Wednesday, August 23, 2017

A Confederacy of Dunces

Rather than living in a Confederacy of Dunces,
it seems as if we are living in a nation of idiots
with a jester-in-chief & there's no consolation prize.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

MoHurley's Amazon Book Reviews 2017

Dear Ones,

Thank you for stopping by and reading my ebook reviews. I am primarily interested in women's fiction and the well-crafted murder mystery genre. I delve into historical fiction, and cosy mysteries, sometimes even alpha make action adventure series, but I am no fan of chick-lit Regency bodice rippers, nor am I a fan of sugary cupcake who-dun-its, though I will read them if there's nothing else to read.

I am also not a horror fan (though I occasionally read Willow Rose, despite her awful writing style), nor am I a big sci-fi fan (having read the best of the genre when I was young). But I like an occasional time-travel story, such as Sara Woodbury's After Cilmeri Series series. She does her medieval Welsh homework. And yes, I read all the Outlander series when they came out.

Freebooksy, BookBub, and The eReader Cafe are my main sources of free books. OHFB is another good source. So I rarely need to buy books ( I download 2-5 books a day; most books languish unread), but when I discover an author I like, I tend to buy everything they've ever written. Otherwise, I tend to review the first book in a series—which should be strong, and well written, but is often flabby and full of conundrums—as it's often the author's first book. 

So, I also try to read the sequels as well, or download the boxed sets, when they become available—to give the author another chance. Such is the case with Wayne Stinnett. I really hated his first book, and was willing to write him off, but when I read the first three books boxed in a set, the story flowed, his writing (syntax and sentence structure) improved, there were fewer typos. He hit his stride, and had found his voice as a writer by book three, so I reversed my initial decision.

I began writing Amazon Reviews in 2013 after reading a Kindle ebook that was so awful, I was distraught. My cousin suggested, rather than screeching about it, that I write an Amazon Review. And so I did. I'm into it well over a hundred reviews, total. My goal is a minimum of 25 reviews per year. I don't always make it. I am woefully behind this year...

Unfortunately many Amazon book reviews are nothing more than a popularity contest. "I liked it/didn't like it" is not a review—it's an empty response that has little, or no merit. It takes me considerable time and thought to write (and rewrite, AND rewrite) reviews. I don't take the process lightly.

And authors, I do note those pesky typos in my reviews. Too many typos, or sloppy writing garners a minus star in an otherwise perfect five-star review for a well-crafted story with solid characters. Hey, free copy editing here! 

If there's a typo in the author's bio, or story synopsis, I won't even bother downloading it. What's the point? It is my hope, that after reading my reviews, that the authors will improve their craft, correct their typos, and upload revised books so that we all benefit. 

My ad-hoc book reviews generally begin with an internal argument I have going with the author as I'm reading. Slovenly writing, and too many typos throw me out of the story. Then, I begin to flag those typos with the Kindle notes feature. That often becomes the basis of my review. But I certainly don't review only books laden with typos. With a select few books (I read far more books than I write reviews of), some inner dialogue develops, and I begin writing. I never know what book, or when.

It's almost impossible to Google search my individual reviews on Amazon (why I began reposting them here). But I found that I could add Customer reviews, MoHurley's review of (and add book title), I can access some of my reviews. If you go to the author's review page, there is now a search window to find customer reviews. I'm MoHurley. But it doesn't seem to work.

Please click on the popularity meter button at the bottom of my reviews: was the review helpful (or not). Unfortunately, negative reviews also garner negative points. My Amazon rating plunges. So LIKE some of my reviews. Amazon's all about Like. And if you leave me comments too, I will respond. Ta!

My older reviews are buried deep within my Amazon public reviews. I'm up to 12 pages' worth. So I include the direct links whenever possible here as well. Go to Amazon, MoHurley's Amazon Reviews click on the comments section under my review and that will take you to the review where you can like it. Or not.

On Blogger, I move my collected year's worth of Amazon reviews to December 31, each year. An end-of-year housekeeping event. Here they are listed by year.

I sometimes repost condensed versions of my reviews on GoodReads, but I don't think anyone actually ever reads them. I've only garnered three Likes in two years.

MoHurley's Amazon Book Reviews 2016
MoHurley's Amazon Book Reviews 2015
My Amazon Book Reviews 2014
My Amazon Book Reviews 2013

Mo's Amazon Book Reviews 2017 (in progress)

Fallen Series: A Jesse McDermitt Bundle (Caribbean Adventure Series Book 0)
Action-packed military series set in the Florida Keys, August 22, 2017
Because the first book's always free, I tend to review the first book in a series—which should be strong, and well written, but is often flabby and full of conundrums—as it's usually the author's first book. I try to read the sequels as well, before I review an author, to give the author another chance. Such is the case with Wayne Stinnett.

Despite rave reviews from authors whose work I admire, Jinx Schwartz, and Steven Becker, I really hated Stinnett's first book, and was willing to write him off. Sentence structure was so stilted, I often couldn't finish a paragraph. The second book still didn't sway me either, but when I read the first three books together, in a boxed set, the storyline flowed. Stinnett's writing (syntax and sentence structure) improved, there were fewer typos. He hit his stride, and had found his writer's voice by the end of book three, so I've reversed my initial decision. (I'm now reading Fallen Mangrove, book five).

I didn't expect to like the protagonist, retired marine, Jesse McDermott, or all the hoorah violence. I am not fond of the military/action figure genre, gratuitous guns and violence, doomsday plots, yet this series works. You wind up caring for Jesse, but a lot of the supporting characters die off early and often. So, don't get too attached. Jesse seems to have a hard time keeping his girlfriends out of harm's way, too much collateral damage. Stinnett has a way of drawing the reader in, to make you feel privy to the inner workings (and closed doors) of the military world.

The Kindle notes I had made on Stinnett's first two books, did not save to the iPad format. But I noted the usual common noun/proper noun conundrum Dad vs. lower case dad; missing apostrophes: Brinks truck should be Brink's; "modified boxers" is different than a modified boxer's pose. Just sayin'.

Wrong words: to broach is not a brooch. Rope vs. rode. But hauling in 50 feet of rode is a pretty surreal road. It's better to use embedded vs. imbedded (an alternate, archaic spelling). Satin isn't sheer. Silk often is. Weak verbs: avoid the word "get" whenever possible. The sun was starting to get lower in the sky. Why not say: The sun was sinking lower in the sky? But I see improvement with every novel. So, I'll stick with the series.

There are ten books in the Jesse McDermott Caribbean Adventure Series, plus a spinoff series. Fallen Out was a prequel, written after Fallen Palm, Fallen Hunter, and Fallen Pride (4), and serves as a better introduction to the series than the original book one. Since most authors never list their serial books in order, the rest of the series is as follows: Fallen Mangrove (5), Fallen King, Fallen Honor, Fallen Tide, Fallen Angel, and Fallen Hero (10). Then the spinoff Charity Styles series begins with Merciless Charity. And with that, I'll leave you. Over and out.

No Place to Die (Murder in the Keys-Book #1)
Amateurish writing and plot ruins this book, August 22, 2017
Material girl Olivia and hot Todd run off to Key West for a romantic getaway. Instead of getting engaged, Todd winds up dead. She's the only suspect. Enter two bizarre dysfunctional families, corrupt business partners, ex-girlfriends bent on revenge, and an author who can't wrangle her storyline.

Add shallow repetitive sentences, improbable, and implausible events: no Miranda Act was read to Olivia, hospitals are careful about patient confidentiality. And odd turns of phrase (walked into the horse's mouth), weak verbs and nouns bolstered up with a plethora of superlatives, adverbs and adjectives. It's enough to murder the senses.

And then there's veracity of location. One reader noted that: "some of the story makes me wonder if the author has ever been there [Key West] herself." I had the very same thought when I read her Caribbean "Death By" series. It seems like she's writing her scenes by way of proxy with Google Maps and Yelp, doesn't it?

Sadly Skye's not a new writer, but an old hack. What I don't get is why she persists in her slovenly writing habits. You'd think that with so many books under her belt (more than a dozen), she'd either learn to craft a decent sentence, or at least keep her facts straight. Usually she's a good storyteller, and I like the locations, but her writing style is otherwise an insult to readers. I won't mention the epic plot fail in the closet.

Suffice to day, this book is even worse than any of Jaden Skye's 12 previous "Death By..." series. Poor plot, poor character development (Olivia's an idiot), weak sentence structure, poor vocabulary. There are far too many implausible events for the reader's suspension of disbelief to kick in. Deus et Machina resolves the storyline. Her writing is otherwise an insult to readers. Don't bother.

(I wrote a long, indepth review of this book only to have Amazon crash it as I was adding the title. I don't think I can resurrect it, but I was able to save one lone paragraph in the buffer. So this will have to do, as I've spent far too much time on it. Cut my losses.)

Great storyline, garbled writing, July 23, 2017
Author John Malloy spins an imaginative yarn, and often has a touch of the poet about him in his descriptive phrases and metaphors in An Auld Bed in Havana, but the sheer plenitude of typographical and syntactical errors in the novel, plunders the storyline. It's too much work to second-guess what the author intended in this clumsily written story. By Chapter 4, I was seething, and nearly gave up by Chapter 6, but I usually finish novels, no matter how painful the writing might be.

For starters, the author confuses your for you're, and their for there, and they're. Compound words are often split into two words: lap top, Face book, make shift, master piece, under ware (underwear). Wrong words: sown for sewn, thrust for trust; quite for quiet; in route for enroute. Bambino is Italian, not Spanish. Or wrong prepositions. Or random apostrophes: Caymen's, canvas's, and canvases in the same paragraph.

Odd sentences often have random placeholder words: "The surround around the lock having been..." or "I'll need a lot of know...." or "He took a swift sharp look of his eyes as he turned his head away..." or, "a pants," or "the "splendor of sexual carousel." Multiple sentences are cobbled together without benefit of comma or period, make for some surreal reading.

At first I assumed the odd speech acts had to do with the author's attempt at capturing dialect, but it isn't so, because we were priviy to the interior monologues to all the central characters, including the protagonist, Cormack, from Ireland, his love interest, Kathie. Kathie is a Cuban English professor, who uses odd English phrases, then uses ye, or describes herself as horny.

This novel reads like a first draft, not yet ready for publication; in need of both deep editing to iron out the storyline, and a cadre of copy-editors to make it palatable.

Honeymoon For One (Honeymoon Series Book 1)
Pedantic, repetitive, unimaginative cliffhanger, June 24, 2017
Pedantic, repetitive, unimaginative, clumsy writing makes this novella a mind-numbingly boring read. Characters are shallow and inane. And they psychoanalyze their every shallow move and thought. Writing itself is shallow. Typos. Wrong words. The sentences and scenes are not fleshed out. It reads like a draft or a synopsis. Nothing much happens. Author endlessly repeats herself, in case we have reader's amnesia and are incapable of carrying an idea down the road two pages later. Her writing is superficial, it stays on the surface. Locale was great. The cliffhanger element forces you to read Book Two preview just to get closure on the first story. I finished the story with gritted teeth. Irritated by the writer, and then insulted by the cliffhanger. Horrid. I will not be buying anything from this author, and am nuking it from my library as soon as I post this review.

Every Little Kiss (Kissed by the Bay Book 1)
Half drenched story, January 1, 2017
When Wendy Watts' grandmother died, she left Wendy a controlling interest in the Blue Moon Inn, with a codicil, that she had to sell the inn after running it for a month with her brother Brian. Wendy, a realtor in Sacramento, fled Blue Moon Bay, and hadn't been home in nine years. There was family karma to work through. Her free spirited parents had left Wendy and Brian on the grandmother's doorstep at the inn. Wendy reconnects with old friends, then meets Mr. Hot on the beach, who secretly wants to buy the inn and turn it into a high-rise hotel.

The plot and weaving of a mythic story about finding love by the bay worked well in this novel set in Half Moon, I mean Blue Moon Bay. It was campy to recognize the locale, I once helped friends sell jewelry at the Pumpkin Festival. But I wasn't sure of the author's intent to disguise Half Moon Bay, because she wanted it to sound like a beer brand?

I was stymied by the author's apparent lack of vocabulary and inability to write beyond the obvious cliché. Wendy's brother Brian (and father) had emerald green eyes. Did the author really need to use this cliché twice in one chapter? Within a dozen pages? Too much flabby language. The overuse of hot, smoking hot, hotter, hottie, hotness, ad nauseum. Get a new word already. I was sick of hearing about about the hotness of Mr. Hottie's hot bum. (If I use asp, I'll get censored by Amazon...)

Then there are the illogical bits: the protagonist is drenched (kissed by the bay) and she and Mr. Hot are going for an evening stroll? Brrr. The lovestory hinges on the realization of a folktale written by one of Wendy's ancestors... California wasn't explored by Yanks until the 1850s, or settled until the 1900s. Not exactly ancestor material.

Typos: the word realtor is not capitalized. And hippie is the correct spelling, not a hippy-fly-by-night, unless those were really large hips passing in the night. And there were more....

In this case you can judge this book by its daft cover of a model in a hot pink dress blowing a kiss. Another lost opportunity. A picture of the cove, done in blues, would've added to the story.

I sent this review in before midnight, as I was trying to get 25 review posted in 2016, and it didn't post until Jan 1... Amazon is terribly slow at times.

My morning resting bitch face

In my nicest morning (I'm not awake) resting bitch face, I explained to a neighbor who had blocked the driveway to the garages with her car without leaving a note, that my partner didn't know it was her car, and so, had to park the car way down the hill, as it's a cleaning day.

As I was explaining the situation, (I was sweeping the steps) and not gratuitously grinning at her at the same time, she snarled, and called me a bitch. And when I laughed it off, while still sweeping the steps, it made her madder yet.

Apparently I am also a troll. And I haven't even had my second cuppa tea yet. Now, the resting bitch face is the real deal. And the steps and driveway are really, really clean! LOL. The thing is, I was actually very restrained (for me). She has no idea of what I'm capable of....heh. I tend to avoid conflict. Until I don't. Then I'm all in. Next time, I'll just be my usual snarlly self. Save the bother.

She was spoiling for a fight. She's always been rude to me whenever I say hi, so I no longer interact. She actually said I was messing with the wrong woman. I said Likewise, I'm sure. 

I believe self-righteous indignation is the mantle she's wearing. I needed to step out of the verbal circle sooner, even though she was the aggressor. I think she wasn't expecting me to talk back. Now that makes me laugh!

And ultimately it has to do with the fact that I don't readily engage in the rules of superficial social etiquette. Yeah, and I don't do small talk well on a good day....  At least not before my third cuppa. She's never liked me, which doesn't help matters. Because she's been rude in the past, I often act like she's not there—but I do mutter under my breath....

We're 10 cottages sharing the same driveway, but she doesn't have a garage, so her parking in the driveway to avoid a cleaning ticket, I get. But not the rudeness. She thought I was rude. So it was a preemptive strike on her part. But I could care less. Which made her madder yet, hence the taunts. As if name-calling actually worked.

I didn't say anything denigrating, or hostile, not even once. I just refused to engage in her rules. And yes, I do talk to myself, I mutter under my breath...which drove her nuts. Apparently she didn't get the message that I was born under a sarcastic sign. I'm not a fire dragon for nothing. It's a good thing she's not the thought police. Or she would've really gotten a real earful.

Must be the post eclipse-alistic blues, or there are far too many planets in retrograde.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Bread & Roses certificate of appreciation

I worked for Bread & Roses at the end of the 1970s through the early 1980s; I've been singing in the holiday chorus for nearly a decade, and I sometimes volunteer at the booth at the Kate Wolf Festival. This is the first time I've ever received a certificate of appreciation. Wow! Thrilled. Tickled, even. Ironic, also, in that I was the resident in-house calligrapher for Mimi Fariña, and times have evolved since then. Now a Mac can mimic calligraphy. My calligraphy teacher was a student of Lloyd Reynolds. Another odd note: Steve Jobs attended Lloyd Reynolds' calligraphy classes at Reed, which impressed him so much, that it became the design face of Macs, ushering in the desktop revolution. Full circle.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Broken Argument haiku

He said: I will break
you. Too late, I am shattered
well beyond repair.

But I'm the willow
resilient stems weeping
on the farthest shore.

I spend the morning
writing of Paul's last concert.
We knew all the words.

Now I've none at all
Summer fog filled with useless
tears, laden with anguish.

His apology
like spitting in the ocean.
Sky mirrors my thoughts.

White bridge, a life-line
shrouded shore of no return.
Barricaded heart.

An act of selfless
preservation, or fear?
Run from the enemy.

Who says: I will break
you, expecting no resistance?
The picket line crossed.

I have no words left.
No tears to soften the heart,
this final trespass.


Friday, August 11, 2017


Classmate Steve Tristano in Oregon 1952-2015

2nd grade, Mrs Burge had left the room,
Lennie's son, Steve Tristano climbed up
on the piano bench to bang out a boogie woogie,
we were all rocking out—until she returned.
Busted. Instead of praise, she raged
and let out an anachronic scream
that ripped open the fabric of the universe.
We cowered as Steve took the brunt of her anger.
In that way, we knew jazz was bad, very bad.
A siren call, a farewell to arms. An addiction.
And Steve slipped off his moorings a bit—
the descent into darkness had begun.

Defiant Fruitcakes

Filed under "Lost Desserts" Hundred-Year-Old Antarctic Fruitcake Found in 'Excellent Condition Conservators with Antarctic Heritage Trust have uncovered a perfectly preserved fruitcake that dates back to Robert Falcon Scott’s ill-fated Terra Nova expedition, which began in 1910.
A curious headline made me think of my Victorian grandmother who made fruitcake every fall for Christmas gifts. It did seem like they would keep forever. I guess that Hundred-Year-Old Antarctic Fruitcake Found in 'Excellent Condition is proof enough.

When the nights began to draw in, my grandmother would haul out the dried fruit she had stockpiled in the closet, usually three types of raisins, including tiny tart currants, and golden sultanas; sometimes she had dried figs, prunes, or Medjool dates; candied ginger, and the prerequisite jars of preserved glacéed fruit—a mixture of citrus, citron (candied melon peel) and candied cherries. (She used to make glacéed fruit from scratch—I remember helping her make candied orange rinds.) And a bottle of port.

We'd crack pecans and walnuts from 25-pound bags, tossing the buggy ones in the fire along with the shells. They'd sizzle and hiss like snakes as we gazed into the fire while she told me stories.

In Ireland, Valencia oranges were a special Christmas gift. They arrived from Spain wrapped in foil, and were cherished right down to the rind. Dried raisins and nuts were hard to come by, and spices were a luxury few could afford, so women hoarded the ingredients, when they could get them, for that special steamed Christmas pudding or wedding cake. In Ireland, wedding cakes are traditionally fruitcakes: a symbol of wealth and abundance.

The key ingredients of the fruitcake were part of a curious family history. They were foot soldiers marching in an act of defiance agains unjust land laws. During the 1920s, Asians and Indians, ineligible for US citizenship, couldn't own farmland in California. This made my Irish grandfather angry, so he bought farmland in Fresno for his friend Jahn Singh, and held the land title to circumvent the unjust alien land laws. 

Every autumn Jahn Singh remembered our family with bushels of fruits and nuts.  My grandmother would receive crates of oranges, raisins, pecans and walnuts as payment for the Fresno farmland that my grandfather had bought for Jahn. 

When the anti-Japanese California Alien Land Laws of 1913, and of 1920, also known as the Webb-Haney Act, were repealed in the 1950s, my grandfather turned the land title over to Jahn Singh. 
The law prohibited "aliens ineligible for citizenship " from owning agricultural land or possessing long-term leases over it. It affected the Chinese, Indian, Japanese, and Korean immigrant farmers in California....The California Alien Land Law of 1920 continued the 1913 law filling many of its loopholes... the leasing of land for a period of three years or less was no longer allowed; owning of stock in companies that acquired agricultural land was forbidden; and guardians or agents of ineligible aliens were required to submit an annual report on their activities. —Wiki
Something ancient was evoked as my grandmother assembled the ingredients. Making fruitcake was a many day affair, from making the candied fruit, to shelling the nuts, and soaking the dried fruit.

My grandmother soaked the dried fruit overnight in port, or rum. Next morning, she sifted the flour with baking soda, and a litany of spices (equal parts cinnamon, ginger, and a scant measurement of nutmeg, allspice, clove and mace) to coat the dried fruit and nutmeats. Then she doused the dry mixture with a mixture of creamed butter, eggs, brown sugar and molasses. During Prohibition, bootleg whiskey was used to soak the dried fruit if a bottle port couldn't be finagled from the church stores.

My grandmother mixed the ingredients up with her large knotted hands in vast ceramic vats, standing over them like a field marshall. The round, and half round cake pans were already well greased and the bottoms lined with oiled brown paper bags.

She filled the cake pans to the brim (fruitcake doesn't rise), tamping them down on the table with soft thuds to dislodge any air bubbles. Then she placed the cakes in three tiers on tall racks inside the vast aluminum canning pot half-filled with water. The canning pot was a modern day version of the cauldron. It double-trouble, boiled and bubbled. 

The fruitcakes were steamed atop the stove for several hours, they were never baked in the oven. The stem vent atop the canning pot lid, with its three roller latches, chattered a little song and dance into the evening hours as I drew pictures with my finger on the steamy kitchen windows dripping with condensation. By the way, fruitcake, a steamed pudding, is a medieval dish, pretty much unchanged across the centuries. 

Once the fruitcakes had cooled overnight, there was a bathing ritual (in whiskey) a swaddling ritual (wrapped in thin muslin or in cheesecloth) and a cloaking ritual (in tinfoil), before they were placed in their air-tight Christmas tins. They needed to be carefully tended during the first few months, dressed and bathed every few days until they ripened. She kept a few extra fruitcakes on hand to ripen, as fruitcake was deemed best when it was left to ripen (or ferment) at least 3 months, to a year, or longer. A union of space and time.

Fruitcake was never eaten fresh from the steamer. The flavors needed time to mellow and meld into a rich marriage of spiced goodness. Months, years, even. She had a few fruitcake that were ancient. Not 100 years old, but old enough. The time-defying secret was in the ritual bathing in booze. Fruitcakes were unwrapped to receive an annual anniversary bath of booze to preserve them, then rewrapped, placed in tins, and stored in dark cupboards. And later, the back of the refrigerator.

Whenever unexpected guests came over, she'd bring out thin slices of the dense, boozy, nut-studded fruitcake, along with the pot of Irish tea and whiskey. The thin fruitcake slices were like a rich mosaic of stained glass panes on the shining plates, Sadly, they wouldn't touch the fruitcake, perhaps thinking it was the commercial American version, a baked sawdust hockey-puck affair, studded with plastic candied citron and day-glo cherries, so she eventually quit making it. And I never thought to ask her for the recipe.

How did the fruitcake, something once so opulent, and made with love, become such a hated symbol of the holidays? The substitution of facsimile ingredients: rancid nuts, inferior dried fruit, and the prerequisite jars of commercial glacéed fluorescent fruit that swept the market during the 60s and 70s, directly led to the fruitcake's fall from grace. The honeymoon was over. Americans said, Let's call the whole thing off. Another tradition bit the dust. And the very word was beggared and denigrated to an insult of insanity: She's a real fruitcake.

It must've made my grandmother sad to let go of such a venerable tradition, to let die a family labor of love that was passed down the generations from her mother, and her mother's mother, in Ireland. A family heirloom. I still collect the fruitcake tins, though I haven't made a fruitcake, ever. None of my cousins would dream of making fruitcake today, My mother was not domestic, and all my aunts are gone now... no one left to carry on the tradition.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Mill Valley's Unknown Museum and the Gluers Junk Art Movement

Embedded in my hitchhiking blog post, was a small story on the Unknown Museum, time for its own post, something i've been resisting for years—then I found the old photos. This is still very much in progress...
In 1969, on the long coattails of the Summer of Love, at the age of 22, eccentric LA artist Mickey McGowan moved to Sausalito with nothing more than the proverbial shirt on his back. Penniless, he shared a studio with a friend, Rat Soup, at the Sausalito Art Center for $80 a month. 

"A lot of us had our first shows there, myself with my drawings. Rat Soup with his sculpture." To make ends meet, he slept in his car, or sometimes in the studio, and worked at the Trident kitchen for chickenfeed. "Every night Miles would stroll in and Janis, or Crosby, the mainstays of the place." (Marin Nostalgia). My mom, who was working at the Trident, between theater performances, said even Perry Como used to drop in. And of course, the Limelighters All, were in situ.

McGowan, taught himself to make shoes, called himself the Apple Cobbler, and set up a funky little shop in downtown Mill Valley in 1973, and soon was court shoemaker to the rockstars (Grateful Dead, the Doobie Brothers, The Tubes, Journey), artists, and fashionistas. His wild hand-stitched leather boots and quirky one-of-a-kind brocade boots festooned with doll heads and toy tanks were in high demand. 

Mickey also made non-functional art shoes. (Combat Boot Stepping Out Shoes in World Culture, on exhibit at SFO International Terminal until Nov. 12, 2017.) Mickey was a Marin City flea market regular, often seen collecting kitsch for his art shoes and assemblage art. The small accumulations of ephemera and knick-knacks decorating the shop corners soon became a monstrous collection threatening to engulf the shop.

Around 1974, McGowan, in need of larger digs, moved into an old 
radiator shop at 35 Corte Madera Ave, across from City Hall, in Mill Valley to house what later was dubbed "the world's largest private collection of pop cultural artifacts" (Paul Liberatore). He shared his low-rent garage-atilier ($200 a month) with a motley collective of psychedelic-era glue artists, and the Unknown Museum was born.

Mickey had teamed up with other like-minded junk artists, later dubbed “gluers” or glue-artists, Larkspur artist Dickens "44" Bascom, Larry Fuente, and David Best at the Sausalito Art Center. 

I remember meeting them at the annual Sausalito Art Fair, held at the closed Bayside School—where the glue artists made a big splash when they lined a toilet bowl with copper pennies. And yes, it worked. The toilet made a serious impression on me as I really had to go. Pennies from heaven. (In those days the 65-year-old Labor Day festival was more of a funkadelic extension of the Marin City flea market, than the swanky affair it is today.)

My first recollection of the Unknown Museum was when it was firmly housed in the stucco automotive garage circa 1976. The roof was crenulated with 1950s-style TVs anchored along the ramparts. Mysterious banks of TV sets were o
vergrown with nasturtiums and electrical cords dangled down like roots. A decomposed teddy bear was caught napping too long in the baby carriage by a leafy green spear of dandelion blooming from his navel. A life-sized Colonel Sanders in front reigned over his court. A flying horse sign. The only thing missing was a Doggie Diner dog.

A bejeweled mannequin with a crown of antlers greeted the brave visitor at the door. Inside, you were assaulted by all manner of weirdness: there were stacks of tin lunch boxes, stuffed animals pickled in formaldehyde jars, homages to white bread. A large doll covered with spikes in a traveling trunk. A twist on the proverbial bed of nails. 

The visceral impact of seeing so much 20th c. detritus, everything in multiples, was overwhelming. Everywhere you turned there was also an invisible cloudbank of metaphors waiting to be plucked from the air. Mandalas made of bullets, toy cars, lighters, pens and pencils, bloomed like supernovae on what little wall space there wasA tower of dead clocks. A school of plastic sharks swam in a dry aquarium, other aquariums filled with toy water pistols, armies of GI Joes and Mr. Potato Heads. 

Broken TVs doubled as curio and diorama display spaces. McGowan said he had something like 300 TVs, many of them often blaring at the same time. Art was an act of resistance. We were confronted with bureaus transformed into nostalgic altars to JFK and Camelot, deep fur-lined drawers with tableau elegies to the massive backdrop of Vietnam, the fallout from Reganomics, and the threat of nuclear war. 

The museum was also home to a full-sized découpage fiberglass horse, along with odd metailic otherworldly creatures that were vacuum cleaners in a former life. Another toilet lined with an assortment of coins at the back of the store looked like it also served as a defacto coin purse during more desperate times. 

I remember a very large record collection, 10,000 albums, and that's not counting the 45s; an eclectic musical archive, more records than one could listen to in a lifetime (I only owned a few records), and the impish gluer Mickey McGowan himself, a blue-eyed son in horn-rimmed glasses, presiding over his mad-hatterly realm. 

Gowan, in Irish, means smithy, as in the Goibniu, an alchemist god who forged iron from dirt. Mac means "son of." Mickey was a true son of the great Goibniu, the Tuatha Dé Danann patron god of blacksmiths. He hammer and tonged art from the most unlikely of things, making art from detritus. He was also a son of Lugh, patron god of shoemakers, the god of both skill and the distribution of talent. And we all know that Leprechauns are cobblers.
Declutter was not in his vocabulary.You might say he had highly refined hoarding instinct skills. A fertile garden for the mind bordering on the nightmarish guaranteed to haunt your dreams. But the controlled chaos was also very zen-like. Mickey arranged ordinary objects according to thematic structure, aesthetic sensibility, and often with humor. Because of Dickens and Mickey, arranging random objects is something I do to this day.

Mickey McGowan said in an Image Magazine interview: "I always thought that if your mom threw it away, the Unknown Museum was the place to come. Once I tried to create a sort of Zen space there, a room that was spare and austere, but when I'd go in there I'd go nuts wondering what I should put in. Gor me the perfect Zen space is jammed with all kinds of stuff. Zen is all one, isn't it? Well this is all one, the purity of allness." (Cabinet of Wonders).

Tthe Unknown Museum was the place where one man's trash was magically transformed another one's art. It was an amalgam of Americana, or an "assemblage of American life," as Mickey dubbed it. Art masterpieces were created from the recycled detritus collected from the discards of American consumerism. The artist movement
was spearheaded by a group called the Moligator Manufacturing Company, the Northern Frog Works. They met and exchanged gluable materials like costume jewelry, rubber mice, teeth, baby heads, tennis balls, bottle caps, plastic salt shakers and beyond. Dickens Bascom, a noted northern California gluer, looked forward to the day when he could join other gluers and purchase a large office building and decorate it in their fashion. “I’m determined to do it,” he says. “I think it’s something people need.” —Art Car Central
The Unknown Museum became a counter-culture pilgrimage site (along with the Garden of Allah), where artists and the likes of John Beluchi and Bill Graham dropped in to check out the weirdness. It became a Sunday afternoon destination outing. I imagined zen beatnik Alan Watts, who championed disengaging from the past to live in the moment, also visiting and laughing his great laugh, as he lived down the street at the time. When queried about Watts' idea of the past and time present, Mickey said:
To deny the past would be foolish it seems to me, because it’s what you’ve lived – you can’t change it. You should accept what lessons you’ve learned and what’s gone on, and of course, look to the future....
As we sit here in this room now we have to think of the present, what’s happening. But we’re affected by the past and consequently we’re going to affect the future.... The past is a great teacher. (Donnakova interview)
Almost famous: The Unknown Museum was featured on Bay Area Backroads, and in museum guides, including Art in America. The Unknown Museum posthumously became the nostalgic darling of myriad articles, books, films, and television news spots, long after the museum met its ironic demise in 1984, when the old radiator shop was purchased by Smith and Hawken and morphed into an upscale nursery and garden shop. From proverbial eyesore to gentrification in one fell swoop. There went the neighborhood in more ways than one.

McGowan hauled his cargo of Americana to a rambling ranch-style house up the street
at 243 E. Blithedale Ave (now condos). I remember the gates were made of discarded skis. Bowling ball brooded in nests. The museum was off the beaten path, less accessible, but a sign, "This is your life" greeted you at the entrance. And it was true. It was what you made of it. (photos)

I'm not quite sure how I wound up with several pairs of skis, to carry on the slippery slope of collection. Or how much the museum impacted my own art. I recently found a cigar box art from my class with Inez Storer's class, lined with white rabbit fur. The Unknown Museum was something to behold with all its repurposed Americana detritus as iconography—the ultimate recycler's wetdream. But that too came to an end.

What survives the Unknown Museum are images frozen on film. Arrested time. The trashman cometh and he taketh away. Recycled technology. One man's garbage. Out of the rubbish heap, a phoenix circles the place of its birth. Glittering birds of memory.

The Unknown Museum closed its doors for good in 1989, and some 50 truckloads later, McGowan moved, with proverbial lock, stock, and barrel to San Rafael.The curious contents of the museum are shoaled up in a large old Victorian house that McGowan bought San Rafael, and to this day, vintage stuff continues to accumulate in every corner. According to Marin IJs Paul Liberatore:
He still collects every day, making a living liquidating estate sales and buying, selling and trading rare books, manuscripts, "ephemera" and neglected recordings of weird folk songs, bird calls and sound effects that he stores in a nearby warehouse. —Unknown Museum lives on, privately
McGowan may no longer be in the public eye, he gave up cobbling shoes, but he does rent out 50s-70s furniture and memorabilia to local film production companies. He also exhibited a collection of installations at the Falkirk Cultural Center in San Rafael in 1994. Mickey was also a curator for "Take Two: Refuse, Rescued & Re-created," at the O'Hanlon Center for the Arts in Mill Valley in 2009. The tradition has been passed onto the next generation of junk artists in the exhibit. Said Mickey:
"The Unknown Museum began by recycling and re-using things and paying attention to what we're discarding," McGowan noted. "It evolved into pop culture, but that was later.... We made our contribution as a matrix for the creative spirit," he said of the Unknown Museum and the "glue artists" he worked with, among them David Best, Dickens Bascom and the late Lois Anderson. –Exhibit of 55 recycled, reused artworks gets once-over from Mill Valley's Unknown Museum's ex-curator
When asked why he collected things by Marin Nostalgia, Mickey answered: "It’s a relaxant much like, perhaps, a mental Xanax. And that’s therapeutic. It’s cheaper and healthier. You don’t get the drugs in your system…" Mickey cobbled his last shoe in 1979. He said the glue was getting to him, he didn't charge enough money for his work.

Mickey's co-curator, Dickens Bascom (photo) is reportedly back in Marin after long sojourn on a small island near Costa Rica or Panama. (His recent work was exhibited at Sol Food in San Rafaela few years ago), Larry Fuente was spotted in Mendocino, and last seen slouching toward west Texas in an art car. David Best can be found in situ at Burning Man each fall when he's not at his Petaluma ranch on Sonoma Mountain.

Meanwhile, McGowan still dreams of resurrecting a new Unknown Museum at a new site. What brave new dreams may come of it, who knows?

Whatever happened to this silly creature?


Long before Burning Man, art cars were commonplace in Marin during the 1960s. The Merry Pranksters' school bus, Further was one trippy ride. I speak from personal experience. We saw a lot of Janis Joplin's a psychedelic painted white Porsche convertible, as she lived on my road. She never gave us a ride. But she'd always wave, her hair flying wildly behind her. To be fair, it was only a two-seater.

Most of the VW buses with their peace symbols hiding the VW logo, tooling up and down Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, were constantly evolving works of art. And they always braked for hitchhikers.

The Unknown Museum was the unofficial watering hole for art cars in need of a touch-up or a make-over. Dickens "44" Bascom's Ford Falcon mosaic art car was a moving mandala with a stupa on top. Apparently Dickens "44" Bascom, whom I called Dick, was born on the 44th day of 1944 at 44 minutes past 4:00 AM. The man famous for being a curator of the Unknown Museum and the car with a 1000 soles.

An old Rambler station wagon filled with doll's heads, and a vintage black Fiat chock-full of stuffed toys and imprisoned dolls with their faces pressed against the glass, were permanently parked out front of the Unknown Museum garage.

On the defunct Art Car Central website & Pinterest

Dickens Bascom's Ford Falcon car had sole, a lot of soles, actually. About a thousand crepe rubber sneaker soles standing in as scales on the fins.  It also had a resident typewriter esconced on the trunk, which still worked, I once composed a ditty on it when it was parked outside the hardware store in Fairfax. He sometimes gave me a lift to Fairfax where he lived, when I was hitching home to Forest Knolls. I once gave him a bag full of my brother's broken toys to mend his car as some of the toys had fallen off. People used to toss coins into it, as if it were a wishing well, which took care of the gas money.

Bascom himself (gleaned from M. Kathryn Thompson, Facebook)

David Best, a friend from ceramics class, told me about a chia-seed sprout covered Oldsmobile. He said they couldn't drive the car very fast. Late at night the deer came down to graze on the car. David said they were constantly repairing the bald spots from the deer's late night picnics. The burly bison head hood ornament didn't scare them off. And you had to water the car to keep the chia seed alive—this was during the drought.

One day, David invited me over to the Unknown Museum to take photos of his latest art car. David decopaged an entire vintage ’50s Cadillac. The hood ornament was a water buffalo head with red eyes. The flanks of the car were lined with broken mirrors, like a Matisse study of light on water.

The Fiat stuffed with Disney toys and Barbie dolls, didn't run, but David's Caddy did—we sat in it, but I never got a ride in it. It was an occupational hazard to ride in an art car and expect to get to your destination.

That Cadillac was like a homage to water. A Las Pulgas water temple on wheels. This was during the great Marin County water drought, which rode hot on the heels of the great gas shortage. 

The sides of that gas-hog were of faceted glass and on the mink-lined back seat, plastic ketchup bottles, stuffed toys, rubber ducks, and toasters were chauffeured about in style.

Myriad mirrored prisms followed me as I circled the car. I was taking photos of my own reflections. It was a vast fragmented kinetic jigsaw puzzle. 

I was sufficiently blown away by the sheer magnitude of stuff ensconced on every available surface. The incredible attention to detail was overwhelming. These cars were glued together with resin and epoxy. Superglue hadn't yet been invented. At least I remembered to take some photos.

Perhaps the biggest surprise were the happy toasters nestled like lovebirds in the backseat. Thus began my career as a curiosity correspondent, and an arranger of things.

I'm not sure when these photos were taken, somewhere between 1973 and 1977.  Mickey McGowan said that the museum wasn't founded until 1974. I went to College of Marin until 1973. I returned for a few classes at CoM, as I didn't like San Francisco State, I dropped out, and was transitioning to Sonoma State by 1976-77. So, other than the horse, which I clearly dated on my photo album, the photos are anywhere from 1973 -1976ish. I also have slides awaiting digital somewhere. 


One time, Dickens Bascom and Larry Fuente hauled the decopauged life-size model horse out to a pond where the Dollar house once stood—on the San Geronimo Golf Course in the winter of 1977. Luckily I had my camera with me (and a fresh roll of Kodachrome) so, I stuck around. 

Larry and Dickens did a great Lady Godiva number at sunset. The girl wore a red cape and had a lot of red hair. Not much else. Commuters returning from in town nearly drove off the road, when they spotted her. With that kind of horsepower, I'm sure some were muttering about looking under the hood. Alas, I don't have any photos of Lady Godiva on the horse, perhaps I was too shy, but I did manage to get a few shots of the horse.

Larry Fuente & Dickens Bascom tacking up the horse.

You can see the foreleg and chest of the horse inside the Unknown Museum in this photo which was probably taken between 1974 and 1977.

I never got a photo of Dickens' art car, but I did manage to document his horse at the San Geronimo Golf Course. Sadly Long's Drugs Kodak developer sliced all my negatives in two lengthwise. I was able to salvage a few sliced photos (magically healed with a cloning tool). I don't actually know if the horse was Larry's or Dickens' creation. (Or both.) But Dickens and I were friends of sorts, so I mostly related to him.

Note bene: I cannibalized the core of this piece from a blog post I wrote in 2010: Hitching in Marin during late 60s, early 70s   And I lifted a few bits from my Letter to David Best from 1989 which mentions the Unknown Museum. This was the Facebook thread that got me on a roll on this post. I didn't realize that i had conflated Larry Fuente with Dick Bascom, until I saw Bascom's recent FB page. Those crazy eyes! I still call Dickens Dick, as that's how I learned his name. So, stet already.
Still to do: research Al Farow (sp), who, like David Best, was more prolific with the support of Rene di rosa.
Lois Anderson (aka Lotus Carnation) was one of the artists at the Unknown Museum in Mill Valley. According to a FB thread, she was a school librarian who dressed outrageously.  Bethany Argisle who was a performer at the UM, and has boots made by Mickey. We're now FB friends. I've written to Paul Liberatore and Mickey McGowan to see if I can get more first person perspective. Wait and see.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

A reflection on Women & Technology: James Damore's Google Manifiasco

It seems yet another Facebook post got the better of me (but not bested me), and my comments have manifestoed and manifestered into fodder for a blog post of sorts.

Wow! When I read Google engineer James Damore's Google manifesto argued that biological differences make women less apt to perform in the tech industry, I saw red. Biology has nothing to do with a lack of women in technology. Why it's a hot issue is because Danmore's so-called 'manifesto" advances patently incorrect assumptions about harmful gender stereotypes. 

I have several relatives who are/were forefront in the field of technology. A cousin, key mathematician on the Manhattan Project, an aunt who did programming for IBM back in the early 1960s, cousins who work/ed for Apple, Pixar, Dropbox, etc. I happen to fix (or rebuild) the computers, and problem-solve all the software issues in our household, and for family and friends too. Not my male partner.

So, I'm quite sure competent women in the technology field are not an anomaly, nor the only reason why they're in the industry is solely because of equality, or affirmative action, as Damore suggests in his ten-page Alt-rightish manifesto. Alas it's couched with a request to open up dialogue—after taking potshots at women in general. The reason for the low numbers of women in the technology workplace is about discrimination at the grassroots level.

And for the record, among the first to create a computer program, to create a compiler, and create object-oriented programming were women. (See my list below).

BTW, I'm taking some flack over on Facebook from a few men for daring to counter their perceived male enclave, and swim with their sharktank mentality. One asshat had the audacity to ask me to stop posting on my own FB thread, thinking that I couldn't possibly a) have read said manifesto, and b) didn't understand or comprehend what it said.

I object to Danmore's use of absurd clichéd gendered stereotypes to support his argument that enough women aren't in the technology field.Biology is not the reason why there are fewer women in the technology field. Discrimination is. 

KQED News, SF Gate, and Tech Insider paraphrased, but did not publish the memo, which you can read on Gizmodo, along with prefaces and an interesting epigram. What was more enlightening was a post from Yonatan Zunger, former senior Google employee: 
"So it seems that someone has seen fit to publish an internal manifesto about gender and our “ideological echo chamber.” I think it’s important that we make a couple of points clear.
(1) Despite speaking very authoritatively, the author does not appear to understand gender.
(2) Perhaps more interestingly, the author does not appear to understand engineering.
(3) And most seriously, the author does not appear to understand the consequences of what he wrote, either for others or himself.

It’s true that women are socialized to be better at paying attention to people’s emotional needs and so on — this is something that makes them better engineers, not worse ones. ...
And this is addressed specifically to the author of this manifesto.

What you just did was incredibly stupid and harmful. You just put out a manifesto inside the company arguing that some large fraction of your colleagues are at root not good enough to do their jobs, and that they’re only being kept in their jobs because of some political ideas.  Read the entire rebuttal at Medium.
(With much thanks to BizTech Insider's excellent article: Mothers of Technology: 10 Women Who Invented and Innovated in Tech)

Among the first to create a computer program, to create a compiler, and create object-oriented programming were women (in no particular order):
  • Ada Lovelace invented the world’s first computer algorithm. Lovelace was hired by Charles Babbage in 1843, to document his never-to-be-realized “computer,” the Analytical Engine, intended to count Bernoulli numbers. 
"Many persons who are not conversant with mathematical studies imagine that because the business of [Babbage’s Analytical Engine] is to give its results in numerical notation, the nature of its processes must consequently be arithmetical and numerical, rather than algebraical and analytical. This is an error. The engine can arrange and combine its numerical quantities exactly as if they were letters or any other general symbols; and in fact it might bring out its results in algebraical notation, were provisions made accordingly,” —Ada Lovelace
  • Dr. Erna Hoover invented a telephony switching computer program that kept phone lines functioning under stressful loads. Her 1971 patent for telephony technology was one of the first software patents ever issued. She developed on her idea while in the hospital after the birth of her second daughter. 
  • Common Business-Oriented Language, based on the FLOW-MATIC language, was invented by Grandma COBOL, Grace Hopper. Hopper was the first person to create a compiler for a programming language and one of the first programmers of the Mark I computer in 1949. The programmers of the ENIAC computer, were six women mathematicians; Marlyn Meltzer, Betty Holberton, Kathleen Antonelli, Ruth Teitelbaum, Jean Bartik, and Frances Spence. Adele Goldstine was one of the teachers and trainers of the six original programmers of the ENIAC computer in 1944. Hopper also popularized the term "debugging" from a moth fowling up the works. 
  • Adele Goldberg was one of seven programmers that developed Smalltalk in the 1970s, one of the first object-oriented programming languages, and the base of today's current graphic user interface. Smalltalk was utilized by Apple to launch Lisa in 1983, and Macintosh in 1984. Windows 1.0 was launched in 1985. 
  • IT trailblazer Barbara Liskov of MIT, inventied CLU, a programming language that was the foundation for object-oriented programming; Argus, a programming language, an extension of CLU, that supports distributed programs; and Thor, an object-oriented database system. Which led to the imvention of Mac OS X, Objective-C, Visual Basic.NET and Java. 
  • Another object-oriented language, Simula 67, was created by Kristen Nygaard and Ole-Johan Dahl of the Norwegian Computing Center in Oslo. 
  • In 1985 Radia Perlman developed Ethernet technology. Her Spanning Tree Protocol (STP) made it possible to build massive networks by creating an innovative mesh network of layer-2 bridges—by disabling the links not part of that tree. This had a significant impact on network switches, thus making Perlman the Mother of the Internet. She has done extensive and innovative research, in the field of encryption and networking. 
  • Mary Lou Jepsen co-founded and served as chief technology officer of MicroDisplay in 1995, and created the small display screen. She also headed the display division at Intel, until she co-founded One Laptop Per Child. She invented the X O, the lowest-power, and lowest cost green notebooks ever made. She is the the founder of Pixel Qi. 
  • Meg Whitman is President and CEO of Hewlett Packard Enterprise. 
  • Then there's Marissa Mayer, Google’s first female engineer. Mayer, who stepped down as President and CEO of Yahoo! when it was sold to Verizon, was Google’s first female engineer. She led product management and engineering for Google Maps, Local Search, Google Earth, Street View and Latitude. Her user interface designs and product vision placed Google at the forefront as the leading web, mobile, and search engine company. 
“The number one most important thing we can do to increase the number of women in tech is to show a multiplicity of different role models," Mayer said in article for The Huffington Post. “The stereotype of that very complete and rigid picture of what being a computer scientist means really hurts people's understanding and ability to identify with the role and say, ‘Yes, this is something I can be in and want to be in.’”

Yeah, please mansplain to me again Mr. Danmore, or is it Mr. Want (I am entitled to) Damn More, why women don't belong in technology because of "biological differences." You got your 15 minutes of fame. The Alt-right is rolling out the Breitbart carpet.

Women in Computing
Mothers of Technology: 10 Women Who Invented and Innovated in Tech
Google Fires Engineer Who Wrote Memo Questioning Women in Tech
Contra Grant On Exaggerated Differences

Monday, July 31, 2017

The day Sam Shepherd died

My mind works in peculiar ways on a good day. We were having a yard sale at my cousins' house in Nicasio and I was lamenting that everyone who stopped were strangers. But then it all changed. First the Peter Coyote lookalike dropped by and left empty-handed, then one of the McIsaacs from Tocaloma (Bud) stopped by. I told him I used to go out with Allan McIsaac. Suddenly it was old home week. And then I sold my toy spool Nessie to Phil Waddell for a buck, he was in a red car and the toy matched. He's from 71 Alta in Lagunitas. He said it was the house next to the one where all the musicians came to play....probably Jean Paul Picken's place, which led to a rather convoluted discussion of the good old days, to Big Brother & the Holding Company, to Janis, Herself (we lived near Barbano's summer camp on Arroyo) because meanwhile someone was wailing away on some blues number at the Rancho Nicasio, which led to a story on Ken Kesey, and the Diggers...which made me think of Lynn Deutra and the Forest Knolls Freestore in the basement of Ron and Marsha Thelin's old red house on Resaca. Which made me inexplicably think of Sam Shepherd. Don't ask. Even I can't make out that connection, other than I used to see him in Mill Valley when I worked for Mimi Fariña. Then I just found out that he died. You see how it goes? The old homes of memory. Circular breathing.