Monday, May 31, 2010

Black and White and Wet All Over

I've been meaning to do a little more work with black and white photographs, and keep not getting around to it. I realize that I can just take regular photos and make them black and white in the photo editor, but I wanted to put a little bit of thought into it, and look at things while thinking, "How would this look in black and white?" I figured the exercise would make me think more about contrast and shadows, and maybe help make me a better photographer. I'll probably still be 95% point and click, but maybe we can develop a little skill in that other five percent.

One of the few plans I had for the weekend was to find a spot to go walk around and work on this, and it just kept not happening for various reasons. People are sick and needed to be checked on, people don't have cars and need errands run, I have all my regular weekend stuff, etc. so last night when I went to bed I said I would set my alarm, get up early, and go. When I woke up, it was raining. I went anyway, damn it.

I think the rain worked to my advantage, actually. It gave the sky a uniform lightness that completely washes out in the pictures:

golf range staircases

X building

Sutherland Apartments

S building

It gives a sense that these buildings could kind of be anywhere, and it also gave everything indirect lighting. I was thinking about shadows, but there weren't any.

The rain also gave shine to things that otherwise would not be shiny:

basketball markings

grill on a stick

I probably wouldn't have taken a picture of the basketball court at all if it hadn't had the reflection, so I think the rain made things at least a little more interesting.

I took these pictures out at our off campus apartment complex, which is officially closed today. The last people, who had exceptions to stay late, will be moving out in a month, and then the buildings will be torn down to make way for new athletic fields. Because of that, the whole complex has a sense of emptiness and abandonment now, and there are a lot of signs of departure:

dumpster stencil

abandoned cart


glove on rail

bus shelter

power off

It's weird to think that within a year or two, everything in these pictures will be gone. On the other hand, I'm pretty happy with how the pictures turned out.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Heartbreak of Continental Drift

When I got home from work today I decided that it was time to put away some comics I took out of storage boxes four months ago, because I'm right on top of my housework and super efficient and stuff, right? Anyway, I was putting away some issues of "Karate Kid" from the 1970's in the box where miscellanious "Legion of Superheroes" comics go when I spotted this:

Secret Origins #46

"Secret Origins" #46, one of the most hilarious yet depressing comics that I own.

"Secret Origins" was a series published by DC Comics in the 1980's, offering the origins and backgrounds of many of their characters. It was kind of entertaining for comics fans, as it often elaborated on the backgrounds of second and third tier characters who might not get a lot of individual story time otherwise. Where else was there going to be time to explore Chemical King's lonely childhood and implied homosexual relationship with Invisible Kid, or to see Fury become an avatar of lost Greek gods in order to seek vengeance on her patricidal Italian fascist-Nazi sympathizing brother?

By the time #46 rolled around, though, "Secret Origins" was on the decline, and an issue featuring the previously untold secret origins of the Justice League, Teen Titans, and Legion of Superheroes' headquarters must have helped pound the nails right into the cancellation coffin. "Secret Origins" bowed out four issues later with the incredibly depressing story of how Black Canary's widowed mom, the World War II Black Canary, died a lingering painful death from cancer. Comic books are totally fun for all ages, right?

Back to number 46, though, I have to wonder both what the editor was thinking in featuring these stories and whether the writers' humor was intentional. While the story of Titans Tower was boring and poorly drawn, Grant Morrison decided not to dwell much on the origin of the Justice League's mountain cave headquarters in Rhode Island, and to use the time instead to let us know that the stone itself was semi sentient and that it had spent the last several million years missing Africa:


Continental drift ruins lives, and geology breaks hearts. There's your proof.

On the other hand, you have to wonder if the tears Grant Morrison wiped from his eyes after writing that were from sorrow or laughter. "O Africa, my love..." I can't read it without giggling, and it perfectly sets up the tragic comedy that is the secret origin of the Legion of Superheroes' rocket shaped clubhouse.

Our story opens with the three founding Legionnaires, Cosmic Boy, Saturn Girl, and Lightning Lad, holding open tryouts for members in the park. The Legion did this a lot in Silver Age comics, with the most common results being that the rejects kept coming back for more tryouts, formed their own groups of rejects, or became the Legion's sworn enemies for life. Oh, and occasionally someone was actually invited to join the team. Half of those people later turned out to be traitors.

Our story opens with the Legion rejecting perennial applicant Arm Fall Off Boy, whose power is to detach his limbs and beat people with them. Arm Fall Off Boy is immediately shoved aside by the next applicant, Mnemonic Kid:

mnemonic kid

If this tryout was a reality show, Mnemonic Kid would be the girl who looks straight at the camera in the first five minutes and loudly proclaims, "I'm not here to make friends." She further cements this impression by starting an argument with Saturn Girl about the spelling of her name:

mnemonic bickering

The best part of that argument? Saturn Girl is a telepath. She can settle the argument in less than a second by reading the correct spelling from Mnemonic Kid's mind, but she'd rather just keep arguing. The guys, of course, are probably just hoping that the girls will start wrestling and then start making out, but instead Mnemonic Kid decides to shoot a random child in the head with her memory destroying powers:

mnemonic demonstration (1)

Again, this is a tryout for the Legion of Superheroes. I don't think the word "hero" means what she thinks it means, and Lightning Lad kind of agrees with me:

mnemonic demonstration (2)

Mnemonic Kid stomps off, vowing revenge. As the first Legion applicant to do so, she's the founder of a grand tradition. Just ask Spider Girl, Storm Boy, Jungle King, Phantom Lad, Calorie Queen, Tusker, Eyeful Ethel, Golden Boy, Chameleon Kid, Mentalla, and a host of other members of the Legion of Supervillains.

With Mnemonic Kid offstage vowing revenge and buying weapons (no, she really is), the star of our story finally arrives: Fortress Lad. Here, he explains his power for the founders:

fortress demonstration (1)

fortress demonstration (2)

He's from the planet of the big-assed people, and he turns into a building. The Legion, who have accepted members like Matter-Eater Lad (who has the power to eat anything), Bouncing Boy (who can inflate himself into a super elastic ball), and Dream Girl (who can see the future, but only when she's asleep) without really batting an eye, decides that turning into a building is a completely useless power, and they reject him just in time for Mnemonic Kid to come back and erase their memories of being superheroes. That's just her warm-up, though, because she's also going to shoot them all to death with her ray gun until Fortress Lad springs (well, sort of) into action:

preventing attack

As an equal opportunity hater, Mnemonic Kid turns her memory destroying powers on Fortress Lad, slowly removing his memory of being a person while the Legion recovers inside:

mnemonic's revenge (1)

I guess her permanent memory deletion wasn't so permanent after all, but she's got a backup plan. When the recovered Legionnaires exit Fortress Lad, she throws a metal grenade at them that Cosmic Boy uses his magnetic powers to repel:

mnemonic's revenge (2)

Everybody ducked but Mnemonic Kid, who died in the blast. Unfortunately, Fortress Lad's true identity died with her. Her attack turned him into a mindless vegetable, and the Legionnaires remembered everything except that the building next to them used to be a person. Instead, they decided to move in:


So, in closing, everyone who reads "Secret Origins" #46 gets to enjoy the heartwarming tale of how the Legion's whimsical upside down rocket ship clubhouse is really a mentally incapacitated coma victim that they live inside. I promised hilarity, though, so let me direct you to the punchline. Take a look at this picture again:

preventing attack

Fortress Lad's head and arms are on top of the rocket, and his feet are on the bottom. Later in the story, the door that the Legion exits Fortress Lad through is also on the bottom. Between his legs. A spot where most humans have a backdoor of another type. Congratulations, Legion of Superheroes.

Your lobby is somebody's colon.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Bacon as Candy

My friends, who know of my love of bacon, have been trying to get me on the "bacon candy" train for years now. I've been emailed a number of recipes, most recently by my friend Elizabeth, and after reading my friend Justin's hilarious account of his own try at this last week I decided that I might as well try it, too. After that, I'm going to jump off of a bridge because all of my friends are doing it.

Anyway, in reviewing a number of techniques and suggestions, I decided that I would keep my attempt simple:

the ingredients

Dark chocolate and bacon. Simple, classic culinary horror. Some people add alcohol, some people add pepper or chili powder, some recipes call for a sprinkling of chopped nuts, but I decided that it was better to let the bacon and the chocolate speak for itself. "Simple ingredients, prepared well" is the cornerstone philosophy of many cooking styles, although I get the distinct impression that this isn't the kind of recipe they had in mind.

While picking out the chocolate was easy, picking out the bacon was a bit of a challenge. This may come as a surprise to many of my friends, but I don't actually buy that much bacon, and only buy pork bacon when a recipe calls for it. Otherwise, I go with turkey bacon because it is low fat and stays flat when you microwave it. Anyway, in looking for bacon for this recipe I decided to avoid flavored bacon, like the maple cured, and to get a standard size rather than thick cut, because I think regular bacon gets crispier.

(Thick cut is recommended for the "glazed bacon" variation of bacon candy, where the bacon is baked on a sheet tray with a glaze that usually includes brown sugar and/or maple syrup. Greasy Lisa used a variation of this technique to win an elimination challenge and trip to Italy on season 4 of "Top Chef".)

Cooking the bacon was easy enough. Preheat the oven, cover a cookie sheet in parchment paper (some recipes said to do this and some didn't, but it seemed like it would make the cleanup easiest), and pop it in for 25 minutes:

bacon in the oven

It crisps right up, and stays mostly flat:

cooked bacon

It comes out swimming in an ocean of bacon grease, though. If you try making bacon this way, be sure to use a rimmed cookie sheet. If possible, use a raised rack on a rimmed cookie sheet, so that the grease drips off. Since I didn't have a raised rack, I fished the bacon out with tongs and set it on a plate covered with folded paper towels to drain.

While the bacon was draining and cooling, I got to work on the chocolate, using the improvised double boiler that I figured out when I made that Christmas chocolate bark that no one liked a few years ago.

melting chocolate (1)

melting chocolate (2)

melted chocolate

A few pointers before anyone tries this:

1) Make sure your bowl is wide enough not to fall into the pot. I refuse to explain how I know this is the kind of problem that needs to be pointed out.

2) Make sure your bowl is oven-safe, because it will get really hot. Fortunately, I have never exploded a dish in this fashion, but I know people who have.

3) Make sure that the bottom of the bowl is above the boiling water, not in it. If the chocolate gets too hot, it will start to crystallize. This is what happens to chocolate almost every single time I microwave it for melting.

With the bacon cooked and the chocolate melted, I was ready to go. Using a silicone basting brush (because it's nonstick), I started coating my bacon on one side:

side one

Once it was painted, I chilled it in the freezer:


and turned it over to paint the other side:

side two

Once that was done, I chilled it again, and then ate some.

And it turns out that I kind of don't like it.

I like chocolate with salty things in it. Chocolate covered pretzels, chocolate caramels with sea salt on top, stuff like that. And I liked the taste of the bacon with the chocolate, but the problem was that there was too much chocolate. Even though I painted it on thinly and evenly, the overall effect is kind of like a candy bar with a piece of bacon inside, and hardly seemed worth all the effort, especially when you can just order a candy bar with bacon in it from amazon.

While this was an interesting novelty, I don't think I'll be making it again.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Exploring in East Tennessee

After my February trip to neighboring Concord it was my goal to keep visiting the cities, towns, and villages around mine on a fairly regular basis. I kept getting caught up in stuff, though, or planning other things, or just getting tired, and I never got around to getting out again to work on exploring until this morning. Randomly clicking on wikipedia pages for my neighboring communities, I happened upon Maynardville and the picture of their courthouse.

My friend Sandy says that almost every town in Georgia has a historic courthouse, and it's been my experience that most of the towns in Tennessee are the same way. They're usually brick (sometimes whitewashed), they usually have columns out front, and they sometimes have a cupola, clock tower, or memorial statue. Take the one here in Knoxville, for example:

stormy weather

or the one in Sevierville, just up the road:

Sevier County Courthouse

They're so similar that if you saw the two photos right next to each other, with no captions, you could easily assume that they're the same building from two different angles, and this seems to be the standard model for Tennessee county courthouses. Union County, on the other hand, boasts unique and somewhat unattractive courthouse, and as soon as I saw it on the wikipedia page I wanted to go see it.

It's just as unattractive in the flesh:

Union County Courthouse (1)

It's a box. A featureless concrete box, completely devoid of character or charm:

Union County Courthouse (2)

I can't even imagine what it must be like to enter the building. While it's possible that it has skylights I'm betting that it doesn't, and those little slits of windows can't possibly let in any natural light. It looks like it belongs behind the Iron Curtain or attached to a factory or something, and I can't imagine how it ended up in Tennessee. Not only that, but there's no landscaping around it. It's surrounded by parking, a concrete island in an asphalt sea. Who approved this design, and did they give any thought to the impression this makes of the county as a whole?

Either way, there wasn't really anything to see near the courthouse. I don't know a lot about Maynardville, but I'd guess it's in decline, as the courthouse was surrounded by vacant storefronts and closed businesses. The gas station, a Union 76, has been closed so long that the lights are fully rusted:

union 76 light

The only thing that seemed to be thriving was the mortuary, whose parking lot included a very sadfaced Jesus:

mortuary jesus

After I got tired of walking around the courthouse I started for home, pulling over along the way whenever I saw something interesting, like a car on a stick:

car on a stick!

a decrepit, closed deli and gas station:

Highway 61 Market and Deli (1)

Highway 61 Market and Deli (2)

and even a state park, the Big Ridge State Park on Route 61:

Big Ridge State Park

I want to go back to that, too, because I see from their wikipedia page (Remember the old days, when we didn't have wikipedia? Me either.) that there's a dam, a cemetery, a mill, and a haunted area. The only drawback is that I have to drive down State Route 61 to get there, and Route 61 was apparently designed by the construction crew from "Chutes and Ladders". The entire road is switchbacks, hairpin turns, and places where the signs tell you to drop down to ten miles per hour. I'd have taken pictures, but it's a "both hands on the wheel" kind of road.

It's also the road where I got in trouble.

On my way back to the main road from the park, I noticed another closed gas station with a rotting RC Cola machine out front, and decided to stop:

rc machine (1)

rc machine (2)

RC Cola and Moon Pies are pretty much the official snackfood of Tennessee, after all:

tennessee treats

so I figured I might as well take a picture of the machine. Besides, it was rotting and falling apart, and everyone knows I love that. While I was walking around the parking lot taking the pictures a few cars went by, and I didn't really think anything of it, but right when I went to get back in my car a pickup truck pulled into the lot and blocked me in.

I figured it was just someone wondering what I was doing, since sometimes people stop and ask what I'm taking pictures of, but I'm also very conscious that I'm a Yankee with a pierced ear driving a VW Bug in pickup truck country below the Mason Dixon Line, and I sometimes worry that I'm about to have a problem. The sweaty, shirtless, overweight guy with the prison tattoo who got out of the truck did nothing to dispell this notion, and I worried that I might be about to get Deliveranced. In the bad way.

"What are you taking pictures of my building for? Are you from the bank?"

Really, mister? You think the bank sends people out wearing GI Joe t-shirts in VW Bugs with action figures mounted on the dashboard to foreclose on you? What the hell kind of bank are you doing business with? And oh my God, don't say any of this out loud.

"No, no," I answered, pointing at my parking pass. "I'm from the University. I'm in a photography class." Yes, I know that's a lie, but I've used it before and people seem to accept it much more easily than, "I'm going to post these on my blog and possibly make fun of them." I continued, "I saw your RC machine, and I just had to stop, especially with the way it looks just sitting there. It's kind of lonely, you know?"

He cocked his head to one side and blinkd a couple of times, and then shrugged.

"I never thought of it that way. You have a nice day, ok?"

"Oh, you too," I said, right before I got in my car and drove straight home without stopping anywhere. That's quite enough adventure for one day, thanks.

Friday, May 7, 2010

And then that drag queen threw a shoe at me

As a gay man, there are a number of things that I'm supposed to love and somehow just don't. I'm not good at interior decorating, my knowledge of show tunes is only passable at best, I'm not a good dancer, I don't like "Sex and the City" or Barbra Streisand, and I have an irrational fear of drag queens. You know how some people are terrified of clowns, but can't really explain why other than to tell you that they're just creepy and wrong even though they fully recognize that there's actually nothing wrong with those people and that their performance requires a lot of practice and effort? That's how I feel about drag queens: baseless, irrational fear, except that now, after Monday night, I've learned that I have reason to fear drag queens.

They throw their shoes at you.

On Monday I went to the Lambda Student Union's "Flames of Knoxville" drag show, to be supportive of some of my students. I know a bunch of the Lambda members, but also had been invited by a former student and current staff member, who was doing drag for the first time and very excited about it. As this was the first drag show I have ever attended sober, I was dubious but supportive, and agreed with another friend that we should sit in the front.

Things started out ok. The emcee performed an opening number followed by an evening of bad jokes that fell mostly flat, and then we saw some really bad hairography when the girl on the left lost her wig halfway through her number:

bad hairography

Also, I've been waiting months to use the word "hairography" in a sentence.

There were some funny acts, and a couple of drag kings:

drag king

and then the first warning sign of danger. This girl:

rolling around

did a cartwheel off the stage that almost hit Will and I right in the faces. He leaned left, I leaned right, and the feet flew by somewhere in between. Maybe the front row was a bad idea, but there was no time to move before our friend came on.

We weren't sure what name he was going to use, since his facebook poll had been non-definitive, but there he was, singing Christina Aguilera as Candy Galore:

candy galore (1)

Candy Galore (2)

He was great.

The drag queen after him, though, left us with questions:


Joan Jett? Juliette Lewis in "Whip It"? That chick from "Twilight"? We never got an answer, because then this happened:

dangerous (1)

That's about five seconds before the shoe came flying at me, when she decided to start stripping:

dangerous (2)

and then flung her wig, clothes, and shoes into the audience as hard as she could.

the shoe that flew at me

That shoe rebounded a good six feet after hitting the chair to land there on the carpet. Also, after the stripping, there were pushups:

dangerous (3)

Honey, I'm not an expert on drag or anything, but you're doing it wrong. You should ask this girl for some pointers:


She can dance, strip, and take tips with her mouth while crawling across a stage, and no one was injured. If not her, then tragic shoe-throwing drag queen could also take tips from cartwheel girl, who took the stage a second time:

the girl who rolled around

or from Lady GaGa:

"Poker Face" (1)

"Poker Face" (3)

who carefully removed some of the stickers comprising her outfit during the performance:

"Poker Face" (2)

Hell, he could even take pointers from Candy Galore, who not only came back for a second set:

Candy Galore (3)

but closed out the show with a duet:

drag show finale

On the other hand, tragic shoe-throwing drag queen should refrain from taking advice from this girl:

"Rain on my Parade"

because that dress is fugly. Seriously fugly. That's like three different dresses on top of each other, and none of them go together.

And even if you listen to none of the other drag queens, tragic shoe-thrower, you should listen to me. Next time you decide that you should perform your second set in a bikini top and a wrap, at least put in enough effort to shave your stomach and chest:

dangerous (4)

You look like one of the "Real Housewives of New Jersey".

And also, please stop throwing your shoes at people.