Saturday, April 17, 2004
Hardly slept last night. Up until midnight rough sorting the most important collection in the shop's history, home in cab, then back at 7am to pick up right where I left off, worrying nonstop about how I'm actually going to pay for it.

One item heading home with me: legendary West Coast antiquarian bookman William Hoffer's privately printed pamphlet Cheap Sons of Bitches: Memoirs of the Book Trade.

Once, while a charmed undergraduate enrolled in a graduate course on Malcolm Lowry given by one of the more gruesome members of the UBC English department, I attempted to weasel a discount out of Hoffer on a F+/F+ first UK edition of Lowry's Hear Us O Lord From Heaven Thy Dwelling Place, priced then at around seventy dollars or so. My friend and part time boss Gavin took me down to Hoffer's shop on Water Street and made the neccessary introductions. I remember dark wooden shelves ascending all the way to heaven, low light, thousands of Brodarted spines, countless titles by major Canadian authors I'd never heard of before, let alone ever seen.

I don't remember what Hoffer looked like, but I do remember what he had to say on the subject of a discount, after considering my claim of poverty for about three and a half seconds.

"If you're not willing to pay what that book is worth, you obviously don't want it badly enough," said Hoffer, then proceeded to ignore me and engage Gavin in small talk.

From ABE:

Hear Us O Lord From Heaven Thy Dwelling Place
London: Jonathan Cape, 1962. First English Edition. A fine copy in a very lightly rubbed dust jacket. Bookseller Inventory #7447
Price: US$ 100.00

Hoffer was right and I was wrong. I should have bought that book, which now probably lurks somewhere in Peter Howard's stacks in Berkeley, where I will never find it.

From Hoffer's pamphlet:

As I said, a beginning bookseller must find ways of buying books cheaply (or obtaining them with something easier to get than money), and selling them for more. Most rigorously, he must manage these two things within clear limits of propriety. This is to say that ignorance is almost a defense, but that creative ignorance is wicked. The limits of this notion are the pessimism one adopts when buying books, and the optimism one must show when selling. The gloomy buyer and enthusiastic salesman are not new characters to the stage, and bookselling is finally just another version of the human drama.

Friday, April 16, 2004
Margaret (Mrs. M.O.W.) Oliphant:

Oh, never mind the fashion. When one has a style of one's own, it is always twenty times better.
On the office speakers this rainy Friday morning -- Star Eyes, Marian McPartland solo piano, Donald F. and Walter B. listening along in the studio, just like me.

Star Eyes
Jimmy Dorsey
Music by Gene De Paul

Star Eyes,
That to me is what your eyes are,
Soft as stars in April skies are,
Tell me some day you’ll fulfill
Their promise of a thrill.
Star Eyes,
Flashing eyes in which my hopes rise,
Let me show you where my heart lies.
Let me prove that it adores
That loveliness of yours.
All my life I’ve felt
Content to stargaze at the skies.
Now I only want to to melt
The stardust in your eyes.
Star Eyes,
When if ever, will my lips know
If It’s me for whom those eyes glow?
Makes no diff’rence where you are,
Your eyes still hold my wishing star,
Oh, Star Eyes, how lovely you are.

Vancouver Public Library booksale today. I stopped going to these free-for-alls years ago, but there's still good stuff to be had if you don't mind going toe-to-toe with pushy grannies, stroller moms, broke voracious students, and every self-proclaimed "antiquarian book dealer" in town.

Last sale's prize: a nice clean first edition of Naked Lunch. We didn't see it, but every scout through the door claimed to have been standing right behind the lucky guy who did.
Paul Krugman, New York Times:

Vietnam shook the nation's confidence not just because we lost, but because our leaders didn't tell us the truth. Last September Gen. Anthony Zinni spoke of "Vietnam, where we heard the garbage and the lies," and asked his audience of military officers, "Is it happening again?" Sure enough, the parallels are proliferating. Gulf of Tonkin attack, meet nonexistent W.M.D. and Al Qaeda links. "Hearts and minds," meet "welcome us as liberators." "Light at the end of the tunnel," meet "turned the corner." Vietnamization, meet the new Iraqi Army.

Some say that Iraq isn't Vietnam because we've come to bring democracy, not to support a corrupt regime. But idealistic talk is cheap. In Vietnam, U.S. officials never said, "We're supporting a corrupt regime." They said they were defending democracy. The rest of the world, and the Iraqis themselves, will believe in America's idealistic intentions if and when they see a legitimate, noncorrupt Iraqi government — as opposed to, say, a rigged election that puts Ahmad Chalabi in charge.

Thursday, April 15, 2004
Monte Clark Gallery, more than a few of my friends' images here
Shaky Plans Dept.:

"So I'll take the casino bus," says Abe, plotting budget transportation to the Seattle Public Library sale without a car. "Then I'll run away from the casino, and walk out to the highway, and catch a ride--" And breaks off, because John and I are laughing at him.
"Well, you made my day, sir," says the young woman recently back from India who just found not one, but two copies of the uncut version of Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land, and one of them a hardcover, too, in our stacks, which in bookselling terms is a bit like hitting a royal flush with your last $2 bet.
Mail run to the mall after rain, the smells of water and oil off pavement hit now by the hot sun.
Michael D. Swaine, letter to the editor, New York Times:

On Tuesday night, the president offered what he has offered in the past when much is on the line: a carefully crafted speech designed to appeal to the most basic emotions, not reason or logic; a total unwillingness to contemplate error or to recognize that events have not proceeded as expected and thus require a change in strategy; and a rambling, unintelligent handling of unscripted but obvious questions that undermines confidence in his ability.

It is unnerving to watch an American president's expression turn blank in response to a question as his mind gropes for a scintilla of an idea other than the bumper-sticker phrases that seem to constitute the only thoughts he can muster.
To Tinseltown late last night, for the 10:20 show of Touching the Void. Climber friends had praised the film for its accuracy. Accurate it was, and enjoyable too. A strange sense of deja vu in parts, the clink of gear on rocks or the clang of an ice axe's tip on moraine debris bringing back memories of my own climbs. Also accurate, the "oh shit" sensation of already being overextended and then encountering a new problem, eg., the Peruvian ridgecrest's steep little ice step, or the pleasant slope that suddenly turns vertical as the light runs out of the day. The bowl below the west face of Knight Peak, where I pushed through a thicket of mountain blueberry bushes, only to see, very clearly, the tops of the trees two or hundred feet below, swaying in the wind.

Accurate, too, the sense of being dwarfed by a big face, which in the film is accomplished by optical trickery that makes the face shimmer in and out of focus, like the air above a fire. This isn't visually accurate, but is totally psychically or emotionally accurate, the substitution of visual illusion for an unreconstructable mnemonic trace.
Wednesday, April 14, 2004
Nick Drake's voice in my head this evening, wandering the West End under thunderclouds, a cold front through recently and rain that knocked petals down from all the trees.

Hazey Jane II

Dave Pegg, bass
Dave Mattacks, drums
Richard Thompson, lead guitar

And what will happen in the morning when the world it gets
so crowded that you can't look out the window in the morning.

And what will happen in the evening in the forest with the weasel
with the teeth that bite so sharp when you're not looking in the evening.

And all the friends that you once knew are left behind they kept you safe
and so secure amongst the books and all the records of your lifetime.

What will happen
In the morning
When the world it gets so crowded that you can't look out the window
in the morning.

Hey, take a little while to grow your brother's hair
And now, take a little while to make your sister fair.
And now that the family
Is part of a chain
Take off your eyeshade
Start over again.

Now take a little while to find your way in here
Now take a little while to make your story clear.
Now that you're lifting
Your feet from the ground
Weigh up your anchor
And never look round.

Let's sing a song
For Hazey Jane
She's back again in my mind.
If songs were lines
In a conversation
The situation would be fine.

Not quite sure what I'm doing at the store at 3:42am.

Oh wait -- browsing threads on Sad!

Shamelessly cut-and-pasted, a priceless Squamish trip report by cc.poster "Uncle Trickey." Most climbers, even rank amateurs like me, will have their own version of UT's blind-date climbing partner "Elmer." Big shout out to Don and Alvin, two "climbers" I happily haven't seen in over a decade.

6:00 AM Myself and a first (and last) time climbing partner I'll call "Elmer" met up at the parking lot in Squamish to climb Diedre, a classic 5.7 on the Apron. He is a lurker who said he is a "safe, all around 5.10 leader" who's been dying to climb this route forever. I've climbed the route before and led all the pitches, so I agreed to let him do the leading.

7:00 AM We arrived at the base of Diedre. The approach took somewhat longer than usual because Elmer insisted we rope up for the steep approach through the trees. There was a festival-like atmosphere at the base of the climb, with people of all ages from around the world. We found ourselves waiting for the party ahead of us, which was waiting for the party ahead of them, who was waiting for the party above them, who was waiting for the party above them--who was apparently superglued to the rock. Or perhaps they were just a pair of immobile manniquins that some jokers hung from the anchors of the fifth pitch to create a traffic clusterfuck.

8:00 AM After an hour, nothing had changed, and I suggested we climb a different line up the Apron. "Hell no!" said Elmer, "I've wanted to climb this route forever!"

9:00 AM The top party showed some signs of movement, thus proving they were, in fact, not manniquins. Elmer started taping up (?) and racking his gear, which included a double set of nuts, a double set of cams to 4 inches, 4 tri-cams and 7 hexes.

10:00 AM The sun cleared the top of the Chief and the day turned HOT. Elmer set off on the first pitch up to the little tree.

11:00 AM Elmer arrived at the tree and put me on belay. I walked up to the tree.

1:00 PM We reached the belay at the base of the corner. Elmer was--as advertised--a very safe leader. I returned the 11 pieces of gear I cleaned on the pitch leading up to the corner where the fifth class climbing starts.

1:30 PM The parties ahead of us had moved up sufficiently that we were clear to climb with no one slowing us down. Elmer started up the dihedral. Judging by the severity of the sewing machine leg he had going, he appeared to be a little nervous. But he protected the pitch very well.

3:00 PM Elmer arrived at the belay. Shortly thereafter I arrived and handed him back the 19 (!) pieces of gear he placed on the pitch. The insufferably slow parties ahead of us had by now left us far behind. We had clear sailing ahead all the way up to Broadway! However, now we appeared to be slowing down the pack of anxious climbers below us.

4:00 PM The scorching day got hotter. We drunk all our water. Elmer was showing signs of physical and mental strain after leading the first three pitches of 5.6 or 5.7. A noticable tick has developed in his left eye. I offer to take a lead or two, but he responds with surprising vigor: "No fucking way, I've wanted to climb this climb forever!"

5:00 PM Elmer is still within spitting distance of the belay, swearing and sweating as he tried to fiddle in an RP, his 6th placement on the pitch thus far. There were approximatly 8 frustrated parties jammed up beneath us now. I was starting to feel like the stubborn turd that's clogging the toilet.

6:00 PM Elmer arrived at the fourth belay. The climbing was taking its toll on him. Our water long since gone, I started to wonder how long it takes an average person to die of thirst. After resting for a half hour, his twitching had subsided somewhat and Elmer started up the next pitch.

7:30 PM Inexplicably, Elmer was building a gear belay 3/4 of the way up the pitch instead of continuing on another 40 feet to the bolted station. Gently, I queried him about his intentions. All I heard is a stream of angry profanity echoing across the valley and something about running out of gear. "I'm fucking leading this fucking climb...blah...gear...blah...fucking forever blah...blah..." I wondered to myself how it would be physically possible to place all the gear he was carrying (enough to stock several small retail shops) on one 5.7 pitch. And as the sun cooked me like a worm on pavement, I wondered idly if he was afflicted with Tourette's or perhaps some sort of degenerative brain disorder like Mad Cow disease.

8:00 PM Elmer finishes building his anchor and brings me up. The tick in his eye has deteriorated noticably and his pupils are dialated in a worrisome way. I can't help myself and comment on his anchor, which is clearly a work of art--if you're a Celtic knotsmith or some sort of mad engineer. The anchor consisted of 4 cams and 3 nuts each qualized with double clove hitches and backed up with a secondary anchor composed of two tricams, a hex, two RPs, a cordellete and four slings. Granted, I'm a fan of bombproof anchors, but this one could have survived a direct napalm airstrike followed by a nuclear holocaust and still held a factor 5 fall. He didn't appreciate my kind comment. "Are you questioning my fucking abilities you goddamn pissant?" Judged by his full-body spasms and the way he kept grinding his teeth, he was physiologically unstable and psychologically unbalanced.

8:30 PM After his outburst, Elmer calmed down a bit and started apologizing profusely, weeping and blubbering like a schizophrenic on a bad acid trip. I didn't want to say the wrong thing, so I just wrung out my sweaty shirt into our empty nalgene bottle, took a swig and offered him a drink, which he accepted gratefully.

9:00 PM We were still hanging awkwardly from his armageddon-proof anchor. Elmer had stopped crying and appeared to be in some sort of meditative state, perhaps visualizing the sequences or protection on the pitch above. An angry mob of climbers hoping to get off the Apron before nightfall had gathered below us, wondering what the delay was. (I'm sure they were also curious about all the yelling and wailing.) While we hung stationary at his gear belay, several parties simply climbed by us, including a grandmother in flip flops who was soloing with her grandchild in one of those kiddie backpacks, two hikers who apparently got lost on the Stawamus Chief trail, and a surprisingly speedy team of quadriplegics who were aiding the climb by placing gear with their mouths.

9:35 PM I was hesitant to disturb Elmer while he was concentrating on preparing mentally for the next pitch. However I was getting concerned about our pace--we were only about halfway up the 7 pitch climb, and I had to be back in Washington by tomorrow afternoon. I nudged him and once again I casually offered to lead a few pitches for the sake of efficiency. This threw the previously-peaceful Elmer into a blind fury: "No fucking way, I've wanted to fucking lead this goddamn climb for fucking forever! What the fuck do you think I am, some sort of fucking incompetent?! If you ever again try to take one of my fucking leads on this fucking climb I will take this fucking knife (brandishing his Swiss Army knife), saw your fucking ears off, then cut you loose to plummet to your death you fucking miserable condescending piece of shit!!!!!!" He emphasizes each word by puching the rock until his knuckes bled. One of his eyes rolled eerily back in his head. He was foaming at the mouth.

9:36 PM Hmmm. Fight or flight? That was the question. I figured pacifying this maniac was perhaps the best approach to the situation--or at least preferable to brutal hand-to-hand combat while tied in to a common belay 500 feet off the ground.

9:37 PM I put on my most sincere smile and said "Sorry, Elmer--you're the leader, you're on belay, climb when ready!" I said as cheerily and nicely as possible. Meanwhile I casually repositioned my nut tool on my harness for easy access in case I needed to kill this raving lunatic before he killed me.

10:00 PM It was getting quite dark. Elmer was finally ready and headed up the next pitch of dierdre. I breathed a sigh of relief as the rope ran out (very slowly) and he put some distance between us.

11:00 PM Elmer finally reached the next set of bolts. Once I saw he was safely anchored, I yelled up "You're off belay!"

11:01:30 PM In the fading twilight, I untied from the rope, tossed the free end into space, waved up at a perplexed Elmer, turned and ran down the Apron (roughly along the line of Sparrow) as fast as I could.

11:15 PM I reached the parking lot, quickly disabled the alternator on Elmer's car, gunned my van towards the border and never looked back.

Epilogue: "Elmer" apparently survived, because he is back in the Partners Section looking for another poor sucker to attempt one of Washington's classic routes. The moral of the story? You never know what kind of psychotic you might get hooked up with when browsing for a climbing partner on
Tuesday, April 13, 2004
Howard Phillips Lovecraft, namechecked in both of today's entries.
Supernatural -- Neil Campbell and Beau Dick at the Contemporary Art Gallery, curated by Roy Arden. Forthcoming review in the Georgia Straight:

At the Contemporary Art Gallery until April 25


“The squeaky wheel gets the grease” goes the old saying, and nowhere is it more apt than in the heavily bureaucratized world of Canadian art, where artists who expect to accelerate their careers must devote time they’d usually spend in the studio to completing Canada Council grant applications or duplicating résumés and slides destined for curators’ desks. Comparatively less public attention is paid to those artists who, either by temperament or independent financial means, work around or outside the public- and commercial-gallery systems.

Curator Roy Arden’s new project at the Contemporary Art Gallery pairs two local artists, Neil Campbell and Beau Dick, in what Arden calls a “celebration” of the work of two men who, one suspects, would continue to make work even in the absence of any kind of established gallery system. The show’s title, Supernatural, refers to the B.C. tourist industry’s employment of iconic local artists like Emily Carr and Bill Reid to promote a sense of place. In Arden’s eyes, Campbell’s and Dick’s reluctance to hype themselves and their work makes them emblematic of a West Coast counter-tradition, one that, while just as rooted in place, doesn’t consciously seek public acceptance or fame. This doesn’t mean that either artist is a rube, uncritically churning art out of a cloud of feelings. Campbell was shown, for a while, by a leading New York commercial gallery, and demonstrates a sophisticated grasp of contemporary abstraction. Dick is a well-regarded Kwakwaka’wakw artist equally admired for his work’s formal innovations and his refusal to confine himself to any fixed style.

Both artists, then, are united by not only their dedication to their undeniably idiosyncratic careers but also the similar effects their objects have on viewers. Campbell’s wall paintings and relief sculptures create an almost visceral response, just as Dick’s masks do in those who experience them either as static sculptures or as accessories to dance performances.

I once saw one of Campbell’s huge wall paintings, composed of two floor-to-ceiling shapes that resembled fluorescent-pink pieces of macaroni or the tentacles of some creature out of horror novelist H. P. Lovecraft’s imagination, induce an epileptic fit in a viewer, which still strikes me as one of the highest compliments his work could ever receive. (A sketch for that painting, titled Howdy, is included in a group of studies in the current show).

Campbell’s pieces are large geometric shapes, flatly painted on walls or computer-cut from steel. These works are optical puzzles that play with illusion and perspective; things pop out of space, or bend and warp like objects in a sideshow mirror. The wall painting Saskatchewan’s fluorescent-yellow dots seem to leap off the wall and fly straight into viewers’ eyes. Dog, a computer-cut piece of painted steel, either looks like four black arrows or four white circles. Both patterns are present simultaneously, yet the eye and brain seem unable to resolve things in favour of one or the other.

Drawings and notebook sketches pinned to the wall beside the larger pieces suggest ample historical precedents for Campbell’s work: Op art, Pop art’s garish colours, Elsworth Kelly’s shaped canvases, the optical games of James Turrell, as well as M. C. Escher and Henri Matisse. Campbell blends his knowledge of these and countless other sources in a unique way, one that does not interpret the history of abstraction as a linear narrative, but rather skips lightly over history, drawing parallels between art movements and cultures that most historians would probably not dare mention in the same breath; i.e., op art and tantric art, Yogic chakras and neo-geo. I should also add that most of Campbell’s works are very funny; their manic slapstick energy owes something to Japanese cartooning and underground comics.

Campbell’s pieces are so visually distinctive that they are impossible to misidentify. Beau Dick’s masks, on the other hand, look nothing like one another. It is a tribute to Dick’s skill as a sculptor that the first impression his room of masks conveys is not that of a solo exhibition, but a group show. The two versions of the Pookmis Mask on display, for example, are “roughly” carved and finished with dry, scabby applications of white and green paint. In this way, Dick indicates both the supernatural origins of the Pookmis character and the limitations of the swelling, smoothly painted style popularized by Kwakwaka’wakw artists in the 1950s and subsequently misidentified by non-Kwakwaka’wakw artists as the preferred style, instead of one of many. Similarly, Dick’s Ghost Mask seems to nod in the direction of both Japanese anime and the look of the Scream trilogy’s psycho killer.

Associations like these show how contemporary Dick’s art really is, and how historical and modern techniques dance side by side within it, to the point where, like Campbell’s work, it becomes impossible to distinguish them, so that the only thing that remains to do is to applaud Arden’s thoughtful celebration of the “supernatural” parallels between Dick’s and Campbell’s creative indpendence.

Tales of the Plush Cthulhu -- just about what you'd expect. Thanks Dru!
Monday, April 12, 2004
Earth Impact Calculator -- lob asteroids at your favorite metropolis or other North American landmark
Are You An Artist? -- nope! Neither, by the look of things, are the guys who cooked up this site and endearingly low-fi "multimedia presentation."
Sunday, April 11, 2004
For those without an emulator, Pac-Man, Space Invaders, Moon Patrol, Tetris, and other 80s Arcade Favorites. Thanks Dru!
MAME32 -- old arcade favorites live again, thanks to this handy downloadable emulator. Snow Bros., anyone?
Tove Jansson in conversation:

"Most of the people are homesick anyway, and a little lonely, and they hide themselves in their hair and are turned into flowers. Sometimes they are turned into frogs and God keeps an eye on them the whole time and forgives them when he isn't angry and hurt and destroying whole cities because they believe in other gods."
Comet in Moominland -- the best example of Tove Jansson's watercolor work I know; this picture's weird combination of menace and surrealist charm has haunted me since childhood. Lots of other Moomin-themed work by Jansson and her sculptor companion on the same site.
Deltron 3030 -- back on the shop playlist
Tove Jansson R.I.P. -- detailed obituary and bibliography of one of the 20th century's greatest author/illustrators. The first paragraph's comparisons to Carroll and Tolkein are by no means overstated.
Moomins redux -- still photographs? screen shots? Can't be sure. Wish there was a way to dial that soundtrack down, though.
The Little Trolls and the Great Flood -- the first Moomintitle, no English translation. Aaaargh!

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