Friday, December 31, 2010

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Wednesday, December 29, 2010


c. David Grim (taken 12/28-29/10)

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Holiday Cheer in Full Effect.

c. David Grim (taken 11/25/10)

Yay.. it's the holidays. But you know what? Just because a lot of folks have some days off in the near future doesn't mean their basic social flaws are going to recede. Obviously the stress and anxiety of having to meet familial (and other) expectations can weigh heavily on the individual. And still there is always the chance that someone is just going to continue demonstrating their essentially loathsome qualities no matter what time of year he/she is currently negotiating.

Unfortunately my day has started with an encounter with one of these cretins.

I went into the copy room as soon as I got to work to use the hole puncher. As I approached I ran across a woman who works on the other side of the building. She's middle aged and seems to resent whatever small failures she's accumulated throughout her life. So she's almost always a bit acerbic, humorless, and definitively unpleasant. I make it a point to keep a wide berth from her, so I don't even know if I made deliberate eye contact. Anyway she felt some need to point out brusquely that she "was done" with whatever she was doing. I hadn't asked... but whatever. I didn't reply, but rather went on with the intention of fulfilling my task.

As soon as I started setting up to use the communal tools I needed, this same crone said "I meant I was done with the copier. I'm not done there!" (indicating the station with the paper cutter and hole punch). Now keep in mind that she wasn't EVEN in the small copy room whenever I first arrived, nor was their a whit of evidence that she had been there previously. She was right outside engaged in some inane chat with a co-worker, with some papers in her hand. She had not even started what she said she was in the midst of doing.

I don't know why, but I stepped aside and let her in. I started to explain that I just needed to punch one page (it would have taken me about two seconds). As I began to explain, "Actually I just had to-", she interrupted me with, "Yeah... everyone just has to do something, but I was here first." She was at least self-aware enough not to look at me in the face for my reaction. I stood there a foot-and-a-half away from her, as she started her all-important mission and continued nattering on about nothing to a co-worker.

Now I've known for awhile that this woman was socially retarded. I didn't want some interchange to escalate because I felt some compulsion to match her nastiness. So I just stared at the top of her head for a moment and left without responding. It would be too easy in retrospect to wish I had returned some cutting retort, but I know it would have simply led to more acrimony on both of our parts. I credit myself with demonstrating the value of forgiveness and forebearance during this special time of the year. Otherwise I would have simply assaulted her mouldering ego and gotten caught up in unnecessary drama (instead of venting on this blog).

Hey. Tis the Season, right?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Richard Price, 'Bloodbrothers".

c. David Grim (taken 10/17/10)

Sometimes a descriptor such as "slight" is enough to kick me off the scent of a book. Obviously it's a pejorative. Yet somehow I don't feel like it completely precludes enjoyment, even when applied accurately. Richard Price's book "Bloodbrothers" feels slight, especially in comparison to "Lush Life"- the only other title I've read in the author's oeuvre. That work was ambitious, even if it didn't necessarily reach all of the tones I believe it sought. And it made me willing to explore more of Price's work. I ended up with "Bloodbrothers" because that's what I found at Half-priced Books. But it's quite obviously a lesser, earlier work.

Yes, I liked reading it. Price let his characters become caricatures at times, but they remained compelling enough to spend time with and worry over. I particularly felt for the plight of an eight-year-old named Albert. The boy has to contend with an absentee father who wants little to do with him, and an overweening mother capable of scaring the shit out of him with her own anxieties and emotional brutality. I knew I was falling prey to easy sentiment with this kid, but I really hoped he'd be alright in the end.

The problem is that Price's story just seemed to stop without any conclusions. The main character (Albert's older brother Stony) ends up capitulating to the trajectory of his family, and will likely just end up like his father and uncle. These are big, bruising, unsophisticated, womanizers who continue to work out of a blue-collar union tradition carved out by their forebears. While the business of building (they are contractors) retains a hint of nobility, the rot around the edges is clearly beginning to stain. These folks are hard-living and worn out by the severity of life around them.

If you like the idea of spending time with the working class, reading about their bouts of excessive drinking, whoring and fighting... then this book will satisfy your needs. Likely you will come to feel for someone in these accounts. Maybe you will be reminded of a family member, or even of a hard period in your own life. Price doesn't pull any punches. He'll show you the worst of people. And his dialogue is consistently compelling, making this a quick read. However, I don't believe that "Bloodbrothers" is going to stick with me very long. Perhaps a scene or two will linger in some shadowy way, but I wasn't transformed by reading this work.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Going Without.

c. David Grim (taken 11/14/10)

Ach! My camera is broken. It's a terrible condition for my eye. I almost don't know what to do. Now I'll likely see things constantly that I'll never be able to recapture. This is the way it works. Little chips of the sky are falling in my path.

The bright spot in this situation is that I am going to get compensated for the obsolescence of my equipment. That's why I bought the four-year extended warranty in the first place. There's nothing like being stuck with an inoperable toy or tool with no hope of replacing it without major expense. I've been buying my line of cameras at Best Buy for years, and I've taken full advantage of its security plans. Up until this day I've always been able to go pick up another whenever my current camera has gone down.

But this time around it has gotten a bit more complicated. I typically keep my receipts in the original product box. Since it's been almost three years since I purchased the G9, I had some difficulty finding the empty container. And then I discovered that all the paperwork was gone. I took it to the store where I bought it, and they had all my info on file. I breathed a brief sigh of relief. They were going to honor their contract without any documentation on my end. Good.

However, the current return policy apparently involves trying to fix defective merchandise before crediting the consumer for a new item. So now I have to wait seven to ten days to get a replacement. This is especially bad timing as I'd love to photograph my son opening his presents this year. If I buy a new camera and they fix my old one, I'll have spent too much money anyway... despite the warranty. I'll have two operable cameras, but that seems excessive.

They should have camera rentals. I'd gladly shell out for a loaner for the interim. The current state of without is like walking the streets unarmed. It's simply foolish to continue this way. What should I do?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

My Very First Roman Durs.

c. David Grim (taken 11/27/10)

Over the past few years I have been increasingly attracted to crime novels. James Ellroy, George Pelecanos, and Richard Price are among the authors I have picked up and returned to recently. Together these living masters document the factors and environments that lead men and women to engage in unsavory practices that often bring themselves (and others) to ruin. Often the details can be heavy and depressing, but these examinations of humans at their worst have me turning the pages with anticipation. My feelings for the characters can be almost maudlin at times, but my reading experiences seem justified by the suggestion of their antecedents in reality.

Perhaps it's just easier for me to feel the sadness of our society when the accounts I expose myself to are fictionalized. Maybe I need that distance to allow myself to feel for them. The harsh eventualities that befall my contemporaries are often too bleak to consider when watching the news, or reading about them in the paper. I seem to require their transformation into art for purposes of emotional digestion. Otherwise I shove them aside or puke them up as soon as I take them in.

I've finally gotten around to reading Georges Simenon. This mid-20th Century French author wrote approximately one hundred roman durs (hard novels) in which the ordinary flaws of the principal characters inevitably lead to moral collapse and harsh misfortune. Yet the author presents the events in the lives of his subjects in a matter-of-fact matter that almost trivializes their internal psychologies. There are no heroes in Simenon's works, just as there are no villains that we could relate to. That fact makes these books seem like the equivalent of unwitting manifestos of modern realism.

After a rather desultory reading of "The Engagement", I can appreciate Simenon's approach. It is particuliarly concerned with the largely mundane decisions of the main character, who is only remarkable as a rather unpleasant presence amidst his urban neighbors. I felt very little for the man, nor was I moved by his developing troubles. But at the same time I value Simenon's insistence that matters of life and death are often the result of the accumulation of seemingly inconsequential details. While the book is decidedly not "sexy", it rings true as a representation of the ennui and grayness of the vice inherent in modern city life.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

And What Awaits (?)

c. David Grim (taken 12/12/10)

To be honest, I couldn't tell you how many times I've taken shots of a fortune teller machine... as displayed in this post. For one reason or another I am drawn to capturing these images, again and again, whenever I stumble upon the opportunity. I suppose that it's become a little bit cliché by now, even to me. But I know I'll go right on doing it anyway.

I suppose I could say that this impulse suggests a yearning for certainty and imposed direction in my life. It is disconcerting to be adrift, and it would be some comfort to know what lies ahead of me. I'm in a transition period right now, and the possibilities are fairly open in my future. Maybe there is something to be said for this type of existence. Perhaps I should enjoy the fact that my future is not being dictated for me. But still, I'd likely choose to find out what time holds for me in one or another specific category.

How many people could resist seeking reassurances in a moment of weakness brought on by doubt? Do you really think you could resist learning your destiny, if you knew it was available by simply asking for it? What if you found out that you had nothing but suffering and angst coming? Would you still be glad that it was revealed to you? Do you think you could prepare adequately for it? Conversely, would it take something away from the experience if you learned that you had a lot of good coming your way?

In the end I guess it's folly to even consider it. The existence of fate seems impossible with the vast number of variables threading through my life. I'm not even sure that belief isn't simply beside the point.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

In the "You think I'm kidding" Department...

c. David Grim (taken 11/21/10)

Don't be mistaken. Mythical creatures DO inhabit the streets of Pittsburgh. Often they hover on the periphery of our vision, and when we turn our heads to gaze upon them they assume the guise of seemingly ordinary objects. But if you snap your head rapidly enough back into place and concentrate on the blurred motion in your sight, you'll see exactly what I mean.

The rivers sweep assorted varieties of life past our city, and many of these never reveal themselves. I know for certain that there are ten-foot paddlefish in the Allegheny, and sometimes you'll catch an albino specimen that makes a sound like an old man clearing his throat.

No doubt some of the creatures mean to be more elusive. Occasionally they breach the shoreline and slither unevenly onto the roadside in the ditch. They peer up at the passing traffic and it reminds them of the metallic debris that rests in the shifting silt, amidst the murky bottoms of the riverbed. And sometimes a glimpse of them causes an accident, and at other times they are written off as hallucinations. Just so you know...

Monday, December 13, 2010

More Creative Play.

c. David Grim (taken 12/12/10)

Apparently the Children's Museum does indeed merit return trips, sometimes even in close succession. With my Dad in from out of town to see my son, I had to figure out something cool for him to see along with the opportunity to spend time with his grandson. Now I'm certain that he doesn't need the bells-and-whistles to make such a trip worthwhile, but at the same time I had never had a reason to take him to the Pittsburgh Children's Museum before. As a photographer I knew he'd enjoy the visual stimuli throughout the building.

To tell you the truth I was also kind of itching to go back. The regular readers of this blog (whatever few might exist) likely remember my somewhat recent account of my initial trip to the museum during RAD days. I took advantage of the offer of free admission, and braved the significant crowds. Despite the fact that we had to get a bit aggressive with the jostling masses in order to get the most out of our visit, E. and I both had a lot of fun checking out the attractions. I was curious to see what favorites he would return to, and what he'd pass by without a second thought.

Surprisingly my son didn't spend a lot of time with the stuff he had previously explored. My Dad and I were happy to let him lead the way through. It was refreshingly empty, and thus E. could freely explore whatever caught his immediate fancy. He's not quite three years old yet, so he doesn't have to deliberate in order to make these decisions. And fortunately the design of the museum allows spontaneous negotiation with its features. This time through he only made me go down one tunnel slide. It was dark inside and I feared I wouldn't make it around all of the bends with my son in my lap and my winter jacket adding another thick layer. Believe me- most things you can sit on, ride in, or slide down are not made for people of my height.

E. also enjoyed one of the rotating exhibits. There is an entire room dedicated to examining the marvels of air that wasn't there this past October. I got to make him a little parachute out of a coffee filter, a tongue depressor and four twisty ties. They had a wind tunnel gizmo that allowed the kids to "test" the viability of their handmade fliers. Sweet. E. loved to feed it through the slot at the bottom and catch it as it floated back down. His grandfather has much photo documentation to prove this. Personally though, my favorite was the Whirlwind Room. That's mostly because goggles were required to enter the thing, and E. was almost unbearably cute in them.

Now I know that the Children's Museum is NOT a once a year proposition. It is the best year-round playground in the city. It's a bit of a shame that they don't have any evening hours. After all, working parents would like to have the chance to take their kids out during the week too. But I suppose there are very real pragmatic reasons for not extending the times of operation. Anyway, monthly visits alone would more than justify the purchase of a membership. It costs $21 for one adult and one child to go once. The math makes it a no-brainer even if you are relegated to weekends.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Pittsburgh Weekend Art Events: 12/10-11/10.

c. David Grim (taken 11/21/10)


The Pittsburgh Glass Center seems to be making the effort to build a bigger profile for its brand. Tonight they are hosting a reception at Future Tenant for a group show of 8 glass artists. It's called "Futilitarian" and starts at 6PM.

The Pretty Things Peepshow is in town, and appearing at the Rex Theater in the South Side. They are a premiere touring burlesque outfit from northern NJ, and several of its members have done time at the justly renowned Coney Island Circus Sideshow (including Heather Holliday and Danny Vomit). That fact alone should compel you to see this! The doors open at 8PM and the show starts at 10PM. Bring $15 to get in.


This week's must-see art show is "Big Love" at the Panza Gallery (and that's not just because I'll have work there). Curated by Lawrenceville resident Cleo Zell, it features the work of approximately 40 artists, conveniently priced at $100 or less. Some of the creators involved include Kathleen Lolley, Mascha Vereshchenko, Gabe Felice, Heidi Tucker, Ryder Henry, Mario Zucca, Laura Jean McGlaughlin, Bob Ziller, Sid Kweller, Carley Parrish, Paul Leroy, etc. It runs from 6-9PM, but if you get a late start on the evening and think you have to skip it, stop in anyway. Events at Panza (115 Sedgwick Street, Millvale) invariably run past their scheduled times.

Apparently there's a new gallery space opening in Edgewood. It's called Verde Art Space (113 Edgewood Avenue), and it plans to be fully in business in the Spring. But if you are of the mind to, you can catch a preview today from 11AM-8PM.

And in Homestead, Artspace 105 (105 E. Eighth Ave.) is having a silent auction from 7-9PM. Robert Qualters, George Nama, and Paula Bland are just a few of the participating artists.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Place, Time and Coffee.

c. David Grim (taken 11/29/10)

I'm in the unfortunate position of having to look for a new coffee shop. It's not that I have to completely jettison the one I've been patronizing for months, but rather that I need to find one to supplement the existing offerings. The problem is that Lili has changed its hours, and now shuts down at 6PM all week. This might not sound tragic, but for me it pretty much limits my visits to once or twice every seven days or so. I was getting into the habit of stopping in with my son (the place is remarkably kid friendly), and then naturally following that up with solo visits whenever I could.

The rub is that I work regular hours, and I usually wait until after rush hour to head out for the evening. I definitely feel more comfortable with a schedule. I like the idea of having something to look forward to every day. And I also feel that spontaneity and serendipity tend to be maximized whenever parameters are in place. Otherwise I get overwhelmed by the possibilities, and that can lead to paralysis. So when a hole opens up it tends to threaten to morph into an abyss. I quickly look to fill in these booby traps.

So my first step was to hit the Internet and explore the options. I made a short list of places that I want to check out in the coming weeks. I don't necessarily need to fulfill all my needs in one location, but I definitely need a spot to bring E. on Mondays and a shop to relax and write whenever I'm on my own. And I already hit the chains about as much as I'm willing to. I'm looking for character, comfort and ambiance.

As I write this, I'm experiencing Espresso a Mano (3623 Butler Street) for the very first time. This coffee shop has beckoned to me in the past, but the one time I stopped by before it was closed despite its posted hours (it's open until 9PM every day but Sunday). After that I just stuck to the easy familiar options... until now, as circumstances have dictated. I'm actually quite pleased by the atmosphere. There is a nice corner in the back with comfy sectional pieces that I can lounge in with my laptop. The coffee tastes good, and the art on the walls is interesting (currently it is a collection of tastefully framed obscured nudes). The lighting is cozy and effective.

I already know I'll be returning here again. But I wonder how appropriate it is to bring my 3-year old son. The barrista on duty assures me that this isn't a library, and my kid is definitely welcome. That goes a long way with me. This guy has already gone out of the way to make me feel comfortable even though he's never seen me before. And I'm looking pretty ratty today. Espresso a Mano is promising... It's experiences like this that make exploring the options satisfying.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Why Showgirls?

c. David Grim (taken 8/28/10)

I've never been one to seek out movies for the sake of laughing at them. I know that many of my friends have been able to enjoy consuming a pop culture artifact simply for its sheer incompetence. I'm sure you've heard the descriptor, "So bad that it's good". Well, that's never been a particularly compelling way to draw me in. I'm much more likely to put whatever title is described in this way on a mental list of avoidance. Life is too short, and there are plenty of sleepers that are completely worthwhile yet rarely ever talked about. It seems to be a waste to focus on something that isn't very good, despite whatever laughs can be had from viewing it.

Yet there is always an exception that proves the rule for me. A couple of weeks ago I saw "Showgirls" for the very first time. This past weekend I watched it again... on purpose. And you know what? It's great. I think I might actually love it.

I'm not suggesting that everyone is mistaken in their judgment of the movie. It is fair to call it one of the most poorly made films in recent history. And yet still... it shines so brightly in its failure. The acting (especially that of the lead, Elizabeth Berkley) is often ham-handed, and almost always over-the-top. At times it looks like the characters are having convulsions of absurdity. If David Lynch had made this (instead of Paul Verhoeven), it might be considered genius with its inexplicable touches of surrealism. So often lines of dialogue are delivered with the exact opposite pitch than seems required for the scene. And the words themselves seem to have been written by someone who has just learned how to speak English.

Yet it moves at a brisk pace, and it is shiny, and there is an awful lot of T & A. Of course that in itself would not render it amusing. Rather it's the feeling that the movie leaves you with that makes it special. You wonder how in the hell anyone ever thought it would be a good idea. You wonder where the filmmakers did their background research. You wonder if anything like what you see onscreen has ever existed in any remotely similar way before. And I think that you have to conclude that it hasn't, and it never will again.

At one point the lovingly trashy Gina Gershon admits to having savored Puppy Chow in the past. Instead of inspiring puzzlement or even scorn, this admission makes Berkley go all soft inside (despite multiple scenes of poorly-repressed malice between the two characters), as she too has particularly enjoyed such fare. It's hard to figure out what this exchange signifies. It's such a WTF(?) moment that one must make an immediate choice- either embrace the stupidity and laugh along with it, or turn it off immediately. Let me assure you that you have a lot to gain by bearing up under the folly of the moment. You don't want to miss some of the following production numbers, nor the catty hjinks interspersed throughout

Sure, it's possible that some of your friends will sneer at you if you profess your support for "Showgirls". I suggest you take that risk. I can almost guarantee you that you won't be bored.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Thomas Kinkade (unfortunately) Still Weathering the Storm.

c. David Grim (taken 11/21/10)

I've made it through most of the years of this century without commenting on the "art" of Thomas Kinkade. I never really had anything to add to the discussion. The guy has made thousands of paintings and prints and calendars and greeting cards and coffee mugs. Perhaps all you ever really need to know about him is that his images are estimated to be within 1 of every 20 homes in this nation. That's simply an insane incrimination about cultural appreciation in the Unites States, but there is no avoiding the love that some have for the "Painter of Light".

What I didn't know until quite recently was that Kinkade bakes the sweet shining light of Jesus Christ into each one of his ever-loving creations. So actually one could say that he is doing the work of God himself. Now that's impressive when someone like Howard Finster makes the claim, but it's a whole 'nother ball game when we're talking about an entrepreneurial force like Kinkade. No doubt he has gotten quite rich by depicting the rich tones of the Holy Spirit. Anyway, it's quite clear that the "coziness" that his collectors feel when viewing his work goes down as easy as a Big Mac.

Unfortunately for Kinkade his franchise isn't currently seeing the same type of success as your typical McDonald's. For one thing people are accusing him of pushing his work into markets that simply couldn't support it. Apparently he uses the suggested "divinity" in his work to persuade some greedy Christians to stock his stuff on the walls. This past June he was actually sued by a few of them, and he lost. So his company has since declared bankruptcy and is facing reorganization. And in the meantime he has received a DUI.

But don't worry too much about the hard times. Kinkade is adapting his marketing strategy to include partnerships with Disney and Time Warner, and making inroads on home shopping networks. So anyone that was hoping that the state of the economy would push guys like this right out of the market is simply deluding himself. The only upside is that during your next visit to the mini-mall, you'll be less likely to be distracted by bad art. Then again... maybe not.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Pittsburgh Art Events 12/3/10.

c. David Grim (taken 11/21/10)


Yes, indeed. it's going to be COLD for this month's Unblurred. But that doesn't give you license to skip it. There is plenty worthwhile to see, and you'd be remiss if you didn't get out there and support some struggling artists. Do some holiday shopping somewhere other than Walmart.

Gabe Felice will be down at the newly-named Penn Avenue Art Studios (4810 Penn), working on a live art project. Appearing with him are Dan Devine, Perry and Danny Angel, and they are all there to support the Kullu Valley Bike Project. Ten bucks will get you into the after party, which includes wine, beer, and DJ's.

You could also do your holiday shopping at the Irma Freeman Center (5006 Penn) where they are hosting "I Made it! Affordable Art & Craft". Apparently City Parks will be there with some light up ornaments. Oh... and there's some bands too.

Seth Clark and Kelly Blevins are at Modern Formations (4919 Penn). The latter is this past year's Spring Salon winner, which means she already has a significant audience waiting to see what she will do. No pressure, Kelly! Meanwhile the ever-prolific Dean Cercone is showing at Most Wanted (5015 Penn Ave.) with someone named "Detrich" (as per the gallery site).

Not that I'd particularly want to go to the South Side on a Friday night, but if I did I'd go to Silver Eye Center for Photography (1015 East Carson St., 6:30PM) to see the work of the winners of their Photography's Fellowship 2010 Competition. Don't worry if you're not up to the mess of transit. You can see the images of Laura Heyman of Syracuse, NY, and Laura Bell of Girard, PA, through January 15th.

And then there's the rare event at James Gallery (413 S. Main Street) in the West End- a group show called "Pulp Friction". Its "Paper: burned, sliced, disguised, reclaimed, reconfigured" can be seen between 5:30-9PM. Good luck finding out who is participating, as the gallery's website seems to demonstrate a deliberate disinterest in providing any significant information. I do know that Tom Sarver is involved, so that's one bright spot.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Will WikiLeaks Change Everything?

c. David Grim (taken 11/21/10)

I've been a bit dissociated from the national media (especially over the Thanksgiving Holiday), so it's quite possible that everyone else knows a lot more about WikiLeaks than me. But the snippets of analysis I've caught on NPR have been fascinating so far. Evidently this online entity was launched in 2006, so it's strange that it hasn't really been in my consciousness until now. After all, I was paying attention up until the 2008 presidential election. if WikiLeaks had played a major role in public affairs back then, I think I would have heard about it.

Anyway, it does make sense that the public understanding of this odd organization is nebulous. The site itself expresses its purpose as "Exposing oppressive regimes in Asia, the former Soviet bloc, Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East", and adds the following: "but we also expect to be of assistance to people of all regions who wish to reveal unethical behavior in their governments and corporations." Surely in a post 9-11 environment, this can cause chagrin to administrations throughout the world who are involved in delicate maneuverings concerning the internal and external security of various nations. It's no surprise that those involved with making Wikileaks work want to keep a low profile.

Surely this applies to Julian Assange, the Australian most often cited as the founder of WikiLeaks. After all, Interpol has added Assange to its "Most Wanted" list. However, its allegations against the putative face of Wikileaks are not specifically related to any whistle blowing. Instead Assange is being sought for questioning regarding the alleged rape and molestation of two separate women (he denies any involvement). Others associated with the site complain of "continuing harassment and surveillance by law enforcement and intelligence organizations, including extended detention, seizure of computers, veiled threats, “covert following and hidden photography". Meanwhile authorities across the globe (including those in the US) are trying to figure out how to prosecute Assange for espionage and related charges.

What has WikiLeaks actually done? Well... they started out by posting the reputed hit list of a Mideastern Sheikh, exposed atrocities and corruption in Kenya, shared secrets of Scientology, posted Sarah Palin's e-mail, published an Afghan War Diary, revealed Iraq War logs, and (most recently) released a huge amount of United States diplomatic cables which could prove both embarrassing and inconvenient for the State Department. The reaction has been vehement condemnation, including a suggestion by US Congressman Peter King (chairman of the Homeland Security Committee) that WikiLeaks should be listed as a foreign terrorist organization.

Even for the most ardent supporters of free speech, WikiLeaks can be problematic. There is no way the validity of the information it publishes can be verified, and the editorial process of the organization is not transparent. Additionally, many governments claim that the lives of their operatives and military personnel can be put at risk by WikiLeaks activity. In fact there is some reason to believe that major world events with incalculable consequences could be provoked by reactions to the released information. For the near future Assange has promised the leaking of material regarding the private sector, which he insinuates could shake the international economic system. For this reason, I'll probably be paying more attention.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

For Your Viewing Displeasure.

c. David Grim (taken 10/16/10)

Well, now that it's the holiday, I have some time off. It's strange how quickly I get back into my routine of obligations, so that when I get a block of free time again I'm at a bit of a loss as to how to spend it. I've already done my rather extensive research on what is happening around town during this break, and I'm sad to say that the schedule is rather thin. Obviously I'd love it if there was a lot more happening on the arts scene, but traditionally these holidays see a marked slowdown. No doubt I'll find myself at home on my couch watching some movies. After all I still have a significant backlog of DVD's to watch.

Yesterday on my way home from work I stopped at a friend's house, and found myself sticking around for some entertainment via "On Demand". I'm not sure why I thought it was a good idea to put "Strangeland" on, but I ended up seeing it through its full running length. And it was as bizarre as advertised. I remember years ago hearing about a horror film with Dee Snider from Twisted Sister, and wondering how it could be anything other than a cheesy mess. But the fact is that this movie ended up being genuinely disturbing.

It starts out with an extremely outdated screen shot of a chat room on a computer desktop. Two teenage girls are about to get lured into a devious and horrifying trap. I was amused to watch one young woman's astonishment upon encountering 'Instant Messaging' for the very first time. But there were probably quite a few viewers who were unfamiliar with the technology in 1998, when "Strangeland" was released. In fact this video nasty has a lot of surprises embedded in its ugliness. Snider plays an acolyte of "modern primitivism", and doles out quite a bit of ham-handed philosophy to accompany his sadistic torture of his captive teenagers.

If you have any taste at all for forward-thinking horror leavened with dark heavy metal music and lots of piercings, you might want to give this thing a watch, if only for the experience of seeing something altogether different from the ordinary popcorn-and-blood flicks that the mainstream is usually given to feast upon. I have no idea who the filmmakers thought would be the proper demographic for this thing, and I really wouldn't want to hang out with anyone who would want to watch this on a regular basis. But at the same time, from a sociological perspective I think this can be informative. If nothing else it can serve as a great cautionary tale about internet chat rooms and the predators that stalk them.

Sure, it was an odd way to start my vacation from work. Still I'm glad I got this viewing out of the way, and I don't have to wonder why some reviewers recommend "Strangeland". There are some truly fucked up people out there, addicted to cruelty and sadism. I'm not certain whether or not the people responsible for this movie fall into that category or not, but I'd be wary of anyone who would cite title this among their favorites.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Jimmy Cvetic's "Secret Society of Dog".

c. David Grim (taken 8/19/08)

A week ago I did something I rarely ever do- I went to a poetry reading. I am a voracious reader of both fiction and non-fiction, but I rarely take the time to read poems. I suppose if I put the time into it I could find several poets worth reading, but I haven't made much of an effort. Besides Russell Edson and Charles Bukowski, I've never found any favorites. The former is 75 years old and the latter is dead. I don't see anyone on the horizon that is likely to assume their respective places in my interests. Still I suppose it's possible.

Even up to the last moment I wasn't certain I was going to make it out to the reading. It was at Hemingway's Cafe in Oakland, and I hadn't been down to that part of the city for a night out in a long time. Hell, the last time I was at Hemingway's was probably 15 years ago. I once saw Lewis Nordan read some of his stuff there. But I had it in my head that the place had closed up. I certainly didn't realize they still had their reading series going. Besides, trips to Oakland are always confounded by parking hassles.

Ultimately I felt obligated to go see Jimmy Cvetic do his thing because a friend of mine had recently put together a concise collection of his work, and he was making some efforts to publicize it. I had the chance to skim over some of the guy's poems in rough draft form. I was intrigued enough by the working class realism of the writing to impulsively agree to buy a copy of the book whenever it came out. Cvetic 's long career with the Allegheny Police in Pittsburgh included a substantial stint as a homicide detective. He's seen a lot of the grittier side of local humanity, and has an ear for the street argot of the urban environment.

Cvetic has recently had hip surgery, but that didn't keep him from soldiering through a pained reading of a good chunk of material from "Secret Society of Dog". The title refers to his professional handle, given to him as he worked to keep our streets safe from killers. He didn't shy away from including some of the more extreme experiences he had in the pursuit of criminals. Sure, there was a healthy dose of irreverence in his tone and a fair amount of humor to leaven the darker themes... but Cvetic included some notes of intense melancholy as well. He's a genuine tough guy whose not afraid to share his heart with his audience.

It's amazing that a guy as active in his community as Cvetic can remain relatively anonymous on the local scene. Along with hosting the reading series at Hemingway's for several years, he has invested much of his post-retirement efforts and energies in working with young at-risk men in the boxing ring (with the Western Pennsylvania Police Athletic League) . Indeed he's promoted a number of fight events and mentored local celebrities including Paul Spadafora and Monty Meza Clay. Yet he still finds time to drop the street smarts on the page. I enjoyed his writing enough to purchase a copy of his poetry collection, just as promised.

And I had enough fun to consider attending poetry readings in the future.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Reading Out Loud.

c. David Grim (taken 10/24/10)

One of the things I've really grown to love about being a father is reading to my son. He crawls up on my lap and stretches out, and I narrate story after story until his patience wears thin. E.'s only about three years old, so I'm impressed when he sits for multiple books. The benefits are not limited to whatever cognitive development he gets from attending to this practice. It encourages his curiosity and imagination, and heightens his observational skills. He becomes habituated to books. And he seems to genuinely enjoy the intimacy of hanging out with his father on a big comfy armchair.

Although I know that he would often choose television over hearing me read, I make it a point to put ourselves in situations that favor books instead of the tube. We go to our favorite coffeehouses and hope for the availability of our favorite seats. I tote around a huge army surplus rucksack filled with his portable library (along with a selection of his toys). I shop for his books at garage sales, rummage sales, and Half-Priced Books, and thus he already has several decent-sized shelves full of literary gems. I just rotate the stuff in our travel bag, hoping against hope that he doesn't request one we've left at home.

Sometimes E. makes me read a title repeatedly and I groan just a bit before appreciating that he has found something he really likes. The other night we went through "Save Brave Ted" several times in a row, and if anyone reading this is aware of this interactive adventure, he/she will realize how monotonous this could be. Still I end up loving every minute of it. E. tends to like when we choose something that allows for his active participation as well. And of course that is extremely entertaining for me, as a Dad who finds everything his son says amusing and even adorable. Possibly we end up annoying our neighbors sipping their lattes... but (selfishly perhaps) I don't really care.

It's a shame that modern technology has replaced the intimacy of reading to each other aloud. Likely the only opportunity most will have to engage in this activity will be with their pre-literate children. Can you imagine a group of guys getting together and reading their favorite passages to each other? Surely they'd be in for some ridicule once discovered by their contemporaries. Even many couples would likely stare at you vacantly if you suggested they could find stimulation in sharing a book. Yet I feel that in not "getting it", these people are missing out on a truly special opportunity.

As for me, I'm going to continue reading to my kid as long as he'll allow me to. When the time finally (but inevitably) comes when he wants to be by himself with a book, I'm going to be a little sad. Until then you can find me speaking in strange voices in between sips of my coffee drink a few times a week at the local cafe.

Here are some of E.'s favorites (so far):

Eric Carle, "Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?"

Esphyr Slobodkina, "Caps for Sale"

Pat Hutchins, "Goodnight, Owl!"

Laura Numeroff, "If You Give a Moose a Muffin"

Kurt Futterer, "Emile"

Charise Mericle Harper, "When Randolph Turned Rotten"

Jack Tickle, "The Very Busy Bee"

Tracy McGuinness, "Bad Cat"

Julie Aigner-clark, "Baby Einstein: Jane's Animal Expedition"

Antoinette Portis, "Not a Box"

Tomi Ungerer, "Snail, Where are You?"

Lane Smith, "Pinocchio, the Boy: Incognito in Collodi"

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Pittsburgh Weekend Art Events: 11/19-20/10.

c. David Grim (taken 10/31/10)


It's that time of year again- the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts is celebrating its Artist of the Year. Brian Dean Richmond has been a familiar face to anyone who's been on the Pittsburgh arts/music scene for the past couple of decades. Now you have a chance to understand the full scope of his creative output.

I've mostly associated Richmond with some of the best local bands of recent history- The Johnsons and The Working Poor among them... what I didn't know was that he is a prolific visual artist as well. Over the years I've seen him out, and he once shocked me by buying an unsolicited beer for me at Gooski's (I have no idea why). Still I've never had a conversation with him. I'm sure I've seen a few of his short films at Film Kitchen over the years, but I haven't really paid close attention to his paintings. Now I'll have the chance to remedy that (5:30-8PM, $5). Alongside Richmond, Gregory Witt will be honored as Emerging Artist of the Year.

If you make it downtown during the (newly-copyrighted) Light Up Night, stop in at the Space Gallery (812 Liberty Ave.) for a group show curated by Ally Reeves, with the rather unwieldly title "Scale: Aesthetic Turbulence and the Search for Lifestyle Panacea”. Artists featured in the show include Bill Daniel, Dana Bishop-Root, Derk Wolmuth, Teresa Foley, Gordon Kirkwood, Heidi Tucker, Jon Rubin and Caleb Gamble. The reception runs from 6-9PM.

And WildCard in Lawrenceville has turned over their walls to Kim Fox. She's made screen-printed box frames of her illustrations. The show is called "Prints Charming" and focuses on domestic and other pleasant themes. For free refreshments, show up at the store (4209 Butler Street) between 7-9PM.


I wouldn't normally do this, but I'd like to mention Bobby Porter's wake at Kopec's
Corner in Lawrenceville (3523 Penn Ave, 9PM). I knew Porter, iconic frontman for the Thin White Line. He was a friendly guy with a large spirit and a lot of talent. Thanks, Bill D. for memorializing him in the City Paper this week.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Who is Mikhail Kalishnokov?

c. David Grim (taken 11/14/10)

I've never been all that interested in firearms. If I'm forced to take a position on something like the 2nd Amendment, I'll usually just state my belief that citizens should be allowed to arm themselves. But I do believe that government (both local and national) should retain the authority to regulate weapons. I'd rather that people keep their guns at home, and I am generally against concealed weapons of any type. If you have a good reason to carry a pistol, then you shouldn't have any resistance to making that fact obvious to everyone.

I'm certainly not in favor of folks toting around automatic rifles. The only valid reason to have an M-16 or an AK-47 is for purposes of armed struggle. So if you own one, then that must be what you are considering. Regardless it doesn't impress me. Any idiot can save up and acquire one on the black market. It doesn't make you special. I'm certainly no fetishist. And that's why I really had no idea what Mikhail Kalishnikov meant to the development of violence in the last century. I guess I might have made some connection to the military issue Soviet-era rifle if pressed. But maybe not.

Anyway, it turns out that this former Russian Army officer is actually still alive. He lives an unassuming life at the foot of the Urals. People from all over the world remember him, and try to contact him. In fact many parents have even named their children after his invention. I learned all of this in the book "Gomorrah" by Roberto Saviano. It tells the story of the Camorra, which is a loose association of clans, kind of like the Costra Nostra mafia in Sicily. But these organized crime outfits are situated in Naples, Italy on the mainland. Apparently they are completely ruthless, and are responsible for rampant international corruption and heinous violence.

In Saviano's book, he tells the story of a white collar Camorrista who has one great wish- to travel to the former Soviet Union and meet Kalishnikov. He gains entry and brings a gift of fancy Buffalo brand mozzarella cheese. They break bread together and sip vodka, and the visitor even gets a glimpse of the very first prototype of the AK-47. Reportedly Kalishnikov relishes the attention he receives. In fact he keeps a prominent collection of photographs of the little namesakes mentioned above. Throughout the world his fanatics are eager to make a connection with this "great man". Yet he comes off in the account as a banal functionary who was fortunate enough to do something of great import.

What Kalishnokov achieved is nothing short of atrocity. He developed a weapon that is portable, lightweight, and easy to clean and operate. It has democratized the business of killing, and thus led to uncountable deaths. His invention is the preferred tool of terrrorists, criminals, and bullies throughout the world. Additionally, a number of genocidal rampages owe their success to the AK-47. And none of this seems to phase the man himself. As Saviano measures him, he is the "man of the market: he does what he has to do to win, and the rest is none of his concern." Except unlike a "great Capitalist", he developed his product for a socialist nation, and thus has nothing to show for his achievement but refracted glory. And a tsunami of blood.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Butler Institute of American Art.

c. David Grim (taken 11/14/10)

On a lark a couple of friends and I decided to drive to Youngstown, Ohio to see a bunch of Ronnie Wood's paintings. While I have been known to enjoy a Rolling Stones song now and again, I have never been a fan of their mid-career rhythm guitarist. That might be because I don't really like any of the albums released after the departure of Mick Taylor. I don't know if it's fair to lay the blame at Wood's feet, but by the mid-70's the Stones were headed full-on into their cheesy destiny. perhaps it was just the times.

But anyway I had nothing else that I wanted to do on a gloomy Sunday afternoon and I decided to drive to the Butler Institute of American Art and check out the scene (apparently the very first American exhibition of "the artist's" work). Fortified by talk and good cheer, we arrived a bit dazed by road-head and espresso, linked up with the rest of our party and milled about. It didn't take too long to find the Wood exhibit. There was a sign at the front stairwell directing our way.

To be brutally honest, I like Ronnie Wood's paintings just about as much as I like the Woods-era Stones. He's painted what I suspect he considers iconic images of his bandmates. In one particularly unfortunate work, he's depicted what looks like Mick J. taking Keith from behind while the latter swoons through one of his solos, a goofy ecstatic grin plastered across the lead singer's mug. Other selections contain similar straightforward depictions of former rock-and-roll glory. The ability is there, but there is simply nothing about the work that compels me to stand in front of it for any substantial length of time.

Meanwhile a series of early drawings shows the early promise Wood had as a comics artist before he fell in with the hedonism of England's most famous rockers. If you must go see this show before it's taken down, make it a point to check out the small enclosed glass cases in the side room. Any hints of Wood's creative talents are evident in those pieces. Still, my disinterest in the main act left much time for me to wander through the galleries and check out other stuff.

I've been in a lot of regional art museums, and as far as these go the Butler Institute is solid if not exceptional. There is a nice variety of stuff, representing most of the major movements of 20th Century art. We had a lot of fun checking out the gallery of holograms and other visual trickery, although I wouldn't characterize that work as "great art". Overall this was a worthwhile destination as a day trip from Pittsburgh, but I wouldn't cross the country solely for the likes of what's included at the Butler. However there are plenty of sights of abandonment and degradation in Youngstown, and I'd consider returning to shoot some of that.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Heard in the Workplace.

c. David Grim (taken 10/31/10)

There's usually not a lot of belly-laughs to be found in a full work day of department meetings. I don't expect to be entertained. The best I can usually ask for is to find enough of interest to keep me awake. To be honest today wasn't even that bad. There was plenty of insight into the current state of the profession, and I realized that I could look forward to the impending shifts bolstered by a sense of my own competence and ability. And I even got a few hearty chuckles along the way.

I had noticed that our first presenter was sporting some sort of medal around his neck, over top of his necktie. It was pretty gaudy, so I naturally wondered what he was thinking with that strange accessory. After awhile he chose to explain what the thing represented, but I believe he probably stepped over some kind of line by repeatedly assuring us that he wasn't a "Special Olympian". Now don't get me wrong- his insistence made me laugh... still I suspect it wasn't his intention to amuse me in the way that he did. I appreciated the situation in the same way I might enjoy a particularly embarrassing Larry David moment. However, he never should have returned to that well again.

Then another colleague shared a catch-phrase that our co-worker (not the same one mentioned above) used to be famous for. He used to say (quite often) that people have three basic needs- food, shelter, and someone to blame. Not only is that entertaining, but there is definitely a certain truth embedded in the quip. The world of work is fraught with opportunities to draw attention to ourselves. What we so often find ourselves looking for is deflection. That kind of thing doesn't stop when we graduate high school.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

From Tanzania to the Metropolitan Correctional Center.

c. David Grim (taken 10/17/10)

Sometimes it's odd what sticks in my head. Listening to the news on the radio while driving can be a very passive enterprise for me. I have to admit that a lot of the stories go by with as little lasting impression as the traffic surrounding me. But occasionally there will be something that strikes me in a particularly poignant way, and I'll be thinking about it on an off for the rest of the day. That happened a couple of days ago when I heard about a man who had been imprisoned in Guantanamo that is having his trial in civilian court, here in the United States. Apparently this is the first such case that will not be decided by a military tribunal.

It's not the controversy surrounding how the fates of suspected terrorists are decided that interests me. Certainly I prefer that the accused receive fair trials (regardless of their point of origin), but I'm not going to lose any sleep worrying about that if it doesn't happen. I'd reserve that kind of concern for US citizens. I'm not at all confident that our justice system works the way it is intended to in a democracy. Still, that's not what I was pondering the other day.

Instead I was imagining what it must be like to be incarcerated in a foreign nation and awaiting a trial. It's one thing to be kept with a group of your comrades in a military stockade, and quite another to be in 'gen pop' with another country's ne'er-do-wells. I don't know whether the man in question is kept in solitary, or whether they've got him with everyone else at Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan. If it is the latter, it must be extremely weird to be among a group of hardened criminals who speak a different language and have been saturated by a radically different culture. Personally I'd be disconsolate, and (probably) soiling my pants regularly- especially if I had been accused of trying to attack the nation that had me in custody.

Yikes. What a sense of isolation that man must be feeling. And what a future he faces if he is found guilty. The chances of him returning to his home are likely slim, given the way those who have had association with al-Qaeda are viewed here in the US. What makes it even more tense is that there is no precedent for this. Any sentence short of death will meet heavy resistance from the extremists in this country. No matter what stress I might feel in my own life right now, I'm glad I'm not Ahmed Ghailani from Tanzania.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

William Wesley's "Scarecrows".

c. David Grim (taken 10/23/10)*

Lately I've been starting to catch up on the huge backlog of DVD's I bought over the years and never took the time to watch. Several different factors have led to this eventuality. Over the past year I have become extremely conscious of money, and I'm just not buying movies (and other pop culture detritus) with the same easygoing manner that I used to have. Usually I make a couple of bulk purchases from Amazon every year, but I didn't do it this year. Additionally, a lot of the video rental outlets that used to put interesting stuff on their pre-viewed shelves have since closed. And that's a shame.

But I have had fun seeing some of the stuff I have been saving for a "rainy day". I've been going through the whole run of McSweeney's DVD magazine of shorts entitled Wholphin. My friend and I will get together and I'll pop in the disc with no idea about what we'll be seeing. the accompanying hint of being on a voyage of discovery is fun. I'd recommend the series without reservations, especially since all of the volumes are still readily available at reasonable prices.

The season has also prompted me to watch a horror film I've been sitting on for awhile. "Scarecrows" was made in 1988 by William Wesley- a man who has made exactly two feature films over his career. It involves a group of bank robbers in paramilitary gear who hijack a plane and then parachute into a rural area once one of their number attempts a betrayal. they spend a lot of time hovering around a mysterious backwoods house that has been 'abandoned', and running around a spooky cornfield while trying to catch up with their erstwhile colleague. Obviously there are a number of scarecrows placed haphazardly throughout the landscape.

"Scarecrows" definitely has quite a bit of cheese to choke on. The acting is pretty bad, the writing is disjointed and often sophomoric, and the editing leaves a lot to be desired. The atmosphere, much commented upon in the Amazon reviews I initially read about the movie, was actually sort of tainted by poor lighting and the sense that the actors were running around a remarkably small set. Yet there was still something about this flick that kept me from being pissed for having eagerly awaited its release on the DVD format, and spending the 80 minutes (or so) to actually watch it.

I'm not exactly sure how to characterize Wesley's intention. There is more than a little suggestion of ol' fire-and-brimstone Christianity in this script, and in the visual symbolism. The Golgotha-like placement of the crosses that hold the scarecrows is a bit ham-handed, but it makes the viewer suspect there is a bit more concept in all of this than in your typical 80's slasher. Some folks might be put off by the lack of concrete answers and explanation for the odd events that occur throughout, as well as the complete evasion of any attempt to explore an origination story for the monsters. But others will simply marvel at the cheap special effects that somehow give the impression that the filmmakers want to make you shrink away in disgust.

* Not that I ever feel particularly compelled to draw a strong connection between the posts and the images here... but today they share very little in common.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Only Time.

c. David Grim (taken 10/17/10)

"Time is important to me now, I tell myself. Not that it should pass quickly or slowly, but be only
time, be something I live inside and fill with physical things and activities that I can divide it up by, so that it grows distinct to me and does not vanish when I am not looking."

-Narrator, "Out Stealing Horses" by Per Petterson

It's not often anymore that I am so bowled over by a quote in a novel that I actually take the time to pull it from the text and record it elsewhere. But when I read this I was happy that I found a copy of this book at a garage sale for a buck this past weekend. It was on my radar, but I probably would have never taken the chance on this title if I had to pay much more than I did for it. I came across the author on Amazon after reading something that the site's search engine considered similar. Still I hadn't really been convinced that it was a "can't miss" selection.

Anyway... so far I'm enjoying the read. It's quiet and contemplative and gentle. But those words themselves are not. In fact they resound with authority, especially now that I am 40 years old. I've explained to others how I first experienced a serious sense of imminence when I turned 30. Nowadays that sense is almost overwhelming. One of the worst fates I can imagine is wasting time. I find myself structuring my days, and making deliberate choices about how to best spend my hours.

I don't want my life to pass by unnoticed. God forbid that I should reach the age of 80 and wonder what I did with the last several decades. Within the last couple of years I have learned how things might look when I view them with regret. That's not to say that I think I have made terrible choices, but rather that I want to make sure to avoid doing so in the future. And to cede intentionality in the favor of temporary amusement or consumption seems like a lousy decision to me. I just feel like I'm in a phase of considerable reassessment.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Pittsburgh Weekend Art Events: 11/5-6/10.

c. David Grim (taken 10/23/10)


It's once again time for the critical mass of the arts scene on First Friday. Of course enough is packed into this one day to fill the social calendars of discriminating viewers for the entire month, but we'll take what we can get and try to jam as much as possible into our limited hours.

Start with Unblurred in the Penn Avenue Corridor. As always it's a great opportunity for you to see a lot of stuff by a lot of different artists in one compact area. Check out Fumino Hora's installation at the Pittsburgh Glass Center- "The Way of Samsara" has to do with the cycle of reincarnation. Perhaps that's just the angle of perspective we need going into another cold season. Or maybe William W. Wade's non-characteristic attempts at experimental photography is more your speed? You can see that at Imagebox (4933 Penn Ave).

"Round 5: An exhibition of the Brewhouse Distillery Art Program" will be opening at C Space: Collective (4823 Penn Ave), and highlighting the efforts of Aimee Manion, Meghan Olson, Jaci Rice, Kara Skylling. and Ryan Woodring. And Unblurred veterans Jason Rosemeyer & Christian Breitkreutz will display their stuff at Modern Formations (4919 Penn Avenue). Meanwhile Garfield Artworks (4931 Penn) is jam-packed with work by Dennis Warner, Obsolete, Tom Jefferson, Ian Green, John Fox, Gnome, and Elma.

You could also head over to swellsville and check out Gallery Chiz (5831 Ellsworth Avenue). They have a selection of ceramics artists to honor the AAP Centennial. Perpetual favorite Laura Jean McLaughlin is one of the featured participants (along with Jane Freund, Marcia Winograd & Jordann Siri Wood). That runs from 5:30-8:30PM. The one-word descriptions included on the press material should be all you need to understand what each artist is up to. Meanwhile the German-born Jens Jensen is showing his colorful abstract paintings at the Steve Mendelson Gallery (5874 Ellsworth Avenue) from 6-8PM.

Did you check out the Three Rivers Arts Festival this year? If you did you likely saw the work of prize-winners Deanna Mance and Maria Mangano. And you can see it again at the 709 Penn Gallery (Downtown) at their opening reception between 6-8PM. But if you want to step off the beaten path, go to Point Breeze for an exhibition of Steve Hankin at his studio space (408 Lloyd Street). His realist style of painting can be appreciated from 6-8PM.


Unfortunately some venues seem so far removed from the center of activity on the local arts scene that events tend to be neglected. Don't let that be the case forever. Get out to Hopmestead to visit Artspace 105 (105 East 8th Street) and see the drawings and watercolors of Rachna Rajen. The artist was a refugee from the first Gulf War, and is reputedly interested in electronica and other"aspects of modern life". This gets underway at 7PM.

Yelena Lamm unveils her sharply rendered paintings at Panza Gallery (115 Sedgwick St, Millvale) in an opening reception for "Forbidden Fruit" from 6-9PM. Naturally I'll be looking forward to that.

The Christine Frechard Gallery (5871 Forbes Ave) over in Squirrel Hill is also hosting a reception from 5-8PM. Jane Haskell and Jeffrey Schwarz are the featured artists.

All weekend

Will this year FINALLY be the one that marks my long-awaited return visit to the films of the Three Rivers Film Festival? Who knows? But YOU can check out the entire schedule at the official site.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Got Crime Literature?!

c. David Grim (taken 10/24/10)

After watching the HBO series "The Wire" last year, I'm always on the lookout for other works by those involved in the show. I've made myself pretty clear on this subject before, but it's worth repeating- "The Wire" is absolutely one of the best television shows ever made. I'm not even into police procedurals. They generally leave me bored. I don't know why that is, but I suspect it has something to do with tone. The characters always seem to sleepwalk through the cases and act out their parts in very stereotypical ways. I guess it's because the average media-consumer prefers that.

"The Wire", on the other hand, was densely constructed and consistently absorbing. It explored not only its specific locale (inner-city Baltimore), but also presented social themes which permeate the entire nation. The series was epic and featured fine performances by a cast of actors who were only vaguely recognizable from previous work. For most of the players, their roles on "The Wire" will define them in American pop culture throughout their careers. That's how iconic this show is/was.

Possibly the most essential elements to the success of "The Wire" were its conception and articulation. David Simon is a near genius producer, and his work on "Homicide" set a baseline of expectations for every projsct he's been involved with since (his latest series is "Treme"- an examination of culture and life in post-Katrina New Orleans). For "The Wire" he assembled an excellent group of crime writers, including luminaries like Dennnis Lehane, George Pelecanos and Richard Price. I was impressed enough with their efforts to track down some of their individual works.

In fact I recently finished Price's "Lush Life"- an exploration of tragedy, crime, and social class on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. He has enough talent to balance the varying perspectives of the "hip denizens" of Giuliani-era gentrification, the ethnic pioneers who have been living on the Island for decades, the project kids who struggle for survival and street glory, and the gritty cops who try to negotiate a workable peace between these factions. His ear for authentic dialog is just about unparallelled in the genre, and serves to elevate the material to the realm of quality literary fiction. At the risk of sounding cliché, I might call his style "Dickensian".

It really shouldn't be any surprise that I enjoyed "Lush life" as much as I did. The writers who contributed to the complexity and trenchant social commentary of "The Wire" all seem to shy away from the pat conclusions, easy answers, and moralistic certainties that so many other creators tend to embrace and rely on. Richard Price is certainly no exception, and I plan on picking up more of his titles in the future.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Just Folks.

c. David Grim (taken 10/10/10)

On the way to work I heard some folks talking about the election. The interviewer was asking them how they felt about the current direction of government. One guy commented that he thought that Washington was out-of-step with the mainstream. That made me consider the definition of the word. What is the actual "mainstream" of the United States of America? It's like trying to define the word "normal". Haven't we all already agreed that it is impossible? Sure, there exists some statistical aggregate of the "average". But for every such formulation you have to substantially limit your variables to attain any clear impression.

You might be "normal" when it comes to the house you reside in, or the number of children you have, or the amount of fat you eat every day... but I guarantee you I could find just as many abnormalities that apply to you as well. So how can anyone presume to really represent the "mainstream", or have any idea what "it" believes? A more appropriate question to ask is just how broad a sampling of the population any one individual can relate to. Because whoever has the ability to expand his/her empathy to the widest spectrum has the best ability to ascertain what the "mainstream" is.

I've been thinking a lot about this in different ways over the years. I live in an urban area- which means I'm surrounded by a density of people with a large and diverse cross-section of social classes, attitudes, interests, and lifestyles. And to add to that, I work in the exurbs where I encounter an entirely different group of people with an entirely disparate set of perspectives. I spend an almost equal amount of my waking hours in these two settings. Additionally, on my way to work I alternate listening to conservative talk radio and NPR. I could therefore make the case that I am exposed to multiple sections of the population regularly, and thus have some ability to compare and contrast.

Still I can't tell you what the "mainstream" is, and I expect that you can't either. And I'm damn sure that the person who claims to represent that fictional construct is talking out of his ass in the service of persuasion. But I'm not certain whether or not he knows that he is making this crap up. The assertion that he is truly representative of "the middle" is delivered in such a sanctimonious way that I suspect he hasn't really given too much consideration to the accuracy of his claims. No... instead he has the unthinking audacity to speak for "America" when he is merely parroting a set of ideas and opinions that have been force fed him by whatever media outlet he follows.

Perhaps I'm overreacting to what amounts to a very common subconscious process. Still I've had about as much as I can stand from these jerk-offs who insist that they embody the "just-folks-iness" that everyone who disagrees with them so clearly lacks. If we haven't learned the very real dangers of this kind of populist crap by now (especially in the wake of the violence of the 20th century), then we will never see our situation clearly enough to aspire to any serviceable consensus. We might as well draw the new borders right now. What's the point of continuing the false pretense of a "United" States when so many are so clearly addicted to the us vs. them mentality?

Monday, November 1, 2010

Casting a Narrow Net.

c. David Grim (taken 10/23/10)

I read something strange in Richard Price's book "Lush Life"- "A deer never travels more than a mile from where it was born and always walks in the path of its ancestors." Now, I have NO idea whether such a claim is true, and after a five-minute internet search I suspect that it is not. However it is a very fascinating claim nonetheless. Perhaps it's simply received wisdom among those that grew up hunting. Price grew up a middle-class Jewish kid in the Bronx, and stayed there for college, so if I had to guess I'd say that he wouldn't know for sure. But of course I could be mistaken.

I guess this contention makes some sense. After all, the wilderness in this nation is so denuded that there aren't many tracts of unspoiled land for deer to roam free in. Furthermore, what unspoiled areas remain are interrupted by roads. Animals often find their ends as moving targets for automobiles, so evolution could slowly be selecting for the wily deer that stick to the known paths. But I'm sure scientists would say that there is no way that natural selection can work so quickly. I'm as much a scientist as I am a hunter.

Anyway, it's a poetic conceit nonetheless, regardless of its accuracy. We see deer as leaping freely and bounding through a world of wooded possibility. We generally don't view them as circumscribed by tradition. Nor do they emanate from our imaginations as symbols for attachment to place. The idea that there is something substantial to learn about their migration patterns is enticing. After all, they are the largest mammal to regularly choose to place themselves on the periphery of human activity.

Ultimately Price's claim serves simply as a contrast/comparison to human behavior. He employs it to comment on the phenomenon of urban criminals typically carrying out their misdeeds close to home base. Maybe the layperson would suggest engaging in unsavory acts far from one's domicile. I can't attest to the relative worth of such a suggestion, as I have generally managed to keep my nose clean. But in the end maybe we are simply animals, and there is something to be gained by examining the habits of those creatures closest (at least in proximity) to us. Folk storytellers have been doing so for centuries.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

I don't know. What are YOU gonna be?

c. David Grim (taken 10/23/10)

Every Halloween it's the same story. I hear about all the cool things to do and I want to enage fully in the spirit of the season. I love this holiday, as I think I made clear in an earlier post. Yet somehow I always get too distracted to put together a costume. I get an invitation to a party that suggests that I don a disguise, yet I end up feeling too lazy to bother. It just doesn't seem worth the effort at the time. Besides, what would I be? I guess I could go out to one of those megastores and figure it out. I could rent a pre-made thing and be done with it. I could even just get a mask. But I never do.

Have I ever worn a costume? Sure. Back in the day I actually gave some thought to what I'd be weeks ahead of time. But other than teh time I was inspired by teh movie "Dead Presidents", I've always been overshadowed. I've had a few friends that have really put a lot of energy and time into making their own stuff to wear. One guy used to use what he learned from the world of stage make-up to create ensembles that would make me retch just to look at them. On one particularly memorable occasion he donned the look of a burn victim, complete with pus-filled blisters that he would cut into periodically with a razor blade when no one was looking. I couldn't even eat M and M's at that party.

Another friend used to regularly make an elaborate spectacle out of himself. He made a suit completely out of bubble wrap and wore it over his tighty-whitey's. Another time he chose a Hawaiian shirt and carried around a jerry-rigged beachcombing device. He had fun putting that in people's faces all night. His most offensive selection was when he chose to be a "special needs" student for Halloween. I'm not going into the details of that get-up. People were either entertained or scandalized by that. There was very little middle ground. It's really a shame that I don't see him anymore. I always miss him especially around this time of the year.

In recent years I have let my reticence to put something together serve as an excuse to skip the festivities altogether. Inevitably, if I show up in regular clothes I end up feeling lame compared with all the folks that made the effort. Then I promise myself that I'll try harder next year. But it doesn't happen. This time around I just went out resolved to enjoy other people's costumes without feeling self-conscious. And I took my camera with me. It turns out that the way I've been shooting the last few years is particularly conducive to shooting subjects with make-up and garish clothing. So I had lots of fun regarless.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Tom Corbett is a Sell-Out.

c. David Grim (taken 10/23/10)

I'll freely admit that I don't know a whole lot about the Marcellus Shale deposits, nor do I completely understand all the issues surrounding the leasing of Pennsylvania lands for drilling. To this date I've mostly been keeping my ears and eyes open, and slowly gathering whatever information I might glean about this topic. I have some friends who are active in promoting awareness about what's going on, and I've heard their viewpoints. But I'm not sure exactly how I stand on it all.

The truth is that I would definitely err on the side of caution. I've had a bit of exposure to the documentary "Gasland", that told the story of a cross-country roadtrip taken by filmmaker Josh Fox, who was on a mission to uncover the real deal regarding drilling. What he uncovered is some pretty nasty stuff that I won't try to summarize here. Suffice it to say that there is a very real danger that our water table will be polluted by the activities of the gas drilling companies. Obviously those entities are much more concerned about making huge profits than protecting the health of those who live in the areas that they seek to operate. that should be no surprise.

So why do so few of our local and state politicians seem worried about the potentially devastating effects of drilling? They are being bought off. Tom Corbett, Republican nominee for PA Governor, has received almost a million dollars (to date) from gas drilling interests. He has worked strenuously (alongside his Republicans cronies in the PA Senate) to kill the proposed severance tax increases for drilling in Pennsylvania. He claims that he is acting to ensure that jobs stay here in the state. Of course this is a ridiculous contention, as the Marcellus Shale deposits can't get up and move down South to avoid any taxes that might be levied.

At least Ed Rendell is doing something about this. He has placed a moratorium on opening up new state forest lands for leasing by drilling companies. He has pointed out that every other state that contains Marcellus Shale deposits already has a severance tax above and beyond what any GOP legislator in PA is willing to administer. But the PA Senate has stonewalled, and now their session has lapsed without any action. Rendell's response is at least a symbolic gesture of resistance against the power of the corporations. But the measure doesn't stop the drilling that has already started in PA state-owned forests. And it will be overturned if Corbett wins the election. He is already bought and paid for.

The troubling thing is that NO ONE in power in PA is suggesting that maybe it would be a good idea to follow the state of New York and ban fracking altogether. The only reason to stumble ahead and allow unfettered drilling without a public investigation of its hazards, and a resulting dialog, is the desperate drive for mad profits. The corporations that have come here to do this are from out-of-state, and any profits they extract from our land will be taken out as well. They are even employing mostly out-of-state workers. Most tragically, they are despoiling our natural resources, and Corbett doesn't want them to get taxed? And he seeks to "serve" as state executive? Why not just elect a drilling company CEO instead?