The Cambulance

Posted by jdg | Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The search for the official Sweet Juniper vehicle to replace our compact sedan continues. The minivanisaurus wasn't really for sale and the orange Ghostbusters station wagon wasn't either. Then, the other day while driving down a country road we came across the Cambulance. Built in 1984, with only 78,000 miles, it "runs & drives great," and the owner wants $4100.

The thing is, if we buy it, I'll have no choice but to find (1) a black guy with a mohawk, a taste for heavy jewelry, and EMT training; (2) a gray-haired gent who smokes cigars and knows CPR; and (3) Dwight Schultz. I get to be Face. We'll be a team of rag tag Paramedics-of-Fortune, and we'll never have to wait for red lights. If you have an injury, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can call... The D Team.

Three Weeks In

Posted by jdg | Thursday, September 24, 2009

My daughter writes this book every weekday morning; every afternoon it unravels with stories of strange snacks and funny boys who do the boy-ey-est things. I remember the smell of schoolbus seats, warmed by a September afternoon sun, and the wind through those bus windows no one could lower all the way.

Posted by jdg | Wednesday, September 23, 2009

So I found a few baffling Nixon-era doozies at the thrift store a few weeks ago, and decided today to scan them. Our scanner hails from that primordial era when Apple's fatal flaw was it's lack of peripheral compatibility rather than the nauseating smugness of its television commercials (can you even imagine the cloud of smug that must hover over Cupertino?). So I needed to dig out one of my old PC laptops to do the scanning. The Toshiba has a screen that works but a bum battery and it shuts down unexpectedly even when plugged in; I haven't found a replacement screen for the Dell (all it has is Chinese computer tinfoil) so I have to hook it up to an external monitor. I've spent hours of invaluable Alone Time configuring this setup because I couldn't find any of the damn cords to connect any of these damn devices and once I did I realized I didn't have a 3-prong outlet anywhere near where it was all set up on top of my wife's sewing supplies in the basement. Eventually I jerry-rigged it and got to work.

Among you there must be a few people thinking Why doesn't this asshole just buy a new scanner? And I suppose I have few excuses: I'm cheap; I hate cardboard boxes; I like developing skills that will prove useful after the Apocalypse (when you won't be able to just go to Staples to buy a new scanner to share those terrifying 1970s children's books with all your internet friends). After the Apocalypse, some of us are going to have to get by on more than just good looks and wrist crossbow skills.

And there's always the chance that I'll get lucky and find a broken Mac-compatible scanner in someone's garbage so I can teach the kids to solder.

Meanwhile, my wife and the kids have driven up to the suburb of Troy where there's this fortress-like shopping mall with an Apple store. The journey back from Troy is always long and perilous; she usually gets lost and can never find her fabric store or the Vietnamese restaurant we like near 13 Mile. She needs a sextant and an astrolab just to locate the highway. Her cell phone is held together by duct tape. I fear that when she finally arrives home this time she'll have one of those newfangled iPhones and life is just going to get that much more convenient.


Posted by jdg | Monday, September 21, 2009

Hey guys. Obviously there are some weird changes taking place on this site. The head of web development at Sweet Juniper Media, Inc. was here all weekend, a muleheaded Dutchman loitering about the house in his underwear screaming at the laptop and eating up all the good snacks. Unfortunately, his knowledge of HTML and CSS consists of trial-and-error, "Hmmm, I wonder what will happen if I change that table property and hit preview. . ." and yelling, "So 'px' stands for what, pixels?"  I wish I could fire the guy and hire someone who actually knows what they're doing, but there's that whole cheap-ass Dutchman thing and he's valuable to other areas of the company. I'm simply hoping this design will make the blog slightly less stupid looking. The commenting problem of blogger vs. haloscan should be resolved, the archives should automatically update, there's now a search function, an "older posts" link at the bottom, and the ads should appear more orderly. If something looks weird, I'd be grateful if you'd e-mail me about it.

There are a few more tweaks I need to make, but I'm excited about creating some new content. I am adding more photo links over there on the right every day. All summer I've been trying to deliberately do something special and fun with the kids every single day, and as winter approaches and that gets more challenging, I thought it would be fun to start documenting it.

Posted by jdg | Wednesday, September 16, 2009 |

"Why do you always change the car radio to that soft rock channel? It's like a game of Buffett Roulette."

"Sorry, baby. Did you accidentally listen to half of The Pina Colada Song before you realized it wasn't NPR?"

"No. For some reason they were playing She's Like the Wind on repeat."

"Patrick Swayze died. You need to get on twitter."

"Did they take a break from Kanye Outrage to mourn Swayze?"

"For a few minutes yesterday."

"Man, I hope Whoopi Goldberg can still help Swayze stop that remake of Red Dawn."

"That's not cool."

"Please, how many of these so-called mourners can say they have both Black Dog and Steel Dawn on DVD?

"He died so young. Think of all the movies he'll never make."

"True. But we should take a moment to be thankful that Kurt Russell is still with us."

When we were in the Adirondacks we stopped in a town called Lake George, which is apparently a popular tourist destination among extras from The Sopranos and Croc-shod Hasidim. Just south of town is an old-timey kiddie attraction called "The Magic Forest" where I shelled out $55 so my family could watch a mildly-depressed horse leap into a pool of water:

Apparently Lightning is the last of his kind, a wild heart broken long, long ago. Diving horses were a popular attraction in the 1880s, and concerns over their treatment largely ended the practice early in the last century. I'm sure the animal activist in San Francisco who leaves nasty comments every time I share photos of feral dogs is frothing at the mouth over this.

In its Halcyon days, The Magic Forest had many more animals, but over time those PETA-types must have really put up a stink, because aside from a few old goats all the old cages are now filled with creepy taxidermied chimps dressed like Nellie and Willie Olsen.

In some of the old cages they just threw in a bunch of decapitated lions' heads:

One of the best parts of the Magic Forest is the train ride through the Garden of Random Life-Size Anthropomorphs. It's like Rick Moranis blew up the shelf of ceramic tsotchkes at the back of a thrift store and dumped them in a forest.

Hey, there's Joe Camel in a fez!

And over here is Hobo Bloodhound Hollow. Don't blink or you'll miss the Hobo Bloodhound Slumgullion:

Why has Buddha turned his back on that bipedal polar bear?

Just when your child's cache of new nightmares gets depleted, this shoddily-built fiberglass colossus stares down at them from a hilltop to ensure that you'll spend the next two months reassuring your tot that "The Snow Clown" isn't anywhere near their bed.

When the train ride ended, I asked Vlad the Engineer (a wiry Kazakh teen with a blond mullet) whether anyone has ever taken acid and freaked out on that train ride and he gave me a look that said, Please don't get me fired. The Magic Forest has about 25 old-fashioned kiddie rides (some look like they have been around since the 1930s) and they all share the common theme of riding around on something in a circle until the chainsmoking old man in the green shirt turns it off.

Some of the rides even have guns!

This statue represents the friendly Magic Forest employees in their green shirts. Notice his freshly-pressed trousers, bow-tie and permanent wave that seems to say, I swear I am not a pedophile.

Sadly, some of his real-life counterparts lack that sort of tidy reassurance.

Most of the employees seemed to either be refugees who've lived in the Magic Forest since before the fall of the Iron Curtain or retired grandfatherly types extremely concerned about safety. We went on every ride, including the "roller coaster."

The proprietors of the Magic Forest have amassed the greatest collection of giant fiberglass lumberjacks, animals, Chinamen, card sharks, anthropomorphic bloodhounds reenacting Shakespeare, cavemen, and characters from fairy tales and nursery rhymes that the world has ever seen. I got the impression that every time a smaller kiddie theme park went belly up over the last 50 years, the Magic Forest swallowed its rides and characters to create a haphazard and varied landscape of unfamiliar, unlicensed, uncorrupted awe. It's the anti-Disneyworld. It's wonderful.

The most terrifying part of the park was actually this florescent-lit gallery of faddish Nickelodeon characters from the mid 1990s, with several Rugrats reaching out mournfully to Squarebob Spongepants: As you are now, so once were we.

A lot of the fiberglass characters seem to have been made in-house by a single anonymous artist, who used the same kind of glass eyes your Uncle Mort popped out of his socket to terrify you when you were a kid.

I think the following two figures are supposed to represent the story of the Farmer's Daughter from the Party Jokes section of Playboy:

The P.A. narrating the story about this one was a little garbled, but I think it said something about Freddie Mercury's First Night at the Bathhouse.

Jeez, little Dutch boy, you're about to save Amsterdam from the raging torrents of the Zuiderzee with a single finger. Can we not be a little more fired up about it?

The little old woman who nearly made me piss in my shoe.

It took me a minute to remember that obscure tale from the second volume of the Brothers Grimm about the two pederast gnomes who forced the little Dutch boy to bend over so they could watch him stick his finger in the glory hole. Here's the over-the-shoulder view:

Then there's the hidden path with life-size nursery rhyme dioramas of torture and disfigurement that feel sort of like Dante's Inferno meets Mother Goose. Hansel and Gretal guard the entrance, warning in a Teutonic script: Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.

Oops, how did Marilyn Manson's senior portrait end up in there? Speaking of Marilyn Manson, something about this hot dog near the snack bar reminded me of the kid on my high school ice hockey team who claimed to be adept at autofellatio:

When we left the Magic Forest I gushed to the lady taking the money at the front gate, "To be honest, at first I thought it wasn't going to be worth it, but we had such a great time." And you know, I was totally telling the truth.

Posted by jdg | Thursday, September 03, 2009 |

For any Chicago area readers, I'm going to be part of an upcoming exhibit at the David Weinberg Gallery in River North with two amazing photographers: Dylan Vitone and Jay Wolke. The exhibit will include many photos I've never printed, including several of the feral houses. The show is running September 11 - October 31 and there will be an Opening Reception on Friday, September 11 from 5-8 pm. The gallery is located at 300 W. Superior Street, Suite 203 and there are a lot of openings that night in the area and it should be a really fun evening. I'd love to meet any Chicago-area readers who might be inclined to come down to the gallery.

And for anyone who's been emailing me about purchasing prints of the feral houses, feel free to contact the gallery (


Posted by jdg | Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Three years ago they spent their third anniversary in the car, an 18-month old girl unhappy in the back seat, a thousand miles of road in front of them. The wife got a migraine in one of those scrubby Utah valley towns without a single bar. A few years before that he’d done the same drive in the opposite direction, leaving his newly-anointed fiancĂ© in Ann Arbor to drive a packed car empty of everything that mattered to him, alone and hardly ready to start a new life in a new town out West. He took Highway 50 through Utah and Nevada, some of the longest stretch of empty road he’d ever seen. In western Utah he hit a jackrabbit the size of a small dog and in Nevada he saw a hand-painted sign on the side of the road that said Turn Around. Go Home. He almost did.

When they crossed into Colorado on their way home her migraine was gone, but he threw his back out carrying the portable crib into some noname hotel in Grand Junction. While she put the kid to sleep he wandered along the shoulder of the state road looking for a meal fit for an anniversary. As he walked past, neon signs went dark in pizza shops and stripmall Chinese dives he wouldn’t have patronized anyways. If the independent diner he did find were a musician listings its influences, it would have said Bob Evans, Perkins, and Waffle House. It had a five-page laminated menu from which he chose the boneless prime rib special (with au jus) and a ranch-dressed salad topped with shredded orange cheese and fried chicken strips. They ate it all on the hotel floor, drinking warm Hefeweizen they couldn't bear to leave in their San Francisco refrigerator. Joyeuses noces de froment, mon amour.

This year: six years married, thirteen together. They spent the morning in rental car agencies, the rest of the day heading east again, this time with two kids capable of killing that new car perfume in two hours. Oh, Canada, with your necessary conversions and highways named after hockey players. Didn’t your parents honeymoon in Niagara Falls? she asked.

Yes. Before it was ironic.

When they arrived in downtown Buffalo it had already suffered its daily evacuation. He needed milk for his baby and a meal for his wife, so he wandered into a distressed neighborhood and bought Vitamin D milk at a half-empty bodega with a WIC sign in the window and two beef on wecks from a dive bar. They ate in the dark on the hotel floor while the kids slept. She wanted to eat in the bathroom, but he forbade it, saying, You can't eat where you shit. It's not romantic.

* * * * *

Months ago she had gotten drunk at a charity auction and bid on a week at a cottage in the Adirondacks. She later admitted she didn't quite know where the Adirondacks were, though she knew for certain she liked the chairs. They fall in love with every new city, every town they see on this trip through upstate New York and Vermont. The impetuousness that brought them to the west coast and back still tempts them to try new lives. She starts crying in Middlebury, Vermont, as it hits her that one day she will see her kids off to college. One day they will be gone, he thinks. Someday again it will just be her and me.

Some men see women like these two see towns. They see possibilities in each. They wonder what ifs. But when he sees other women, he can only wonder how lucky he was to find this one when he did.