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Thursday, March 11, 2010

Once upon a time, with a view of Everest

  It has always been a pleasure to love maps, but satellite images with maps delicately, digitally laid over them may be even better.

When I was young, so long ago, I went on a trek in Nepal. At one point, we were in Tengboche, a flat spot where there was a monastery, some outbuildings, and many festivals, though none timed to coincide with our too-early arrival. My trekking group stayed there for a few days. We had stunning views of Mt. Everest and Ama Dablam. It was extraordinarily cold at night: another story I tell, about my the water in my water bottle freezing solid in the tent, despite being between me and my roommate, occurred in Tengboche.

It occurred to me while telling another story about things I did in Tengboche that the name had no meaning to anyone who had not been there, or who had not planned a trip to Everest. So I mapped it.

Go to Tengboche, Nepal - Google Maps and make your browser window as large as you can. Collapse the sidebar. Zoom in, just a bit, or out just a bit, to see the Everest Himalayas (Everest is just up and to the right of Tengboche).

What a lovely planet we live on.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)10:00 PM

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Large Apple

  Shadow of the Empire State Building, New York, November 2009 by A.E. GravesLast autumn, my still life work on metal plates, which I had made with my homemade large format camera, won a spot in a juried group show in New York City. It was my third juried group show in New York, and I was becoming frustrated that I'd been unable to SEE the shows my work was in. (My first juried NY show, out in Rochester, had been documented in a lovely, hand-bound catalog, but that is rare.)

I hadn't taken vacation all year, primarily due to being broke. But I had a small emergency fund with a few 8+ year old shares of Apple stock in it, shares that had just reached an all-time high.

So I bought a ticket, booked a hotel room for three nights with the help of my officemate, and went.


In my remote childhood, I had set foot in NYC many times. Those were the years of visiting grandparents at least once a year in either the heat of summer or the depths of winter. My father worked for an airline, and we had some flight benefits. I have recollections, quite vividly, of JFK International airport: of endless red carpeting, coin operated bathrooms, the vending machine where my mother would let me buy a packaged coffee cake, dirty snow - piles and piles of dirty snow - and the long ride in a Connecticut Limousine back when it was still a limo, lined with row after row of businessmen in suits, driving us at odd hours of night or morning to Connecticut.

This was my first trip to New York FOR New York.

Rockefeller Center detail, November 2009, by A.E. GravesThere were many highlights to the trip, both visual and social:

-The approach to Manhattan from JFK, during which I realized how the Empire State Building really does look grand.
-Dinner with my officemate and his partner; drinks at improbably fashionable Buddakan ( - launch the site and take the tour; the lighting is actually much lower in real life), which I'd like to visit again.

-Visiting THE Museum of Modern Art ( in its spectacular "new" building.
-Dinner at Safran (, because nothing says home like 'black rice' with dinner, and I had gone too long without it. Aaaah.
-A pleasant, first in-person meeting someone I had only known on-line.

-Coming to the realization that my SF City walk translated PERFECTLY over to NY: I could walk down the street unmolested by hawkers of tour tickets and other sightseeing miscellany. They parted before me, only to set upon the nice Midwesterners behind me. I was also encouraged to vote in the local elections. I took this as a high compliment.
-A visit to the Empire State Building. I wanted to do at least ONE classic tourist thing, and I'd heard it was pleasantly 'deco.
-Lunch at HanGawi, an incredible Korean vegetarian restaurant near the Empire State. The meal was completely amazing.
-The Kandinsky retrospective at the Guggenheim (, a building with bathrooms so tiny that my knees touched the opposite wall when I used the facilities. (You knew that Wright was short, didn't you? He was short. And indifferent to the needs of taller people.)
-A walk through Central Park.
-The opening night party for my group show at Soho Photo Gallery!! My officemate, plus a good friend who had come all the way up from Washington DC on a bus, plus her friends joined me. I gave a roving lecture on the different processes used to make the images. It was a blast!
-Dinner in the East Village with my DC friend's entourage at a little Italian bistro that made unsealed squash ravioli with the most incredibly tender pasta...

NYC metro mosaic, New York, by A.E. GravesWednesday
-An ultra-fresh bagel from a street corner cart. Mmmmm: poppy seeds.
-Lunch in the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn, at a charming little restaurant with potent lattes and Victorian-era metal pressed ceiling tiles. I chatted with the owner and barista for a while before my date arrived. New Yorkers are friendly!
-A tour of Brooklyn, followed by hours of relaxed socializing over classical music (Mozart, mostly) and tea.

This was just a reconnaissance trip: my officemate and I have a long, running list of things to do when we are there again at the same time later this year. I could have easily spent a week just working through my list of museums, but my hotel budget means those items will wait until another visit.

Despite dark and cloudy weather for most of the trip, I have two albums up on FB: New York City in 600 x 800 pixels is my phone photo collection, and New York City - a few buildings covers the few times I brought out my Digilux to handle low-light situations.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)12:40 AM

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Novel uses for butter in suicide prevention

  China 'covers suicide bridge in butter' (, found at The headline is an accurate summary: the bridge requires some climbing to jump off, and by making the bridge slippery, climbing - and everything that comes after - is prevented.

My favorite part of one quote:
...we put up special fences and notices asking people not to commit suicide here.
Note to officials: that only works for unusually law-abiding suicidal citizens.

I have to admit: I suspect Crisco, which is much more difficult to wash off dishes than butter, would have done a better job. But this may be part of my pro-vegan bias.


posted by Arlene (Beth)10:07 PM

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Zombie-ness is Cleanliness

  At 12:20 today, word went out that there would be a 4 p.m. zombie SWARM in San Francisco. SFZOMBIESWARM.COM makes it clear that this is a zombie swarm, and not that zombies are warm. Just so we are clear.

The kind of remarks you will not find on most websites, nor being announced on the BART public address system:
Keep your entrails in check and curb your desire to leave your soiled garments behind. Leave the goosedown pillows for the living.
That would liven up the BART PA, wouldn't it?


posted by Arlene (Beth)10:48 PM

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Infect Me Not! *Song Competition*

  Perhaps you, like me, are loving the advertisements up, telling you to stay home when you're sick. I especially like the bus shelter poster that reads, "Considerate Co-worker or Office Outcast?" (, in PDF format). The polka-dot graphic is SO CUTE! (It looks kind of like you, Scaryann!)

The problem of sick people coming to work and getting others sick is called "presenteeism," which can be worse than absenteeism. Though it's compounded by lame employers who don't grant enough time off. I'm just sayin'.

What? I do have hobbies, actually.

Anyway, what made me laugh maniacally in front of my computer here at home was the fact that the Infect Me Not Campaign has... SONGS! YES! They had a song contest! And got entries! And picked winners, and did the sort of things you do in contests, even though they are a health department! I swear, I'm not making this up. See: Song Competition - Communicable Disease Control and Prevention, San Francisco Department of Public Health (

[Sound of Arlene listening to the songs]
[*hysterical laughter*]

I love the Internet!

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posted by Arlene (Beth)5:35 PM

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Wearing one's heart on one's slightly bloody sleeve

  While the business papers blather on about their hopes of having taxpayers share their pain without ever sharing in the system's profits, my colleagues and I are bonding under workplace duress in new and novel ways. I may have reported that nearly half of the regulars physically operating from my company's HQ who were with our company at the beginning of the year are no longer with us. There have been dramatic leadership changes, dramatic strategic changes... Am I also describing your company right now? If I am, depending on the disposition of your colleagues, you may also find yourself experiencing some sort of survivor's bonding. You know what I mean: breathy, heartfelt conversations with people you didn't know so well before, telling you how they REALLY feel today about the company, or about their life choices relating to employment, or about any subject relating to the company. As if we've all been through something terrible, beyond the normal course of human experience. Worse than reality TV, even. [cough]

I've been trying to explain this remarkably open, honest atmosphere of exchange to a few people who haven't noticed it. They weren't so sure what I meant. (I was afraid for a moment that they thought it was just a new openness among the women of the company, since some of these conversations do occur in the women's restroom, where the majority of the company's current leadership can not tread. [Ahem.])

And then, a colleague who is now one of my heroes sent out an announcement about a company event. In the background of his email was a half-tone image. (This means it was pale enough to easily read the text.) The image: the image right below the title on this web page ( The one with the little boy find a baby bear in a box, befriending it, raising it, having naked bubble baths with it (!?)... and ultimately being attacked by it.

This image starts out so innocently, and the message over it was so innocuous, that many readers never even got to the image at the bottom of the poster. For those who did and who also bothered to ask our posting hero about it, there was an outbreak of honesty: the bear was an allegory for corporate America. No matter how dedicated you may be to it, it can turn on you.

This explanation was made even better when another colleague, in interpreting the image, came to the conclusion that the bear represents our company and we are represented by the boy BEFORE the sending shared his view.

This exchange is an EXCELLENT example of the new openness that is spreading between colleagues.


The creator of this mauling pink bear is Mori Chack, and his website, doesn't quite rely on the same idea. If you go to his about page, he has an urban, non-vegetarian's concept of the evils of human exploitation of animals, a concept that extends to depriving animals of their true wild natures in most forms of visual representation, which he perceives as a crime. His reaction is Gloomy Bear. (I believe I found this page at naming Gloomy Bear with a Google search worded as 'pink bear mauls cute boy.')

The fact that my friendly colleagues are at a point where more than one of them can allegorically describe us as being mauled by a cute, clawed bear tells you about where we are in our strange, survivor's bonding period.

Added bonus: Mori's hair. Go look.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)10:56 AM

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Brains? Braiiiiinnns? Brraaaaaaaains!!

  I failed to post the link to Steven's photo/video montage of the zombie mob event. It is here: We Want Brains (

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posted by Arlene (Beth)9:09 PM

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


Insomnia and Returning from the Dead.

eatbrains08, SF Zombie mob, photo by Steven P.I have looked exhausted lately, largely from an unusually severe, multi-day bout of insomnia.

Only some of this insomnia is induced by Peet's products. I swear. Peet's soy chai induces the tastiest insomnia anywhere!

But I don't look as bad as I do in this photo. (And I hope not to for about 60 more years.) This was an outtake from photos Steven took of me participating in the San Francisco Zombie Mob (, which is how I spent my Saturday afternoon. Yes, I was a zombie, a member of the undead, and I wandered through downtown SF with about 350 of my closest undead friends, crying out for fresh brains.

It is terribly... liberating. We are told to look "nice," to dress tidily and modestly, not to stand out, not to make noise, not to be weird (as if I have ever listened to that), and suddenly we get to set all of those silly rules aside and roam, dripping blood, to maul our happy (and clearly marked) victims whose silly drama in their futile resistance matches our own silly drama in mauling them.

It is delightful, in so many happy ways.

Special highlights: an early victim, looking so innocent with his (empty) paper coffee cup, milling about, waiting to be mauled... The victim with an armful of balloon animals, and the fabulous faux-horror facial expressions he made as we converted him to one of our kind... The group in Chinatown that attempted to fight the zombies off with toy swords... And the best part, the absolute best part, was the meeting of the two zombie groups on Grant Avenue in Chinatown. Oh, the sound!! The happy, happy, happy sound! We took up the entire block. It was truly beautiful.

Tourists loved it. Tour bus operators loved it. Passersby faked screams and ran away, smiling. Non-participants feigned attempting to defend their storefronts from us. The people who couldn't deal with it were also a riot: there is something so inherently ridiculous in pretending not to see hundreds of passing zombies and making tight-lipped little frowny faces of disapproval and scurrying off. The people who demanded rational explanations were just as funny. Must everything have a rational explanation? I've seen television: I know people are willing to suspend rational thought for vast periods of time.

Flickr is filled with pictures tagged "eatbrains08," many of which contain gloriously ghastly images of me. My favorite video of the zombie march so far is Zombie March, August 16, 2008, by ( I'll post a link to Steven's photo/video montage when he has it posted.

I posted a small set of images to, yes, of all places, Facebook: Oh, the horror! Zombies roam the Streets of San Francisco!: photos by Steven, cropped and posted by me. (You can view these without a Facebook login.)

The event was delightful, and I believe I've recruited many people to participate next time, when it will be even more gory and grand.

Zombie Beauty Tips:
-a clay and avocado mask turns you a truly alarming shade of gray-green, and leaves your skin soft and pleasantly scented. Be sure to put some on your lips: zombies have dead-looking lips.
-that dark eye makeup that you regret buying, the nearly black one with red glitter in it, is PERFECT for making your eyes look sunken-in. If you have an eye-shadow primer, use that to ensure that it doesn't wipe off unintentionally.
-cheap, nasty lip gloss makes good blood-substitutes, despite the nasty bubblegum scent. Smear some down the side of your face, and onto your shirt.
-clothes that don't fit well, which can be hacked at with dull scissors without any regret, looks best on zombies. I'm sure you have some around.
-rely on other, organized zombies for high quality, washable blood.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)10:41 PM

Saturday, May 10, 2008


How to be totally frickin' bored by nude women: a list.

While at the event described in the previous post, I observed that I find nude women to be extraordinarily boring. I didn't really explain myself, but there are a variety of valid reasons for this. I shared this list by phone/e-mail this afternoon with my colleagues, who probably enjoyed the joke at the time, and didn't need any additional information. But I wanted to remind them that I am not normal. (As if.) So, here is the list:

-Be a heterosexual woman. Preferably one with a low sensitivity to mainstream media imagery. If you can pull this one off, the rest of the list is just icing.

-Spend 11 of your formative years in a swimming pool up to 5 hours daily in summer, either receiving or giving swimming lessons, interacting innocently (at least until the later years, and then acting innocently but with non-innocent thoughts) almost exclusively with nearly naked, wet peers, and losing 55% of ingrained modesty.

-Date someone with a taste for low-budget porn, in which the nude actors all look so bored that you begin to assume they are forgetting their lines because they are daydreaming about the exciting career they missed out on by dropping out of dental assisting school.

-Visit the [local awesome spa] communal baths on girl's night once a month. See dozens of intimately placed tattoos each visit, few of which are the least bit novel or interesting.

-Swim a few times a week at the [local fitness club] at 5:50 a.m., during the semi-official Elderly Chinese Ladies' pool hour, and compete with the over-60 crowd for the better showers. Begin to identify with the other patrons, catching yourself saying, "when I swim with all the other old Chinese ladies..." Seek professional identity counseling.

-Go to [well, really any strip joint will do]. Sit at the bar, and watch the semi-clothed performers [and their potential clients] up close. Feel creeped out.


posted by Arlene (Beth)9:16 PM


Out of My Element: An Evening at a Strip Joint.

"Arlene inside a strip club. I would not miss this! :-)" - Peter

"In all of my years, I would never have imagined that one day, I would be in a strip club with Arlene Graves." - Michael
It is an open secret in my office that one of my colleagues is a cocktail waitress at a Broadway strip club certain evenings each week. This colleague likes the money, likes meeting guys (even though they are the kind of guys who frequent strip clubs), and likes drinking. She believes the club is glam. And so, when making plans to throw herself a 29th birthday party, she immediately chose a room upstairs at the strip club.

As has been explained to me, there are two types of clubs where women take their clothes off: the kind of club where alcohol is served and employees must keep something (anything) covering their lower merchandise; and the kind of clubs where alcohol is not served and employees take all of their clothes off. The sort of club where my colleague is a cocktail waitress is (obviously, by the nature of her job title) one of the former, a so-called gentleman's club, as if gentlemen pay money to see women take their clothes off.

A number of invited guests balked at the venue, and I was one of them: while I believe that women have a right to take their clothes off (and do a wide range of other services while naked) for money, the non-stripper-owned clubs charge the girls for just about everything, and are based on a very exploitative model. I think all the strip joints should be collectively owned by their workers. Also, I find naked women to be extremely boring. (More on this in a separate entry.)

ANYWAY, I also work closely with this colleague, who was excited about having many guests at her party, and knew I could count on Peter (a friend of more than 20 years and someone with previous strip club visitor experience) to attend with me. So I attended my colleague's strip club party.

Struggling over what to wear to a strip club? This was the most stereotypically girly thing I have done in years. The fifth top was the winner: something from the drag queen shop, under a close-fitting cardigan. Everything else was too respectable. Apologies again to Peter for being 40 minutes late.

Highlights of the taxi ride: I took a taxi from my neighborhood down to Broadway ($30 plus tip). My taxi driver provided some entertainment:

-He played country music on his radio, which was amusing, because he is not from this country, and so has no excuse, especially since he was fluent in English and could understand the sappiness being expressed.

-The first country song that came on I actually thought was a parody until it continued too long. It was about having a child eating fast food from the golden arches, spilling it upon himself, and swearing, which inspires his father to realize that he is a bad influence on his child. It was the worst song I have heard in years. It wasn't even as good as Harry Chapin's "Cats in the Cradle" yet was ripping off that song's sentiment, for those of you who are also elderly and remember that song. (And the cats in the cradle and the silver spoon, Little boy blue and the man in the moon. "When you coming home, dad?" "I don't know when, But we'll get together then. You know we'll have a good time then..." I looked these lyrics up on Google, so that I don't have to admit that I know almost all the words by heart. Ouch.).

-The next country song I couldn't hear, because my ears were bleeding from where I clawed at them to make the noise/pain stop.

-The cabbie ranted about the obvious evils of putting baseball stadiums in cities where they will clog up traffic. (Because baseball is all about managing traffic.)

-The cabbie said a range of unfortunate things about City employees, unbidden and apropos of nothing in particular, not realizing that my husband is one.

-Where Kearney empties onto Columbus, the cabbie was shocked - *shocked* - that the Muni bus turned left onto Columbus from the right hand lane. He noted that Muni drivers are "nasty people who live in the projects." Well then.

-He had no comments whatsoever regarding the fact that I was attending a party at a strip joint. He was no fool: he wanted a tip.

Highlights of the strip club: where the venerable rock venue The Stone once sat is now a topless joint. I was carded by a man who didn't look at me - obviously. The party was held in a private room upstairs, which allowed me to avoid entering the main floor of the strip club, instead simply going to an elevator off the lobby and going straight upstairs.

The room had nice carpet, a stage with a pole, a full bar, several large booths, and room for a DJ and dancing. The bartender wore an improbably tiny outfit, and made terrible drinks, but the crowd was jovial. Strippers were not in evidence, though their shoes were periodically visible behind a curtain at the back of the stage (which one observer termed "creepy"), and they would periodically come out of the dressing room, not completely dressed as is their habit, to make their way to the elevator and the main club, their brightly reflective rear cheeks reminiscent of the rear view of herds of antelope in nature films.

Peter pointed out that, to earn the right to say I had been inside a strip club, I would have to go down to the main floor with him. I was reluctant, but he suggested that the bartenders there would be much better. I agreed instantly.

There were TWO fantastic highlights of the downstairs main strip club area:

-the Belvedere cape cods (a.k.a. vodka with cranberry juice) were tall, strong, and fabulous

-a perky young woman in a blue, sequined sailor suit did a strip routine to a dance-mixed version of the Love Boat theme song. I am known for my sick imagination, but even I could not have made up something so cheeseball/surreal.

The rest of it was a lot like on television, and generally creepy: women gyrating over men with a glazed look in their eyes... *shudder* My main activity was commenting to Peter on how I thought it wiser for the strippers, when working the crowd to sell private dances, to cover up their rear ends somewhat. Thongs may be popular, but they do not suit everyone: some of those women had cheeks almost as abundant as my own. Also, while I could care less in general about women's footwear (beyond Dr. Martens and Chuck Taylors, which are quintessential wardrobe must-haves for any woman who wants to be just like me), the clear-heeled shoes and other remarkable footwear artifacts would make any drag queen drool. In fact, I had only seen such footwear on drag queens until last night. That was educational for me: I hadn't realized that some of those shoes were actually made in women's sizes! This was a revelation.

We returned upstairs to the party, socialized more, danced a little (which included me dancing with a boy who did not appear to be a member of the party, who wanted to know why girls would come to a strip club at all: in retrospect, rather than saying our friend worked there, I should have said we were all hookers and porn stars, though I feared that would complicate subsequent conversations with other guests), socialized further, and excused ourselves without being able to find the birthday girl/hostess, even with her tall shoes.

We were at the club from 10:40 p.m. to 1:40 a.m., at which point we left to beat the post-last-call 2 a.m. rush. I was in bed around 2 a.m., and slept like a baby, if a baby had four cape cods proportionate to its body weight and slept better than I generally do.


posted by Arlene (Beth)8:18 PM

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