Monday, January 31, 2011

Today got off to a bad start. It shouldn’t have, but it did, and at a very early hour.

Knowing a last-minute, 0700 appointment would come soon enough, I dutifully, I took two Exedrin PM at 2100, set my alarm for 0530, and was asleep by 2230. I woke the first time at 0130, not out of anticipation but urgency. It happened again at 0430, and while I entertained the notion of staying awake, crawled back into bed for that extra hour of shut-eye, which turned into two.

The math will indicate that I overslept; however the events surrounding how the alarm was turned off escapes me. I registered my surprise and frustration, which in turn woke DW, who (after repeating myself) assured me that she had nothing to do with it. I hadn’t thought she had, and even though my mood had nothing to do with her, as I rebuffed her offer to help me pack the truck and make coffee, plus remind me to call to say I was running late, I’m certain sour puss did have an effect. I suppose it is to my credit that I recognized this, and lest a chill persist throughout the day, calmed down enough before exiting to remember to bring along my fingerless gloves and kindle a desire for a good-bye kiss.

It would take me a half hour to reach my destination, if I didn’t need gas. With my gas tank low, no coffee or breakfast, I would be pushing my luck. It is a good thing the Shell station had everything I needed.

—Have a good day,

—Let’s hope the rest of it is better than how it has started.

And then I once again rethunk:

—What am I complaining about? I’m going fishing.

The photos were taken by my fishing buddy, Steve.

One of today's haunts. 

Not so much OK as skunked.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

In local news, the town over to the west, the one that had a tornado come ripping through last month has had the foresight to disallow residents trying to recoup a couple or three hens in yards under one acre in size. In a statement, the mayor advises "he grew up on a farm and had chickens...they were hard work, smelly and messy." Having caddied as a boy of 13, I certainly understand. A Kangaroo bag full of clubs is a lot for a young lad to carry around for eighteen holes, and the grip end of a nine iron still feels odd in my hands. His reasoning was not completely without, however, suggesting that there were plenty of farmers in the area willing to sell "safe, farm-fresh eggs that you can buy inexpensively." A councilman added, "You know where they came from and they are local."

Front page, mind you, along with another article outlining where the different stores in the region get their milk. And a follow-up on the aftermath of the twister. Pictures and articles all by one intrepid reporter. I imagine she is pleased with herself and a certain symmetry, even if exhausted, for every byline is hers in the eight front pages. Four pages worth of column inches are ads, lest Denise find herself covering a wider area for the parent company or worse, dismissed for her obvious agenda.

And while I'm at it, I might as well mention the guy who stands by the bridge into town. After all, he's been out there for weeks now, holding his sign, "Work Wanted," toward whichever way the traffic is coming. He used to stand in front of the Safeway, but that didn't last too long; then, continuing to target an appropriate audience, in front of the library. All this long after sitting in front of a local watering hole all day smoking butts left by the patrons who stepped out for a moment for a few drags before his chatter drove them back inside. Longer butts. In a small town, you're a walking resume and cover letter. He's out there every day, rain or shine, and with a full backpack. I'd like to imagine in some way he's seeking redemption.

I bothered to count and I can tell you a full twelve of the thirty players in the weekly pub tourney are blood relatives of each other.

Not much in the way of mail today.

Charlie Louvin passed away a couple days ago.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Knows no limit, revisited

Cathy can go on.

—I have to call you, bastin. I have too good of a hand. Please don't hate me. bastin hates me because of the hands I play. But this isn't J3, bastin. This is much better. I can't fold this, so I call.

I was the dealer. Cathy was UTG at a six-handed table and she had limped with the blinds at 50/100. One other player limped, and with AKs, I bumped it to 600. Only Cathy called, and the flop brought a K.  Cathy checked and I bet 1200.

—I fold.

She turns over Aces.

—You have three Kings, I just know it.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Dennis Oppenheim's connection to the world around him

Dennins Oppenheim passed away on the 22nd of this month. Not a lot of fanfare, but remembered by some as one of the most important artists of the last sixty years. I had the pleasure of attending a lecture of his in the mid 80s, and a few months ago found myself thinking about the talk as I looked back on my own archives. If one is inclined to think I write convolutions, you should have been in that auditorium. he was both frustrating and enlightening, as it should be. I went in search of Dennis on the web, found an interview, and as I listened, I found myself watching more than listening. I made this video of his hands.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Knows no limit

If you’ve played live poker any amount of time, you’ve seen the guy: shuffles his chips even though he is obviously uncomfortable doing so; fiddles with his stack as if he’s going to raise and then decides to limp; counts out his chips like he’s figuring odds to call and his remaining stack if he does, all the while sneaking a look at you, and then flat calls; and he does all of these things as if they are scripted. It’s more choreography than strategy because the guy watches too much TV poker. Well, he made it to heads up with me last night at the pub tourney.

Now, before I continue, a good number of you reading this have spent time with me at a poker table, either live or online, and you know that I am a cash player, and pretty much ABC at that. If I’m betting, then I am pretty damn certain I have the best of it or there is a chance I can convince you I do. But when persona overrides sense for an opponent, I’m playing a better meta game every time, whether cash or tourney. And that’s why I took down my second pub tourney this month.

As that cute, petit, busomy, blonde pro, Jenn H. has pointed out, the male ego, with the bravado, and peeny-waggin’ can be exploited. For my opponent, we’ll call it machismo; however, that does not mean that the Gringo stoner dudes who devoured the rest of my fried appetizer plate do not employ similar charades to weave a tale of deception and counterbalance. Who believes stereotypes, anyway? Level three thinkin’ here, folks.

For it is more complicated, yes?

Three weeks ago I won, and along with the standard $15 gift certificate for food and booze, someone had added a sawbuck to the prize pool for first place. The organizers told me who. The following week I showed up to find that same person filling out a job application for the restaurant. Well, fuck me if I was going to keep that tenner. He demurred and I insisted, end of story. Except, I am certain I may have overstepped cross-culturally.

In situations as this, I can see the allure of a philosophy of self-agency. He made his bed. I fluffed the pillows. Did he ask me too? I may have injured without intent to do so.

Never mind that I knocked him out of the tourney that week, and the next, of which he reminded me this week. I don’t want your money, sport; I want your soul. As my buddy OB says, “Poker players can be so cruel.” Imperialistically so.

It was a big pot. I pushed a gutshot on the turn, and despite the coordinated board, knew he would call if he had any piece of the board. I whiffed the river. What would you do? I didn’t. I minbet and folded blind when he called. He showed me K high.

We were then pretty much even, but I still had him covered. Blinds were at crapshoot levels. Next hand I 3-bet my A9o and he called with suited connectors. The flop was not foreboding for a continuation and I opted to jam. He called with squadoosh. Ace high wins. 

Was I outplayed?

Monday, January 24, 2011

State Fair ribbons for his baked goods year after year. Frequently took his daughters and their friends on camping trips. Worked with stained glass. Could sharpen a knife better than anyone I knew. If something tickled Mike just right, he couldn't stop laughing. As a kid he was known to fall out of his chair with the giggles.

That small guy is Mike. I was older, so I was given the jailer's keys. But I wasn't big enough to take my brother's pistol away from our older cousin. He's dead too, longer than Mike.

Christmas, I'm guessing 1979. We had this thing we did. We'd save sticky-backed bows from the presents we opened. Then, camera at the ready, we'd stick a bow on the tops of our mother's feet. You'd have to be there. She'd giggle and we'd hug. That's Mike on the right, my youngest sister on the left, and the hippie in back is you-know-who.

At my oldest sister's wedding. Hands down the most asinine haircut I've ever had. I believe I'm taller though.

Speaking of weddings, I was Mike's Best Man. But this story happened at a bachelor party for a friend I also stood up for: We were drinking pretty heavy. Metaxa. We'd light a shot on fire, blow it out and drink. After several, I decided to try one while still lit. As my mustache burned, Mike used his big mitt-like hands to put my face out, both of us laughing the whole while. That friend is dead too.

Nice smile, right? The front tooth to your right is capped. We were wrestling in the basement. That dainty arm to the right is DW. This photo was taken not too long after I introduced her to the family. I have cropped her out because she wouldn't have it any other way, but what you might want to know is that in her left hand is the same as that in his. Back in the day, understand. I most likely had a cigar as well. We were sitting there, having a good time, when Mike looks at me and says, "She's a peach!"

For several years Mike participated in the arm wrestling contest at the State Fair. I do not remember the outcome of this match with my DS, but given the forearms, one can imagine. Not taking anything away from the boy, understand.

This picture is on our fridge.

Mike had a pond behind his house. He shared it with about fifteen neighbors, but it was his baby, and few others fished it. He stocked it, fed the catfish and monitored the use of fertilizer, herbicides and pesticides. He didn't hesitate to drop in on someone to recommend different approaches to lawn care. Not that he was a greenie, per se, but he did love that pond and knew what it took to maintain a suitable ecosystem for his babies.

The above photo is not from that pond. It is from a trip he, my DS and I took to the border lakes of Minnesota. We had a gas catching Walleyes, Pike and Smallies. This Smallie was caught on a small lake we portaged in to. We carried our battery, trolling motor and fishing gear up and over a sizable hill to an awaiting small V-hull. The fishing was so good, we made the trip twice. I told a story about the trip at the funeral. I made light of his passion for fishing, for it very well could have killed us. Well, the lightening might have.

I want to end this on a positive note; and ending I am, three days of homage and testing the loyalty of a readership quite enough. There are other stories, many without pictures to prompt, all tales that become traditions to keep a memory alive. I would be remiss were I not to mention two new readers, my DD and a DN (niece), who perhaps over these last three days have grown to know an uncle lost too soon to know of the joy he brought to adults as well as children. And, no doubt, they have also learned more about me. As  Mike would say, "This is a good thing." Yet, I wouldn't be writing this at all had that drunk known when to quit. And in that he has still not learned, perhaps another person on that same path will stumble across these posts and begin to reconsider a behavior that can do such irreversible damage and leave a huge fucking hole in this sometimes barely tolerable world. We need every Mike we can get.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Elegy is the word that comes to mind, yet may be as inadequate as its close cousin, eulogy, to honor the honorable. Yet, let me set the scene.

First, there is the connection, a subtle bonding between brothers made stronger by a notion that we shared certain features found missing with the other siblings. Speculation was reinforced by a segregation that went beyond a preference for the gentler of our species/siblings, and we therefore sought comfort in our proximal appearance and ages. We were the first: that much we knew.

There came a time when my heritage came under closer scrutiny and it was revealed that our intuitions were not so idle. When the time came for both of us to have that knowledge, the bond became even stronger.

The split in bloodlines was more than in a name, Bastin, if it can be called a division at all. Siblings are siblings and emotional attachments spring from that concept. No, again, it was the segregation that overrode. Even so, to return to the apple tree from yesterday’s post, each responded in his way.

I was helping install drywall in the garage of the new house Mike had built, his second one, and this one twice the size of the former. A local friend of his was helping.

—So, you’re Mike’s younger brother?

—No, I’m older by eighteen months.


He showed some surprise, perhaps embarrassment at his presumption.

—Hey, it’s OK. Funny how things seem one way, eh?

It may have been my longish hair rather than the aging process, Mike working for the State Police at the time as the lead man for their D.A.R.E. program. A man’s man, hunter, fisher, builder. Black belt. Wrestled a bear. Rode a bull. Broke his neck but didn’t know it for twenty years. Quit the State Police to open a used car lot.

What? A used car salesman?

I’m going to jump ahead a bit. Actually, to the end again.

The plans were to have the wake and funeral ceremony at the funeral home. Someone with more forethought than grief anticipated that the funeral home might be too small for the next day’s crowd. After all, the waiting line for the wake was three and a half hours long.

I stood next to our mother, greeting people first. I did not count, but I can tell you many people said something along these lines: I’m not a friend of the family, but your brother sold me a car when no one else would. He was a fair man. He gave me a chance.

Oddly, I shed a tear after writing that last bit. I see these people, the husband and wife, his hat in hand, and she a step behind. Their lives had been changed for the better  for knowing my brother, and they grieved for a world that had just gotten a little harder.

Mike did his own repos. He had a job to do, an agreement to keep, and it was only between him and his client. There was a bit of cavalier cowboy to him as well as all-around nice guy.

The funeral was held at the local Catholic church, a sizable room to sit 500 and still have room for those who had to stand. The State Police provided traffic control, a color guard and pipes. One of his fishing buddies, also a State cop, told of the “Mikey” he knew, a man comfortable with a discussion of the best way to field dress a bear, all the while knitting to pass time on their annual treks to Canada. Over the years, they managed to have the Mounties called on them a couple times.

I am not comfortable speaking in front of large crowds. I ramble and stutter, and on this occasion I might very well sputter. I knew I had to say something about my best fishing buddy (though I could not endurance fish like he could), my constant companion as a youth, the little brother I looked up to. I wanted everyone in the church to have a chance to share something as well, so as the tears began to well, I gave the crowd instructions, and on the count of three, everyone yelled at the top of their lungs, “Thanks, Mike!”

I am told he heard us.

Now with some distance

A friend writes that a fellow who carried the last name I typically use  may have a place in history some 150 years ago in the earlier-than-thought days of the War between the States. And another fellow carrying both my first and that last has found himself in trouble with the law. His a lesser offense than his brother. Oh, you boys! I can just hear them now with the uni-cultural slurs and poor grammar. Did you know that apple seeds do not share the same DNA sequencing as the branches from which they fell? Each fruit a wonder in itself, and not all delicious.

We are fast approaching an anniversary in the family. I have alluded to it in passed years, and although it revolves around a topic I pick at from time to time, so much so that I have grown somewhat self-conscious, these are not the reasons I have kept from a head-on.

We mark the passing of my younger brother, Michael.

Seven years from this coming Thursday, he was out on one of those central Illinois country highways, straight as an arrow, they are, for miles at a stretch. There was snow and ice. His middle daughter had called for help as she and a school friend had ended with his car in the ditch. Brother, rig and tow strap to the rescue, despite it being passed his bedtime.

Sometime earlier that day a young man had left work early to celebrate the new discovery that he would become a father. The festivities did not happen at home with family, nor with his expectant girlfriend, but in a bar. And another bar. Then another. Some six hours later he ordered some fried chicken livers to go.

I imagine him licking grease and crumbs from his fingers as he sped down the road, looking to see if any sheen was left on either index or thumb.

My brother did not suffer long. There were no good-byes or last messages; not from him, or none that were heard. Perhaps there would have been some utterance that could have been passed along had the driver stopped.

From my brother's good deeds and business, many knew his name, and word passed quickly through the county.  The vehicle involved, washed and tarped, was quickly found out by future in-laws and negotiations with the Law began with a now-sober assailant.

One can wash a truck but one has a more difficult time wiping a truck clean. There's that. Ah, to establish that he was inebriated! No bar patron or owner would come forward. Yes, his presence was noted, yet as we know, everything else is subjective and therefore speculative. And denied.

It would take nine months for trial and sentencing. In that time much had been said on the TV and in the newspaper. Both families were in attendance. An elderly uncle of ours was hauled from the courtroom. The judge did his best, his remand rejecting a delay until after the holidays. And we were left to get on with our lives.

The young man served three years of (if memory serves me) a twelve year sentence. He has since married, divorced, fathered another child, remarried and been arrested for aggravated DUI. Bond was set to have him sit, and it is expected that he will return to prison when he is sentenced 32 days from today.

Although the gap narrows and the former draws nearer, I cannot muster a level of contempt to match the sorrow that persists. Perhaps this is why a expression of remorse always falls short: not because it does nothing to undo the deed, but because the pain one has caused is so horrible to imagine. Nor can I forgive, most likely from a similar dynamic of the brain, and any chance has diminished further with the new arrest. And to narrow the aforementioned gap further, I allow myself the thought that he could have done the same to another family, and may yet again.

But I cannot forewarn his next victim, just as an uncle makes a poor substitute for a father. I know of no way to invoke my brother's name or a memory of him without my DW or DM crying. I can only dream of walking into his jail cell to beat him to a pulp. It is an impotent rage that brews.

So the mourning intensifies. No sympathy from those who did not know him or love him will salve. Yet, I know this is unacceptable for me or the reader here out of generosity, so tomorrow I will sing my brother's praises in such a way that even strangers will feel the loss.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

I'll squeeze in a couple

Online Poker
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Friday, January 21, 2011

For Akileos

Thursday, January 20, 2011


Bless Photoshop, for I have been able to resurrect  a series of photos from those dark years,  a floundering time,  otherwise known as experimentation in  motivations  as well as new techniques. Manipulation does little for the former, yet to enhance and rid the frame of distractions can apply lipstick to rougher pearls.

I have a sizable bin of old snaps, processed film and slides. Not all of it is art-related, family and travels having places as well. Once every couple of years I go through the container. Reasons and purpose vary. However, with the recent purchase of a new and more time-efficient scanner, plus the dictum regarding affairs needing ordered, I searched once more to determine the amount of work ahead of me.

Dark: I suppose I should clarify. Largely unseen.  Note the qualification, for as my DD reminded me the other evening, she remembers well shelves full of the clay figures and the boxes of their adornments (perhaps wondering at that young age why Daddy had more toys than she). Simply, there was little prolonged interest nor opportunity to share my otherwise prodigious efforts.

I mentioned in a previous  post working with live models. While realizing early-on a body at which to gaze did little to help in my sculpture, other avenues could be explored,  especially with photography, to capture the same dynamic qualities of the clay pieces, and I arranged for friends to pose.

In their original format, the above photos were  raw. Although I used black matte foamcore for backdrops, the seams, dents and dings in the dark surfaces are still very much visible. And in keeping with the theme of darkness, in the one small exhibit of this body of work, I adjusted for the roughness of the images by mounting them in unusual sizes and frames. The idea was to add enough artifice to distract from imperfections, thereby allowing the viewer to eventually focus on the central form.

Now (yesterday), the bucket tool in Photoshop has allowed me to get rid of the backdrop (not so with all of the dust).

 What do you think?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The bile. It rises as easy money hits time and again in key hands but calls any preflop. Eventually, some of the bubbly green juice spills over, and the best of us manage only an utterance tinged  with the wish that what is eating you could poison him.

— I have no business calling.

It’s a mantra.  I wonder how he will crack my Aces, but the K3o doesn’t hold up. The way it should be. Loves 45s too. Played it twice, once against a 6xBB all-in. Catches a straight on the river.  God, I want to nail this kid. Of course he hits second pair on the turn when I have him out-licked and I’m the first one gone at the final table.

Could be worse. Could have been for money. Could have been last week’s home game.

Let’s call it “Hamburger and Fries” poker.

I didn’t see that the board was paired when he raised my straight,

I worried that I had mucked the best hand on the showdown, when clearly I hadn’t.

I flipped over the river card on my deal just a hair too soon.

I led out from early position without the nut draw in O8.

I reminded myself to concentrate, to no avail. But eventually the meal has to wear off, right?

An idiotic game, Tahoe, called by the guy to my left.  Three cards, use two, but no where near midpoint between Texas and Omaha.  Yet he was where any winnings I had so far had come, and was pleased when his flush came at the expense of my boat on the turn. But who was this other kid calling? All low cards, slim chance of a straight flush, raising when the J comes on the river. ..

2.5 buy-ins gone, I got up and left. I could have lost more.  Small consolation.

I even hesitated telling you about it.

I should eat something…

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

1996 (Part 2) Winding Down

In 1993 I traveled to England and Italy. It was a marvelous trip, the first time abroad, and I went alone, which meant that I had ample opportunity to go where I wanted to look and look and look at art. Old art and architecture, which, back in the day, was often one in the same in that older buildings had sculptural reliefs as adornments.  These images stayed with me, and may be one reason why I started working with clay in the first place. As I worked with the clay, it was only late in the game That  tried my hand at reliefs. I saw them as a challenge, but did
few, instead opting for simple wall-mounted sculpture.

Arguably, this phase of the clay work is more decorative than the proceeding. In many respects, they are also more refined. Although lacking features such as a nose, mouth or eyes, the rough-edged approach to making the forms is gone.

The Hanger

The Gossip

The Brag

The Doctor Has a Picnic


Look Mommy, Doggy


Bottom Feeder II


Even so, I still wanted more detail in the clay. It may have been my residual impatience in relation to the small scale in which I was working that kept me away facial features, but something else had caught my attention.

By 1996 my son had moved beyond action figure toys like He Man and the Ninja Turtles. They had been relegated to a box in his room as he moved toward his love of making music. Judging from the toys I recovered from the trash in the alleys, he was not alone in a shift in interests, for I found the same figures, or remnants thereof. I brought them all to the studio and began replicating (with a nod to the artists who made the first models for these toys) the dramatically exaggerated musculature in the arms and legs.

Cyclops I

Cyclops II

Cyclops III




I was running out of steam. My life was changing. For a while I thought it would behoove me to work from a live model, and made a few more pieces based on those studies, but my interests were shifting to include installation, photography and video; and while elements of sculpture found a place in these new pursuits, I began to slowly move away from clay.

Somewhere in a room we use for storage I have some clay, just in case I get the urge again. In that same room there are a few boxes of these old clay pieces. I gave the bulk of the work away before we moved from Chicago, and culled others that didn’t make my cut at that particular moment. I am ambivalent about that decision, yet happy that slides of the work still exist.

And I am glad I did this little exercise. It has afforded me an opportunity to assess a period of my art-making in which I was very nearly wholly immersed in the process. As I look back to that time, I am awash in memories, and I have been tempted to share some of those reminisces. However, in some ways I feel like I have already said too much, for I still suffer from that old notion that where my art is concerned, it should be what engages the audience, not I. In the very least, I hope you, dear reader, have found one or two pieces that you have enjoyed, and as always, I thank you for your visit. 

Monday, January 17, 2011

1996 (Part 1)

The years, as I have labeled each of these posts, act more as a rough chronology for the work as it progressed. Some of the 1995 work may have very well been done the year prior or after. I rarely signed and dated the pieces, and I would often wait long periods between photo-documentation sessions. One may also call into question whether or not there was a progression at all in the work. Nevertheless, I did try some new techniques as the years wore on, and it is by these distinctions I present the work.

As I look at the next batch, I am aware that the work is milder, more sometimes refined than the earlier work. As the lines become smoother, I must have begun to consider surface, for all of this series is painted with acrylics. (Perhaps I should have mentioned earlier that all of the clay after 1994 was an air-drying polymer/clay mix.) I have also reincorporated found objects, and I believe this time they add a bit more to the narrative of each piece.

You Get

My Little Anger

Latent Duck

Trouble with Product


Baby Bear

Mischief at Hand


"Mischief at hand" and "Relief" represent another, if small, shift in the work in that they are wall pieces. 

I will conclude the series tomorrow.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

1995 (Part 2)

That fish in “Toy Boat” from 1994 (the first post in this series) also took me into another area of exploration of and challenge in figuration. I began making animal shapes, sometimes part animal, part human, or in conjunction with human forms to create little vignettes with a bit of a mythic feel. It may have been because of the interactions between the clay figures that I did not feel a need to add found objects.

I have been asked to go into more depth regarding my process. Fifteen years ago is a long time. On the other hand, even though exact motivations may escape me, as I get older I realize that very little changes in my work methods. I worked fast back then, making a piece within a matter of a couple hours, then moving onto another while the clay of the other dried. Initially, I wasn’t too interested in detail, but that changed over the course of time, eventually becoming comparatively persnickety. Excited by potential, I push, which eventually can be exhausting, yet when I finally pause long enough to see where I’ve been, I catch my breath and move on at a slow, more deliberate pace.

Archiving has necessarily brought back memories, and just as when I read poems I wrote in the 1980s and wonder how the hell many of them came into my possession, recovering the moment of the below creative acts has lost its immediacy, Perhaps, when I am done with this archiving I will have spent enough time with the work to relate cogent autobiographical details that will shed light on the work. 

 Classic Fish Pose

Bottom Feeder I


Who Says

Small Sacrifices

Offering I


Bear Hug/Fish Kiss



Standing by


(It was also during this period that I returned to drawing and painting. If I could sculpt a human, fish of a pig, then I could certainly at least draw a semblance of them. These drawings/paintings would eventually find their way into a later installation work, “Speaking of the Dead.”)