Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Probing New Mexico's OUTER LIMITS!!!

I don't usually go in for all that outer space, alien jive.  I just have too many earthbound issues I must resolve before I even begin to consider the possibilities of interplanetary invasion.  I have no problem believing that somewhere in the vast expanses of time and space there exist other life forms leading parallel lives.  I simply wonder why we are forced to believe that they are so superior to human kind as we know it - not only superior but aggressive, imperialistic, and ultimately deadly (okay, so maybe those are things we have in common).  It also seems odd to me, given the limitless reaches of outer space, that these hyper-intellectual and highly-malevolent beings would bother with such a dopey planet like Earth.  Then again, I've never tried to sell a sci-fi screenplay.  Or maybe I'm just frustrated that for all of my provocative behavior, I hardly ever get abducted and never, ever probed...

Although seemingly unrelated, New Mexico, with its numerous military installations and storied history of nuclear testing, has garnered quite a reputation for extraterrestrial encounters.  I suppose it's only fair that Nevada's Area 51 share some of the glory with its Southwestern neighbors.  Not quite as prevalent (outside of Roswell) as the imagery of New Mexico's indigenous peoples, UFO symbolism can still be found everywhere from gas stations, to souvenir stands, to entire buildings!

Like this roadside UFO with which we were so thrilled to have a "close encounter" on our way to the Carlsbad Caverns.

Looking like an abandoned set piece from Plan 9 from Outer Space, the lure of this temporarily-grounded flying saucer was irresistible; we were as powerless to its wacky tacky tractor beam as we were to that of its second-cousin, the Arizona Space Orb.  And me without my tinfoil hat.

Sure, there are "Private Property: Keep Out" signs dotting the
perimeter but we're always very respectful in our tresspassery...
and "keeping out" never got the photo-op.

Although, I have to wonder, if one has both the means and motivation to build a novelty structure yet is somehow plagued by unmitigated misanthropy, why on earth would one construct that thematic building along a major automotive artery, the only real road in-and-out of Carlsbad, NM?  You have to know that folks are going to want to stop and take pictures.  If you were any kind of business man, you'd have a stand to sell pop, keychains, and ray guns.

Speaking of thematic buildings, the gorgeous shade structure at the onsite, employees-only picnic
grounds looks like it belongs with the Theme Building at Los Angeles International Airport.

If indeed there are alien life forms interested in exploring our people and planet, then I choose to believe they are a kindly race of beings like E.T., Mork, or ALF.  After all, spaying and neutering your pets is all well and good but we obviously need a more powerful resource in helping to control the burgeoning population of unwanted cats!

"ALF Theme" (1986)
('cause ALF eats cats...)

Cheers & Nanu Nanu!

Mr. Tiny

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Chow Time: Hi-D-Ho Drive-In

Folks, here's a story 'bout Hi-D-Ho Drive-In; 
For three-and-sixty it's been jivin'.
The atmosphere is a little bit stale,
But Hi-D's got a heart as big as a whale.

Hi-D-Ho Drive-In (1952) - Alamogordo, New Mexico

Not all drive-in restaurants live up to the romantic ideal set forth by American Graffiti, or Moon Over Miami, or one of many such examples of Hollywood hokum.  The carhops at Hi-D-Ho may no longer don roller skates.  There may no longer be (nor have ever been) a welcome jingle sung by sisters in western wear.  But in a time when even small towns like Alamogordo, NM are being overrun with every fast food chain imaginable, there is one huge thing to be said for the original Hi-D-Ho Drive-In...

It's open!!!

Thankfully, Hi-D-Ho Drive-In suffers not from Route 66-ization Syndrome (likenesses of Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, and Elvis plastered over every available surface).  Rather, it suffers from a bit of an identity crisis, vacillating between wanting to maintain retro credibility and trying to be competitively "now-tro."  At 63 years old, Hi-D-Ho has a similar look to those people one encounters whose ages are difficult to determine because they have chosen to battle mortality by undergoing a questionable series of dubious cosmetic procedures.  Hi-D-Ho doesn't look young exactly; neither does it quite look like a specimen of natural aging.  In a way, I suppose this makes the whole place as ageless as its ketchup & mustard color scheme!

For diners too uncoordinated to eat within the confines of their Ford Fiestas, a covered patio
offers yellow-laminated, bent-wood seating set against a cinder block wall of Heinz-57 red.

Road-food aficionados will be glad to know that drive-in protocol is strictly observed; a quick flash of the headlights beckons a smiling carhop ready to take your order.  If I could leave one critique for Alamogordo's oldest drive-in, I would love to encourage the servers to greet each new carful of customers with a, "Hi-D-Ho!"  It only makes sense.

"Hi-D-Ho!!!"  See, it's fun!
I'm not so sure that my brand of cornball 
enthusiasm was winning me any friends that day. 

Hi-D-Ho's menu consists of fairly-standard drive-in fare with some regional favorites (tamales with fried eggs) thrown in for good measure.  When one finds oneself at the "Home of the Tiger Burger," however, one must insist that at least one brave soul in the car is willing to catch that Tiger Burger by the tail.

All of the food at Hi-D-Ho is fresh/never frozen.  Signage indicates to diners that they must
practice patience as everything is cooked to order.  After hours of driving, we were especially
hungry but the order came well before the snarling fits of "hanger" set in.  Our check included
fries, a BLT, and the Tiger Burger (a double-cheeseburger by any other name...).

Should we find ourselves in the friendly embrace of southern New Mexico again, we would gladly return to Alamogordo's hometown hero.  Hi-D-Ho may not satisfy all of our nostalgic longings, but its guileless charm and decades of stick-to-itiveness were more than enough to sate both our stomachs and our wacky tacky souls.

And 9-out-of-10 frowzy-haired, wild-eyed kids agree that you can keep
your hot-n-ready "Pizza! Pizza!"  We'll choose to "kick the gong around"
with Hi-D-Ho everytime!

From the white sands of Alamogordo, in the luxury of "a diamond car with platinum wheels," the Messrs. Tiny and Calloway send their regards with a "Hi-D, Hi-D-Ho!"

"Hi-De-Ho" - Cab Calloway

Hi-D-Ho Drive-In
414 White Sands Blvd
Alamogordo, NM


Mr. Tiny

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Sew What?! Life's Too Short to Match Plaids

It's the easy ones that always give me trouble.  It's also the hard ones that always give me trouble.  Come to think of it, sewing always gives me trouble.  I guess I'm not very good at sewing.

My perennial complaint is that sewing is a necessary evil, its utility lying solely in transforming the ideas in my brain and the scribbles in my sketchbook into fabric-based realities.  I wish I could be one of those people who claims to find the act of sewing therapeutic but I get a pain from cutting and pinning...and from correcting my mistakes.

Exhibit A

The basic silhouette of this dress really couldn't be more simple; the margin for error was slim.  Feeling rushed to get it completed in Mary's absence, I hastily draped a skirt on a dress form and attached it to the bodice in a way that made it nearly impossible to remove when, upon her return, the fit was something awful.  The time I had spent matching the plaids, hand-picking the zipper, and hand-sewing the lining was all for naught, leaving me to wonder if it was even worth salvaging the dress.  As I ripped out all of my crude, uneven dainty, perfectly-spaced stitches, and hacked away the offending bits of skirt, I just knew that I would never get the plaids to line up the way they had before.  And then I had a sewing epiphany - life is just too dang short to match plaids!  After all, the first chapter in Mr. Tiny's wacky tacky Sewing Primer is dedicated to smoke and mirrors, the title being, "Distract 'Em with Oversize Flowers."

Having already cut the side sections of the bodice on the bias, I figured that as long as the vertical lines matched
from the bodice to the skirt, I could get away with my reckless placement of plaid.  I thought I'd try and confound you even further by making a garden's worth of self-fabric flowers so your eye would have no place to rest.  And in a final attempt at trickery I decided that the location for this shoot would place Mary in front of a mosaic wall in tonal blues that mimicked the blue check-pattern of the material.  Well, Did it work?

Because Mary's personal style has become so consistently inconsistent, I have decided to dedicate my design time to sewing things that are really portfolio builders for me as opposed to wardrobe builders for her.  Made from discount-bin, blue-checked cotton, this dress really has no practical place in a wardrobe anyhow.  The gown was born of thrift (using what I had in the stash) and a desire to try new techniques (a heaping headpiece, a one-shoulder dress, and bowers of fabric flowers).  Because the gown itself is a little unorthodox, I also wanted to stray, if ever so slightly, from such literal vintage-styling by encouraging Mary to create a more stark look with her hair and make-up. Thankfully, our collaborator and friend, Fabian, was available to work his photographic magic on our most recent fashion experiment.

Mary is always hounding me for dresses with pockets but she is NOT the boss of me!  I compromised 
by making a single pocket that is a large, lined, fabric flower disguised as part of the hip corsage.

For the headpiece, I cut approximately 457,879 bias strips of varying widths, starching them heavily
before turning them into flowers and attaching them to a chunky headband covered in self fabric.

Even with my fumble-fingered fixes, the dress is far from perfect.  But, as I said, my sewing is merely a means to an end.  An end if wherein I didn't find some sense of therapeutic relief, I might need actual therapy for my PTSD (Post-Traumatic Sewing Disorder).  The thing that haunts me most about sewing this look is that, even though the color and silhouette are completely different, the final product is so reminiscent of John Singer Sargent's most celebrated painting, Portrait of Madame X.

Madame M???
She's "Just That Type of Girl."

A big thanks to my favorite team, Mary and Fabian, for once again breathing energy and vitality into my humble, homemade creations.  I can't wait for the next time I get to be scolded by the pair of you for holding the reflector incorrectly!!!

Even though Fabian's car (a '55 Buick Super) is more famous than the three of us combined, I am honored to feature this photograph as a "THANK YOU" to Fabian.  In fact, it is my great pleasure to state, completely free from duress, that this first-class automobile is much prettier than Mary and emits far less noxious fumes...(Did I get that right, Fabian?).

"Just That Type of Girl" - Madame X
(If only the car in the video was a '55 Buick)


Mr. Tiny

Friday, July 17, 2015

Holy Rollin': "La Casa de Azúcar," The House of Sugar

Sometimes the most holy ground upon which one may tread is most wholly unconsecrated by the church - any church.  To wit, La Casa de Azúcar.  To stand witness at the grounds of  "House of Sugar" in El Paso, Texas is to be transported to a sacred place.

From the minute we rolled up, we were overcome by holy rollin'!!!

A tribute to faith and to the people of El Paso, La Casa de Azúcar is the creation of retired garment worker, Rufino Loya Rivas, who in 1973 began transforming his modest desert home into a folk art fantasy.  Styled after the traditional churches of his childhood village, La Casa de Azúcar also employs similar design elements to those found in Mexico's famous sugar skulls.  Elevating humble materials into a spectacle most sacrosanct, Rivas' "House of Sugar" is as ornate as any cathedral we've ever come across.  In fact, the extraordinarily-detailed craftsmanship makes it hard to believe that this is a private residence.

And yet there is the front entrance in all of its candy-coated splendor!

The stunning beauty of La Casa de Azúcar's intricate design is a challenge to capture in photos.  It kind of has to be seen to be believed; so just believe that I'm prepared to show you about one million photos, encouraging you to make the pilgrimage and go see it for yourself!

¡Bienvenido!  Welcome!

Highly decorated on nearly every inch of available space, Rivas' deft hand and understanding of balance has resulted in a sanctuary that is subdued, restrained, even reverent (when it could have so easily strayed into corny, Hansel & Gretel territory).

The symmetry and and use of color create a simultaneously dynamic and restful environment.

The only churchy-type architectural terms I remember from Art History 101
are "nave" and "apse," I'm sure neither of which apply here...I think.  The
well-placed altars/shrines(?), however, are breathtaking. 

The patience and care it would take to produce just one of these pillars would be
enough to scare any ordinary person away, let alone the tricolor paint scheme.

So many layers of texture and depth are achieved with the most accessible mediums (concrete, paint,brick, etc.) 

One pillar, five colors!

My road trip buddy and I kept repeating our mantra for the day, "Just
look, don't touch," as we tried to remember that this was someone's home.

Again, if there was any doubt that this was a tract home, the aerial evidence is on the roof

"Jesus said into[sic] her, 'I am the resurrection and the life.  He that believeth
in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and
believeth in me shall never die.  Believest thou this?'"

Each sign and every Bible passage at La Casa is
conveniently presented in both English and Spanish.

It's not just the hardscape that is so expertly preserved, the landscape is precisely cultivated as well.

I'm not up on all my saints, but I'm pretty sure this is one of the good ones.

Occupying the better part of an entire neighborhood block, the breadth of La Casa de Azúcar's displays is staggering.

According to locals, the full "sugar house" makeover was complete by the late '90s...but who are they kidding?!!  Giving new meaning to the words, "labor of love;" one look at the expansive beauty of La Casa de Azúcar is to realize that maintenance is a job never complete.

Luckily, they have La Virgen on their side!

My wacky tacky spirits are lifted by the serenity of La Casa de Azúcar.  And while the welfare of my eternal soul is in great question, I can yet find some earthly comfort in the faith, dedication, and artistry of a man on a makeover mission.  If his "House of Sugar" is not registered as a sacred site of the Catholic Church or at the very least an historic landmark, then it darn well ought to be.

This placard, placed unceremoniously in the back alley leads me to believe
that, as of now, La Casa de Azúcar's historic status is rather on the unofficial side.

Don't be scared away by our "Holy Rollin'" adventures; we are certainly not in the business of Bible-thumping.  For we probably feel even closer to the Divine in a sunburnt, El Paso housing tract than we might in the peace of a quiet chapel.  Smitten with one man's mission to honor his beliefs, his geography, and his wacky tacky artistry, I can say that, "Out in the West Texas town of El Paso, I fell in love with a Mexican [house]."  I feel a song coming on.

"El Paso" - Marty Robbins

La Casa de Azúcar
4301 Leavell Ave
El Paso, TX


Mr. Tiny

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

"THE THING? is The Thing!"

When your eyes can't be believed,
And your ears can't stand the ring,
That's when you will know you're in
The presence of...


Forgive us our tress-passes...
Starting our road trip at the traditional hour of 4:30 in the morning, left no time for grooming!

Much like our visit to West Virginia's infamous "Mystery Hole," there isn't a whole heck of a lot we can divulge about our visit to The Thing?.

Except that it pays to read signs or, rather, I paid by not reading the sign.
Homeboy is only five years old, an age I prefer to call "FREE" - that's
seventy-five cents I'll never get back...

But what is The Thing?  SPOILER ALERT: We're not going to spoil it for you.  To paraphrase our good friend, Mr Shakespeare, "The Thing? is the thing."  At its current location since 1965, The Thing? is the very essence of tourist trap culture; mile after mile after mile of intriguing billboards lure travelers to what amounts to little more than a roadside souvenir stand.

But gosh darn it if even the most savvy road
warriors can't resist the call of The Thing?

Following the path marked by yellow monster footprints, the multifaceted, walk-thru experience features exhibits of dazzling variety, culminating in an encounter with The Thing?

Walk this way...

It is tradition to remain mum about the horrors/wonders of The Thing? and we intend to keep that tradition alive.  Truly, it just wouldn't feel right to deprive you of the staggering personal revelation that comes with your own visit to Dragoon, Arizona's greatest mystery.  What I can safely reveal is that if you are hurtling along the I-10, it is entirely worth the bargain price of one dollar to hit the brakes and come face-to-??? with The Thing?

"What is it?"
"It's a wonder!"

The best part about The Thing? is that its location (just past the middle of nowhere) means the only way to see it is on a road trip.  So we encourage you to get up early and hit the road for some good, old-timey adventure.  For when the desert wind goes deathly still and you see the unlikely oasis of corrugated-metal structures painted in broad stripes of primary colors, you can be sure that your brush with The Thing? is nigh.

"The Thing" - Phil Harris

The Thing?
2631 N Johnson Rd
Dragoon, AZ


Mr. Tiny

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Kitsch-en Kounter: "Give Me LIBERTY [Jell-O] or Give Me Death!!!"

Call it a fixation, if you must, but there is nothing wrong with a grown man constantly thinking about the evolutionary trajectory of a Barbie/princess cake.

If you've been playing along at home, you may recall Blinky,
the Bearded-Lady Cake, who was the centerpiece of our Family 
Freak Show Birthday Party.

Our friend's recent marionette wedding at the Bob Baker
Marionette Theater resulted in this naughty, little nuptial-
themed number. 

Left with the other half of the doll that I used for the groom's legs (above), I pondered the potential for the remaining torso, arms, and head.  This year it was clear that we should celebrate that bastion of hope and freedom, The Statue of Liberty.  With a Barbie cake always on my mind, I was confident I had at least one half (the top half) of our 4th of July Kitsch-en Kounter recipe all ready to go.

Well...almost all ready to go.
I had to drape a toga, steal the finial from a small flag for the torch, permanently
bend one arm, and make a tablet and the iconic coronet out of chip board.  In a
time when some of our most prominent celebrities are transitioning, I didn't give
a second thought to using this violet-haired man for the the Statue of Liberty;
indeed, they both share that same square-jaw, strong nose, and full lips - a
Classical profile is timeless and of free from it's the only doll
torso I had in stock... 

And then it was time to paint.
Because realism is so vital to our Kitsch-en Kounter mission, I couldn't just
paint the darn thing green.  First I applied a few light coats of metallic, gold
spray paint.  The verdigris was achieved with a wash of acrylic craft paint in
Caribbean Blue.  Yes, realism is paramount to our operation...with food
safety taking a distant second.

Cake would have been the obvious choice for Liberty's nether regions but I wanted something that truly screamed 4th of July!!!  Instead of cake, I decided to further along the Barbie cake's evolution by once again exploring the possibilities of America's favorite gelatinous food medium - Jell-O.

To give the lime-flavored gelatin some opacity, I added
a can of sweetened, condensed milk.  To get a color match,
I added a few drops of aqua food coloring.

Up until this point, I had everything I needed on-hand to complete the craft/recipe.  Strangely enough, I hadn't considered a mold.  And what would a Jell-O mold be, after all, without a mold?  That's right...just Jell-O.

After much ferreting around in the deep recesses of the cupboards, I came up empty handed.  I needed a Jell-O mold with some height and a bit of movement and texture to evoke the sweeping skirts of our statuesque inspiration.  And then a strange thing happened; I remembered the best-selling vase from the home-furnishings retailer in which I worked many years ago.  It was the correct height and had the organic fluting that I wanted.  With no hope of finding the vase, I resigned myself to a hopeless search through the local thrift stores for something that might work.  Believe it or not, the very first store into which I set foot yielded the exact vase for which I was looking - an unprecedented bit of good luck!!!

Sometimes I wish my luck would operate on a grander scale...but for today, I suppose this will do.

See those undulating lines?
Don't they remind you of the Statue of Liberty's skirt too?!!!

Given that this was a glass vase (with a thick-sham base and all that fluting) rather than an aluminum Jell-O mold, I was more than slightly nervous about un-molding my creation.  After 24 hours in the fridge, I gingerly set the vase into a sink full of warm water and said a quick prayer to the statue's first sculptor, Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi.

Prayers are answered, folks.

Moments later, after a fair bit squelching, I was looking at the
wobbly beginnings of our lime Jell-O Lady Liberty!

Just like Bartholdi and the French government before me, it had come time to assemble my statue and present it as a gift to the people of America - but not without some finishing touches.

Did I paint a birthday candle and cut it down so Lady Liberty
would have a functioning torch?  You'd better believe it, buster.

No Jell-O salad would be complete without a garnish.  I used curly parsley
and maraschino cherries - exactly like Liberty Island in New York Harbor.

"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your [jiggling] masses, yearning to [eat] free..."

Heck, with phrases like that, the Statue of Liberty sounds like she's talking about "People Like You and Me."

"People Like You and Me" - The Glenn Miller Orchestra in Orchestra Wives

Happy 4th of July, you wacky tacky turkey necks!!!


Mr. Tiny