach, making organized piles with the intention to not merely clean the dishes but sterilize them.  When I was little and dishes meant playing in water, I would stand on a stool at the sink in between my Dad's arms splashing.  Once when left alone, I decided to float my orange Tic Tacs like miniature gold fish in a tiny tank.  Instead, of a small world of wonder, I palmed tasteless, bloated albinos.  So much for science.
     My blind Grandmother would dry, and I'd rinse and put away.  She'd often warn me that a wet shirtfront would result in a drunkard for a husband, and once she scolded me for rinsing the dishes in cold water.  Apparently the cavernous, antique stock pots would transfer the chill right into her body.  However, we both enjoyed listening to my Dad laugh at the old Simpsons episodes playing in the background.
     At 15 I landed my first legal job as a dishwasher at the deli in our local grocery store.  There I'd scrub pots big enough to boil small children. (Ham salad was our specialty).  My shirtfront would be drenched through despite my apron.  A fresh box of Chore Boy scrubbies plucked from the shelves would help temporarily lighten the work.  I was mopping the deli's floor when my Sister-in-law came to notify me that my Grandma passed away.
     As a full-time volunteer at Annunciation House, we'd wash the stains out of each others' mugs--neither a mug or volunteer absent of a chip or crack.  I was always thankful for the enthusiastic guests who'd volunteer to be dishwashers.  They were brave souls confronting skittering cockroaches and a bubbling grease trap.
     When first married, my husband and I would have lavish cooking adventures that would result in a mound of dishes.  We quickly became really good at artfully stacking dirty dishes in our shoe box kitchen.  Dishes were political now.  The first one to tire of eating cereal with a grapefruit spoon would buckle down and suds up.  It was at that tiny sink one Saturday morning, that I stood trembling, tears mixed with the bubbles after finding out that I was pregnant.  In that moment doing dishes was the only thing I could manage.
     Now as I turn my leaky faucet on, I hear my little toddler shout "Bubbles" as she charges the sink with stool in hand.  I awkwardly straddle her as we make our way through piles of dishes.  Together we peek through our kitchen window into the house next door as our teenage neighbors take turns at the sink.  I  wonder what dishes are in my daughter's future.  I think about shouting to the teens that performing an unwanted task slowly only makes it take longer.  But mostly I think about the boys' drunk wives and how happy they'll be that they aren't washing the dishes.