Sunday, July 15, 2012

OBJECT #14: Ignition Chicken

    As I speculated in my last blog entry, I did have to clean up and organize a bit this week.  I tackled the one place in my house that has remained untackled since we moved in ten years ago-- the closet under the basement stairs.  I’ve stashed all kinds of things in the front part of the closet, but the back part of the closet goes way back under the bottom section of the stairs.  The former owners had left some boards and stuff under there but the space never seemed usable enough to make it worth the trouble of digging everything out.

    Can’t say why I woke up one morning and decided to tackle that closet, but in just several hours I had unearthed some REAL junk in my basement.  Not cool science stuff.  Junk.  A mammoth stack of lumber from the 1960s, two pre-1970 wooden baseball bats, and 17 pieces of clay pipe, each a foot long and about 10 pounds in weight.  And an antique wooden ironing board in very bad condition (though I did know about that one before I began cleaning).  That’s the kind of junk no one wants to hear about.  (And, mercifully, is not too hard to get rid of if you use the semi-miraculous phenomenon of craigslist-- a great place to pick up stuffed coyotes and get rid of chunks of pipe.)

    This week I feel compelled to do a memorial tribute to “Ignition Chicken.”  Ignition Chicken was brutally murdered, smashed to tiny bits on the patio.  I was the criminal, though I plead “manslaughter” because I didn’t see how far the end of the door I was carrying extended out into the corner of the gazebo.  I thought I had enough clearance.

    Ignition Chicken got her name from her contents.  I can’t even remember where she came from originally. She sat on the top shelf of my kitchen for a number of years until one day I got her down and decided to give her life meaning and purpose.  She eventually ended up out by the patio full of matches and other flammables. She always looked heavily armed with grill-starter bazookas.  She’s been on duty for about three years now, perched on a little corner ledge under our gazebo.  And never once a close call with falling off, quite amazingly.

    My mistake was working alone.  I was hoisting a full-size door from the patio table (where I had attached hardware to it) over to a place where I could put a coat of varnish on it.  I was having a bit of trouble managing maneuvering the door, and one corner scraped across the patio ledge where poor Ignition Chicken was sitting, no doubt in anticipatory terror as she saw the monstrosity coming and was unable to cluck a warning from her porcelain beak.  She died at her post, patiently waiting for the next bonfire.

    It’s not the first time a member of my family has eulogized a piece of china ware.  As a child, my sister composed a poem about a glass custard cup that had fallen from the dish drain while she and I were doing the dishes. She wanted to inform our mother of the accident in a gracious way.  I still remember the title: “Charles E. Custardcup, RIP, “ and a few of the lines. “Alas, poor Chuckie, too young was he; he ne’er had a crack at his destiny!”

    I don’t have time to compose a poem for Ignition Chicken, but since I happen to have a picture of her (taken on a day when I was photo-cataloging junk in my basement), I thought the least I could do was post her picture as a tribute to her years of faithful guardianship.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

OBJECT #13: Mounted Coyote

    This piece just came into my basement this week.  But it’s so awesome I felt I had to write about it, rather than choose something that’s been around for years.  Unbelievably, I found this coyote listed on craigslist!  A taxidermist out in the country (I live in town) (small town) has mounted this for a customer and then the customer never showed up to collect it.  The taxidermist sent repeated mailings to this person letting them know that it would be sold if they did not pick it up.  So at last it went up for sale on craigslist.  (I won’t tell the exact price, but I’ll say three figures, not two.

    I didn’t buy this because I feel a need for more junk in my basement.  Despite all the discouragements and unbelievable odds against me, I still cling to a hope that someday I will be able to realize my dream of having a small science/nature center.  I build small exhibits and show them at several outdoor venues during the summer.  My biggest one of the year is coming up in July and I want a few new things that haven’t been there previous years.  I also want to look as much like a “real” nature center as possible, and nothing says, “I run a real nature center,” like a stuff coyote! I had a feeling that someday I would kick myself if I didn't take the gamble and go ahead and get this coyote.

    This is a male eastern Coyote, and was “harvested” in Pennsylvania during the winter.  It has its rough winter coat.  In PA, coyotes can be hunted during certain seasons, so it was taken legally.  Coyotes are nocturnal, so even though I’ve almost certainly got some living within two miles or less from my house, I’ve never seen one.  Few people I know have ever seen one in the wild (or at all if they don’t go to zoos) so I think it’s really neat to have a real one, even a stuffed one, that people can get up close to.  This guy is really beautiful.  He can help people appreciate wildlife in  way that they could not otherwise do.

    Where to keep him when I’m done exhibiting him?  Yikes, I think I’ll have to clean and reorganize!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

OBJECT #12: Phaser

    This is a relic from my teen years.  I discovered Star Trek at about age 12, as a week day afternoon re-run on our 12-inch black and white television in the basement.  My parents only used the television on rare occasions like a televised Pirates or the Steelers playoff game.  I don’t remember how or why I discovered Star Trek, but it didn’t take me long to became a Trekkie.  Kids today have no concept of what it is like to have extremely limited access to tv shows and movies.  Star Trek came on at 5 pm and if you didn’t catch the first part of the episode, who knows how long it would be before you’d ever see that bit again.  78 more episodes had to air before you’d come back to that one again!  (Although it seemed that certain episodes aired more frequently than others.)   I’ve told me kids (probably too many times) that when Star Wars came out, some avid fans would go to the theater to see it several nights every week.  Kind of extreme, but not quite so much when you consider that before VCRs, when a film went out of circulation, it was gone.  All you had were your memories.

    When I was about 13 I went with my family to San Francisco to visit relatives.  My parents were kind enough to take me to a Star Trek store in Berkeley.  A whole store filled with Star Trek stuff.  I had saved my allowance for weeks ahead of time but found that even with all that saving I couldn’t afford most of the things in the shop.  I bought an “official” uniform emblem patch and some other similar small items, but left without any props or uniforms.  I don’t remember being disheartened, though.  I think I was inspired.  When I got some I went to work making my own props.

    I decided to tackle something easy first, and I made a tribble.  A tribble is just a ball of fur. No legs, no eyes, no mouth, no ears.  Tribbles were easy.  I kept those tribbles for years, but it’s been just long enough now that I’ve lost track of what became of them.  Many of my childhood items finally met their end when my oldest children were small.  They loved to play with Mom’s stuff and did so frequently enough that... certain incidents occurred.  We’ll leave it at that.

    I found a blue long-sleeved shirt and stitched the official patch on the chest and some glittered rick-rick trim around the cuffs.  Fortunately for me, costume design had not reached the degree of sophistication it has today.  It was relatively easy to create a fairly authentic looking uniform.

    I made some Vulcan ears out of foam and painted them with acrylic paints, trying to match them to my skin tone.  I don’t think they were very convincing.  I had much better success with the props.  I had been working with wood since I was about three years old.  My parents tell me I started pounding nails into boards at a very young age.  I almost cut off my finger with a coping saw at age six, but that did not deter me at all.  I just learned not to be careful.  (The only other accident I remember was several years later when I slipped with an X-Acto wood carving knife and found out that blood can spurt, not just leak.)   So by my teen years I had all my major mishaps behind me and had learned how to use tools pretty well.

    I had already purchased some plastic model kits--a phaser, a communicator and a tricorder-- so I had more than just photos to guide me.  The plastic models were pathetically small, though.  The phaser looked way too small even when held by a child.  I wanted a real phaser.  So I took measurement and doubled the size of the plastic model.  This may have been the first time I used a large block of wood and I can’t remember how I actually cut it.   It must have used my trusty coping saw. Some of the details were made of foil.  I did not know much about types of glue back then and it’s amazing that the whole thing stayed together with just white glue.   The communicator is a little worse for the wear, as the homemade metal hinge was a bit delicate.

    Several years later, as an older teen, I made a tiny phaser as a necklace charm.  It’s not junk in my basement, as it resides in an old jewelry box in my bedroom.  (Burglars would be very disappointed with the contents of that jewelry box:  phaser necklace, Sunday School attendance award pins, a cheaply made bagpipe pin, a Roman coin, a few other award pins, and my collection of my primary teeth (well, the Tooth Fairy would have thrown them out, so I decided to keep them).  
      When I switched from Star Trek to Star Wars, I created a Chewbacca suit and a Darth Vader mask.  But those are junk in my attic.  When I run out of junk in my basement, I’ll have plenty of material left in my attic.