silly billy

currently unemployed

Marathon, Florida

LUCKY NO. 19

I read that there is a tumblr blog with one million followers. A million. Frankly, that seems like a shitload, especially considering the fact that I have 18 — a far cry from the shitload I’d like to have but can’t seem to pile up.

Part of the problem may be my lack of output … quantity as well as quality. At last count, I had only as many posts as followers, and I’ve never received a single online word of encouragement. So, with little reason to do so, here goes Lucky No. 19, set afloat with the well-intentioned but misguided avidity of a New Year’s resolution. 

We bloggers have many a pent-up reason for blogging. In my own pathetic case, I’m trying to develop conversational muscle I can whip out at parties. More than any place I’ve lived, Los Angeles ushers you into the company of the upper crust — so many film and TV people, captains of industry, artists, aesthetes, and other assorted heavy-hitters. You have to be ready to hurtle into these chin-wagging orbits without the considerable gravitational pull crushing your dignity.

Sadly, the last soiree I attended, a Boxing Day celebration, revealed just how thin my shtick has become. The first person I chatted with was David, whose last name I’ll keep under wraps in order to dilute any embarrassing association with this blog. A prominent L.A. attorney, David specializes in trade secrets and intellectual-property disputes, making headlines for his trial work in City of Hope National Medical Center v. Genetech, Inc. The victory produced a $500 million judgment, which, incidentally, exceeds the gross domestic product of Bora Bora.

Needless to say, David has bigger mahi mahi to fry than a blogger with 18 followers, so I chased the oer d’oeuvres to another conversation. My new acquaintance, worldly and charismatic, introduced himself as Christoph and, of course, anyone named Christoph with an Austrian accent is immediately interesting. Anyone named Bill with a rural Nevadan accent … not so much.

Turns out Christoph is an architect well known for spatially profound edifices and residences around the world, including the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Egypt. Christoph oversaw design and construction of the $200 million project, reincarnating the ancient Library of Alexandria — an important center for scholarship and culture that stood for 600 years until Julius Caesar, in 48 BC, accidentally burned it down in a military-strategy snafu during the Alexandrian War. 

No small undertaking to design the modern-day replacement. Christolph, along with his Norwegian firm, Snøhetta, beat out 1,400 other entries to get the job. And what a job they did. Bibliotheca Alexandrina dramatically integrates advances in architecture with grand historical gestures, most notably a circular and massively proportioned wall of Aswan granite ornamented with archaic inscriptions. The roof, sharply biased toward the Mediterranean Sea, takes on the appearance of a colossal sundial.

There was scant insight I could sprinkle into the discussion with Christolph, although I gave it a shot with paltry anecdotes about my favorite architect, Bruce Goff, who, in his heyday, once designed a house with orange shag carpeting on the roof and another festooned on the inside with artificial-insemination devices used in turkey farming.

It fast became clear it was time to move on from Christoph’s intellectual clutches. I went looking for someone less accomplished — if such a person even existed. I turned to Shawn, whose worn jacket and dirty boots suggested that he may have shown up for the free chili. I should have known better, given the keffiyeh wrapped smartly around his neck. 

Sure enough, Shawn had chops, too. Producer. Director. Writer. Cinematographer. Composer. Editor. Actor. Even more annoying, he’s exceedingly handsome. These days he has taken up documentary filmmaking, his latest humanitarian endeavor exploring Yemeni women entrepreneurs — produced on location, for crying out loud. You could not surround me with enough Kalashnikovs to even consider adventure of this enormity. Shawn’s hot wife, meanwhile, impressed lookers-on with her shiny pants and unabashed willingness to throw back the host’s cocktails. 

I thought I’d try to dazzle the striking couple with my own documentary background, dusting off a tired, old story about a worker’s-comp subject I tackled a while back. The film featured a host of dangerous jobs, one of which was semen extraction at an operation called Conrad Bulls in Flagler, Kansas. By the time I got to the part where the cowboys hook up the testicular electrodes, the offended wife, a PETA sympathizer, excused herself in disgust.

I was troubled by this. It’s not like the unethical treatment of animals appeals to me, although, on second thought, I have badgered an animal or two if you count my affection for tarpon fishing. Every June I make the long pilgrimage to the Florida Keys to chase down and cast fuchsia-colored flies at these Silver Kings of the sea.

I’m joined in this vulgar pastime by an L.A. expatriate, Don, who used to be a buttoned-up partner at Deloitte and Touche, a top accounting firm, until his recent retirement. It became obvious the end had drawn near when Don started calling his employer Toilet and Douche and claiming — on numerous occasions and possibly under the smokable influence of medical-grade glaucoma relief — that Buffy the Vampire Slayer was the best thing on TV.

Today, and not a moment too soon, Don has extricated himself from the business world and found solace on a chicken farm in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. He torched his bespoke Italian suits — a small fortune’s worth — just doused the heap of them with gasoline and struck a match, dancing around the blaze in a disturbing trance, a handle of Johnnie Walker getting lighter by the second. Once he sobered up, he vowed never to shave again. When I finally caught up with him, he looked like Grigori Rasputin, only uglier.  

Rasputin, like Don, was on a mission for salvation. No church or clergy could provide the answer. The Spirit of God had to emerge from within — and only after wrestling with the interdependence of sin and repentance, yielding, as necessary, to all manner of temptation. Rasputin, a slave to sex and alcohol, believed that humiliation of one’s self is crucial in order to dispel the sin of vanity. 

Well, just watch the video above, shot on a pocket camera a few years ago. Clearly Don and I have no problem humiliating ourselves.

See more: http://www.sillybillyfolkart.com/ 

Ring-toss game, c. 1920s, colorized cardboard.
LUCKIEST GUY ALIVE
THE CITY OF HAPPINESS IS IN THE STATE OF MIND. So reads the 1930s marquetry panel I acquired recently. It came from my dear friend, Mario, a collector extraordinaire with a keen eye for the wondrous and the weird, not necessarily in that order. 
There isn’t enough room in this meager blog to particularize the wondrousness and weirdness that Mario has amassed over the years. Much of it is on display in his antique store, the rest in his home and studio — shelf after shelf underpinning vast collections of every imaginable form, the entirety of it all meticulously arranged in rows as if the items themselves represent an eye-dazzling choir, each of the “voices” harmonizing in a song whose idiosyncratic appeal could be described as Yma Sumac meets Alvin and the Chipmunks. 
It would take a week, for instance, just to survey the scope of Mario’s salted peanut tins — the earliest and rarest examples, of course — possibly the largest collection of its kind in the world. If you had another week, you could sift through stacks and jars and drawers and cabinets brimming with Bakelite jewelry, which, en bloc, have the appearance of inventory in a candy store — eye candy, for sure — with glossy, saturated colors and nearly edible graphic designs.
But on this particular day, a Holiday brunch with accompanying friends, it was the inlaid wisdom that caught my eye: THE CITY OF HAPPINESS IS IN THE STATE OF MIND. Turns out, these words have been a mantra for Mario, who was a victim of childhood polio, not to mention a nasty run-in with a poison plant, which ravaged his underarms and other surface areas of his body. He found solace in food, thus completing the Holy Trinity of tough luck: a crippled fat kid with bad skin. 
Fortunately for Mario, he’s imbued with an intellect that runs circles around the wits of mere mortals. His sense of humor, equally advanced, could charm the knickers off a nun. These attributes have kept Mario in good company and good humor when he’s needed it most … as a youngster and beyond. 
Joy in life, after all, doesn’t come easy. As Abraham Lincoln put it: “Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” If that’s true, and it surely is, then most folks are about as miserable as they make up their minds to be. Sadly, I come across more misery than happiness these days. Which is why it was a fine afternoon indeed to hang out with the ebullient Mario, a devilish grin on his face as he gave me this year’s Christmas present, shown in the photograph above. 
A little background may underscore the comedy. Mario is gay, and I’m straight, whatever that means. But we’ve both enjoyed playful tension over the years, made all the more tantalizing at times of gift-giving. Mario likes to tease with provocative material. Often it’s something antiquated whose olden-time nature, by today’s standards, has taken on a naughty tone.
The clown’s pointy cone is only remotely phallic, but his peculiar grin and encouragement to Ring My Hat escalate the indecency. In the words of Melvin Udall, the memorable character created by Jack Nicholson in As Good As It Gets: “I tell you, Buddy … I’d be the luckiest guy alive if that did it for me.”
I couldn’t have said it better.
See more: http://www.sillybillyfolkart.com/

Ring-toss game, c. 1920s, colorized cardboard.

LUCKIEST GUY ALIVE

THE CITY OF HAPPINESS IS IN THE STATE OF MIND. So reads the 1930s marquetry panel I acquired recently. It came from my dear friend, Mario, a collector extraordinaire with a keen eye for the wondrous and the weird, not necessarily in that order. 

There isn’t enough room in this meager blog to particularize the wondrousness and weirdness that Mario has amassed over the years. Much of it is on display in his antique store, the rest in his home and studio — shelf after shelf underpinning vast collections of every imaginable form, the entirety of it all meticulously arranged in rows as if the items themselves represent an eye-dazzling choir, each of the “voices” harmonizing in a song whose idiosyncratic appeal could be described as Yma Sumac meets Alvin and the Chipmunks. 

It would take a week, for instance, just to survey the scope of Mario’s salted peanut tins — the earliest and rarest examples, of course — possibly the largest collection of its kind in the world. If you had another week, you could sift through stacks and jars and drawers and cabinets brimming with Bakelite jewelry, which, en bloc, have the appearance of inventory in a candy store — eye candy, for sure — with glossy, saturated colors and nearly edible graphic designs.

But on this particular day, a Holiday brunch with accompanying friends, it was the inlaid wisdom that caught my eye: THE CITY OF HAPPINESS IS IN THE STATE OF MIND. Turns out, these words have been a mantra for Mario, who was a victim of childhood polio, not to mention a nasty run-in with a poison plant, which ravaged his underarms and other surface areas of his body. He found solace in food, thus completing the Holy Trinity of tough luck: a crippled fat kid with bad skin. 

Fortunately for Mario, he’s imbued with an intellect that runs circles around the wits of mere mortals. His sense of humor, equally advanced, could charm the knickers off a nun. These attributes have kept Mario in good company and good humor when he’s needed it most … as a youngster and beyond. 

Joy in life, after all, doesn’t come easy. As Abraham Lincoln put it: “Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” If that’s true, and it surely is, then most folks are about as miserable as they make up their minds to be. Sadly, I come across more misery than happiness these days. Which is why it was a fine afternoon indeed to hang out with the ebullient Mario, a devilish grin on his face as he gave me this year’s Christmas present, shown in the photograph above. 

A little background may underscore the comedy. Mario is gay, and I’m straight, whatever that means. But we’ve both enjoyed playful tension over the years, made all the more tantalizing at times of gift-giving. Mario likes to tease with provocative material. Often it’s something antiquated whose olden-time nature, by today’s standards, has taken on a naughty tone.

The clown’s pointy cone is only remotely phallic, but his peculiar grin and encouragement to Ring My Hat escalate the indecency. In the words of Melvin Udall, the memorable character created by Jack Nicholson in As Good As It Gets“I tell you, Buddy … I’d be the luckiest guy alive if that did it for me.”

I couldn’t have said it better.

See more: http://www.sillybillyfolkart.com/

Gambling game, c. 20th century, lucite with tetrahedral dice

MR. LAS VEGAS

His given name was Robert E. Stupak, born in 1942 to Chester and Florence on the South Side of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, home to a tight-knit population of Eastern European immigrants toiling away in heavy industry and merchant storage — the nearby train rails and Monongahela River providing ideal routes for transporting product.

Chester Stupak toiled, too, but not in the steel mills or warehouses. His line of work catered to the back-room pursuits of men who played as hard as they labored. For more than half a century, Chester reined as the King of Dice, running an illegal craps game and other gambling rackets out of the infamous Lotus Club. It was no surprise when his son, immersed in the family business, got bored with school and dropped out by the 8th grade. Little Bobby turned to the streets, selling junk watches and loan-sharking. “When I was a kid, I thought that’s what big people did … you throw dice against the wall,” Stupak recalled in an interview. “That’s the way I was raised forever.”

Hard-wired by the bettor’s DNA of his father, the young Stupak was drawn inexorably to Las Vegas in 1964, a wad of cash in his pocket and a Harley Davidson surging underneath him. It was an influential visit. He would move there for keeps in 1971, bringing along his second wife and eventually raising two kids, a boy, Nevada, and a girl, Summer. His first wife and child, Nicole, remained in Australia, of all places, where Stupak, the previous seven years, had orchestrated a lucrative run selling coupon books — that is, until he was evicted from his host country amid allegations of dubious business practices. 

He had, however, put together a significant bankroll, which financed the purchase of the Vault casino in Las Vegas. Stupak changed its name to Sassy Sally’s, adorning it with a giant cowgirl sign and quickly piling up enough chips from the venture to open, in 1974, the Million Dollar Historic Gambling Museum & Casino at a seedy location on Las Vegas Boulevard north of Sahara Avenue. A couple of months later, the building burned down under suspicious circumstances. In its place rose Bob Stupak’s Vegas World, a space-themed hotel-casino known for its vacation packages and innovative gambling attractions. An especially memorable offering pitted patrons against a live rooster in a wagered game of tic-tac-toe.

In no time, Stupak cemented his reputation as the self-proclaimed Polish Maverick, adding to a curriculum vitae that would have been the envy of P.T. Barnum, “Big Daddy” Don Garlits and Engelbert Humperdinck … all combined! 

Some highlights:

Drag racer. As a teenager, Stupak once ranked as high as 3rd in the world after breaking a motorcycle speed record. He took home lots of trophies as well as injuries, including two broken knees. 

Nightclub singer. Under the name Bobby Star, he signed a recording contract and cut eight singles before realizing there was no future in it. 

Poker player. Skilled at cards, Stupak won titles at the World Series of Poker and the Super Bowl of Poker. He once defeated a poker-programmed computer, pocketing a purse of $500,000.

Basketball player. In exchange for a sizable donation to the United Negro College Fund, he got to play in a Harlem Globetrotters game, during which he was fouled while attempting a jump shot. According to local reports, he had side bets totaling $250,000 with poker buddies who doubted Stupak could make a free throw should he get to the line. He made one of two.

Self promoter. He financed the development of a Las Vegas-themed board game called “Stupak: The Ultimate Game of Skill and Chance” and challenged Donald Trump to a game for a million bucks. When Trump declined, Stupak bet the million on the outcome of the 1989 Super Bowl game. And won. 

Politician. At various times, he unsuccessfully ran to be the Las Vegas mayor, a Clark County commissioner and the Nevada lieutenant governor. During his mayoral campaign, he passed out fruit baskets and clock radios to voters, then “clocked” a TV reporter who wondered aloud if he were on drugs.

Living legend. He reshaped the Las Vegas skyline with his development of the Stratosphere, the tallest observation tower in the country. Not satisfied with its cloud-piercing height, he topped the structure with carnival rides. The year it opened, in 1996, Mayor Jan Jones joined city council members in signing a proclamation that named Stupak “Mr. Las Vegas.”

It was the Stratosphere that represented Stupak’s crowning achievement in his adopted and beloved city, even though the enterprise sunk him financially. He was lucky to see the grand opening, the victim of not only bankruptcy, but also a near-fatal motorcycle accident that broke every bone in his face and left him in a coma. He survived but was never the same. 

For the latter part of his life, Stupak struggled with the onset of leukemia and, as a result, stayed out of the public eye. He died in 2009 at the age of 67. 

The gambling game shown in the images above came from the Bob Stupak estate. It’s a beautiful thing, the angular lucite playing field formed with rows of translucent fingers that catch a pair of tetrahedral dice, alternately numbered in red and white. I’m not sure what the object of the game is, but its architecture suggests — to me, at least — a purposeful relationship with the Stratosphere itself, both evoking feelings of futurism and magic.

On the other hand, I find it haunting, too. Images of an earlier Stupak era spring to mind, a youthful Bobby learning how to throw dice against a wall, his father looking on, the seeds of an impresario taking root with every toss.

See more: http://www.sillybillyfolkart.com/

Reservation hat, c. 1920s, with subsequent adornment
WOULD MICK BUY IT?
My 3-year-old son and I have started a new game. I build a towering fortress around him, block by block, using cushions from the sectional sofa in the family room. Then he tunnels out through one of the gaps, twisting and clawing his way to freedom. We call it “Shawshank Redemption,” and he screams with delight every time we play. For personal amusement, I’m going to hang a movie-star poster over his usual escape route and, given his age, I think I’ll go with Dakota Fanning. Or, given my age, Julie Warner. 
Kids are a hoot. Of course, you hear this sentiment a lot from parents too ashamed to admit that having kids isn’t always a hoot. But, for me, one of the more entertaining aspects of parenthood is the influence it has had on the variety of folk art in my collecting crosshairs, now skewing toward the juvenile. Fortunately, this level of sophistication parallels my own I.Q., as evidenced by my latest find, a clown-head mechanical bank, c. 1915, that rolls back its eyes and sticks out its tongue when you insert a coin. 
On the other end of the spectrum is my appetite — formerly insatiable — for the edgy, which has produced acquisitions of considerable unusualness. Case in point: the assemblage shown in the photograph above. It began life, I’m speculating, in the 1920s, probably in the hands of a Navajo Indian. Reservation hats, as this form tends to be called, are typically black, round-brimmed, with an ornate band, the one here adorned with thunderbird conchos set against a field of turquoise fabric. 
When I discovered the hat, memories of the movie Billy Jack came flooding forth. The protagonist, played by Tom Laughlin, wore something similar on his head, symbolizing his “half-breed” Cherokee heritage as he fights for equality in his hometown. Strangely, he does this by unleashing Hapkido, a Korean martial art he mastered as a green beret in the Vietnam War. In one scene, surrounded by ill-intentioned thugs, he stares down the ring leader and announces: “You know what I think I’m going to do, just for the hell of it? I’m going to take this right foot and I’m going to whop you on that side of your face. And you want to know something? There’s not a damn thing you’re going to be able to do about it.”
Sure enough, Billy Jack foot-whops the smirk off the face of his nemesis, then mows down two-thirds of the surrounding mob before finally succumbing to the last third, who beat him senseless, a fluorescent bloody ooze, garish even by budget-cinema standards, spilling from his mouth. When the movie appeared in 1971, I was 6 years old and soon hellbent on assuming the role of Billy Jack Junior. For months, I tortured my sister with violent reenactments.
Around this time, the early 1970s, the thunderbird hat left the reservation. It became the property of an African-American blues singer, who, for theatrical effect, sewed on voodoo elements, including the tail of a deer, a pheasant feather, and the blackened feet of a goose. The goose, incidentally, was hatched in Montana but shot down over an estuary in Southern California in 1968 — a strange detail to know, but I know it because attached to one of the severed legs is a Federal Bird Band, whose identification number had been submitted to the Wildlife Research Center, finalizing historical information about the goose’s migration, behavior and ultimate demise.
Over the years, other adornment found its way to the thunderbird hat. A military-service pin accentuates an anti-establishment vibe, as do promotional buttons pinned on either side of the hat’s crown. One features the 1970s fabricated star, Lester, portrayed in trademark afro and spectacles, who’s exclaiming: “I’m no dummy!” Which is funny because he is a dummy, the creation of ventriloquist Willie Tyler, who had a long, successful career on stage and television. You get the feeling the blues man selected Lester for purposes of social commentary as he picked guitar in nightclubs across California, his favorite spot, judging from the “I Love Sunland-Tujunga” button, not difficult to ascertain.
This may very well be the finest rock-n-roll hat ever performed under — so soulful, so mysterious that it exudes a level of cool that even hat-wearing aficionados like Jimmy Ray Vaughn, Tom Petty and Neil Young would envy. I bought it from the blues man himself, one of the final acts of his retirement. He wouldn’t tell me his name.
My buddy, G., gives the hat his highest rating. To make this designation, he relies on a method of evaluating quality derived after half a century in the antiques business. I first learned about it a year ago after purchasing an old accordion that I felt represented a museum-caliber example of Art Deco design. My favorite detail was its mother-of-pearl inlays in the shape of musical notes, which, strung together, seemed to suggest the first few bars of the Polka classic: “Hoop-Dee-Doo.”  When I showed the instrument to G., confident it was an Antiques Roadshow moment, he dismissed the acquisition with annoying smugness. “Would Mick Jagger buy it?” he asked. Uh, probably not. G. was right.
The Jagger Test has proved invaluable again and again. Recently, while taking a spin around the Pasadena City College Flea Market, I stumbled upon a darling set of miniature patio furniture, very old, with wire-framed chaise lounges and side chairs, and even a two-seater with a canopy — all upholstered in a lovely peach-striped canvas. The set was in remarkable condition for its age, at least 100 years old, and the price was right, too. 
Just before inking the deal, I imagined Mick Jagger prancing home with doll furniture to show his girlfriend, super-babe and fashion designer L’Wren Scott. Here’s what I decided: 
One, Mick Jagger would not do this. 
Two, L’Wren Scott would not want Mick Jagger to do this.
Three, I’m going to keep the hundred bucks.
See more: http://www.sillybillyfolkart.com/

Reservation hat, c. 1920s, with subsequent adornment

WOULD MICK BUY IT?

My 3-year-old son and I have started a new game. I build a towering fortress around him, block by block, using cushions from the sectional sofa in the family room. Then he tunnels out through one of the gaps, twisting and clawing his way to freedom. We call it “Shawshank Redemption,” and he screams with delight every time we play. For personal amusement, I’m going to hang a movie-star poster over his usual escape route and, given his age, I think I’ll go with Dakota Fanning. Or, given my age, Julie Warner. 

Kids are a hoot. Of course, you hear this sentiment a lot from parents too ashamed to admit that having kids isn’t always a hoot. But, for me, one of the more entertaining aspects of parenthood is the influence it has had on the variety of folk art in my collecting crosshairs, now skewing toward the juvenile. Fortunately, this level of sophistication parallels my own I.Q., as evidenced by my latest find, a clown-head mechanical bank, c. 1915, that rolls back its eyes and sticks out its tongue when you insert a coin. 

On the other end of the spectrum is my appetite — formerly insatiable — for the edgy, which has produced acquisitions of considerable unusualness. Case in point: the assemblage shown in the photograph above. It began life, I’m speculating, in the 1920s, probably in the hands of a Navajo Indian. Reservation hats, as this form tends to be called, are typically black, round-brimmed, with an ornate band, the one here adorned with thunderbird conchos set against a field of turquoise fabric. 

When I discovered the hat, memories of the movie Billy Jack came flooding forth. The protagonist, played by Tom Laughlin, wore something similar on his head, symbolizing his “half-breed” Cherokee heritage as he fights for equality in his hometown. Strangely, he does this by unleashing Hapkido, a Korean martial art he mastered as a green beret in the Vietnam War. In one scene, surrounded by ill-intentioned thugs, he stares down the ring leader and announces: “You know what I think I’m going to do, just for the hell of it? I’m going to take this right foot and I’m going to whop you on that side of your face. And you want to know something? There’s not a damn thing you’re going to be able to do about it.”

Sure enough, Billy Jack foot-whops the smirk off the face of his nemesis, then mows down two-thirds of the surrounding mob before finally succumbing to the last third, who beat him senseless, a fluorescent bloody ooze, garish even by budget-cinema standards, spilling from his mouth. When the movie appeared in 1971, I was 6 years old and soon hellbent on assuming the role of Billy Jack Junior. For months, I tortured my sister with violent reenactments.

Around this time, the early 1970s, the thunderbird hat left the reservation. It became the property of an African-American blues singer, who, for theatrical effect, sewed on voodoo elements, including the tail of a deer, a pheasant feather, and the blackened feet of a goose. The goose, incidentally, was hatched in Montana but shot down over an estuary in Southern California in 1968 — a strange detail to know, but I know it because attached to one of the severed legs is a Federal Bird Band, whose identification number had been submitted to the Wildlife Research Center, finalizing historical information about the goose’s migration, behavior and ultimate demise.

Over the years, other adornment found its way to the thunderbird hat. A military-service pin accentuates an anti-establishment vibe, as do promotional buttons pinned on either side of the hat’s crown. One features the 1970s fabricated star, Lester, portrayed in trademark afro and spectacles, who’s exclaiming: “I’m no dummy!” Which is funny because he is a dummy, the creation of ventriloquist Willie Tyler, who had a long, successful career on stage and television. You get the feeling the blues man selected Lester for purposes of social commentary as he picked guitar in nightclubs across California, his favorite spot, judging from the “I Love Sunland-Tujunga” button, not difficult to ascertain.

This may very well be the finest rock-n-roll hat ever performed under — so soulful, so mysterious that it exudes a level of cool that even hat-wearing aficionados like Jimmy Ray Vaughn, Tom Petty and Neil Young would envy. I bought it from the blues man himself, one of the final acts of his retirement. He wouldn’t tell me his name.

My buddy, G., gives the hat his highest rating. To make this designation, he relies on a method of evaluating quality derived after half a century in the antiques business. I first learned about it a year ago after purchasing an old accordion that I felt represented a museum-caliber example of Art Deco design. My favorite detail was its mother-of-pearl inlays in the shape of musical notes, which, strung together, seemed to suggest the first few bars of the Polka classic: “Hoop-Dee-Doo.”  When I showed the instrument to G., confident it was an Antiques Roadshow moment, he dismissed the acquisition with annoying smugness. “Would Mick Jagger buy it?” he asked. Uh, probably not. G. was right.

The Jagger Test has proved invaluable again and again. Recently, while taking a spin around the Pasadena City College Flea Market, I stumbled upon a darling set of miniature patio furniture, very old, with wire-framed chaise lounges and side chairs, and even a two-seater with a canopy — all upholstered in a lovely peach-striped canvas. The set was in remarkable condition for its age, at least 100 years old, and the price was right, too. 

Just before inking the deal, I imagined Mick Jagger prancing home with doll furniture to show his girlfriend, super-babe and fashion designer L’Wren Scott. Here’s what I decided: 

One, Mick Jagger would not do this. 

Two, L’Wren Scott would not want Mick Jagger to do this.

Three, I’m going to keep the hundred bucks.

See more: http://www.sillybillyfolkart.com/

Schultz sculpture, c. 1960s
THE WOODSHED
When I acquired the sculpture shown in the photograph above, it created a bit of a stir around town. Picker extraordinaire, Mr. Tim, had plucked it out of a garage sale — out of the actual garage, in fact — and once he brushed off the layers of dust, half a century worth, a signature emerged on the front of the wood base: Richard Schultz.
Art hunters are always on point for a big score, and Mr. Tim had stumbled onto one, not fully recognizing the magnitude of his discovery. Richard Schultz is renowned as a designer of outdoor furnishings, his first important lines produced in the early 1960s. What’s not as broadly known is that Schultz used to be an accomplished sculptor on exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
What happened to those sculptures, I’m not sure. I do know that I’ve never seen a single one publicized in a gallery setting or in an auction. Enhancing my perception of Schultz’s artistic value all the more is the fact that, when he joined Knoll in 1951, he worked alongside Harry Bertoia, even contributing to the design of the iconic Diamond Chair, which was rolled out, to wide acclaim, a year later. It would appear the two men shared a common aesthetic. Over the next couple of decades, Bertoia, equally interested in art as well as furniture, rose to fame as a sculptor, his prolific body of work often kinetic in form and incorporating elaborate arrangements of metal rods. At auction, his sculptures command tens of thousands of dollars. A piece entitled “Willow” once sold for $108,000.
Needless to say, excitement prevailed when Mr. Tim presented me with the opportunity to purchase the Schultz sculpture. It, too, is wondrously kinetic, requiring but the most imperceptible of air currents to set the suspended wires in motion, the lower reaches expanding into reflective orbs that catch the light and swing in and out of the root-like structure. Given the extreme scarcity of Schultz sculpture on the market, I knee-jerked a value somewhere in the $30,000 range, a figure, of course, I kept to myself.
Mr. Tim did not hold his $50 find in as high a regard. After all, he had seen its longtime storage place next to obsolete garden tools and tattered Christmas decorations. He assigned a value based primarily on the sculpture’s artistic merit, only minimally considering Schultz’s reputation as a furniture designer. The price: $3,500. It was more than fair, but I deftly countered with $2,000 in cash, and I’d throw in a rare Thomas Molesworth teepee lamp that I had unearthed for a dollar but felt Mr. Tim could sell to a dealer in Wyoming for $1,500 and make a new contact in the process. 
The deal went down. Mr. Tim profited immensely, and I was out $2,001, confident that I’d see a considerable return on investment. All was well and good until the ridicule started to mount, many of our colleagues weighing in on the transaction: “You sold it for what?!” The general opinion was that Mr. Tim had been taken to the woodshed, as we pickers are apt to say, and beaten mercilessly. A few months later, I was offered $15,000 for the sculpture, but I turned it down. The number was far too low.
The situation may have tainted my friendship with Mr. Tim. It seemed to me that he maneuvered gingerly around our subsequent deals, and I couldn’t help but think he was jacking up prices in an attempt to recover from the butt-whoopin’ I had given him.
Meanwhile, I held up the Schultz masterpiece as a symbol of my veteran eye for art and superior horse-trading skills. I even claimed, on occasion, to have the ability to get into the mind of the artist, speaking authoritatively to inspirations on display in this miniature monument to modernism. 
I’d still be tooting my own tuba had it not been for another pal, Clark, who came across a sculpture for sale that embodied the same materiality and compositional ideas as my Schultz, so much so that it became abundantly clear that it must be a Schultz, too. Clark thought he had hit the mother lode until examining the underside of the wood base, where he saw a taped-on business card of a gallery in New Mexico representing the artist whose work this actually was. Not Richard Schultz, but Robert Schultz, their signatures remarkably similar. Clark couldn’t wait to set me straight.
After confirming my own Schultz was indeed a Robert, I thought about calling the dealer who had offered me 15 grand, but even a pirate has to draw ethical boundaries. While I may not reveal everything I know about something, I’d never misrepresent what I do know to close a deal. I ended up buying the second of the Robert Schultz sculptures on Ebay. It went for $65 and now sits elegantly next to the one that cost me thousands. 
By the time I called Mr. Tim with the news, he had already heard. He was waiting for me … at the woodshed.
See more: http://www.sillybillyfolkart.com/

Schultz sculpture, c. 1960s

THE WOODSHED

When I acquired the sculpture shown in the photograph above, it created a bit of a stir around town. Picker extraordinaire, Mr. Tim, had plucked it out of a garage sale — out of the actual garage, in fact — and once he brushed off the layers of dust, half a century worth, a signature emerged on the front of the wood base: Richard Schultz.

Art hunters are always on point for a big score, and Mr. Tim had stumbled onto one, not fully recognizing the magnitude of his discovery. Richard Schultz is renowned as a designer of outdoor furnishings, his first important lines produced in the early 1960s. What’s not as broadly known is that Schultz used to be an accomplished sculptor on exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

What happened to those sculptures, I’m not sure. I do know that I’ve never seen a single one publicized in a gallery setting or in an auction. Enhancing my perception of Schultz’s artistic value all the more is the fact that, when he joined Knoll in 1951, he worked alongside Harry Bertoia, even contributing to the design of the iconic Diamond Chair, which was rolled out, to wide acclaim, a year later. It would appear the two men shared a common aesthetic. Over the next couple of decades, Bertoia, equally interested in art as well as furniture, rose to fame as a sculptor, his prolific body of work often kinetic in form and incorporating elaborate arrangements of metal rods. At auction, his sculptures command tens of thousands of dollars. A piece entitled “Willow” once sold for $108,000.

Needless to say, excitement prevailed when Mr. Tim presented me with the opportunity to purchase the Schultz sculpture. It, too, is wondrously kinetic, requiring but the most imperceptible of air currents to set the suspended wires in motion, the lower reaches expanding into reflective orbs that catch the light and swing in and out of the root-like structure. Given the extreme scarcity of Schultz sculpture on the market, I knee-jerked a value somewhere in the $30,000 range, a figure, of course, I kept to myself.

Mr. Tim did not hold his $50 find in as high a regard. After all, he had seen its longtime storage place next to obsolete garden tools and tattered Christmas decorations. He assigned a value based primarily on the sculpture’s artistic merit, only minimally considering Schultz’s reputation as a furniture designer. The price: $3,500. It was more than fair, but I deftly countered with $2,000 in cash, and I’d throw in a rare Thomas Molesworth teepee lamp that I had unearthed for a dollar but felt Mr. Tim could sell to a dealer in Wyoming for $1,500 and make a new contact in the process. 

The deal went down. Mr. Tim profited immensely, and I was out $2,001, confident that I’d see a considerable return on investment. All was well and good until the ridicule started to mount, many of our colleagues weighing in on the transaction: “You sold it for what?!” The general opinion was that Mr. Tim had been taken to the woodshed, as we pickers are apt to say, and beaten mercilessly. A few months later, I was offered $15,000 for the sculpture, but I turned it down. The number was far too low.

The situation may have tainted my friendship with Mr. Tim. It seemed to me that he maneuvered gingerly around our subsequent deals, and I couldn’t help but think he was jacking up prices in an attempt to recover from the butt-whoopin’ I had given him.

Meanwhile, I held up the Schultz masterpiece as a symbol of my veteran eye for art and superior horse-trading skills. I even claimed, on occasion, to have the ability to get into the mind of the artist, speaking authoritatively to inspirations on display in this miniature monument to modernism. 

I’d still be tooting my own tuba had it not been for another pal, Clark, who came across a sculpture for sale that embodied the same materiality and compositional ideas as my Schultz, so much so that it became abundantly clear that it must be a Schultz, too. Clark thought he had hit the mother lode until examining the underside of the wood base, where he saw a taped-on business card of a gallery in New Mexico representing the artist whose work this actually was. Not Richard Schultz, but Robert Schultz, their signatures remarkably similar. Clark couldn’t wait to set me straight.

After confirming my own Schultz was indeed a Robert, I thought about calling the dealer who had offered me 15 grand, but even a pirate has to draw ethical boundaries. While I may not reveal everything I know about something, I’d never misrepresent what I do know to close a deal. I ended up buying the second of the Robert Schultz sculptures on Ebay. It went for $65 and now sits elegantly next to the one that cost me thousands. 

By the time I called Mr. Tim with the news, he had already heard. He was waiting for me … at the woodshed.

See more: http://www.sillybillyfolkart.com/

Pinup girl with trout, c. 1970
DREAM GIRLS
My neighbor, Stephen, on behalf of Mr. Shaw, was reminding me the other night that youth is wasted on the young. He was draining yet another vodka-rocks, his sixth, lamenting the behavior of our unmarried, dinner-party companion, who was busy striking out with a bisexual couple sitting nearby. It seemed to Stephen that these two girls — these beautiful, dreamy girls — were showing unrequited interest in a ménage à trois. Of course, there was the hallucinatory effect of the vodka-rocks.
Stephen, incidentally, is happily married to his dream girl. They met in Buenos Aires on the set of a girls-behind-bars movie, in which his wife-to-be plays a hardened lesbian, Max, with rosy lips and feathered-back hair, prone to bitch-slapping other inmates — or getting groped by them in quite a few steamy scenes that account for the flick’s R rating. For Stephen, it was love at first sight.
I’m married, too — in fact, she’s No. 2 in terms of wife total. I guess I just didn’t get my fill of anger, jealously and rejection the first time around.
But, seriously, there’s a fifty-fifty chance my wife will read this blog at some point, so I’d like to take this opportunity to rave about her cooking, parenting and all-around goodness in most nuptial departments. She reminds me of the Onjoli commercials, circa 1980, the striking model initially suited up in business attire, a wad of cash in her hand, until finally slipping into something more comfortable, a slinky cocktail dress, all the while carrying a tune:
I can bring home the bacon …
Fry it up in a pan.
And never let you forget you’re a man.
On second thought, I’m not sure the Onjoli bit will get me out of the doghouse. So let’s get back, instead, to the “youth wasted on the young” train of thought. In my own youth, as wasted as any could be, I believed my dream girl would go fishing with me, wearing cutoffs and a red-checked gingham shirt, the lower third tied in a knot. Clearly, I was watching too much of Mary Ann on Gilligan’s Island.
The naked woman rendered in the painting above bears more of a resemblance to Ginger, with a pinch of “Lovey” Wentworth Howell. The canvas was unearthed by my friend, Jose Loco, who immediately thought of me. “She’s your dream girl,” he said, connecting my fondness for fishing to the trout leaping in the foreground.
Whether or not the skinny-dipper enjoys fishing, too, is unclear. She brings to mind the voluptuous pinup girls of the 1940s, many of whom cavorted with rod and reel. Predictably, they would be posed making a cast, only to have the hook catch the hem of their skirt, hiking it up for a peek. In search of examples to refresh my memory, I came across ChicksFishing.com, whose content worried me a little bit but did, in fact, include a nice collection of vintage pinups featuring — what else? — chicks fishing.
My chick, as outdoorsy as she is, doesn’t like fishing so much, but she has gone along a few times. During our last outing, she grew concerned when I tethered a bell to one of her shoes. After informing her that the jingling would scare off the abundance of rattlesnakes in the area, she was not nearly as impressed with my safety diligence as I thought she’d be. My dream girl did manage, however, to avoid getting bit and even toss a cast in the right spot — not her skirt — which seduced a nice trout, just like the one in the painting, only bigger.
Truth is, I don’t come across many women who love to fish as much as I do, although I’m sure there are some. Which brings up the old question: Is it better to marry a dream girl who likes to do everything you do, or someone with different interests. I’m in the latter camp. That way when the honeymoon is over, you can always take separate vacations.
Maybe Russell J. Larsen has it right. On his headstone in the Logan City Cemetery, he offers up his five rules for men to follow for a happy life:
1. It’s important to have a woman who helps at home, cooks from time to time, cleans up, and has a job.
2. It’s important to have a woman who can make you laugh.
3. It’s important to have a woman who you can trust, and doesn’t lie to you.
4. It’s important to have a woman who is good in bed, and likes to be with you.
5. It’s very, very important that these four women do not know each other or you could end up dead like me.
Hear, hear.
See more: http://www.sillybillyfolkart.com/

Pinup girl with trout, c. 1970

DREAM GIRLS

My neighbor, Stephen, on behalf of Mr. Shaw, was reminding me the other night that youth is wasted on the young. He was draining yet another vodka-rocks, his sixth, lamenting the behavior of our unmarried, dinner-party companion, who was busy striking out with a bisexual couple sitting nearby. It seemed to Stephen that these two girls — these beautiful, dreamy girls — were showing unrequited interest in a ménage à trois. Of course, there was the hallucinatory effect of the vodka-rocks.

Stephen, incidentally, is happily married to his dream girl. They met in Buenos Aires on the set of a girls-behind-bars movie, in which his wife-to-be plays a hardened lesbian, Max, with rosy lips and feathered-back hair, prone to bitch-slapping other inmates — or getting groped by them in quite a few steamy scenes that account for the flick’s R rating. For Stephen, it was love at first sight.

I’m married, too — in fact, she’s No. 2 in terms of wife total. I guess I just didn’t get my fill of anger, jealously and rejection the first time around.

But, seriously, there’s a fifty-fifty chance my wife will read this blog at some point, so I’d like to take this opportunity to rave about her cooking, parenting and all-around goodness in most nuptial departments. She reminds me of the Onjoli commercials, circa 1980, the striking model initially suited up in business attire, a wad of cash in her hand, until finally slipping into something more comfortable, a slinky cocktail dress, all the while carrying a tune:

I can bring home the bacon …

Fry it up in a pan.

And never let you forget you’re a man.

On second thought, I’m not sure the Onjoli bit will get me out of the doghouse. So let’s get back, instead, to the “youth wasted on the young” train of thought. In my own youth, as wasted as any could be, I believed my dream girl would go fishing with me, wearing cutoffs and a red-checked gingham shirt, the lower third tied in a knot. Clearly, I was watching too much of Mary Ann on Gilligan’s Island.

The naked woman rendered in the painting above bears more of a resemblance to Ginger, with a pinch of “Lovey” Wentworth Howell. The canvas was unearthed by my friend, Jose Loco, who immediately thought of me. “She’s your dream girl,” he said, connecting my fondness for fishing to the trout leaping in the foreground.

Whether or not the skinny-dipper enjoys fishing, too, is unclear. She brings to mind the voluptuous pinup girls of the 1940s, many of whom cavorted with rod and reel. Predictably, they would be posed making a cast, only to have the hook catch the hem of their skirt, hiking it up for a peek. In search of examples to refresh my memory, I came across ChicksFishing.com, whose content worried me a little bit but did, in fact, include a nice collection of vintage pinups featuring — what else? — chicks fishing.

My chick, as outdoorsy as she is, doesn’t like fishing so much, but she has gone along a few times. During our last outing, she grew concerned when I tethered a bell to one of her shoes. After informing her that the jingling would scare off the abundance of rattlesnakes in the area, she was not nearly as impressed with my safety diligence as I thought she’d be. My dream girl did manage, however, to avoid getting bit and even toss a cast in the right spot — not her skirt — which seduced a nice trout, just like the one in the painting, only bigger.

Truth is, I don’t come across many women who love to fish as much as I do, although I’m sure there are some. Which brings up the old question: Is it better to marry a dream girl who likes to do everything you do, or someone with different interests. I’m in the latter camp. That way when the honeymoon is over, you can always take separate vacations.

Maybe Russell J. Larsen has it right. On his headstone in the Logan City Cemetery, he offers up his five rules for men to follow for a happy life:

1. It’s important to have a woman who helps at home, cooks from time to time, cleans up, and has a job.

2. It’s important to have a woman who can make you laugh.

3. It’s important to have a woman who you can trust, and doesn’t lie to you.

4. It’s important to have a woman who is good in bed, and likes to be with you.

5. It’s very, very important that these four women do not know each other or you could end up dead like me.

Hear, hear.

See more: http://www.sillybillyfolkart.com/

The Swaythling Cup arena, c. 1930s
THE POINT
When I first heard about “The Point,” I was having lunch with Dick Miles, the legendary 10-time U.S. Table Tennis Champion. I doubted his tall tale at first, but, in time, I would discover that the event he described so fondly, as inconceivable as it sounded, was, in fact, true. I’ve remained in awe ever since.
You have to go back a few decades, to 1936, when the Swaythling Cup at the World Championships in Prague, Czechoslovakia, brought together Alex Ehrlich of Poland vs. Paneth Farkas of Romania in the most remarkable ping-pong rally ever played. All the more remarkable considering the modern-day version of the sport on view at the 2012 London Olympics, where the best players on the planet tended to complete points in mere seconds, over and done with after a few swings.
Now imagine a single point lasting 2 hours, 12 minutes, the ball traveling back and forth across the net some 12,000 times without error. That is precisely the trial of stamina that entangled Ehrlich, “The King of the Chiselers,” with Farkas, the “Prinz of Sitzfleisch,” neither one of them willing to back down from their trademark defensive style of play. The King, already a medalist in World Championship competition, zeroed in on his opponent’s forehand, pushing the ball to the same corner again and again. The relentless Farkas countered exclusively to the backhand, the metronomic shot placement of both players eventually taking a victim — the umpire — whose head had toggled so many times after an hour or so into the point that his neck seized. Grimacing in anguish, he had to be replaced and escorted off the court. The Point, meanwhile, went on and on and on.
Some 50 years later, in 1989, to be exact, I was preparing a long-form magazine article that would trace colorful moments in the early history of table tennis. For insight, I turned to Miles, now deceased, and Marty Reisman, whose book “The Money Player” examines his own life as a ping-pong virtuoso and hustler. Both lived in New York at the time, and both had a lot to say about the Ehrlich/Farkas encounter.
What stood out to Miles was the second hour of The Point, Farkas tiptoeing through puddles of his own sweat and breaking down incrementally with every slashing stroke. Ehrlich, incredibly, had switched from playing right-handed to left, and, in order to keep his mind off the nerve-punishing monotony, he struck up a sideline chess match with the team captain. Between returns, he’d glance over to the board to call out his next move.
For Reisman, the spectacle of endurance dramatized the sport’s glory days, when racquets — or bats, as they were often called — were made simply of pimple-out rubber glued onto plywood, which produced a lot of dazzling points and required honed skill to impart the spins and speeds that distinguished top players. In the early 1950s, however, a Japanese player named Hiroji Satoh arrived on the scene sporting a new style of blade covered in thick outer facings of pure sponge. 
Satoh was a so-so player, but the sponge greatly intensified the catapult of his shots and confounded the timing of opponents with the relative silence in which it batted the ball. During the 1952 World Championships, Satoh spanked the competition, running away with the Men’s Singles title and forever changing how players equip themselves and approach the game. All for the worse, if you ask Reisman, who had insisted on meeting up for our interview over a game of billiards rather than ping pong. By the time we retired our cue sticks, he had hustled 50 bucks out of my wallet and stuck me with the bar tab. I loved every second of it.
Recently, I asked my own table-tennis coach, the venerable Richard McAfee, to weigh in on the epic clash of Ehrlich and Farkas. Turns out that McAfee knew Ehrlich personally, having coached with him for a spell at a facility in the French Riviera. The way McAfee heard the story, Ehrlich and Farkas had traded insults leading up to the World Championships, each cocksure in his ability to out-chop, out-push any opponent. Little did they know they’d face each other right off the bat and have to put their claims of superiority to the most unimaginable test.
The last 12 minutes of The Point must have felt surreal. Most of the 3,500 spectators in attendance had left, too exhausted themselves to watch any further. One woman went into labor and had to be rushed to a nearby hospital. She claimed later that she was not even pregnant when the match began. Down on the court, meanwhile, the Polish team had rolled out sleeping bags as if to say, tauntingly, we’re in this for the long haul. Now it looked like the sleeping bags may be put to good use — the combatants forging ahead into the late night. 
But then it happened. After a continuous barrage of under-spin to the Farkas forehand, Ehrlich abruptly went to the backhand. The cramped-up Farkas could not make the sudden adjustment and reply. And just like that, the ordeal was over. The score: 1-0. 
Imagine the psychological burden. The game, at that time, was to 21. If, for example, a player went on to win, 21-19, it would encompass 40 points — a daunting consideration, especially if your first and only rally had just exceeded two hours.
Comparatively, the next point flew by at 20 minutes. Farkas lost that one, too, desperately attempting to smash a couple of balls, a tactical change that did not suit him. He also had the misfortune of glancing over to the Polish bench, where one of the hungry players had decided to make sandwiches for the team, pulling out a knife, a loaf of bread and an immense kielbasa from a workout tote. The piquant scene and corrupting aroma proved too much for Farkas. He forfeited the match and fled the stadium, apparently screaming like a lunatic on his way out.
Many of these glorious anecdotes went into the ping-pong opus I eventually finished writing as part of my coursework at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. But something had run amok with the finished product, the spirit, perhaps, of Ehrlich and Farkas unleashing my own chiseler’s passion for the subject at hand. I had gone nuts myself. The sheer abundance of my output — the superfluous detail in particular — left my sports-writing instructor, Sandy Padwe, a little underwhelmed. He applauded the exhaustive research, but came away feeling that I had crafted the unpublishable.
Devastated, I sought out to prove Sandy wrong, peddling my prose to every likely magazine in the Northern Hemisphere, and a couple in the Southern. I did get a sniff from American Heritage, an editor there interested in the ping-pong angle, but after laboring over the verbiage, he mailed off a rejection letter that said, in effect, that reading me was like chewing through a slab of pimento loaf: hard to swallow … with an occasional highlight.
Sadly, my article would never reach an adoring audience. Yet, at 47, I remain an avid ping-pong player, chopping, pushing and blocking my way around several Southern California clubs. I play with a junk rubber known as long pips, which is as maligned as the spongy material that Satoh introduced so long ago. The most arduous point I’ve ever played went about five minutes, my errors typically coming fast and furious. In my greatest achievement in the sport, I won the Gold Medal in the Colorado State Games for players rated 1700 or below. Before the final, coach McAfee instructed me to try to keep the points alive for at least three or four times over the net, which I did pretty well.
Not Ehrlich-well, mind you, but pretty well indeed.
See more: http://www.sillybillyfolkart.com/

The Swaythling Cup arena, c. 1930s

THE POINT

When I first heard about “The Point,” I was having lunch with Dick Miles, the legendary 10-time U.S. Table Tennis Champion. I doubted his tall tale at first, but, in time, I would discover that the event he described so fondly, as inconceivable as it sounded, was, in fact, true. I’ve remained in awe ever since.

You have to go back a few decades, to 1936, when the Swaythling Cup at the World Championships in Prague, Czechoslovakia, brought together Alex Ehrlich of Poland vs. Paneth Farkas of Romania in the most remarkable ping-pong rally ever played. All the more remarkable considering the modern-day version of the sport on view at the 2012 London Olympics, where the best players on the planet tended to complete points in mere seconds, over and done with after a few swings.

Now imagine a single point lasting 2 hours, 12 minutes, the ball traveling back and forth across the net some 12,000 times without error. That is precisely the trial of stamina that entangled Ehrlich, “The King of the Chiselers,” with Farkas, the “Prinz of Sitzfleisch,” neither one of them willing to back down from their trademark defensive style of play. The King, already a medalist in World Championship competition, zeroed in on his opponent’s forehand, pushing the ball to the same corner again and again. The relentless Farkas countered exclusively to the backhand, the metronomic shot placement of both players eventually taking a victim — the umpire — whose head had toggled so many times after an hour or so into the point that his neck seized. Grimacing in anguish, he had to be replaced and escorted off the court. The Point, meanwhile, went on and on and on.

Some 50 years later, in 1989, to be exact, I was preparing a long-form magazine article that would trace colorful moments in the early history of table tennis. For insight, I turned to Miles, now deceased, and Marty Reisman, whose book “The Money Player” examines his own life as a ping-pong virtuoso and hustler. Both lived in New York at the time, and both had a lot to say about the Ehrlich/Farkas encounter.

What stood out to Miles was the second hour of The Point, Farkas tiptoeing through puddles of his own sweat and breaking down incrementally with every slashing stroke. Ehrlich, incredibly, had switched from playing right-handed to left, and, in order to keep his mind off the nerve-punishing monotony, he struck up a sideline chess match with the team captain. Between returns, he’d glance over to the board to call out his next move.

For Reisman, the spectacle of endurance dramatized the sport’s glory days, when racquets — or bats, as they were often called — were made simply of pimple-out rubber glued onto plywood, which produced a lot of dazzling points and required honed skill to impart the spins and speeds that distinguished top players. In the early 1950s, however, a Japanese player named Hiroji Satoh arrived on the scene sporting a new style of blade covered in thick outer facings of pure sponge.

Satoh was a so-so player, but the sponge greatly intensified the catapult of his shots and confounded the timing of opponents with the relative silence in which it batted the ball. During the 1952 World Championships, Satoh spanked the competition, running away with the Men’s Singles title and forever changing how players equip themselves and approach the game. All for the worse, if you ask Reisman, who had insisted on meeting up for our interview over a game of billiards rather than ping pong. By the time we retired our cue sticks, he had hustled 50 bucks out of my wallet and stuck me with the bar tab. I loved every second of it.

Recently, I asked my own table-tennis coach, the venerable Richard McAfee, to weigh in on the epic clash of Ehrlich and Farkas. Turns out that McAfee knew Ehrlich personally, having coached with him for a spell at a facility in the French Riviera. The way McAfee heard the story, Ehrlich and Farkas had traded insults leading up to the World Championships, each cocksure in his ability to out-chop, out-push any opponent. Little did they know they’d face each other right off the bat and have to put their claims of superiority to the most unimaginable test.

The last 12 minutes of The Point must have felt surreal. Most of the 3,500 spectators in attendance had left, too exhausted themselves to watch any further. One woman went into labor and had to be rushed to a nearby hospital. She claimed later that she was not even pregnant when the match began. Down on the court, meanwhile, the Polish team had rolled out sleeping bags as if to say, tauntingly, we’re in this for the long haul. Now it looked like the sleeping bags may be put to good use — the combatants forging ahead into the late night.

But then it happened. After a continuous barrage of under-spin to the Farkas forehand, Ehrlich abruptly went to the backhand. The cramped-up Farkas could not make the sudden adjustment and reply. And just like that, the ordeal was over. The score: 1-0.

Imagine the psychological burden. The game, at that time, was to 21. If, for example, a player went on to win, 21-19, it would encompass 40 points — a daunting consideration, especially if your first and only rally had just exceeded two hours.

Comparatively, the next point flew by at 20 minutes. Farkas lost that one, too, desperately attempting to smash a couple of balls, a tactical change that did not suit him. He also had the misfortune of glancing over to the Polish bench, where one of the hungry players had decided to make sandwiches for the team, pulling out a knife, a loaf of bread and an immense kielbasa from a workout tote. The piquant scene and corrupting aroma proved too much for Farkas. He forfeited the match and fled the stadium, apparently screaming like a lunatic on his way out.

Many of these glorious anecdotes went into the ping-pong opus I eventually finished writing as part of my coursework at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. But something had run amok with the finished product, the spirit, perhaps, of Ehrlich and Farkas unleashing my own chiseler’s passion for the subject at hand. I had gone nuts myself. The sheer abundance of my output — the superfluous detail in particular — left my sports-writing instructor, Sandy Padwe, a little underwhelmed. He applauded the exhaustive research, but came away feeling that I had crafted the unpublishable.

Devastated, I sought out to prove Sandy wrong, peddling my prose to every likely magazine in the Northern Hemisphere, and a couple in the Southern. I did get a sniff from American Heritage, an editor there interested in the ping-pong angle, but after laboring over the verbiage, he mailed off a rejection letter that said, in effect, that reading me was like chewing through a slab of pimento loaf: hard to swallow … with an occasional highlight.

Sadly, my article would never reach an adoring audience. Yet, at 47, I remain an avid ping-pong player, chopping, pushing and blocking my way around several Southern California clubs. I play with a junk rubber known as long pips, which is as maligned as the spongy material that Satoh introduced so long ago. The most arduous point I’ve ever played went about five minutes, my errors typically coming fast and furious. In my greatest achievement in the sport, I won the Gold Medal in the Colorado State Games for players rated 1700 or below. Before the final, coach McAfee instructed me to try to keep the points alive for at least three or four times over the net, which I did pretty well.

Not Ehrlich-well, mind you, but pretty well indeed.

See more: http://www.sillybillyfolkart.com/

Barack O-Bum-a, c. 2012
L.A.
My wife and I moved to Los Angeles a year or so ago, excited to be living among stars of the entertainment industry, near Griffith Park and its HOLLYWOOD sign, just down the hill from the Greek Theatre, and, best of all, a short drive to any number of area beaches. The exact mileage to the historic Santa Monica Pier, for instance, is 22.6, which is a handy number to know because it coincides with how many excruciating hours it takes to get there and back on any given weekend.
The problem is not just the unabated traffic but the L.A. drivers themselves, thick and mean as hornets, so many of them deranged after years of inhaling carbon monoxide. During a recent freeway collision on Interstate 5, one of the involved drivers jumped out of his car, beat the other driver senseless, then fled the scene. A witness recorded the violence on a cellphone and turned over the footage to police, who expected the victim to file a report. He never did.
Turns out there was a reason. When the video went viral on the internet, yet another victim of a hit-and-run beating recognized his assailant — the victim in the other incident. You know it’s best to park the car when even the insane are not safe from the insane.
Suffice it to say, an ocean trek has not been priority one. I’m too busy anyway with the attendance of my 3-year-old at a nearby pre-school. It’s an extremely sought-after program for early childhood development and, consequently, hard as hell to get into, as all premier L.A. pre-schools are. We initially explored two options, the first a co-op, which means after paying an immense lump of money, you’re expected to pitch in with maintenance, which, in this case, included the upkeep of cages housing farm animals. On a tour of the hoof-trodden playground, we were alarmed to see that many of the children had dropped trou and were convulsing in contaminated mud, their squeals so disturbing that we could have just as easily been observing last call at a piggery along Tabacco Road.
Thankfully, we were accepted into our top choice, although, on occasion, it’s no Disneyland, either. One day I arrived with my son, only to discover the front-gate security bouncing a cross-dressed crackhead from the premises. Fascinated, my son asked: “Who’s that, Papa?” To which I responded: “That’s Tinker Bell,” taking into account the pink tutu and platinum wig that our ebullient new acquaintance was wearing. Ebullient, that is, until he/she, refusing to move along, got moved along by a bullrush of unwelcome force. Tensions escalated — as did the tutu, revealing anatomical equipment not typically associated with Peter Pan’s adorable sidekick.
It was then I began to question whether or not I was Los Angeleno material and, desperate for normalcy, I began reaching out to other parents, sizing them up for any evidence of mainstream values. I targeted a Swiss expatriate, who seemed to be tenderly going about the business of raising a daughter and making ends meet in his adopted City of Angels.
Like pals do, we “did” lunch and, to my relief, he ordered steak and fries — very normal so far — but then he began to delve into the manufacturing and distribution of what he sells for a living. Butt plugs, as fate would have it, formed in the latex likenesses of celebrities and political figures. His top seller: Barack O-Bum-a (see photo above).
That’s Los Angeles for you.
See more: http://www.sillybillyfolkart.com/

Barack O-Bum-a, c. 2012

L.A.

My wife and I moved to Los Angeles a year or so ago, excited to be living among stars of the entertainment industry, near Griffith Park and its HOLLYWOOD sign, just down the hill from the Greek Theatre, and, best of all, a short drive to any number of area beaches. The exact mileage to the historic Santa Monica Pier, for instance, is 22.6, which is a handy number to know because it coincides with how many excruciating hours it takes to get there and back on any given weekend.

The problem is not just the unabated traffic but the L.A. drivers themselves, thick and mean as hornets, so many of them deranged after years of inhaling carbon monoxide. During a recent freeway collision on Interstate 5, one of the involved drivers jumped out of his car, beat the other driver senseless, then fled the scene. A witness recorded the violence on a cellphone and turned over the footage to police, who expected the victim to file a report. He never did.

Turns out there was a reason. When the video went viral on the internet, yet another victim of a hit-and-run beating recognized his assailant — the victim in the other incident. You know it’s best to park the car when even the insane are not safe from the insane.

Suffice it to say, an ocean trek has not been priority one. I’m too busy anyway with the attendance of my 3-year-old at a nearby pre-school. It’s an extremely sought-after program for early childhood development and, consequently, hard as hell to get into, as all premier L.A. pre-schools are. We initially explored two options, the first a co-op, which means after paying an immense lump of money, you’re expected to pitch in with maintenance, which, in this case, included the upkeep of cages housing farm animals. On a tour of the hoof-trodden playground, we were alarmed to see that many of the children had dropped trou and were convulsing in contaminated mud, their squeals so disturbing that we could have just as easily been observing last call at a piggery along Tabacco Road.

Thankfully, we were accepted into our top choice, although, on occasion, it’s no Disneyland, either. One day I arrived with my son, only to discover the front-gate security bouncing a cross-dressed crackhead from the premises. Fascinated, my son asked: “Who’s that, Papa?” To which I responded: “That’s Tinker Bell,” taking into account the pink tutu and platinum wig that our ebullient new acquaintance was wearing. Ebullient, that is, until he/she, refusing to move along, got moved along by a bullrush of unwelcome force. Tensions escalated — as did the tutu, revealing anatomical equipment not typically associated with Peter Pan’s adorable sidekick.

It was then I began to question whether or not I was Los Angeleno material and, desperate for normalcy, I began reaching out to other parents, sizing them up for any evidence of mainstream values. I targeted a Swiss expatriate, who seemed to be tenderly going about the business of raising a daughter and making ends meet in his adopted City of Angels.

Like pals do, we “did” lunch and, to my relief, he ordered steak and fries — very normal so far — but then he began to delve into the manufacturing and distribution of what he sells for a living. Butt plugs, as fate would have it, formed in the latex likenesses of celebrities and political figures. His top seller: Barack O-Bum-a (see photo above).

That’s Los Angeles for you.

See more: http://www.sillybillyfolkart.com/

Paint-by-number Smokin’ Jesus, c. 1960s
JESUS, AS IS
I wish I had a nickel for every representation of Jesus Christ I’ve seen over the years, mostly at yard sales, antique marts, flea markets and the like. If I’m not encountering sculptures, paintings, sketches and carvings of the Holy One, he’s risen again in lamps, key chains, holographs, candles, jewelry and other kitsch. Once I was junking with a friend of mine, artist and shopkeeper of the weird and wonderful, Mario Rivoli, and we came across a chalkware bust of Jesus all chipped up and missing much of its original coloration. The price tag description read: “Jesus, as is.” Mario and I chuckled for days.
In my own back yard, there resides yet another Christlike figure, this one unusually audacious. At 12 feet tall, “Car Bumper Cristo,” as I like to call him, is larger than life, his gleaming muscularity quilted together with — as his namesake suggests — welded car bumpers. When I bought it off the wall of a residential garage, a flashlight had been inserted, blasphemously erect, into the most indecent of locations. The atheistic owner was proud of his phallic addition, waxing poetic about the lengths he had gone to find a flashlight big enough for The Almighty. Despite my own agnostic leanings, I seriously feared that we would be smote by lightning at any second.
The origin of Car Bumper Cristo was more righteously conceived. A priest knocked out the assemblage in the 1930s, putting to work his auto-repair experience to adorn a modest little church. What he lacked in funding he made up for in resourcefulness and artistry, so much so that I felt compelled to stage my acquisition in a manner suggestive of Cristo Redentor, the largest Art Deco statue in the world and illustrious monument atop Corcovado in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Unfortunately, somewhere along the line, my junkyard Redeemer lost his head, which I replaced with a yucca shrub planted directly behind the installation. Now that the leaves have filled in, the effect has diluted the priest’s symbolic interpretation of the crucifixion and, in turn, introduced a surreal vibe, not unlike the artwork of René Magritte, whose painting “The Son of Man” depicts a dandy clad in a suit, tie and bowler, with a green apple over his face. I’m not sure Car Bumper Cristo merits similar acclaim, but he does draw a crowd from time to time, fast becoming a pilgrimage for neighborhood faithful.
My all-time favorite Cristo, however, is not made of chrome. It’s a paint-by-number masterpiece, with intrepid brush strokes and a depiction of Christ’s right hand that could be construed as a blessed gesture or, considering the gap in his fingers, a suitable cradle for a cigarette — if only one had been originally painted there. To execute the whim, I turned to Fast Eddie Friedman, an accomplished art restorer. Being Jewish, he felt he was ideally suited to make the King of the Jews light one up (see photo above).
Fast Eddie performed the task miraculously, matching new paint with old, adding a plume of smoke, and varnishing the finished work to disguise the forgery. Not everybody was amused. Consequently, “Smokin’ Jesus” changed hands a few times. I gave it to my friend, John, for his birthday, which he reciprocated by re-gifting it to a mutual friend, who had the audacity to sell it back to me in order to replenish his stockpile of tequila.
In any case, I’m glad Smokin’ Jesus has come home, but not glad to report that Fast Eddie is no longer with us, the victim of variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease — otherwise known as mad cow. Fewer than a handful of people in the United States have ever been diagnosed with this rare neurodegenerative condition. What connection, if any, do I derive from this sad event? I don’t want to even think about it.
See more: http://www.sillybillyfolkart.com/

Paint-by-number Smokin’ Jesus, c. 1960s

JESUS, AS IS

I wish I had a nickel for every representation of Jesus Christ I’ve seen over the years, mostly at yard sales, antique marts, flea markets and the like. If I’m not encountering sculptures, paintings, sketches and carvings of the Holy One, he’s risen again in lamps, key chains, holographs, candles, jewelry and other kitsch. Once I was junking with a friend of mine, artist and shopkeeper of the weird and wonderful, Mario Rivoli, and we came across a chalkware bust of Jesus all chipped up and missing much of its original coloration. The price tag description read: “Jesus, as is.” Mario and I chuckled for days.

In my own back yard, there resides yet another Christlike figure, this one unusually audacious. At 12 feet tall, “Car Bumper Cristo,” as I like to call him, is larger than life, his gleaming muscularity quilted together with — as his namesake suggests — welded car bumpers. When I bought it off the wall of a residential garage, a flashlight had been inserted, blasphemously erect, into the most indecent of locations. The atheistic owner was proud of his phallic addition, waxing poetic about the lengths he had gone to find a flashlight big enough for The Almighty. Despite my own agnostic leanings, I seriously feared that we would be smote by lightning at any second.

The origin of Car Bumper Cristo was more righteously conceived. A priest knocked out the assemblage in the 1930s, putting to work his auto-repair experience to adorn a modest little church. What he lacked in funding he made up for in resourcefulness and artistry, so much so that I felt compelled to stage my acquisition in a manner suggestive of Cristo Redentor, the largest Art Deco statue in the world and illustrious monument atop Corcovado in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Unfortunately, somewhere along the line, my junkyard Redeemer lost his head, which I replaced with a yucca shrub planted directly behind the installation. Now that the leaves have filled in, the effect has diluted the priest’s symbolic interpretation of the crucifixion and, in turn, introduced a surreal vibe, not unlike the artwork of René Magritte, whose painting “The Son of Man” depicts a dandy clad in a suit, tie and bowler, with a green apple over his face. I’m not sure Car Bumper Cristo merits similar acclaim, but he does draw a crowd from time to time, fast becoming a pilgrimage for neighborhood faithful.

My all-time favorite Cristo, however, is not made of chrome. It’s a paint-by-number masterpiece, with intrepid brush strokes and a depiction of Christ’s right hand that could be construed as a blessed gesture or, considering the gap in his fingers, a suitable cradle for a cigarette — if only one had been originally painted there. To execute the whim, I turned to Fast Eddie Friedman, an accomplished art restorer. Being Jewish, he felt he was ideally suited to make the King of the Jews light one up (see photo above).

Fast Eddie performed the task miraculously, matching new paint with old, adding a plume of smoke, and varnishing the finished work to disguise the forgery. Not everybody was amused. Consequently, “Smokin’ Jesus” changed hands a few times. I gave it to my friend, John, for his birthday, which he reciprocated by re-gifting it to a mutual friend, who had the audacity to sell it back to me in order to replenish his stockpile of tequila.

In any case, I’m glad Smokin’ Jesus has come home, but not glad to report that Fast Eddie is no longer with us, the victim of variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease — otherwise known as mad cow. Fewer than a handful of people in the United States have ever been diagnosed with this rare neurodegenerative condition. What connection, if any, do I derive from this sad event? I don’t want to even think about it.

See more: http://www.sillybillyfolkart.com/

Circus strongman barbells, c. early 20th century
PUMPING IRON
My first official sale off sillybillyfolkart.com was the set of iron barbells shown above, each the former property of an old-time circus strongman. I might have kept them in my own pile of curiosities, but, after stubbing my toe on one or the other for the umpteenth time, I decided to present them, without hazard warning, to the marketplace. They were cherry-picked by a Denver collector, who had come across similar examples posted on the internet and priced at hundreds of dollars more than I was asking — a fact he gleefully acknowledged after purchase but soon reconsidered after stubbing the crap out of his toe.
Barbells like these recall a rich, engrossing history of Herculean figures, including, of course, Hercules himself, son of Zeus, revered for his many exploits in dispatching the diabolical. One of his so-called “labours” targeted the nine-headed Lernaean Hydra, whose snakelike traits and vile, poisonous breath bear a striking resemblance to my ex-wife. But I digress.
The Bible, too, chronicles a number of heroic musclemen. It is written in the book of Judges that the mighty Samson brought down one thousand Philistines with the jawbone of an ass. Alas, he was no match for the seductive Delilah, who accepted payola to uncover the source of Samson’s strength — his braids of hair, as it turns out — and devise a plan to cut them off. Once sheered, our fallen hero yielded to enemies, who gouged out his eyes and subjected him to hard work in a Gaza prison.
Despite the mortal weaknesses of Samson, his name — and hair — have lived on. Poland-born Alexander Zass, “The Iron Samson” of the early 1900s, could tote a horse on his shoulders. Denmark’s modern-day Samson, John Holtum, stood up to cannon blasts at close range, catching the fiery 50-pound balls in his chest. He missed only once, costing him three fingers.
The smallest of the Samsonian purveyors of strength was Joe Greenstein, who, at 145 pounds, compensated, in part, by growing out his own hair to Biblical lengths. During a 1928 stunt at the Buffalo Airport, Greenstein hitched those locks to the tail of an airplane — yes, airplane! — the pilot gunning the engine up to 1600 rpm. As the spectacle unfolded, the audience nauseated at the grimmest of possibilities, one may have wondered what secret motivations would have oozed from the decapitation had “The Mighty Atom,” as he was known, lacked the might to win the tug-of-war.
In many instances, strongmen of past and present have admittedly built up their bodies to overcome insecurity about physical and social stature, racial heritage, and even attractiveness. The “Father of Bodybuilding,” Eugen Sandow, featured “muscle displays” during stage performances, convinced his body was a work of art, no more or less beautiful than any Greek sculpture of ideal man. After the show, women would pay to touch his muscular bulges. When he died shortly after pushing his car out of the mud, newspapers suspected the cause was a stroke, but, more likely, the great Sandow was done in by complications from syphilis. At the request of his wife, he was buried in an unmarked grave.
Apparently, no amount of brawn and Brylcreem can change one’s final destiny, a fact of life that may be lost on the narcissistic pumping iron at this very moment. To what end are they pumping, I’m not sure, but I’m told by the narcissists closest to me that it has something to do with health and fitness, which I might believe more readily if the intentions of working out seemed less motivated by superficiality. In every club I’ve visited, the quantity of mirrors outnumbers the exercise machines 2-to-1, with so many patrons checking out behinds, theirs and others’, you’d swear you’ve stumbled into a proctology convention.
The obsession with mirrors is particularly worrisome, in and out of the gym. Imagine the extent of self-image misery if you perceived flaws with every glance at your reflection. The daily trail of mirrors would be emotionally long, beginning in the bedroom or bathroom first thing in the morning, followed by several more views, from all angles, as you complete the ritual of bathing and getting dressed. Next up is the mirror by the front door for one last look before heading out to the car, where visor and rear-view mirrors confirm whatever personal insults you levied earlier. At work more mirrors materialize … in the bathroom, at your desk, inside Starbucks, maybe even fired up as an app on your iPhone.
Conservatively, you’re likely to encounter a mirror a minimum of 25 times per day or 8400 a year. If you spend an adult lifetime of, say, 60 years disillusioned with what you outwardly see in you, you’ll have degraded yourself inwardly more than half a million times — a number closer to a million for those whose general disenchantment breeds itemized scrutiny: Nose. Lips. Breasts. Chin. Cheeks. Ears. Eyelids. Hairline. The wish-for-better list goes on and on. Last year, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, the total number of cosmetic procedures in the United States approached 14 million, which equates to every single person currently living in Los Angeles, New York City and Dallas combined. The money spent exceeded $10 billion.
As I write this blog, I’m wondering how I got from barbells to boob-jobs — the stream of my twisted consciousness zigzagging out of control. So I’ll take the easy way out, offering up the wisdom of a contemporary strongman, John Beatty, who was imagining his ideal, iron-pumping physique when he said: “I want to have an ass crack that runs clear up to my neck.”
Now that would be something to check out in the mirror.
See more: http://www.sillybillyfolkart.com/

Circus strongman barbells, c. early 20th century

PUMPING IRON

My first official sale off sillybillyfolkart.com was the set of iron barbells shown above, each the former property of an old-time circus strongman. I might have kept them in my own pile of curiosities, but, after stubbing my toe on one or the other for the umpteenth time, I decided to present them, without hazard warning, to the marketplace. They were cherry-picked by a Denver collector, who had come across similar examples posted on the internet and priced at hundreds of dollars more than I was asking — a fact he gleefully acknowledged after purchase but soon reconsidered after stubbing the crap out of his toe.

Barbells like these recall a rich, engrossing history of Herculean figures, including, of course, Hercules himself, son of Zeus, revered for his many exploits in dispatching the diabolical. One of his so-called “labours” targeted the nine-headed Lernaean Hydra, whose snakelike traits and vile, poisonous breath bear a striking resemblance to my ex-wife. But I digress.

The Bible, too, chronicles a number of heroic musclemen. It is written in the book of Judges that the mighty Samson brought down one thousand Philistines with the jawbone of an ass. Alas, he was no match for the seductive Delilah, who accepted payola to uncover the source of Samson’s strength — his braids of hair, as it turns out — and devise a plan to cut them off. Once sheered, our fallen hero yielded to enemies, who gouged out his eyes and subjected him to hard work in a Gaza prison.

Despite the mortal weaknesses of Samson, his name — and hair — have lived on. Poland-born Alexander Zass, “The Iron Samson” of the early 1900s, could tote a horse on his shoulders. Denmark’s modern-day Samson, John Holtum, stood up to cannon blasts at close range, catching the fiery 50-pound balls in his chest. He missed only once, costing him three fingers.

The smallest of the Samsonian purveyors of strength was Joe Greenstein, who, at 145 pounds, compensated, in part, by growing out his own hair to Biblical lengths. During a 1928 stunt at the Buffalo Airport, Greenstein hitched those locks to the tail of an airplane — yes, airplane! — the pilot gunning the engine up to 1600 rpm. As the spectacle unfolded, the audience nauseated at the grimmest of possibilities, one may have wondered what secret motivations would have oozed from the decapitation had “The Mighty Atom,” as he was known, lacked the might to win the tug-of-war.

In many instances, strongmen of past and present have admittedly built up their bodies to overcome insecurity about physical and social stature, racial heritage, and even attractiveness. The “Father of Bodybuilding,” Eugen Sandow, featured “muscle displays” during stage performances, convinced his body was a work of art, no more or less beautiful than any Greek sculpture of ideal man. After the show, women would pay to touch his muscular bulges. When he died shortly after pushing his car out of the mud, newspapers suspected the cause was a stroke, but, more likely, the great Sandow was done in by complications from syphilis. At the request of his wife, he was buried in an unmarked grave.

Apparently, no amount of brawn and Brylcreem can change one’s final destiny, a fact of life that may be lost on the narcissistic pumping iron at this very moment. To what end are they pumping, I’m not sure, but I’m told by the narcissists closest to me that it has something to do with health and fitness, which I might believe more readily if the intentions of working out seemed less motivated by superficiality. In every club I’ve visited, the quantity of mirrors outnumbers the exercise machines 2-to-1, with so many patrons checking out behinds, theirs and others’, you’d swear you’ve stumbled into a proctology convention.

The obsession with mirrors is particularly worrisome, in and out of the gym. Imagine the extent of self-image misery if you perceived flaws with every glance at your reflection. The daily trail of mirrors would be emotionally long, beginning in the bedroom or bathroom first thing in the morning, followed by several more views, from all angles, as you complete the ritual of bathing and getting dressed. Next up is the mirror by the front door for one last look before heading out to the car, where visor and rear-view mirrors confirm whatever personal insults you levied earlier. At work more mirrors materialize … in the bathroom, at your desk, inside Starbucks, maybe even fired up as an app on your iPhone.

Conservatively, you’re likely to encounter a mirror a minimum of 25 times per day or 8400 a year. If you spend an adult lifetime of, say, 60 years disillusioned with what you outwardly see in you, you’ll have degraded yourself inwardly more than half a million times — a number closer to a million for those whose general disenchantment breeds itemized scrutiny: Nose. Lips. Breasts. Chin. Cheeks. Ears. Eyelids. Hairline. The wish-for-better list goes on and on. Last year, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, the total number of cosmetic procedures in the United States approached 14 million, which equates to every single person currently living in Los Angeles, New York City and Dallas combined. The money spent exceeded $10 billion.

As I write this blog, I’m wondering how I got from barbells to boob-jobs — the stream of my twisted consciousness zigzagging out of control. So I’ll take the easy way out, offering up the wisdom of a contemporary strongman, John Beatty, who was imagining his ideal, iron-pumping physique when he said: “I want to have an ass crack that runs clear up to my neck.”

Now that would be something to check out in the mirror.

See more: http://www.sillybillyfolkart.com/