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February 27, 2007

Some Good Ink

We were delighted to receive an email the other day from a Williams student wanting to do an interview on Robbi and me and our books. We had a pleasant conversation, answered her questions, and lo! a few days later, the story appeared in the Williams Record, the fine weekly newspaper put out by Williams students.

Here's a link to the article.


And here's the photo that was included in the paper version.

After learning that we were going to be interviewed, it occured to me that we should try to interest Water Street Books (bookstore in Williamstown where students by books for their classes) in selling our stuff. I sent a package of books to the manager, who was kind enough to add our books to the store's offerings. For those of you in the Williamstown environs, please stop by and spend a lot of time looking at the books, a lot of money buying the books, and please tell Richard, the manager, how glad you are that the books are now available at Water Street.

Idiots'Books was also mentioned this month in Chesapeake Life magazine, a monthly that focuses on all things in the Chesapeake Bay surround. I have not yet seen the magazine, but apparently there is an image from Ten Thousand Stories and a little blurb about what Robbi and I are up to. Here it is, transcribed for me by a friend who saw the magazine:

Like a kid again

If your little one has become too precocious for The Berenstain Bears, they'll love the Idiots'Book children's stories, a monthly book series written by Matthew Swanson and illustrated by his wife, Robbi Behr. In the Chestertown duo's newest release, Ten Thousand Stories, every page is divided into four strips, each with its own random prose that allows young readers to create "10,000 tales of triumph and woe," with each flip of the page. For a $100 yearly subscription, fans receive a new Idiots'Book each
month (there are currently six in the series), covering topics from God to French colonialism. $12 to $25, idiotsbooks.com.

Notice the problem? Would you let YOUR kids read our books? Admittedly, some of you must, and we try to shy away from the overtly offensive or inappropriate, but the books are full of adult themes, adult situations. We are reminded again of the genre challenge we face as we try to define ourselves. But this much is clear: other than My Henderson Robot, we are NOT producing "children's books." We are NOT trying to appeal to "young readers." Perhaps we will receive new subscriptions as a result of the article, but if we do, I'll have to make sure the person doing the ordering is aware of our PG-13 rating.

Posted by bogenamp at 09:46 PM

February 26, 2007

New York, New York

We are back from the Big City. As usual, the highs were high and the lows were low. The drive up was easier than usual. The Holland Tunnel was not backed up, as I always fear it will be. We had a fine meal at Dani, an oustanding Italian restaurant at 333 Hudson Street, for all of you New York People. Dani is managed by Dave, son of Carla Massoni and former cast member of Robbi Behr in Kent County High's 1992 performance of You're a Good Man Charlie Brown. Dave played Snoopy to Robbi's Peppermint Patty. It is lucky for us all that the two discovered new interests later in life. Carla has a tape of the show that she promises to let me watch some day when neither Robbi nor Dave is around.

We ate with my old high school friends, Victor and Holden. It would have been nice to feature a photo of them here. Alas, the only picture we took was of me mugging in front of the awning.

Feel free to use the awning to locate Dani should you be so inclined to seek it out. Note that I am not always to be found standing in front of the restaurant and should not be used as a point of reference when trying to locate it.

After the show we went to see our friend David Turner in Gutenberg! The Musical! It is an absurdist romp. In short, the show's premise is that two friends stage a "reading" of their new musical about Johan Gutenberg. The two actors play 40 roles between them. As usual, David gave an amazing performance. It is well worth seeing if you happen to find yourself in New York.

That night we considered playing Celebrities or Aural Charades. We were too tired and dull to pull it off. Instead we slept.

The next day we went to visit Robbi's friend Peter Arkle, an accomplished illustrator whose work we very much admire. Check out his site.

Here is Peter.

Peter had a great sign on his wall. Follow this advice if you want to improve your silent reading skills.

After leaving Peter's (he indulged our many questions about his life and trade for a full two hours) we walked to Little Italy to meet old friend Brian Slattery for some very fine cappucinos. Brian (fiddle) and I (rhythm guitar) were 2/5 of old time jug band, the Motherpluckers in our college days. I haven't seen Brian since then. Since then he has become an accomplished writer who will be releasing his first novel this summer. Brian's book is so good and so interesting that his publisher, Tor (largest publisher of sci-fi books) is doing a lot of publicity on his behalf. Here is Brian in the Tor booth.

The red-covered book in front of him is the volume in question, titled Spaceman Blues: A Love Story. I have not read the entire thing yet, but I love it so far. It is perhaps the greatest compliment I can give to say that the work reminds me of my favorite parts of Thomas Pynchon. The voice is frenentic yet confident, a font of vivid imagery, wild happenings, and unapologetic narrative freedom. The book will be available in August 2007. I will remind you all then to get yourselves a copy.

The booth above was one of many at the 2007 ComicCon, an enormous gathering of those who care about all things that fall beneath the "comic and cartoon" umbrella. We went to do research. We went in hopes of finding others who are making the sort of books we are. We wandered the aisles for a long time, concluding that 1) there are a lot of people who like to collect old comic books and 2) no one else seems to be doing anything quite like what we are doing. Which is both encouraging from the standpoint of being original and discouraging from the standpoint of being difficult to market.

The ComicCon was rife with grown men and women in outlandish costume. We saw many Star Wars characters as well as many characters we could not identify. Did we take pictures of this human parade? Alas, we did not.

But we did take a picture of a bunch of people sitting at tables playing Magic, the Gathering or some other such fantasy game played with cards.

We attended a panel on which Brian was a speaker. The subject was "breaking into science fiction writing." Something we are decidedly not interested in doing. But it was great to see Brian up there fielding questions with his editor from Tor. Brian is one of the rare writers whose novel was chosen from the "slush pile", the great heap of unsolicited manuscripts that arrives at publishing houses daily. For the most part, publishers publish the work of those represented by literary agents who recommend strong projects to the publishers. But Brian's editor pulled his work out of the heap and decided to promote it. He is the statistical anomaly. Which makes sense. Because he's just that good.

After the panel, Brian was whisked away to be wined and dined by the literary importentia. We met up with college friend Rich Flynn and got some burritos at Chipotle. It would have been nice to include a photo of Rich Flynn, our excellent friend. But I did not take a photo. Alas.

The next day we were to spend hours more combing the aisles of the Comic Con, but when we arrived at the site were horrified to learn that the line to get in was more than two hours long.

We bristled and gnashed

and immediately lost all will and drove home.

Today it snowed beautifully.

I took Iggy for a run in the storm.

And Robbi got a new hairdo.

Tonight we finished the Volume 5 mailing preparation. The books and letters lie neatly in boxes, awaiting a trip to the USPS tomorrow morning. Keep an eye on your mailboxes.

Posted by bogenamp at 01:35 AM

February 21, 2007

Today and Tomorrow

Today I drove to Brick, NJ for my monthly harmonica lesson with contemporary great Dennis Gruenling. He is so good at blues harp that I fall into a deep shame of inadequacy in his presence. But he teaches me a lot and is pretty good at making me feel not terrible for being such a bad harmonica player.

Tomorrow we are headed to NYC for research. This weekend is the 2007 New York Comic Con, an enormous gathering of those who create and care about all things falling under the "comic and cartoon" umbrella. Given my druthers, I'd choose neither word to desribe what we do with Idiots'Books, but this seems to be the closest thing, genre-wise. We aim to wander aimlessly looking for a hint of something that looks like or seems akin to what we're up to.

If I don't check in for a few days it's because we've gotten swept up into the madness of the Comic Con. We expect to encounter many people with reckless enthusiasm for comic books. We have certain unkind associations in our head when we think about the average comic book fan. Perhaps we will be mistaken. We wonder if there will be people dressed up like Spock or Jar Jar Binks. Apparently some actor who played a minor role on Buffy the Vampire Slayer will be in attendance.

We will also be attending a panel featuring friend Brian Slattery with whom I was once in a jug band called The Motherpluckers, and who will soon be releasing a new novel, his first. Apparently the genre into which Brian's novel falls is called New Weird.

While in NYC, we will be seeing Gutenberg, the Musical, in which our good friend David Turner is one of only two actors who, as it happens, play 40 roles between them. Mentioning the show seems germane since Johan Gutenberg plays such an important role in the shape and form of the books we know and love today. Movable type was a pretty big innovation. Thanks Johan.

Posted by bogenamp at 11:54 PM

In Case You're Wondering

This entry will contain fascinating and detailed information regarding the care and feeding of Iggy. For those of you who do not know, this is Iggy (wearing her hair net). She is our dog. She is a nervous, stand-offish squirrel. But we love her so.

Tomorrow we will be depositing her for a three-day-two-night stay with our good friends Matt and Barbara Westbrook (and their two lovely daughters Kira and Jennifer).

Since we got Iggy, we haven't been away from her for more than one night at a stretch. The impending separation is somewhat traumatic to contemplate. So much so that Robbi composed a missive to share with the Westbrooks. It is detailed. And amusing. And so I will share it below.

Taking Care of Iggy, by Robbi Behr

Iggy is a dog. She has four legs. And four feet, too. Sometimes all four feet are on the ground. Other times, only two. Only very rarely is only one foot on the ground. If you would like Iggy to have only two feet on the ground, face her, stand up straight, and say "SIT!". She should then sit, but she'll still have four feet on the ground. Once she's sitting, hold a treat up in the air, and say "BEG!". At that point, she will lean back and put her front two feet up in the air. You can try to get her to put her back feet up in the air, but it probably won't work. At this point, Iggy will expect to be allowed to eat the treat you have in your hand. Though, if you don't give it to her, she doesn't really do anything about it, except look pathetic. You can try this trick to get her to stand on three feet, too, but instead of saying "BEG!" say "SHAKE!" and hold your hand out to her (not the one with the treat in it).

Sometimes Iggy has to go to the bathroom. If you're smart, you will let her outside every now and then to do it. Otherwise, she'll get kind of whiny and that usually means she needs to go out. Not letting her go to the bathroom might be a clever way to get her to hop on one foot, but it might backfire on you too. You don't necessarily have to put her on a leash and walk her to let her go to the bathroom. You can let her out, and say, "DO YOUR BUSINESS!" and she'll pretty much go right there. She's pretty good like that. Don't expect her to actually do any business like math or accounting when you say that. She needs a calculator if she's going to do that. After she's done, she'll probably look at you and wonder what happens next. Either you say, "COME!" and she'll come back inside, or you say "PICK THAT UP IN A BAGGIE AND TAKE IT TO THE TRASH!" -- but she doesn't have 100% accuracy on that command yet.

Iggy can sleep in her bed, in her bed in her crate, or in your bed. She's impossible to convince to sleep in your bed, though, so it's probably easier to let her sleep in either of the other places. Iggy likes her crate. It's like a home. She sometimes goes in her crate just to hang out, or knit, or watch TV. If you close the door, she doesn't mind. So, if you're going to leave her alone, you can leave her in her crate, with some knitting, or chew toys, or treats, and she will just hang out there. She likes it. If you want, you can also leave her in your car -- she's very polite and will not chew anything up, like other dogs. In fact, she loves riding in the car. So if you want to make her feel like she's done something all day, you can let her ride in the car. It's like a little adventure.

Iggy likes to eat. She especially likes biscotti and yogurt, but we like to discourage that kind of prissyness. She will have regular old dog food with her -- dole out two cups in the morning and two cups and night and she'll be content. She has to be, because, you see, she's a dog.

If Iggy decides to eat a stick when you are outside with her, that's okay. She only pretends to eat it, and hides the crumbly bits in her sleeve. In her spare time, you see, she's a magician. If you want to be a part of the magic, throw the stick for her, and she'll make it disappear. Sometimes she'll try to do the same with a ball, but usually the ball just disappears because you throw it in a bush or something silly like that. Also, Iggy is a follower. If you're having trouble getting her to come to you, turn around and walk away from her. Chasing her just makes her think it's a game. Whistling also helps get her attention.

To sum up:
Commands Iggy knows:
SIT! SHAKE! BEG! COME! DO YOUR BUSINESS! Oh, and she also knows STAY! And HEEL!
Eating: 2 cups, 2xday.
Peeing: whenever, but always outside.
Pooping: usually 2xday, definitely always outside.
Sleeping: in her bed, in her crate, on the floor, all night long and a good part of the day
Treats: in moderation, but you can spoil her for a few days.
Recreation: chasing sticks, going on walks, running, knitting, math.

I feel comforted knowing that the Westbrooks are so well prepared to understand Iggy's every nuance.

Should you ever be called upon to look after her, you too will know the ropes.

Posted by bogenamp at 11:33 PM

February 19, 2007

You Can Be Famous

We're starting a new feature on the Barnstorming. By request and persuasion we will occasionally be featuring photos and short bios of people we do not know and who have no connection to our life, books, or home. Our first honoree is Anne Caywood, pictured here as a 10 year old child.

As I said, we do not know Anne. She is the siter of our friend Sarah Myers. But we do know this:

Anne lives in Chappaqua, NY, home of Bill & Hillary Clinton. She does not know the Clintons and therefore spends no time with them. She has one husband, three kids, one rabbit, two guinea pigs, one toad, and one black dachshund named Bing. Bing is a big hit with everyone, apparently.

And that is all I know about Anne. Now you know as much as we do about her. Sarah worries that Anne will hate being pictured and described on the Barnstorming. But somehow this didn't stop her (Sarah) from furnishing us with a picture and providing the thin, yet compelling biographical content featured above.

Perhaps Anne is the one who typed "Kirk Cameron's Bare Chest" into Google, thus landing on our site. We accused Sarah of being the guilty party, but she protested (perhaps a bit too much?)

Now that precedent has been set, I invite any reader to submit a photo and bio of someone dear to them. Or perhaps you'd prefer to feature an enemy? With lots of made-up claims meant to damage their good name? We welcome all submissions. Sending pictures of yourself is acceptable. Lies, distortions, and hyperbole are not discouraged.

Posted by bogenamp at 11:18 PM

February 16, 2007

Kirk Cameron's Bare Chest

I have recently discovered a new feature in the software we use to track blog traffic. There is a section that allows you to see which search strings led people to your site. Imagine my dismay to find that the string "Kirk Cameron's bare chest" had led one disappointed fetishist to our blog.

I did my own search for Kirk Cameron's bare chest. There were many images of Kirk Cameron

And many images of bare chests

But no images that satisfied both requirements.

Here, then, are two of the more remarkable Kirk-themed results.

Kirk as Christ

Kirk as Satan

And here is another Kirk Cameron, a computer engineer who has recently been awarded a $300,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Engergy. He probably hates his name.

Alas I could find no photos of him with a bare chest.

Posted by bogenamp at 10:55 PM

February 15, 2007

So Long, Joe

I've known from the start that the gallery show would end, and that with it, so would the wall version of Man Joe. I had harbored a fleeting hope that Carla (owner of the gallery) would be so moved by Man Joe that she would allow it to remain untouched, living in eternal harmony (or perhaps discord) with the other works of art hung in future shows.

Alas, Carla handed us a spray bottle of windex and some sponges and told us to get to work. And so we did.

Robbi had painted with washable gouache, which washed off pretty easily once wet.

We used a lot of Windex.

It was not much fun to wipe away something that Robbi had created.

Little by little, the painting disappeared.

Until only Joe himself remained.

We shared a private moment.

And said goodbye.

After which I sprayed Joe in the face with Windex.

And euthanized him.

Until he was no more.

All along Robbi had pretended not to care about the wall painting, insisting that she would feel no pain when the time came to wipe it away.

But as she stood gazing at the newly empty space

Her true feelings became apparent.

Just after suffering the soul-crushing realization that one's first ever wall painting and Idiots'Books gallery show was gone forever, we learned that there will be an encore. Carla has invited us to participate in the follow-up show to the Next Generation. The yet-unnamed show, which will feature many of the same artists as this one, will be in January of 2009. If all goes according to plan, we will be working on volume 24 by then. Perhaps there will be another wall painting. Perhaps there will not. But the mere possibility is a beacon in these dark times.

Posted by bogenamp at 12:25 AM

February 12, 2007

More Jumping

I have been suffering through my self-imposed ban on jumping for about a month now. It's been hard not jumping, but I have only one pair of jeans remaining and I can't risk ruining them. But the urge to jump remails. And so I spent some time in the photo archive today, culling through old jumping photographs, remembering the good old days.

If you choose to read no further, I really can't blame you.

The jumps that follow were done on the beach along the eastern shore of Cumberland Island. It is a beautiful spot in southern Georgia. They limit entry to a small number of people at a time, so you have the place pretty much you yourself. That and the soft sand made the beach a prime location for spirited jumping. And so I left nothing on the table.

Often when I jump, others are inspired to jump as well.

At times I have jumped in the woods.

Or in the barn, in the midst of construction.

Or in the parking lot of a bowling alley, in tandem with another expert jumper (friend David Turner pictured here).

I was reminded of the jumping by J.T. Kirkland, fellow Next Generation artist who was in town today to pick up his work. Having observed my jumping on the blog, he asked if I might do a command jumping performance. I demured, citing concern about the jeans I was wearing. I didn't say it, but I also worried that, had I jumped, J.T. might have been moved to jump as well. Which would have caused a scene. In Chestertown, two enthusiastically jumping men on a street corner is just cause to send out two troopers and the K-9 unit. I suggested that there might be jumping again down the line, but that I would need some time to prepare, mentally, emotionally, and otherwise.

I think J.T. was a litte disappointed. I often have that effect on people.

Posted by bogenamp at 01:04 AM | Comments (1)

February 09, 2007

Fine Art Books

The Next Generation show is coming to a close. Tomorrow is the last day that our works and words will hang. Monday morning Robbi's wall painting will be painted over. It grieves me.

The end of the show means that the time has come to fulfil the various orders. Which means that we have a lot of fine art books to make. 10 to be exact. We sold one full set of all seven books to one generous collector, two copies of Facial Features of French Explorers (to two different people), and one copy of My Henderson Robot to our good friend Sarah Myers.

See Sarah smiling, just after being told that her book was in the works.

We had originally told Sarah that we would make her copy of My Henderson Robot weeks ago, but in typical fashion, got lazy and did nothing instead.

Eventually, though, the time came to start making the fine art books. The books we send out to subscribers on a monthly basis are printed on high-end copy paper and are printed on a Xerox solid ink printer. This method is fast and produces a relatively durable product. In printing the fine art books, we used the Epson printer, which produces a much more nuanced image that looks uncannily like the original. We print the fine art books on an expensive, textured stock that helps suggest the texture of the original and which holds color beautifully.

The Xerox is very fast. The Epson is very slow. It takes about 4 hours to print out one copy of our longest book, A Bully Named Chuck, on the Epson.

After printing out each book. I cut book board (really thick cardboard) to serve as the front and back cover and spine.

Then I use the table-mounted drill press to drill holes along the spine end.

Once the holes are in place, I use dental floss to sew the whole thing together.

After the book guts are bound and the boards cut, I cut pieces of binding cloth to wrap around the covers and spine.

Piles of book cloth cut to size.

The boards and cloth for Sarah's copy of My Henderson Robot.

A shot that shows my enormous right hand. Dramatic.

Next I went over to the unfinished side of the barn, used primarily as the Florabana warehouse. Here is where I use the ultra-adhesive spray mount to get the book cloth good and sticky.

Then I place the front cover on the book cloth and wrap the extra cloth over the edge, using the bone folder to smooth the cloth.

See the preposterous working environment? Space is at a premium, and I must be content with what I can get, I'm afraid. The glue vapors are toxic, so it helps to use a room with high ceilings (or go outside).

Next I placed the three pieces that make up the spine on a small piece of book cloth that will form the spine and will serve to attach the covers to the spine.

One cover is then attached.

And then the other.

And eventually the whole thing comes together.

I returned to our side of the barn and smoothed out the book cloth on the cover.

Next comes the Elmer's. Good old Elmer's.

At which point it was time to insert the guts. Behold the guts.

In go the guts.

Then we clamped the book to apply pressure while the glue set.


The book had to sit overnight to allow the Elmer's time to do it's magic.

In our house, this is where books sit while waiting to grow up.

In other news, Mom and Dean are visiting from Boston. They came to see us and to see the show.

We used the visit as an excuse to go out to dinner. We chose Ford's, the restaurant attached to the place where we go to get bushels of steamed crabs from time to time.

The place is steeped in local color. Our waitress, Heather, was the high-voltage sort. She was exceedingly attentive and incredibly familiar in her choice of nicknames for the clientele. During the 90 some odd minutes we spent dining at Ford's, she referred to me and the others at our table as: darling, sweetie, honey, sugar, hon, sweetie pie, and sweeties. There may have been others. It was an extraordinary thing.

Here is Heather. I was so moved by the force of her that I requested a photo be taken.

Ford's was out of everything we tried to order. If I had had my way, I would have eaten ribs, a caesar salad, and rice pudding. Instead I ate king crab legs, calamari, and bread pudding. In retrospect, I'm glad that they were out of the things I thought I wanted. Because the food I got was fantastic. The king crab legs, in particular, were delicious.

If somewhat dangerous.

Posted by bogenamp at 11:26 PM


You might know it, but Washington College (where Robbi teaches here in Chestertown) has a strong literary tradition. Thanks to an enormous endowed fund, the college has its own literary house, an impressive speaker series, and the nation's largest undergraduate literary prize, given out to the best writer in each graduating class. They also have a number of letter presses and a massive collection of type. Robbi and I went to visit the studio tonight for an informational meeting with the thought that we might participate in a workshop so that we can learn how to use the presses to further (and diversify) our dreams of self-publishing glory.

Here is one of the four presses. This one is a sort of crossover press, a hybrid between a traditional letterpress and an off-set press (the kind of press used in most contemporary printing). This is the press Robbi and I would most likely use were we to do a letterpress Idiots'Book.

Here is a bunch of type, tiny letters that one uses to make the words that will be printed.

A place that prints with a letterpress must have crates and crates of type in order to accommodate the variety of sizes, fonts, and styles that might be called for. Unlike a computer word processing system where changing from 8 point to 10 point is a matter of clicking a button, a 10 point letter on a letterpress is an entirely different piece of lead. In order to print a page of text with a letterpress, each and every letter must be carefully placed into a grid with thin strips of lead to create spaces between the lines or to center the words on the page. It's like an enormous jigsaw puzzle. I think it would drive me mad to be a letterpress typesetter, but Robbi is intrigued by the idea of using the facility to make a future book. If we took this route, she would carve the images in linoleum, which would then be added to the letterpress page setup.

Above is Robbi mugging for a shot in front of the press we were told that we would never, never get to use. It is simply too complex, fast, and dangerous. Hallmark uses a press like this to make foil stamps on their greeting cards.

More type. Actually, what we have here is a collection of symbols and designs that can be used to add visual interest or accents to the page.

It boggles the mind.

Here is Michael, the guy who is going to teach us how to do use the letterpress machines. He is a "master printer", which means he has been doing this for a long time and knows what he is doing. In other words, he can use the fast, dangerous press.

Michael clearly loves the letterpress technique. He said something really wonderful, which I will do my best to reproduce. Though it is possible these days to set type and images much more quickly and efficiently using a computer instead of a letterpress, the former can never duplicate one of the most essential elements of the latter. Because the paper is literally "pressed" against the plate in letterpress printing, there is a slight emboss. This means that the printed areas, be they letters or images, are slightly indented, so that there is a depression. According to Michael, the beauty and uniqueness of letterpress comes from the way light catches on these slight contours, an effect that cannot be duplicated by off-set printing.

Michael is an avid student of hand-bound books. Here are a few of his works, near-exact replicas of ancient books. These are bound in leather and wood. Really beautiful stuff.

And yet another press.

Is my lack of great knowledge on the letterpress front shining clear? Wish I could illuminate things further, but this was only the first night.

More detailed information to come, provided it is interesting enough to post.

Posted by bogenamp at 01:13 AM | Comments (1)

February 08, 2007

Free Books

Long ago we decided that every subscriber to Idiots'Books should have a free book. As thanks for the support. And as an insidious marketing technique, meant to expose an unwitting readership to books they would likely not buy, thus delighting them or (barring delight) at least ensnaring them in the guilt of indebtedness. That they might feel compelled to buy more books. It's awfully tricky of us, to be sure. Even underhanded. We comfort ourselves with the thought that the marketing part of the plan is sure to fail. Mostly we're excited that people all over the United States, Germany, Spain, and Canada will soon be reading our early books.

Here they are, stuffed in envelopes and waiting in mail bins.

Here I am, defeated by the mailing, clinging to the last insulting strands of life.

Alas, I recovered, which meant that I had to take the bins of envelopes to the post office this morning. As I have alluded in past entries, the post office employees are growing increasingly impatient as they realize that we aim to keep coming back, and with ever more books each month. In an attempt to mitigate the inconvenience of these trusty civil servants, I have been going to the post office with a sample envelope before each mailing, determining its weight, purchasing sufficient stamps to cover the entire mailing, and then returning home to affix the appropriate postage to each envelope. Yesterday I went to the post office to get my stamps and the postmaster informed me that they were out of $1 stamps. And that, as a result, it would be easiest for us to bring our various envelopes to the post office counter tomorrow (as in today) at 9:30, at which point she would assign a cheerful, attentive postal employee to create mailing labels for our 109 envelopes.

We arrived this morning at the appointed time only to find that the woman behind the counter was unfond of that plan. There were no extra hands in the back, she told us. In spite of what the postmaster had said, we'd have to go the stamp route. Please understand that the stamp route itself is not unwelcome. But the thought that we were now being given the runaround (and, consequently, had to stamp a bunch of envelopes in the post office instead of in the comfort of our own home (where we might have watched Robbi's favorite movie, Lucky Seven, while stamping) caused us some pain. And so I made a pained expression.

But nevertheless proceeded to the postal counter, where Robbi and I stood ignobly and affixed stamps to each and every envelope.

I mention our discomfort that subscribers might have concrete proof of how much we love them, that they might be fully aware of the lengths to which we will go to ensure subscriber happiness. Even to the end of concentrating really hard. (Putting on stamps is a little like doing math.)

Those of you who selected My Henderson Robot should have your free book soon. Given its relatively modest weight, we sent it First Class. Those of you who selected the behemoth For the Love of God or the even less slender A Bully Named Chuck will have to wait the "7 to 14 days" until it is brought your way by media mail. The part about loving subscribers does not extend to spending an extra $3 to speed their free book quickly through space. I suspect they will arrive via mule. If they arrive at all.

The weight of free book making, stuffing, and sending off our shoulders, I'll take a moment to recap the last few days.

This past Friday, we hung out at Carla's during the First Friday.

Venerable Washington College professors Donald McColl and Aileen Tsui came to view the Man Joe mural. Both won points for looking at the mural properly, following Joe's journey across the ceiling, and each geting a splitting neck cramp.

Also, Dad and Judy visited (all the way from Missouri) to see the show.

Since marrying Judy (ten years ago now), Dad has gotten a lot more dapper. Check out the hat.

Since marrying Robbi (3+ years ago), I have grown increasingly hard to look at, the inadequate facial hair being the latest insult. Even the hat does not redeem me.

Seiko has been making tons of pottery in advance of the Philadelphia Flower Show.

We did the laundry, only to have it claimed by cats as a great place to lie down.

Iggy misbehaved and was jailed.

And we discovered that Chestertown has a breakfast place. This will make friend Christian very happy and likely to visit more often.

The food at Ellen's is not exactly good, but they have coffee and eggs and lots of Elvis paraphernelia. Going to Ellen's and eating breakfast is better than eating no breakfast at all.

Now we're preparing for a visit from my Mom and her husband Dean this weekend. We're scrambling to produce the set of limited edition books purcased in the show.

Volume 5 is really taking shape. Robbi is done with about half of the illustrations. Here's a sneak peek.

It could be an ad for the Savannah College of Art and Design.

Or for Idiots'Books.

Posted by bogenamp at 12:42 AM | Comments (3)

February 05, 2007

Over the Bridge

I love Chestertown. It's small and quiet. I know people. Generally they are very nice. The water is near. The buildings have a charm, a sense of history. On weekends when it's warm there are pies for sale in the village green. That sort of thing. But Chestertown lacks a Staples. And we are in constant need of the Staples these days.

And so we drive. Often we drive to Dover, where there is no sales tax and an enormous NASCAR track. The former is an inducement to seek out Dover, the latter a reason to shudder at the thought of it.

The other day, however, we needed to do some banking. We have been Bank of America customers for some time, but since Chestertown has no Bank of America, we decided it was time to close our accounts and move our modest funds into the local bank. The People's Bank.

When I asked the woman behind the counter if there was a fee for going into the bank and talking to a teller she looked at me as if I was an insane person and reminded me that I was in a small town in a bank that prized customer service.

The closest Bank of America branch was south of us about 30 miles. So we got in the car and drove south. We did our banking thing. And then realized that we were not far from Annapolis, Maryland's proud capital (and site of the recent jeans-ripping incident ) where they have a Staples. We have been in need of card stock. Vast quantities of card stock to print more copies of Ten Thousand Stories. So we set off, the journey taking us over the Bay Bridge, a four mile span of magnificence that crosses the Chesapeake Bay.

(I took this photo from my helicopter.)

The Bay Bridge is so often busy and clogged that there is a phone number you can call to inquire about the backup. If you're ever planning to visit us, especially on a Friday afternoon in summer, be sure to call 1-877-BAY-SPAN first. A friendly robotic voice will tell you for how many miles the bridge is backed up.

In winter, the bridge is usually not a problem. So we arrived in Annapolis without incident. Immediately upon pulling off the highway we spotted a Chipotle, another thing we don't have in Chestertown, and one of my many great food weaknesses. We stopped and I ate a burrito the size of my head.

Robbi ate half a burrito the size of her head.

Groaning, we went to Staples.

Staples is like heaven to us. All the paper, envelopes, labels, adhesives. We rush from aisle to aisle like starving people at a Chinese buffet. We gorge with no regard for the consequences. We bought a lot of card stock, some envelopes to mail Volume 5, and some desk organizer things.

And then we left. Triumphant. Laden with card stock.

In the Staples parking lot was a Best Buy. There was nothing we needed at Best Buy. But the potential for something I want. I have been craving the Nintendo Wii in the worst way, but no one has them in stock NO ONE. Now, I tell myself that I am too old for a Wii. That I will not buy a Wii when actually presented with the opportunity. But I want to be presented with the opportunity. So that I can exercise strength and maturity and choose not to buy the Wii. But I cannot choose not to buy a Wii that is not in stock.

So we went to Best Buy.

And immediately wished that we hadn't. There was no Wii in stock. Which is not an offense. But, once again, we were shoddily treated by the Best Buy employee workforce. Perhaps your experience in Best Buy has been different from ours, but every time we go into a Best Buy, no matter which Best Buy or in what part of this vast and varied country, there are many, many employees standing around talking to one another, making noisy inside jokes, refusing to be proactive or helpful, and which, when approached, respond with a mixture of diffidence and irritation. Blaming you for joining their jolly fun. For impinging on their right to stand and not be bothered. And to hide all of the Wii consoles in the ladies room until I leave.

It's galling. And pervasive. And so we left in a huff, vowing never to return.

Robbi was riled.

And so I may not have the opportunity to choose not to buy the Wii. I may live in a state of tortured limbo for a long, long time. Or at least until Best Buy gets its act together.

We drove home over the bridge. It was overcast and foggy.


It took the sting of Best Buy clear out of our minds. Full of belly and equipped with card stock we returned to our humble barn, pleased to be back again in our small corner of things.

Posted by bogenamp at 12:21 AM

February 04, 2007

Pete Everett

Pete Everett is a great guy. One of those guys you can't help but like. He has a nice smile and a winning personality. I knew Pete in college, and though I did not spend a lot of time with him, I consider Pete a friend. We haven't seen one another in ten years. Occasionally he is mentioned by a mutual friend, at which point I smile and say, "Oh, Pete Everett. Great guy. I'd like to see him again some time."

And now I am back in touch with Pete Everett. Sort of.

Just yesterday, Pete reentered my life. By posting a comment on this blog. Pete self-identified as a "lurker" in response to my question as to who was taking up the bandwidth. He kindly intimated that a reprise of the concert my friend Dahna and I gave last year (which Pete unfortunately could not attend) would be a welcome thing. He affirmed my enjoyment of Guapos butter tacos by claiming to like them himself. Pete's message was friendly, genial, affirming.

But I wonder if Pete and I are actually "back in touch." Or whether something more is needed to make it so. I'm heartened by his comment, yet left unsatisfied, wanting to know more of Pete. How is he, for example? Is he married? Does he have a dog? A beard?

I must email Pete and see what I can learn. Or perhaps he'll email me.

Posted by bogenamp at 12:56 AM

February 02, 2007

All The Answers

I realize that I have been remiss in posting the answers to the aural charades clues I posted last week. Without further fanfare:

bar sip / poop stirs = STARSHIP TROOPERS

pool / love / clock = SCHOOL OF ROCK

bra skoal pee yawn / cry gnaw fight = NAPOLEON DYNAMITE

bar / shores: / the burn / shove / duh / head shy = STAR WARS: RETURN OF THE JEDI

duh / gal bend zit / kiss turd / grip flee = THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY

side / sand / edge kid miss = PRIDE AND PREJUDICE

fur grass brick / bark = JURRASIC PARK

swat grr trip / clown = WATERSHIP DOWN

kill wig ins / pie gland = GILLIGAN'S ISLAND

And the answers to Christian's clues:

A. pear sin / clock dough bitch = ERIN BROKOVICH

B. core / pet things / sand / duh / loon bur cal = FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL

C. get worse / dumb / flee crow / steam duh = LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA

D. slays / dove / stun per = DAYS OF THUNDER

E. boy / gory = TOY STORY

F. backs tee / thrive her = TAXI DRIVER

G. strife / miss / shoot duh bull = LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL

H. my rents / love / duh / jams = SILENCE OF THE LAMBS

So, how did you do? Any stumbling blocks? The most difficult one for us to get was "Letters from Iwo Jima," followed by "Return of the Jedi." The "Star Wars" part was added because "Return of the Jedi" alone wasn't cutting it.

Sorry for the long wait. I hope no one has been tearing his hear out. Get a group of friends together and try to act these out. We will lead the charades revolution. Together.

Posted by bogenamp at 05:04 PM

Who Are You People?

The Barnstorming has been receiving an extraordinary amount of traffic of late. And although the content posted here is incisive, witty, and revealing, the number of hits we've been getting seems out of keeping with the fact that this is, fundamentally, a dull and substanceless narrative in which nothing really happens. And so the recent congestion makes me wonder...

In my former life as a education marketing consultant I had a client who learned, in the wake of an audit meant to discover the reasons behind extremely slow functioning of their intranet, that the Web sites for not fewer than 400 Indian companies were being hosted on their servers. I wonder if something like that is happening here. I resolve to look into it.

Over the past week or so I have been making copies of For the Love of God, A Bully Named Chuck, and My Henderson Robot, the three books from which a subscriber to Idiots'Books may choose to receive as a value-added premium. When we first thought of this value-added premium, congratulating ourselves for what a great idea it was, we expected that the number of subscribers to be modest and manageable. Now that I am facing down the prospects of providing free volumes to 141 (thanks to today's new subscriber, one Sarah Myers of Kennedyville), I must produce tall stacks of books (gladly, gladly).

Piled all together like this, God and Chuck almost look like real books.

We've started binding My Henderson Robot with Japanese book cloth. Adds nice texture. And the red cloth is the color of blood. In a good way.

Tomorrow night is the February First Friday. Robbi and I are going to hang out in the gallery to smile, shake hands, and make shrewd comments.

Hope to see you there. Unless you are illegally hosting an Indian startup on this blog. In that case, don't come. Unless you want to buy some books.

Posted by bogenamp at 12:08 AM | Comments (2)

February 01, 2007

Old Friends/New Friends

Ok, that is a terrible title. No imagination. Trite. Sentimental. Sorry. It happens to be a winning description of the past 24 hours, and so I'll live with the tripe.

Last night we drove to DC to see the "old friends," Drew Bunting and April Berends. Drew is our friend from college. He is a punk rocking preacher originally from the South. Drew and I used to play in a band called the Motherpluckers. Drew yelled and played the mandolin. I yelled and played the rhythm guitar. We were joined by two really talented musicians: Brian Slattery, who yelled and played the fiddle, and Ilya Garger, who sang sweetly and played the banjo. We rocked.

April is Drew's wife. She also rocks. Although she is a newer friend than Drew, she's still an "old friend" for the purpose of this entry.

Here are Drew, April, and me at Guapos, where we went for dinner.

We went to Guapos because Guapos serves tacos with a side of warm butter for dipping. If dipping tacos in butter sounds strange to you, you have no imagination and we can't be friends. In fact, dipping tacos in butter is perhaps the greatest thing you can do for your mouth.

Observe the tacos and butter.

Over our meal we made small talk and pretended to be interested in what one another were saying. In reality, we were all focused on the tacos, the butter, the dipping, the delightful pleasure of chewing. Deciding that the butter was not enough, we ordered a vat of warm queso and dipped our tacos in it (after first dipping them in butter).

I must admit that some of the pleasure of the butter taco comes from the fact that it is served in a freshly-made tortilla. Which is made by a fabulous machine, so wondrous that it shocked me.

Before our eyes tiny lumps of dough were fed into a small slot and, through the miracles of modern automation, were consequently turned into lightly fried platters of warm and steaming delight.


After eating, we were better able to approach one another on human terms. We inquired as to one anothers' well beings since the last time we saw one another. We talked about our lives and dreams. We toured Drew's office, which is, by any measure, the coolest office one can have. Drew is an Assistant Rector at St. Columba's. He likes musical instruments, Elvis, and things that are funny. As you will see.

Drew with his ash tray:

That says:

Drew's monkeypriest and Jesus action figures. Drew loves monkeys and Jesus.

The 10 plagues finger puppets:

The Elvis shrine:

Just a few of Drew's musical instruments:

His epitaph, which seems morbid, until you read it. It's really quite something.

The quote is from the mother of a child among many children for whom Drew was performing a lively puppet-enhanced chapel service in Coconut Grove, Miami.

On the way out of Drew's office, we spotted this:

Robbi and I looked at each other knowingly. We had the same thought. Was it? The... holy GRAIL!@#$

Drew noticed our excitement.

"It is," he confirmed. "I've had it for a while. Can we keep this on the low-down?"

We agreed to be discrete and not mention it to anyone.

Later, at Drew and April's we had tea and reeses peanut butter cups while playing Celebrities. You can do these sorts of things with "old friends."

This is me acting out "Celine Dion." Can you see it?

In spite of my spot-on performance, Drew was puzzled.

The time came to leave. Drew surveyed the mess we had made of his home. He was outraged.

April tried to appease him, but Drew's displeasure grew into a rage. He asked us to leave.

"Good thing we're 'old friends,'" I said to Robbi as we left, "Or else I'd be more concerned about the langauge Drew was using."

Our drive back to Chestertown was uneventful. We went to bed late and got up early. Because today we drove south to visit our "new friends," Jim Duffy and Jill Jasuta. More on them to come. First off, we had to drive the Eastern Shore tourist Mecca of St. Michaels. And specifically, to Artiste Locale, a shop that has recently expressed an interest in selling our books.

The shop is owned, in part, by the parents of one of Robbi's brother Roji's friends from college. This friend, Justin, showed a few of our books to his parents, who shared them with their partners, who liked the books, and so we went to meet and discuss.

It is an awfully nice shop, selling arts and crafts from Maryland artisans (with a few exceptions).

Artiste Locale takes up the front of the shop. The back is devoted to another business, Frivoulous Fibers, a knitting supply outfit that sells yarn hand-dyed by folks in Easton, MD.

We're still working out the details, but it seems that soon Idiots'Books (at least some of them) will be for sale at Artiste Locale. And we might do some sort of book signing/artists' talk event there in coming weeks. Now that we have polished our artists' talk, we're feeling ready to take the Eastern Shore by storm.

We left St. Michaels feeling pleased, if a bit hungry. Fortunately, we were headed to Cambridge, MD, not far from St. Michaels, for lunch and fun with our "new friends" Jim and Jill. Now, Jill is not exactly a new friend in that I've known her for more than 6 years. One can argue that Jill and I are "old friends." But the Jill/Jim unit vis a vis the Robbi/Matthew unit is a new friendship in that Robbi and Jill have no lengthy history, and other than a very pleasant dinner together two years ago, we've really not spent much time with Jim.

And yet we sensed the potential. The hovering possibility of resonant friendship. Jim and Jill are kindred spirits. They, too, threw in the towel on the workaday world, became freelancers (writers, both), and moved to the Eastern Shore. In many ways, they are our guiding principle. And so it seemed foolish to have spent so little time with them.

Here is their home.

Though lovely on the outside, the Jill/Jim home is fantastic within.

We admire their sense of color, taste in furniture and art, and sensibility regarding the placement of objects. Their home is cozy yet open, eclectic yet sophisticated, artistic yet down-to-earth.

They have done a fantastic job of imagining a space and making it their own. And since both write out of their home, they get to enjoy it on a regular basis.

Check out the kitchen. Orange walls and exposed lath on the ceiling, painted white, with swaths of light, flowing cloth. Who thinks of that? Jim and Jill, apparently.

They have three cats. This one is nicest.

Jill fed us a fabulous three-course lunch. But apparently expects a 7-course meal when we return the favor at some future date. (I'm not sure I understand the justice in that.)

I realize I've neglected to introduce you to our "new friends" and hosts.

A perfect picture, other than that Jill's eyes are closed.

Noting this, we took another.

And Jim's eyes were closed.

Noting this, we promptly left, cutting our losses.

Apparently, I slept on the way home. It is a good thing that Robbi volunteered to drive.

Or maybe not, since she seems to have used the drive home to take pictures.

We made it home unscathed, energized, and well-fed. And much inspired, encouraged, etc. We stopped by the gallery and learned that three more people had subscribed. Which brings our total to 140. Which totally blows our minds.

But makes us very happy.

Posted by bogenamp at 12:22 AM


Our bedroom is cold. Cold. We have a small, egg-shaped alarm clock (called "Bob," for some reason beyond my comprehension). According to Bob, who is equipped with a themometer, it is currently 43 degrees in our bedroom. It's kind of like camping, which is fun. But camping is something you do occasionaly, as a break from the norm. On the rare nights that you camp in frigid weather, you think of it as a "special", character-building experience. You don't really enjoy it, but you pretend to, since, well, you're "camping," after all. But we sleep in that cold room every night. The thrill is gone. The chill is no longer cute. Consequently, the Genius Hat has become an item of some controversy.

Robbi thinks the hat is hers. (She's also strangely possessive of this stool.)

And, by the letter of the law, she is correct. The hat was a Christmas gift from friend Christian, a replacement for another hat given by Christian on another Christmas that has since been eaten by Iggy.

She often wears it to sleep, on account of the very cold air.

(Oscar often watches, waiting for the perfect moment to pounce and eat her face off, as I've heard all cats, even those that seem most sweet, are always waiting for the perfect opportunity to do.)

I have been jealous at the seeming warmth provided by the Genius Hat. Last night I had a dark, selfish impulse.

I took the Genius Hat for my own.

Replacing it with another, virtually indistinguishable hat. Roughly the same color even.

I slept the sweet sleep of warm children but woke with a start to the sound of outrage. Robbi had discovered the swap and was none too pleased.

So far, neither of us has contracted bronchitis. But I'm sure our days are numbered.

Posted by bogenamp at 12:04 AM | Comments (1)