Friday, August 31, 2012

wacky tacky Icons: Yma Sumac

Yma Sumac
13 September 1922 - 1 November 2008

In high school my friend's house was the party house; they had a pool table, a soda machine, a deep fryer, a pool, giant televisions, and a jukebox.  Her parents were really cool in the eat-whatever-you-want-we'll-just-be-over-here-drinking-wine-and-dirty-dancing-to-"Mustang Sally" kind of way.  It wasn't quite the duck phone/miniature train set-up of Silver Spoons, but it was cool.  I truly thought the coolness ended with the bottomless platter of taquitos and the sodas dispensed from the machine with absolutely no quarters required; it was impossible for me to fully realize the depth of their cool until the day they fired up the jukebox and out throbbed the breathtaking, five-octave range of the "Peruvian Nightingale" - weightlessly trilling one moment and growling like an injured tigress the next.  I still get the chills anytime I hear the vocal talents of Yma Sumac.

"Taki Rari" - Yma Sumac

If Martin Denny was the godfather of Exotica, Yma Sumac was the reigning high priestess.  Purportedly the descendant of an ancient-Incan tribal chief, Yma Sumac considered herself royalty and operated as a princess in every aspect of her life.  I think that was part of her allure - the regal poise, the mysterious background, the exoticism.

"The first one to tell me I'm not an Incan princess is the first one to die."

I'm always thinking of topics for posts and was ashamed of myself when I hadn't thought of featuring Yma Sumac - until I got an email from a friend.  The email contained a link to a craigslist ad for a vintage television cabinet in the chinoiserie style.  The text of the ad indicated that this television once belonged to none other than Yma Sumac.  I battled with myself over calling the seller to see if it was still available, but ultimately decided against it because I just could not justify the expense for something that was so impractical.  As cool as the piece may be, I have no regrets because I like it much more for the provenance than the style.  Although, let's just say that if someone gave it to me, I would not be upset.

Coincidentally, as I was writing this post, my pal, Suzanne, over at Sweetie Suz, posted a wonderful blog about her most recent ebay purchase, a silver evening bag and matching gloves that belonged to the one and only Yma Sumac.  She brilliantly contacted the seller, who ended up being a close personal friend of Ms. Sumac, and asked if she could do an interview about his relationship with Ms. Sumac as fan, friend, make up artist, and confidant in the last years of her life.  Suzanne's post was so far superior to mine, with its first-hand information, that I thought about scratching this post altogether, but I figured too much Yma is just about right.

I was semi-familiar with Suzanne's interviewee, Damon Devine, only because I have followed his Facebook page devoted to Yma, Yma Sumac:The Final Recordings.  The page was created to highlight the previously unreleased recordings of Yma's later years but we are frequently treated to photos of the star and her gowns/costumes as well. 

A beautiful illustration of a gown designed for Yma

The star in the actualized gown

A legendary peacock gown

Even when draped in the familiar silhouettes of the time period in which they were created, each of Sumac's gowns spoke to something romantic and strange - the exotic!  As thrillingly-foreign as her look always was, it was really Sumac's voice that enchanted audiences and made her an international star.  So much is made of her vocal range, but I find her brilliance lies the amazing control she had over her voice; some notes have the vulnerability of an endangered tropical bird and others have the abandon of a primal scream.  Listeners may not understand the meaning of every word, but the dynamism with which she tells her dramatic stories becomes a musical Esperanto.

"Tumpa" - Yma Sumac

Yam Sumac appears on "Late Night with Dave Letterman" (1987)

Strangely enough, the only comparable star I can think of to Yma Sumac is Carmen Miranda.  They were both icons of exaggerated South American culture at a time when, thanks to The Good Neighbor Policy, Americans were just discovering the variety of beauty to be found there.  While Miranda represented the dazzling, carefree spirit of Carnival and the brilliance of sunny Rio, Sumac represented the dizzying heights of the Andes and the moody darkness of the deepest jungle.  If you have not made Yma Sumac a regular part of your record rotation, here is your call to repentance.  After all, the Brits don't have the market cornered on royalty, and we all could use an Incan princess in our lives, right?

Try it, you'll like it


Mr. Tiny

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Signs of the Times: Dal Rae Restaurant

I'm going to try and sneak in one or two more posts before we leave for Spain next week, so here goes...

As I have mentioned, mid-20th Century steakhouse have become more than a passing fancy for me.  It is the timeless ritual to which I am drawn as well as the manner of service that strikes me at once as charming, endearingly dated, and somewhat of an endangered species. 

Based on the rich rewards of our forays into restaurants like Clearman's Steak 'N Stein Inn, we decided to pop over to another landmark dining establishment in Pico Rivera, CA, Dal Rae Restaurant.  Family owned and operated since 1958, Dal Rae looks like the kind of place that Clark would take Vera for their fifteenth wedding anniversary, grumbling as he made sure that he had enough change to tip the valet, the maitre d', the bartender, the waiter, and the hat check girl.  It looks like the kind of place that would inspire Vera to cinch her girdle extra tight, borrow Jean's Stone Martens, and splash on a little more perfume than necessary - you know, 50's fancy.  For goodness sake, there isn't just one fleur de lis on the sign; there are four!!!

Doesn't the sign just speak to the wonders within?
I half expected to see Clark and Vera celebrating their
70th wedding anniversary - in early bird fashion.

In the worst case of wacky tacky bait & switch in recorded history, the beautiful signs (thankfully preserved) of Dal Rae Restaurant truly misrepresented what was to be found on the inside.  Inside, Dal Rae is just - wait for it - a regular, contemporary restaurant!!!  Apparently renovated in 1999, the interior of Dal Rae is fine.  It is just fine.  I have nothing terrible to say about the staff, the dining room, or the food.  In fact, they were all quite nice...if that's what you're looking for.  The appointments are clean and subtle, but we weren't looking for subtlety and the signs made a wacky tacky promise that they just could not deliver.

Therefore, instead of a full "Chow Time" review, we file Dal Rae Restaurant under "Signs of the Times," wishing that instead of valeting the car, we kept driving down Washington Boulevard, dreaming of the smoke-filled dining room of Dal Rae, circa 1958.

Even the parking sign/marquee is awesome.

On a side note, don't you just hate valet parking - especially unexpected valet parking?  There is nothing worse than that thirty-second scramble to turn the radio down, dust the dashboard with the palm of your hand, throw everything into the back seat, and make the car look halfway decent for a valet parking attendant who probably doesn't care but leaves you paralyzed by the fear that he takes pictures of the inside of your car for his blog, entitled "Valet-Cam: The Grossest Car I've Ever Seen," or "Inside the Car of a Mad Man," or "Drivers of Wal-Mart," or something equally horrible.

Really, the worst part is handing over the keys and explaining all the tricks of the wacky wagon.  "Okay, so you're not going to want to turn on the air conditioning; the brakes are a little squeaky but my mechanic assures me that brake failure is not imminent;  if you have trouble putting it into gear, I've found that a quick prayer works really well; yes, the stability traction control warning light is always on; oh, and it's probably easiest to let yourself out the passenger side by rolling down the window and opening the door from the outside."

If you happen to find yourself in Pico Rivera, we definitely recommend driving by Dal Rae to check out the signs and then heading over to Steak 'n Stein Inn for a real wacky tacky dining experience.

Dal Rae Restaurant
9023 E Washington Blvd
Pico Rivera, CA


Mr. Tiny

Monday, August 27, 2012

Blogging Siesta

I'm never sure if anyone ever notices these things, but I have definitely been lagging on the old blog lately.  The reason is one that I have been too anxious and too excited to share because, as a natural-born worrywart, I was really afraid that it wasn't going to happen.  As the time draws nearer, I feel a little safer in saying that Mr. Tiny is going to Europe!!!  Although I won't actually believe it until the plane has touched down, my passport is ready to be stamped "SPAIN."

This will be the first international trip for Mary and the first European trip for Mr. Tiny.  The reason for our trans-Atlantic crossing is Mary's burgeoning musical career.  She, along with a couple of other bands from her label, Wild Records, has been asked to play High Rockabilly, what is supposed to be the coolest festival in Europe!  Keeping in mind the restrictions of airline travel, I have still been slaving away at my trusty Bernina, whipping up all kinds of stuff for Mary to wear whilst we frolic along the coast of the Mediterranean!

I tell you all of this only to explain that as sparse as my blogging has been in the past few weeks, it is only going to get "sparser."  I am going to immerse myself fully in the Spanish culture by embracing the siesta (with her daily nap routine solidly in place, Mary already has a head start on us all).  wacky tacky, therefore, will also be taking a two week siesta.  Truly, I just don't want to be bogged down by electronics during my first trip to the continent.  After all, if I can't enjoy Europe without checking Facebook and playing Words with Friends, then I'm just kind of a creep, aren't I?  If I am, don't tell me...and just blame it on my parents.  Instead of blogging I plan to be seeing a lot of this....


and this...

While we're at it, some of this...


and this...

"What's My Line?"
Starring mystery guest, Salvador Dali

and this...


Not so much this...

or this...

okay, maybe just a little....

But plenty of this...


And a whole lot of this...

"Sing to Your Senorita"
Charlotte Greenwood in Down Argentine Way 

Okay, okay, I know my expectations may be a little misinformed and that last one really has nothing to do with Spain at all, but just let me live in my wacky tacky dreamworld.  I know that Spain will not disappoint.  If you have any travel advice or must-see places while we're in the greater Barcelona area, please feel free to let me know.  I wish that we could stay longer and see EVERYTHING, but time, finance, and Mary's school schedule will not allow.  We are so grateful to be going and I look forward to reconnecting with you and sharing our adventures upon our return.  We will have many pictures and stories to share, I am sure.  Until then, wish us the Spanish equivalent of "Bon voyage!"


Mr. Tiny

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Chow Time: Clearman's Steak 'n Stein Inn

It's official.  I am obsessed with  mid-century steakhouses.  The strangest part about this obsession is that I don't eat steak.  I don't like prime rib, baked potatoes, or creamed corn.  I do love bacon, but wrap it around a filet and you've lost me.  In general, I just don't like adult food that much and anything that I have to use a large, serrated knife to hack through, is something on which I will almost always take a pass.  What I do love is the atmosphere.  I love the semi-religious rituals engaged in by staff and patron.   I love a table-side preparation.  I love multiple courses delivered by a trolley.  I love a dimly lit room (even after discovering, post-meal, that the semi-darkness is probably used to shroud the evidence of a "B" rating that would be glaringly obvious under harsh, artificial light).

The most recent object of my obsession is Clearman's Steak 'n Stein Inn (est.1946).  Clearman's is a fairly well-known name in the restaurant industry of Southern California.  A name once emblazoned on restaurants  all over the San Gabriel Valley and surrounding environs, Clearman's still stands for wacky, old-timey dining at the five remaining restaurants that bear the Clearman's name.

I love architecture, but unfamiliar with accurate terminology, I honestly don't know how to describe the style of Steak 'n Stein; it is like a rustic, Spanish fort mated with a Black Forest brothel.

We didn't go out to eat very often when we were young; I guess five kids didn't make for a fun or affordable night out for the folks.  As a consequence of that bitter deprivation, I always feel funny when we go to a restaurant where the server wants to place my napkin in my lap.  I feel like I can conduct myself appropriately in any situation, but I am just not very fancy.   I felt a boost of confidence as we approached the entrance and read the simple dress code.  I figured this place couldn't be too fancy if the only item on the dress code was the of "sleeveless shirts" variety.

Good thing I layered a t-shirt under my tank top

If it's posted it twice and burned in wood, I guess they really mean it.

I don't eat steak and I don't drink.
Then what am I doing here?!?!?!
I go for a big way.
An illustration of the S 'n S fireplace
It is clear that the one-time circular fireplace
has become an indoor water feature.
I guess if we can't have a ring of fire,
 we'll take a wacky water feature!
Is it wrong to love the musty/chlorinated smell of an indoor fountain?

I also like the bottle/stained glass windows -  from outside

...and in!

Mary and the S 'n S menu,
 a leather and brass affair standing in the middle of the table
 Clearman's is famous for their cheese toast and their salads
(a red cabbage slaw and an iceberg salad with bleu cheese dressing).
At Steak 'n Stein, guest are served the obligatory three,
but the salad is accompanied by a trio of
dressings and homemade croutons.  The reverence with which these
items was served, heightened the humble offerings to fine dining status.
The thing that really distinguishes Steak 'n Stein from it's
 siblings is the peanuts.
At Northwoods Inn, the peanuts are in the shells that are ready to be
discarded onto the floor.  The Galley doesn't even have peanuts.
Peanuts at Steak 'n Stein Inn are served at each table in a small
 glass carafe.  Now that's 3.5 Star dining.

Mary got the filet mignon, wedge salad.
The presentation might be a little lacking, but she said the taste was there.
I opted for the turkey club sandwich.
  In my ongoing effort to reduce, I shared my fries and left some on the plate - progress indeed!

The food was tasty and by the time we made it through the salads, we were already full.  I decided to walk it off by wandering through the restaurant to take in the scenery.  I'm telling you, the place was so dimly lit, that I could barely see all of the eight million calories I was consuming.  The photos may have suffered from the shadowy interior but here are some "highlights" of our dining experience.

The hostess stand
A view of one of  the dining rooms

Victorian-style light fixtures

I like the gnarly, branch-like columns at the bar.

Now that's a cuckoo clock!!!
 I'm not too familiar with cuckoo clock decoration but I don't
remember bird carcasses and crossed rifles in the cartoon
cuckoo clocks of my youth.

Chandeliers and clocks are nice but my favorite bit of decorating magic, the bit that seems to be a theme in steakhouses of this ilk, are the tasteful nudes.  It seems like such a funny thing to stare at whilst one devours a juicy slab of beef, but maybe the rich food and the sultry portraits combine to satisfy all of the human appetites.

It's been a few weeks since we've been to Clearman's Steak 'n Stein Inn; we're still talking about it and comparing it to the eateries we have subsequently patronized.  Much like the demure nudes, Steak 'n Stein has left us wanting more and we're sure to visit this landmark again.


Clearman's Steak 'n Stein Inn
9545 E Whittier Blvd
Pico Rivera, CA


Mr. Tiny

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Bowl-O-Rama: Friendly Hills Bowl

Do you ever just drive around looking at/for cool signs?  I'm pretty sure that every region of the United States still offers an abundance of interesting signage to inspire the natural marketer/advertiser in all of us - if we just keep our eyes open.  Many times my eyes are so wide open looking for cool signs that I miss what is happening on the road.  As we have discovered, some of the best vintage signs are to be found at bowling alleys and we were certainly not disappointed by the towering, skewered diamonds of Friendly Hills Bowl in Whittier, CA.

wacky tacky bowlorama

Like many of the bowling alleys around Southern California, Friendly Hills Bowl is a relic of Jet Age optimism and architecture.  The roof line looks like a jet taking flight while the structure is grounded by the weight of stacked stones; this juxtaposition of ultra modern angles and stone age materials always lends a dissonance that I find both confusing and thrilling.

Friendly Hills Bowl - Whittier, CA

I'm telling you, it's all about mid-Century optimism.
 I've always heard that a person whose writing angles upward,
 is a natural optimist.  Here, the script of the bowling alley's sign
follows the ascending flight path of the roof line, followed
by the diamonds repeated from the larger sign.

So a cocktail tray, a trifle bowl, a coffee carafe and a martini
 glass walk into a bowling alley; they start to juggle and...
I'm not exactly sure what this mural at the entrance to the bowling
 alley signifies, but please write me a hilarious joke that
 ends with the punchline, "Those aren't bowling balls!".

Anywhere we go, I'm always interested in light fixtures,
but the more interesting part to me was the muted violet color
that predominated the color scheme of this and the last bowling
 alley we featured (owned by two different companies).  Is there
some psychological effect that shades of purple have on bowlers?
  Eat more? Drink more?  Bowl a few more frames?

 Mary had to stop for a hip photo op in front of the color-blocked lockers.

The flooring, paint scheme, and  menu have been "updated," but the
 barstools and chrome prove that the bones of a cool snack shop are still there.

Is it the friendly barroom at Friendly Hills Bowl, or the popular,
 teen hang out, The Max, from Saved by the Bell?

A view of some fancy bowling balls
available for purchase in the pro shop
I wonder if they have any of these in 4.5 lbs.
 with extra large finger holes???

So Friendly Hills Bowl has all the hallmarks of a genuine bowling alley - Snack bar/coffee shop, check.  Bar, check.  Pro Shop, check.  Beauty Parlor, Check.  Beauty Parlor?!?!

Friendly Hills Bowl has a beauty parlor conveniently located inside the bowling alley.
 H-A-I-R, big "D," little "e," Big "S," Big "I," Big "G,", Big "N," spells "coiffure me!"
Now that's class!

I've always had a love-hate relationship with those Nagel-esque salon illustrations.
 This one is funny because it is a whole family and not just those smoky eyes, razor
cheekbones, and single, red rose.  They always seemed so creepy but now they leave
me a little nostalgic for stylized, 80's cartoons like "Jem."

Come to think of it, I'm not sure that Jem, herself, isn't
 a product of Hair DeSign's gifted team of stylists!

Just in case you had any doubts - this ain't no salon; this is a beauty parlor.
 I can only assume that this is some kind of combination potty chair/hair dryer.

It seemed so strange to have a beauty parlor inside a bowling alley until we remembered that Covina Bowl had a beauty parlor as well, called Hair'em (adhering to the ye olde Egyptian theme of that establishment).  Some of you more informed types out there might be able to fill me in; was it de rigueur to have a beauty shop as an obligatory addendum to the greater bowling experience?

Hair'em at Covina Bowl
All I know is that it must've been nice for Marge and Leona to know that they needn't worry about getting all dolled up before the big tournament; they could simply show up in curlers and a scarf and leave with a bubble flip and the league championship!

Considering getting a permanent, Mr. Tiny was feeling pretty
 friendly himself standing in the in the atrium-like
setting of Friendly Hills Bowl's entry created by the
sun-drenched horticulture filtered only by the architectural beams.

If you're looking for a fun day of bowling or just a slice of pizza and a finger wave, make your way down to Friendly Hills Bowl in Whittier.  Look for the diamonds in the sky.

Friendly Hills Bowl
15545 E Whittier Blvd
Whittier, CA


Mr. Tiny