Hometown of John Waters Does Not Disappoint in its Quirkiness

Downtown Urban Decay

I rarely write travelogue pieces, but a September 2014 2-day trip to John Water’s hometown of Baltimore warrants this for the oddities and wonders encountered. My daughter and I took a BoltBus from NYC to Baltimore in mid-September, heading to the Natural Products Expo East. It was with a little trepidation that I booked the bus trip – the reviews on Bolt, Peter Pan, Greyhound, and Megabus leave you wishing you had a fast Porsche instead. In retrospect, glad we didn’t take a Megabus – quite a few accidents in the last months.

Hopping in a cab near my daughter’s West Village apartment, we got snarled up in Chelsea traffic along 10th Avenue. We finally made it to the rather odd location for our journey – 33rd Street between 11 and 12th Avenues. The bus trip there was not half as bad as some of the Yelp reviews, but nevertheless, I found myself wondering how the heck anyone over 5” 3” could possibly fit his or her legs into this cramped space. We mainly listened to our iPods and I found myself fascinated looking straight into the faces of truck drivers who were at my eye level for the first time, trying to snap photos of them at the right moment. The highlight was crossing the pretty Delaware River, as I summoned images of George Washington doing so in 1776, or to be more accurate, the painting by Emauel Leutze depicting this valiant event.

Crossing the Delaware River

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Reflections on a New York City Christmas

Washington Square Park - Christmas 2012

I have been experiencing a wave of nostalgia – it comes with age and recent losses of dear friends and our beloved little kitty Pepper. For me, the holidays seem to inspire reflections on the past – thinking back to how much New York City used to mean to me at Christmas. I have been digging up wonderful Christmas-related NYC photos from the Library of Congress and decided to delve into my own archives to see what I could find.

Santa Claus on Broadway, 1903, Detroit Publishing Co.

When I was a child and up through about 2004, my parents would visit NYC every December for an annual psychiatric meeting at the Waldorf Astoria. While my dad was attending lectures, my mom would go window shopping with some of her friends. As children, my sisters and I always looked forward to my parents coming home with intriguing presents. My dad would also visit Russ & Daughters and purchase obscene amounts of candy that he had shipped home. Chocolate covered coffee beans, pastel chocolate mint lentils, and chocolate covered raspberry rings are the candies that I remember most. He would tell me stories about buying pretzels and roasted chestnuts from street vendors, shopping at B. Altman, Gimbels, and other now defunct stores; telling me tales that made it sound so magical. Continue Reading

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Natural Products Expo East 2014 Highlights

The entertainment

My daughter has been wanting to go to this show ever since we attended the spectacular Expo West show in Anaheim in March 2012. The Baltimore show is much smaller, but nevertheless, a lot of fun and exhausting. I concentrated my efforts on finding unique companies that might need my marketing communications services, as well as looking for artisanal potato chips and honey. I also was determined to pick up some samples of Vitamin D and goat soap. Admittedly, potato chips and honey have always been two of my favorite indulgences, I was recently diagnosed with a low Vitamin D level, and I have been on a goat product kick for a while.

Saratoga Chips Line

I was delighted to find the Original Saratoga Chips booth, especially when I saw the Sea Salt & Balsamic Vinegar Chips. I am always on the lookout for unique flavors in kettle chips. Rachelle Boff and Keith Snovely were very nice and gave me a full size bag of the original chips. This is indeed America’s original kettle chip with a fascinating history dating back to 1853. I hope they expand and start selling these delicious chips in the Midwest. This chip gets my vote for the best of show in this category. Second place goes to One Potato Two Potato for their kettle chips and cute name. Continue Reading

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Now I Have One More Thing in Common with Hillary Clinton – Concussion

Concussion Collage

Although I don’t always agree with her, I admire Hillary Clinton greatly – and we have a few things in common. We both grew up in the Chicago suburbs, are Democrats, and have just one beloved daughter, but now we have one more thing in common. Ironic that when I wrote a press release for a journal article on concussion less than a month ago and mentioned Hillary, that I would be joining her as a concussed patient. I have been researching and writing about this topic since 2004, and I suddenly find myself experiencing this type of traumatic brain injury firsthand.

The most underreported, under diagnosed and underestimated head injury is concussion, accounting for 90 percent of traumatic brain injuries, with the number of cases ranging in the millions every year. The brain is a soft organ that is surrounded by spinal fluid and protected by the hard skull. Normally, this fluid acts like a cushion that keeps your brain from banging into your skull. But if you hit your head or body hard, the brain can crash into your skull and sustain an injury.  Continue Reading

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Man on the Moon – Windy City Dreamin’ 1969 Flashback Ads

While cleaning out my parent’s basement, I discovered a bunch of old newspaper clips from the Apollo 11 moon landing, dated July 21, 22, 23, and 24, 1969. The clips themselves are intriguing, although essentially worthless from a monetary standpoint. I actually found myself more fascinated by the ads. I have highlighted a few of the business of yesteryear that once upon a time graced the Windy City. Although I have blogged about other defunct Chi-Town shops, this article only features retail stores for which I found ads – a subsequent article will cover a few cultural venues unearthed in these clips.

Benson-Rixon

Benson-Rixon Ad

Benson-Rixon men’s store had multiple locations, including the flagship location at 230 South State Street – now home to a McDonalds on the ground level. This is not a store that my dad frequented – he was a Brooks Brothers guy through and through! This store has a fascinating history – in the ad it is called Benson-Rixon, but other references refer to the store as Benson & Rixon. Hans A. Rixon, born in 1864, the son of a German manufacturer of woolen goods, immigrated to Chicago with his family. In 1886, he started clerking for Charles Rixon at 701 Milwaukee Avenue and served as the store’s general manager. In 1890, he opened his own gent’s clothing shop at 851 North Avenue, continuing this business until 1895. He then combined his business with Mr. Rixon’s business, moving to 1730 Milwaukee Avenue. In 1896, Mr. Rixon became a partner and vice president of the Benson-Rixon store, originally established by Paul J. Benson and Albert Rixon in 1889. According to an excerpt from the History of Cook County, Illinois, by 1909, the gentlemen owned three stores.  Continue Reading

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Random Thrift Store Encounter Leads to Artist Sleuthing

Sometimes the oddest random encounter leads to sleuthing. In this case, a visit to the Salvation Army Family Store in Mundelein led to my interest in an artist known as Countess Zichy, as well as the NYC-based publisher Edward Gross that printed reproductions of many of her paintings. Erzsebet Podvinecz, often went by the name Maria, but painted under the name Countess Maria Zichy after she emigrated to the U.S.

Zichy Ben Franklin

Erzsebet (Elizabeth) Maria Podvinecz was born in Budapest, Hungary on June 29, 1893 to Daniel Podvinecz and Hermina Racz (Rosenberg). Daniel Podvinecz was somewhat famous in his own right, an industrialist who built motors and motorcars. In 1901, at the tender age of 25, Daniel and his 24-year-old partner Vilmos Heisler, started assembling Austrian Leesdorfer cars. Their work is acknowledged as important in the creation of MÁG (later known as Magomobil – Hungarian General Machine Factory Corp.), the most important Hungarian vehicle manufacturer before World War II, based in Budapest. Continue Reading

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Burlington – Not the Railroad, But an Ugly Merchandise Depot

I am a sucker for off-rack clothing stores because I love bargain shopping. I am a fan of T.J. Maxx, Marshalls, Ross, and Nordstrom Rack – although I don’t shop as frequently now that I am self-employed. There were also a few more obscure stores that I frequented many years ago that are all out of business – Dimensions in Fashion, Extreme Value, Value City, etc.

These Pants Rendered Me Speechless

I am forever amazed when I walk into a Burlington Coat Factory. I have purchased items here over the years, but the ugliness factor of their clothing has increased at a greater rate than inflation. And going to one location in particular is as good as Walmart for people-watching – and I am being kind. Nowadays, if I am in the neighborhood, I walk in here for sheer amusement, not expecting to buy anything. Most of the clothes are so hideous that I cannot believe that they were made in the first place, and secondly, that anybody would buy them. I have never seen a single soul parading around in some of the freakish creations they sell on the racks here.

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Ahead of Her Time – Jessie Tarbox Beals Paved a Path of Innovation for Female Photographers

Jessie Tarbox Beals

Twenty-eight years before the great female photographer Berenice Abbott was born in Springfield, Ohio on July 17, 1898, a pioneering documentary photographer named Jessie Tarbox Beals was born on December 23, 1870 in Hamilton, Ontario. While Abbott has long been a favorite of mine along with the wonderful female photographers Helen Levitt (1913-2009) and Ruth Orkin (1921-1985), Beals was not on my list until recently. I readily admit this oversight with remorse and humility and she is now the subject of my devotion and fascination. While the aforementioned photographers may have possessed greater cache in the art world during their lifetime and post-death, and perhaps more bravura technique, Beals overcame more insurmountable odds due to her place in time. All three of these photographers are synonymous with capturing New York City life … and all of them surely had to encounter the challenges and prejudice of working in a male-dominated field.

Diana in the Snow

Abbott was influenced greatly by the French photographer Eugene Atget, whose artistic goal was to document all of the architecture and street scenes of Paris before these cityscapes succumbed to modernization. She moved to NYC in 1918, but left for Europe in 1921 to study sculpture and painting in Berlin and Paris. It wasn’t until 1923, when Man Ray hired her as a darkroom assistant at his Parisian portrait studio that she realized photography was her calling. She returned to NYC in 1929, reportedly to find an American publisher for Atget’s photographs, and it dawned on her that she had to capture the city’s ephemeral landscape much as Atget had done in his beloved Paris. I cannot find any mention of this, but surely Abbott had to be aware of Beals’ work. Continue Reading

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Rawhide Not Your Typical Western … and How About Those Bronze Sculptures

Rawhide

In general, I am not a huge fan of Western television shows with a few exceptions, but I have to say that Rawhide, which aired from 1959-1965, is notable for many reasons. First of all, it made a household name out of a young Clint Eastwood, who played Rowdy Gaines. Second, many now famous actors/actresses got their starts as guest stars on the show, sometimes appearing in more than one episode. Third, during the seventh season, the opening sequence featured live action shots of the actors beings portrayed that transform into intriguing bronze sculptures. This is what really piqued my interest and inspired me to dig further and write an article about this unique Western television series. And that led to my fascination with Eric Fleming, who played Rowdy’s boss Gil Favor. A special thanks to Ellen Thorp for creating When Westerns Ruled and her in-depth and touching article on Fleming.

Eric Fleming – Gil Favor

Eric Fleming was born Edward Heddy Jr. on July 4, 1925 in Santa Paula, Calif. His dad was physically abusive towards him, and at the age of 9, there was a particularly sadistic episode in which his dad beat him so badly with the end of a belt buckle, that he was unable to get up for two days. When he recovered, the young Fleming reacted by holding a revolver to his dad’s head, trying to kill him. The gun misfired and Fleming ran away, hopping on a freight train. He ended up in gangs, committing thefts and petty crimes, until the age of 11, when he was badly injured in a gang fight and busted by the police. They were going to send him back to his dad, but when they saw the look of terror in his eyes, they sent him to live with his mom. Continue Reading

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The Peculiar Paradox of the US Post Office

Jim Day USPS Cartoon

I never would have guessed when I bought postage online and chose to receive tracking at USPS.com that they would be so anal – this is the polar opposite of the service I receive at my local post offices. At the latter, the attitude of most of the clerks ranges from downright surly to nonchalant to inept. At one post office in particular, something is always broken – whether it is one of two Self-Service stations or the one drop box that you are supposed to use if you opted for the Self-Service stations. And the line is nearly always out the door. So I avoid using the counter at all costs and for eBay shipments, always buy postage through them.

My older sister’s birthday is on April 6 – the Big 60! So I decided to put together a little birthday package and ship it to her in Boca Raton, Fla. She just told our mom that the postal service is pretty poor down there and that her mail delivery is unreliable at best. She lives in one of those condo buildings with common balconies – kind of reminiscent of cheap motels of the 1970s. So I thought I better play it safe and opt for tracking notices for shipping and delivery. What a freakin’ mistake that was. Unlike the local post office, USPS.com is so anal that I have received a blow-by-blow account of the package’s wherabouts. I believe that I checked off this option for my sister’s email as well. And for some reason, I have received duplicates for every stage of this delivery, so I am already up to 24 emails and this bloody thing has not yet arrived at my sister’s door! I am surprised I haven’t been apprised of the mail carriers taking coffee and potty breaks. Continue Reading

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