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May 31, 2007

A Tale of Two Readings

Lost among the many posts about the Bookplate mural was the fact that we had a reading on Saturday afternoon. It was our first reading with the projector. Since it the reading was to take place at 4:00 in the afternoon, we were worried that the projected images would not be crisp enough if the reading were to be held at the front of the store, where there was ample room to accommodate the horde of doting fans we were expecting. Nevertheless, our desire for a crisp, vivid, colorful image won out and we set up the projector at the back of the store, where there was not as much room for the swarming fanbase. We asked ourselves if we were selfishly prioritizing aesthetics over the comfort of our swooning readership.

We needn't have worried.

Including Robbi, Tom (Bookplate proprietor) and me, there were nine people at the reading. Not only were all interested parties amply accomodated by the limited space at the back of the store, but everyone was comfortably seated.

Tom, dutiful bookshop proprietor that he is, had procured a large plate of salami to feed the hordes. The nine of us did our best on the salami, but a lot of salami remained. There was a lot of salami.

We stalled for nearly 10 minutes, assuming that the tourbusses of fans had merely been delayed by Memorial Day Traffic. Eventually a grim realization settled in. The wildly enthusiastic throngs were not going to appear. Accepting this fact, we settled in and began. And we had a fine time.

The picture is terrible, but here we are in our nook in the back of Bookplate.

We started with Facial Features of French Explorers and then moved on to My Henderson Robot. We then performed the Chestertown debut of St. Michaels: The Town that Somehow Fooled the British. We were prepared to call it a day when someone in the crowd started chanting, "HENRY, HENRY, HENRY." Moved by his enthusiasm, we agreed to read Death of Henry, easily our most misunderstood book, but perhaps my favorite.

The enthusiastic fan was Bob, Robbi's dad. He loves Henry. He hates Facial Features. And tells us whenever he can. For Bob, the reading was the best and worst of times.

After the reading we went to a barbeque where I met this enchanting young lady.

It took a little doing, but I somehow managed to convince her that the princess tiara would look better on my head. I'm sure you agree.

The weekend is approaching, and with it, our second reading, this one at H&F Fine Arts in Mt. Rainier. Though I'm sure that all of you have already made all the necessary plans to arrive just before 5:00pm on Saturday, I will repeat the essential information below, so that you may double-check your itineraries.

I don't often talk about my feelings on this blog because only sissies talk about their feelings. And even though I am pretty much a sissy (see princess tiara above), I don't like to act like one. But still, I must admit a bit of a nervous stomach thinking forward to this weekend's reading. There's something very private about making books. We make them in the privacy of our own barn. Often in nothing but our undergarments. There's something very performative about reading from one's books in front of others. Last weekend's poorly-attended reading was a good warm up for this weekend at H&F, when the teeming hordes will come, chanting in anticipation. Or perhaps there will be only six kind, understanding people in attendance. With low expectations and benevolent smiles. Which would be just fine with me.

Posted by bogenamp at 08:12 PM

May 30, 2007

The End

Only two days over schedule, we have completed the mural. The last hurrah was painting in the words.

Painting the words was entirely Robbi's purview.

The far left and right ends of the mural are dark and the middle is light blue. So Robbi had to paint the words in white against the dark background and switch to black in order to stand out against the blue.

After the words were all in place, the time came to remove the masking. This is an incredibly gratifying part of the process.

Suddenly all of the edges become crisp and the image really assserts itself on the wall.

After we removed the masking, we thought it would be a great idea to get Iggy to pose with a ball of tape on her head. She really didn't like this plan. It took a lot of failed attempts to get even this lame blurry shot.

I don't know how Wegman does it.

In our attempt to get the "perfect" shot of Iggy with the tape on her head, we filled up the camera's memory card, so there is no "definitive" shot of the finished mural. Though I'm not sure that we would have been able to capture the thing with all the film in the world. The mural is a mixture of big (20 feet wide) and small (12 inches high for much of it), and so it's impossible to photograph the entire thing at a scale that captures the detail needed to understand what's going on.

And so you will have to visit Bookplate at some point and examine the mural the way it was designed to be appreciated: up close while winding one's way through stacks of books.

That being said, we've presented the whole thing piecemeal over the past few entries. All of the narrative elements are in place. For those of you who want to try and puzzle through the meaning, here is the text.

The people are dancing on the tables. "Now that the revolution has ended," they say, "we are free to speak our minds. Let's have a holiday!" Jubilant motorists drive the roads at speeds well exceeding the legal limit. "Where are the policemen when we need them?" the people complain. "Where is the structure in our lives?" A vigilante mob digs a hole in the road. All the cars fall in and pile up. Alone and enlightened, the mob becomes orderly and invents a new set of rules based on liberty and justice for all. "I think that we can make this work," they say.

I don't like to "explain" what we do, and so I won't. But Robbi and I agree that this is probably the most political of our pieces (murals and books included) to date. And we're not sure how we feel about that.

Posted by bogenamp at 05:08 PM

May 29, 2007

Time for the Words

First off, as promised, here is the scene of revolutionary glory. Who among you can name the famous painting being quoted here?

Next Robbi outlined the scene of colonial rampage. There is no specific reference here. Pick your favorite conquest! We've strived to be inclusive.

And the ships of the marauding white man. Finally outlined for your viewing pleasure!

The far left and right sides of the mural complete, Robbi turned her attention to the middle and the army of tiny bald digging men.

Since there is an entire army of these cute little fellas, Robbi will be at it for a while.

The end in sight, we took a short break to hang up the words, that I might transfer them to the wall for Robbi to paint in as the final step in completing the mural.

Those of you who read about our last mural at H&F Fine Arts will remember that I am a champion letter-tracer. You might also remember that last time we chalked the backside of the piece of paper on which the words were printed, that a chalk outline might be transferred to the wall. This time we decided to use carbon paper, which has the advantage of creating a crisper, darker line than does the chalk.

And so I began to trace.

The words are on the paper. And then, like magic...

...the words are on the wall.

I was transferring with the ease and confidence that one might expect from a veteran when, out of nowhere, and with little regard for my feelings, Robbi declared that I was doing a "terrible job". Apparently I was creating black smudges on the wall. I looked and admit that there were tiny, barely perceptible smudges of excess carbon.

I have photographed one of these so called "unacceptable" smudges.

Can you even see the aforementioned smudge? Do you consider the smudge worthy of calling a man out in front of his dog? Iggy was embarrassed for me and went behind a bookshelf to hang out with Dennis.

Abruptly demoted, I sat, ashamed, while Robbi took over atop the ladder, transferring the letters that were rightly mine to transfer.

It is a harsh business, this transferring trade. I advise any of you who are, like me, sensitive types with powerful hands that cannot help but smudge the carbon paper, to avoid it at all costs.

We aim to finish this sucker tonight.

Posted by bogenamp at 07:27 PM

Back to the Line

Robbi spent most of the afternoon yesterday cleaning up the edges of the areas I had painted in preparation for the final phase, adding the thin black line that transforms the mural from a bunch of paint on the wall to an image worth looking at.

She started with the column of colorful cars.

And eventually...

...the details emerged.

At present she is outlining the revolutionary montage. Photos will be posted later tonight.

Here is the entire mural, as of last night.

No time for witty commentary at present. I have been charged with tracing the words onto the wall. You know how much I love tracing.

Posted by bogenamp at 03:11 PM

May 28, 2007

More than Blue and Brown

First off, apologies for not posting yesterday. When we did the last mural at H&F Fine Arts, my participation was limited to large, uncomplicated areas that could not be harmed by my lack of skill and finesse. This left me hours with nothing better to do than photograph Robbi at work and then post those photos on the blog. This time, perhaps due to Robbi's incredibly nasty case of poison ivy and the resulting pain, fatigue, and discomfort, she has been more willing to tolerate my participation. In fact, I spent the entire day yesterday with a paintbrush in my hands

This means two things: 1) there has been less time to post on our progress and 2) I have now painted in purple, grey, dark grey, purple grey, dark purple grey, darker blue, and green.

With both of us going full bore, we were able to make a lot of progress yesterday.

As follows:

Fiery revolution.

A little painting...

...leads to fleshed-out fiery revolution.

A trip across the sea yields...

...colonial carnage.

Army of little digging automatons.

As the sun set, Robbi finished the column of colorful cars.

As shown:

Just after lunch, Iggy, seeking revenge on Dennis, decided to colonize his bed.

My dog is ridiculous. She spends her life in pursuit of the smallest bed possible.

Today is Memorial Day and Bookplate is closed, but we are heading there now, convinced that we can finish the mural today. We are reminded of the H&F mural. Waking Monday morning at 8:00 after four hours asleep on the storage room floor, I was convinced that we would be done by 11:00 that morning. Robbi guessed that we'd be finished by 1:00 that afternoon. We finished 18 hours later.

It's difficult to estimate sometimes.

I'll try to be better about updates today. As soon as Robbi starts doing her line work, things get a lot more gratifying.

Posted by bogenamp at 11:05 AM

May 26, 2007

Blue Sky

We worked until 10:00 or so last night and then went over to Bob and Seiko's house for cold tofu, sauteed green beans and somen. It was very delicious. We ate a lot. And then went home. At home we practiced for today's reading, spending most of our time struggling to master the technology. We are certain that the reading will end in calamity, but are nevertheless prepared to forge on.

We are currently on a short lunch break, so there is no time for the usual detail. "And thank god for it," you may be saying to yourself.

Having proven myself roughly capable with brown, I passed the morning with a tub of blue paint, creating the sky that fills the middle of the mural. The far left and right extremes depict scenes of revolution and colonialism, respectively, and therefore have dark, ominous skies in keeping with the themes.

Now it is clear that there are ships.

And a mob of vigilante diggers.

The colorful cars, painted by Robbi.


Here is the scene just before we left for lunch.

We're getting there. But there is a long way to go. More to come.

Posted by bogenamp at 01:38 PM

May 25, 2007

The Revolution Continues

All sorts of things have happened this afternoon. Not long after declaring that I was not fit to trace, Robbi had a sudden realization of the sheer volume of tracing that lay ahead and declared that I was, in fact, fit to trace. And so I traced.

Tracing up high was less exasperating than tracing down low. I found myself grumbling less, though I still did not enjoy myself.

Iggy and Dennis reached a state of detente.

In the wake of my successful tracing on high, I was once again asked to trace down low.

I grumbled.

I earned a stern look.

As penance, I was forced to pose like this while Robbi drew a picture of a man digging a hole.

The significance of the pose will become clear as the mural progresses. In this mural an enormous hole is dug and then filled in again. As an object lesson in the futility of our actions. This mural has a depressing message. And so we use cheerful colors to mitigate the gloom.

After finishing the tracing, I masked.

After finishing the masking, we ate lunch.

By "we" I mean everyone but Iggy, who does not get lunch. Much to her consternation.

Energized by pizza, we decided to paint. In addition to cheerful colors, the mural has a preponderance of brown. To make brown, Robbi had to mix yellow, red, and black. One of the things I love best about Robbi iis that she takes notice of the small wonderful things that sometimes happen accidentally. Like this.

We began to paint. Perhaps inspired by Understanding Traffic, we populated the mural with many cars.

I started painting the brown cars.

And Robbi started painting the colorful cars. Apparently brown is for painting amateurs.

I kind of enjoyed painting those brown cars.

Here is the second "progress" shot.

The angle we chose is not favorable for showing the progress we've made so far. Our goal is to have the two columns of cars completed tonight. Tomorrow is the Saturday of Tea Party. Tomorrow the flood of humanity will be streaming in and out of those doors. Perhaps you will be among that flood.

Posted by bogenamp at 07:13 PM

The Revolution Has Ended

Hello Friends. Today we are posting live from Chestertown's Bookplate, where we will, for the next three days, be posting regular updates on our progress as we paint the latest Idiots'Books mural, titled, The Revolution Has Ended.

The finished advertisement.

Our books in the window.

We arrived at Bookplate at the luxurious hour of 10:07am, set ourselves up, and began to work. As has quickly become our habit when approaching these murals, "beginning to work" means that Robbi takes up the tools of creation while I sit by trying my hardest not to interfere.

While I sat by loafing, Robbi taped her sketches to the wall.

Then she took out some carbon paper, which she placed between the sketch and the wall.

After some careful tracing, the initial linework was transferred to the wall.

I sat and watched, relaxing. Occasionally I would compliment Robbi on her fine work. At one point she suggested that, as affirming as my praise might be, help with the tracing might be an even more appreciated contribution to the efforts. I got out some carbon paper and tried my hardest. Tracing requires two things 1) patience and 2) precision. I lack items one and two. I grew frustrated and grumbled. Robbi decided that she preferred sitting, complimenting Matthew to tracing, grumbling Matthew.

I did snap this photo that made it look as if I had done the tracing.

But be assured. I did not.

While Robbi was tracing and not grumbling and I was sitting and complimenting, a entirely other drama was playing out.

Since Tom Martin, Bookplate proprietor, is a very nice guy, Iggy was invited to attend the mural painting event. As she is known to do, Iggy curled up in her bed to sleep out the duration.

This arrangement worked out well for a short while, but Iggy's bliss was shattered in a moment when resident Bookplate cat, Dennis, discovered the visiting bed and its attending dog.

Iggy was rousted and Dennis took what was rightly his.

Dennis found the bed much to his liking.

And Iggy, dejected, found another place to lie.

Take a close look at the following picture, the classic "before" shot. Before the weekend is through, the entire front wall of Bookplate will be covered with paint.

Check back later today. Progress will be posted when there is progress to report.

Posted by bogenamp at 12:02 PM

May 23, 2007

Out of Control

A persistent theme around the barn is my longing for a factory. When we imagined living in this space it seemed just the right size: a small bedroom for sleeping, room for both of us to have an office/creative space, a place to eat, a place to sit and watch movies, and an approximate kitchen adequate for the preparation of sandwiches. What more could one ask for?

Although the Idiots'Books project was vaguely a part of our vision, it was but an amusing side project, something we would do on Saturday afternoons to entertain ourselves between other ventures. We were so young and naive. And happy as we are that the books have been so well received, we are now sorely in need of a factory. A group of vigorous, satisfied factory workers would also be nice.

Evidence of our need for space.

Witness the living room:

Robbi refuses to make books of a size that conforms nicely to the 8.5 x 11 inch standard page size. She also likes to design with "full bleeds" (when the image goes all the way to the edge of the page), which means that I have to trim all four sides of most of the books. Books like Facial Features, Richard Nixon, and Understanding Traffic are relatively easy to make because they do not bleed. Books that bleed make messes like the one you see above.

Witness the recycling bin:

The recycling guy comes but once a week. When in the throes of serious bookmaking (as we are at present), we fill this large-ish can four times over in a week's span. The can is currently full. Which is why the strips of trimmed paper remain on the living room floor instead of in a more appropriate place.

Behold the dining room table:

Needless to say, we don't have many "sit-down" meals these days. The family dynamic is starting to suffer as a result.

Have a look at the pile of paper.

As I've said before, we are the reason that Staples shareholders are so jolly these days. We have risen rapidly through the ranks of their Frequent Buyer Program. From bronze to silver to gold and now to platinum. They are currently searching for an even more precious metal with which we may be honored.

I must leave you now. The time has come to take out my hammer and bang staples (real staples in the binding of books, not our paper junkie Staples). It is a necessary evil (banging, not Staples).

Posted by bogenamp at 12:52 PM

May 21, 2007

Tea, Anyone?

Every year over Memorial Day weekend, Chestertown celebrates Tea Party, an all-out extravaganza of commerce, gathering, consumption, and hankering that culminates in a grand reenactment of a quite possibly apocryphal moment in Chestertown's history. Yes, much like St. Michaels, the town that may or may not have fooled the British, historians suggest that the good citizens of Chestertown very well might not have forcibly boarded a boat full of nasty British regulars before proceeding to dump them inelegantly into the Chester. The fact that the yearly reenactment may lack historical precendent does not deter the good citizens of Chestertown from dressing in thoroughly colonial garb and going through the motions. It's really quite grand. And quite overwhelming, especially when it's hot outside. I, being one who dislikes both sunshine and large crowds of people, have a difficult time sucking the marrow out of Tea Party. Now that I am an official Chestertonian, the moral obligation to participate in the reenactment grows ever stronger. Novice as I am, I would likely be recruited to play the role of "duped, defeated British soldier," which would mean being doused in the Chester. Eager to avoid this fate, I schemed to come up with a plan that would keep me far away from 1) big crowds of people, 2) sunshine, and 3) the Chester River.

Here's what we came up with:

That's right, as you see on this poster by the inestimably gifted, wry, and parodic Ken Castelli, Robbi will be painting the next Idiots'Books mural this coming Friday, Saturday, and Sunday in Chestertown's own Bookplate. Our first and greatest fan, Tom Martin has seen fit to let us place a permanent installation across the entire front wall of his store. It is worth mentioning that the front wall of Tom's place is mostly glass, so while the space available to us is a full twenty feet wide, it is only 12 inches tall. With the exception of two eight foot horizontal strips of wall on either side of the front door. Meaning, this will not be your average mural.

The text recently completed (this will be an ALL NEW story NEVER BEFORE SEEN), Robbi is busy at work on the illustration. On Friday, with the help of her downtrodden assistant, Robbi will transfer the outline to the Bookplate wall. On Saturday, with the help of her demoralized assistant, she will paint in the color. On Sunday, while her worthless, unskilled assistant stands by worthlessly, Robbi will paint in the linework. This is kind of like the last mural except for the fact that we will not be sleeping on the floor of a storage room. And that every minute of our work will be on full display for the swarming reenacting hordes. That's right, this weekend we are to be a FEATURED ATTRACTION.

Which is why Robbi was asked to paint an Idiots'Books advertisement on the Bookplate window.

Usually one is discouraged from painting on other people's windows. See the opportunistic gleam in Robbi's eye?

Unfortunately I had to head home shortly after this picture was taken, which means I have no picture of the finished advertisement. But heck, what's tomorrow for? Check back then.

But in case you did not read the above poster carefully, know that in addition to the three days of what can only be referred to as "mural madness," Robbi and I will be doing our first slide-assisted reading at 4:00 Saturday afternoon. We are so certain that it will end in disaster that friends and enemies alike are encouraged to be on hand. The latter to mock, the former to support. Because what is Tea Party all about if not the convergence of friend and foe, pro and con, Colonial reenacter and British solider reenacter?

Well, for one thing, it's also about fried clams and funnel cakes. Not things to be taken lightly.

Posted by bogenamp at 10:40 PM

May 20, 2007

By All Means, Bend

Given the difficulty we've had with the USPS, we've been relatively kind to them on these pages. In the face of persistent bad treatment by the employees of the Chestertown Post Office whenever we walk through the doors with a bin of Idiots'Books mailings, we have been resolute, turning the other cheek, quietly suffering the indignity of their ill treatment by tapping the wellspring of magnanimity deep within us both. But now that Best Buy has been upgraded as a result of the excellent Justin P., we need to focus our wrath on something, and so the USPS will be the subject of today's tirade.

(As a side note, the day after the last entry was posted, Justin P. called our house and asked for Robbi. He had read the blog, apparently, and learning about our longing for the Wii, decided to call us when the new shipment came in. He was willing to save us a Wii throughout the afternoon, provided we could come get it that day. Alas, Dover is an hour away and we had company. But still, Justin P., one must ask, are you a man or are you a god?)

Back to the USPS. As you all must know, the postal rates have recently increased. Or so we thought. On the first day of the rate increase, we went to the USPS to mail a copy of Understanding Traffic to a new subscriber. The postage for the copies of the same book sent the week before had been 87 cents. We were curious to see how steep the increase would be. We approached the counter and endured the withering look from the USPS employee, who, noticing that we were "those Idiots' people", put on his best withering look.

He took the envelope as if it were covered with pestilence.

He placed it on the scale.

What would the new postage be? we asked, polite and deferential.

$1.34 he said.

We expressed our surprise that the increase had been so steep.

He looked at the envelope again and informed us that, in fact, the postage would be $1.54, on account of its having been stamped with the "Do Not Bend" stamp. Conscientious booksenders that we are, we often use the "Do Not Bend" stamp. However, the new USPS rate change declares that any envelope marked with the "Do Not Bend" stamp shall hereforth be considered a "parcel", and thus subject to higher rates.

Shocked and appalled, we stood silently gaping. Then we regrouped and asked if by crossing out the mark of the "Do Not Bend" stamp we could effectively eliminate the "parcel" classification.

His look of surprise was quickly replaced by one of resignation as he realized that we had defeated him.

I guess so, he said.

He weighed the package once again. Once you cross out the, "Do Not Bend" stamp, he said, the postage will be 75 cents.

Yes, you heard that correctly. Under the new USPS regulations, the cost of mailing one copy of Understanding Traffic has DROPPED from 87 to 75 cents. As long as one does not designate that said package should not be bent.

The world is upside down.

We did the only thing we could. We got out a black pen. And crossed out "Do Not Bend" stamp.

Sad though it made us. Likely our new subscriber will feel threatened by the gesture, wondering what they did to deserve the mockery of a package being first marked "Do Not Bend" and then overtly unmarked.

"Do these people want to send me a bent book?" they will ask themselves.

It's not a good business model, I fear.

Returning home we checked the mailbox, only to be horrified by what we found inside, another sure insult at the hands of the USPS, chronicled by Robbi on Idiots'Box.

We are skeptical that the cost of sending Understanding Traffic actually went down. We are convinced that this "now it only costs 75 cents" thing is a ploy to defeat Idiots'Books and thus end our reign of terror at the Chestertown USPS. I am convinced that our new subscriber will never receive her copy of Understanding Traffic. And that if she does, it will arrive bent.

Posted by bogenamp at 10:08 PM

May 18, 2007

A Much Better Buy

You who have been faithful readers of these pages might know that Robbi has for months now been cultivating a bad attitude about America's electronics superchain, Best Buy. (You may read here one chapter of her growing ire.) Robbi's frustration with said electronics juggernaut is based less upon its consistent failure to stock the Nintendo Wii and more on the army of listless, unhelpful young people who actively don't work there. I mean, they are paid, apparently, to wear the Best Buy frock but then avert their eyes when customers come near, or when cornered and forced to actually speak to the dollar-wielding consumer, act either angry, confused, or superior.

Wii, where do we find you?

So consistent was our displeasure with Best Buy that Robbi started looking like this when we would leave the store.

And really, who wants to hang out with someone who looks like this? And so we banned ourselves from Best Buy and Best Buy from ourselves, the way we once imposed a two-year moratorium on going into New York City after once spending a hour moving 50 yards just shy of the Holland Tunnel.

Recently, however, our electronic needs became acute. Looking forward to the string of upcoming Idiots'Books readings, we realized that, were we to project Robbi's images as we have promised in the promotional postcards (see below), we would have to get ourselves a digital projector. And, in the interest of being good consumers, felt that we should carefully investigate and weigh our various options before making the purchase.

A bit of self-promotion.

It was with dread that we approached the Dover Best Buy. We were bracing for insult, neglect, and outright bile. We held hands and told ourselves that we were good people, no matter what unkind epithets those Best Buy employees hurled our way.

We asked the young man by the front door where to find the projectors. He looked puzzled by the request, but regrouped and waved in two different directions. "They are over there," he said, pointing toward the television section, "Or over there," he continued, waving toward the back of the store.

Intuition led us to the back of the store. On the way through the gaming section, we stoppd to see if they had any Wii consoles in stock. They had no Wii consoles in stock.

We got to the back of the store and found the projectors. We were broken, helpless, resigned to not understanding the many nuances of the projectors and feeling unequipped, emotionally and otherwise, to assess the important financial decision that loomed before us. The skies were black and ominous, but then a ray of light broke through and shone down upon us. Angels sang and Justin P. appeared, the answer to our long dark night of Best Buy gloom.

Justin P. was knowledgeable, helpful, thorough, and kind. He answered every question with a convincing expertise. He anticipated other questions we did not know enough to ask. He made us feel comfortable, safe, valued, and happy. Justin P. helped us find just the right projector for our needs, even though it was slightly less expensive than another that we might well have been steered to buy. He helped us find the correct cable to attach the new projector to my Mac, and thoughtfully explained the benefits of the Best Buy extended 3-year warrantee.

We were stunned and knew not what to do. So we left, anxious to see if we would wake from this dream.

Thorough, thoughtful consumers that we are, we drove to Office Depot and Staples (good old Staples), but found their selection and pricing not to our liking. Plus, neither Office Depot nor Staples had Justin P., our new hero, the man after whom we will name our daughter and our son.

So back to Best Buy we went. Justin P. was still there. He carried our projector to the front of the store. He posed with Robbi for this picture while his colleague at the register relieved us of our money.

As we left the store, I looked at Robbi. This was not the same woman I had known. She was a woman transformed.

All this is to say, we forgive you Best Buy, a little bit at least. You're moving in the right direction. Here's what you do to become a really good store: ask Justin P. if he has any friends. Great guys usually hang out with others of their kind. Hire his friends and use them to replace the Army of the Diffident. I promise it will pay dividends. And call me when you have the Wii in stock. If I am not yet an old man, I may buy one. But only if Justin P. is there, answering my questions, making me feel good about my purchase.

Posted by bogenamp at 10:03 AM

May 15, 2007

A Rock Star Among You

Here is the Reverend Drew Bunting with his Jesus ashtray.

And here is the Reverend Drew Bunting with his banjo.

Yes, subscribers, you may not know it, but there is a genuine legend of rock in your midst.

The Reverend Drew Bunting, who has delighted us for years with his tasteful (and tasty) fusion of folk and punk, has seen fit to compose a ditty in response to last month's Richard Nixon Essay Competition .

The song is beautiful yet tragic, pithy yet eternal. We were moved by the composition and were sorely tempted to give it first prize, but we feared that early success might make the good Reverend complacent. Rather, we resolved to keep him hungry and a little pissed off, hopeful that this deliberate slight might motivate him to write many more songs in honor of many more books.

I wonder what kind of song Drew would write about Understanding Traffic.

Go to the Idiots'Books home page, to stream the song or click here if you hate our site and don't want to have to look at it.

Know that the Richard Nixon song is but one of many in Drew's amazing catalog. He has released several quality albums, one of which may still be available for purchase. I will inquire with the man himself and let you all know how to purchase once I find out. Email me if you are interested in finding out more about this.

Also, rumor has it that the good Reverend may be working on a new album. If this turns out to be true, I will let you all know as soon as it is available.

Posted by bogenamp at 08:34 AM

It's OK to Hate

I am happy to say that Volume 7, Understanding Traffic, has officially hit the streets. It took a lot of banging. Understanding Traffic has three staples, each of which require 15 blows on one side and 15 on the other. We made 300 copies. Which translates to roughly 9,000 blows. Which turns my right arm to rubber, gives me a wrist cramp, and makes our new neighbor think that this isn't such a nice neighborhood after all.

After the banging was done, we bound the 300 copies of Understanding Traffic in one furious session during which we watched a string of forgettable movies, the least gratifying of which must have been The Secret Lives of Dentists. While I'm usually a huge Hope Davis fan, this movie does nothing but cement that impression we all have that dentists are kind of creepy. And not in an interesting, deeply demented way, but in a kind of dull, constipated kind of way. I'm sure that there are some dentists whose secret lives are thrilling, but whoever made this movie did not know about those dentists.

Understanding Traffic entirely avoids the topic of dentists' lives, but does attempt to make some claims in the realm of understanding traffic. Shortly after binding the 300 copies, we put 170 in envelopes, bundled with our longest letter to date (complete with many outstanding essays in response to the Richard Nixon Essay Competition), and sent them off into the ether, our last mailing ever at the former USPS rates.

By various accounts, the eagle has landed across this great nation, which has triggered a furious vote in homes both large and small.

The vote to which I refer? Robbi and I are having a bit of a disagreement about Understanding Traffic. While I consider it an important (seminal?) work in man's collective struggle to come to terms with the pervasive scourge of traffic in our lives, Robbi feels that people will find it inaccessible, infuriating, dull, and unlovable. She speculates that people will lose interest or hope before reaching the end. She thinks it might be the final straw that shatters subscriber confidence and sends us tumbling hopelessly back to the workaday world.

And so there is a vote. We are inviting those who have read Understanding Traffic to weigh in on how it makes them feel. Do you love the book or hate it? Please understand, we ask this question with genuine curiosity. We will view the tally with no prejudice.

I will report, however (in case it is my last opportunity to make this claim), that "love" is prevailing over "hate" by a score of 5 to 1 in the early going, a fact that rankles Robbi to no small degree. I'm writing to see if one of you who actually does loathe Volume 7 could please get on line and cast a vote of aspersion. It would do wonders for Robbi, who has started to doubt her abilities to judge bad literature, rendering her impossible to live with.

In her desperate attempt to make sense of a universe spinning quickly out of control, she contends that plenty of people hate the book, but that our subscribers, being kind, generous sorts, are simply unwilling to click a box next to an option containing the word "hate." If this is the case, I hereby grant you permission to do so. I insist that you articulate your ire. We don't hear it enough in today's cheerful world, but it's ok to hate.

(Those of you who are dying to vote on this matter but lack a copy of Understanding Traffic, may secure one for only $12 US by clicking here. Though you could, technically, vote without having read the book, you wouldn't feel good about yourself if you did. Here's a taste of what you have to look forward to on the love/hate front. Click on the images below to make them bigger/readable. If you really hate these sample pages, then go ahead and vote your mind!)

Posted by bogenamp at 07:45 AM

May 12, 2007

How to Find Us

The demographic makeup of the Barnstorming readership remains a mystery to me. The recent Niles/Dwight contest flushed a few stealth readers out of hiding, but I am still left to wonder just who is digesting these words and what it is they take away from the experience.

I recently consulted the tracking software that is included with our hosting service and learned that the following phrases were all among the top ten search strings that led Web surfers to the Barnstorming site this past week.

1) girl or woman fast metabolism
2) kirk cameron peeing contest
3) emily piendak
4) pictures of clydesdales
5) number of chipotle combinations are possible
6) barn yard sex

I am, of course, delighted when I read this list. What it means to me is that the Barnstorming readership is a far more lively bunch than I had previously imagined. I sit here musing, wondering how each of these phrases relate to the content.

1) Clearly Robbi is the girl or woman with a fast metabolism. Have you seen her eat ice cream? Oboy.
2) As for good old Kirk Cameron, he was here last week and did challenge me to a peeing contest. I hadn't remembered writing about that here, but the tracking software must have a sort of uber-consciousness of all things happening about the barn, even those that are yet unchronicled.
3) Emily Piendak? This one puzzles me. The name sounds familiar, but I can't place it. Must be an error.
4) "Pictures of cyldesdales" makes sense. Iggy closely resembles a clydesdale with her powerful legs and tendency to pull carts through the scenic countryside.
5) "Number of Chipotle combinations are available"? As far as I'm concerned, there is only one Chipotle combination: carnitas burrito with black beans, corn and tomato salsa, sour cream, cheese, and guac. But there must be others. At least seven others, I'd guess.
6) Barn yard sex? That's some racy stuff. Not sure how it relates to our content, but by repeating the phrase, I'm sure to draw even more inadvertent traffic to the site. (Barn yard sex.) Which is my ultimate goal. (Barn yard sex.) Soon I'll be able to convince Crest to start sponsoring toothpaste advertisement, the sure sign of having "arrived" as a blog.

Posted by bogenamp at 08:34 AM

May 11, 2007

Day of the Van

One very hot day in July of 2004, friend Christian helped me move from my small apartment on Calvert Street in Baltimore to Robbi's and my new house on Falls Road. Robbi, of course, was fishing in Alaska at the time, enjoying the 45 degree breeze blowing lustily across the tundra. It was about 98 degrees in Baltimore, and as we moved my heavy, bulky things, Christian maintained a positive attitude. Since that day I have been longing for an opportunity to pay him back.

Recently, having passed the Maryland bar and somehow convincing Emily to marry him, Christian (with full approval from his recent betrothed) decided to purchase this house (on Calvert Street in Baltimore, of all places).

The day's ultimate challenge was to get Christian's new box spring from Mr. Mattress in Glen Burnie (a town south of Baltimore) to the second floor of the new house on Calvert Street. But like so many worthy challenges, there was an abundance of preceding drama. Which I shall share with you below.

The day began in Chestertown with an empty van, which we drove to Baltimore.

Once in Baltimore, we added one friend to the empty van. The friend, David, is the same great man who once cooked Primitive Beef with us under a galvanized trashcan lid.

David was passing through Baltimore on his journey home to NYC from a visit to DC. I'm guessing that, had he fully understood the shenanigans that would unfold throughout the day ahead, he would have taken the direct train home.

To the van we added Christian, all dressed up from work.

Next we headed back to Christian's newly-emptied rental to pick up a great deal of things needing to be dumped .

We paused briefly to document the thrill of friendship.

Then we filled the van with the dumpables.

After filling the van, we paused briefly to document the thrill of friendship intensified by low-grade manual labor.

Our next stop was the dump, where we dumped.

Robbi noticed that those who had dumped before us seemed to have disregarded the thoughtfully-placed signage.

This sort of thing gets her all bent out of shape.

Leaving Robbi to wallow in her own ire, Christian, David, and I paused briefly to document the thrill of friendship in the presence of that acrid garbage smell.

Having dumped, the van was once again on the empty side. It was time to fetch the box spring. And so we drove to Mr. Mattress.

Where we were lucky enough to meet Mr. Mattress himself. Mr. Mattress, Christian, and I paused briefly to document the thrill of camaraderie, proving that people and mattresses can get along, in spite of what the cynics think.

All the things you've heard about his generous spirit and winning sense of humor are true.

There were a tense couple of minutes when it looked like the box spring was not going to fit into the van.

But under the careful watch of the Serta Sheep, we managed to make it work.

It was Iggy who broke first, declaring that enough was enough.

But we managed to convince her to stay with us by describing how much fun we were all having.

"Fun?" she said, "I hadn't realized."

"Oh yes," we said, "This is loads of fun." We managed to keep a collective straight face and she bought it.


Since the van wasn't really full enough yet, we decided to go pick up Christian's charming dog, Ruby. She had just been "bathed and brushed", so when you think of the increased fun of adding Ruby to the mix, remember that she is wet and shedding like a bandit.

After fetching Ruby, we saw a billboard, which caused David, Christian, and I to take pause, search our souls, and say, "Oh boy, I really hope not."

I also found myself wondering what, exactly, Rodin would say about this particular placement of The Thinker.

Eventually we arrived at the new house on Calvert Street.

Plan A, which involved taking the queen-sized box spring up the central staircase, was quickly declared a bust. We were all straining, sweating, and swearing so intensely that we did not even have the heart to photograph our efforts. It was Christian who had the brilliant idea to take the box spring out back and hoist it up to the second story balcony.

Plan B was shocking, audacious. Would it work?

Oh, yes.

Oh, yes, it did.

The box spring delivered to its final resting place, we rewarded ourselves with burritos from Chipotle. Once all of the hauling, dumping, lifting, and sweating was done, Emily decided it was safe to come home. Unfortunately, we were out of room in the camera's memory card, so we cannot picture her delight at having a box spring. But just so that you can remember, here is Emily, moments after Christian asked her to marry him.

Oh, they will have a happy, happy home.

Posted by bogenamp at 08:37 AM

May 07, 2007

Must See

If you haven't already, I encourage you to visit IdiotsBox, where Robbi has recently chronicled this morning's excitement in the barn, A DINNER INVITATION FROM GEORGE W. BUSH!

Posted by bogenamp at 11:54 AM

All Work and No Naps

Yesterday was about production. Having received a clean bill of health from editor Matt Westbrook, it was time to print, cut, staple, score, and bind Volume 7. We decided to make 300 copies this time around, 170 for this month's subscriber mailing, 30 or so for the various stores that are selling our stuff, and another hundred for the hordes of fledgling Idiots'Books enthusiasts we will meet at the MoCCA fest in June.

As you can imagine, making 300 copies takes some doing. So both of us had to work really hard all day.

No one perhaps worked harder than the printer.

Unless it was Robbi.

Or Iggy.

In truth, Robbi did most of the bookmaking yesterday while I worked on other projects, such as the press release for our upcoming reading in DC. You various DC people on our mailing list will soon get a postcard invitation, but let it be known that we will be reading from our work on Saturday, June 2, at 5:00pm at H&F Fine Arts, a new gallery in the Gateway Arts District (3311 Rhode Island Avenue). Get it on your calendars.

Here's the full release. Read it only if you're actually interested:

H&F Fine Arts
Matthew Swanson and Robbi Behr of Idiots'Books
June 2, 2007
Book signing: 4:00-6:00pm
Reading: 5:00pm

At 5:00pm on Saturday, June, 2, writer Matthew Swanson and illustrator Robbi Behr will be reading from their collaborative books (including their most recent title, Dawn of the Fats) while presenting a projected slide show of Behr's illustrations. The two will be on hand from 4:00-6:00pm to sign and answer questions about their various titles, all eleven of which will be for sale. Also on permanent display at H&F is a 7' x 13' mural by Behr featuring a panel from her and Swanson's book, For the Love of God.

Swanson and Behr are the creative force behind Idiots'Books, a small press in Chestertown, MD that produces satirical illustrated commentaries on the human condition. The playful romp of Swanson's strange, yet captivating writing is complimented by Behr's visceral (sometimes grotesque) and concept-driven illustration. Usually funny, often irreverent, the books challenge conventional understanding of the relationship between word and image. Rather than merely "illustrating" Swanson's text, Behr's images present an alternate narrative, one that often ironizes or expands--or sometimes directly challenges--the stated intention of the words. The result is an unreliable text and a reading experience in which the traditional authority of words is called into question.

Swanson and Behr's books range across subjects from god to adolescence, French colonialism to self-image, and funnel cakes to traffic theory. Their works are not comics or graphic novels, but are best described as illustrated books for adults, (though the two have also made few books for children). Their work has been called "a carnival of the imagination," and has been described as "benevolent satire, fueled by equal parts anger and disgust--but tempered by a pity and humor that embraces the foibles, the weakness, and the sheer idiocy of the human drama." Their work may be seen at www.idiotsbooks.com

Both Swanson and Behr are 1997 graduates of Williams College; Behr earned her MFA from the Savannah College of Art and Design in 2004. Swanson is a freelance writer and Behr an illustrator, fine art printmaker, and adjunct professor of art at Washington College. They live in a barn in Chestertown, Maryland.

H&F Fine Arts is at 3311 Rhode Island Avenue in Mt. Rainier, MD. Call 301-887-0080 or email Cheryl@hffinearts.com for more information, or check out the H&F Fine Arts Web site: www.hffinearts.com

Posted by bogenamp at 11:26 AM

May 05, 2007

Making Books

We recently discovered that Idiots'Books has been granted a table at the 2007 Museum of Comic and Cartoon Arts Festival this June in NYC. This means we will have our very own six-foot table in a huge room full of other people who make books, some of whom are pretty famous in the "comic and cartoon" world, others of whom are, like us, trying to figure out exactly what they are up to. We have no idea what to expect at the MoCCA festival. We will stand behind our table, smiling eagerly, begging silently for approval, acceptance, affirmation. But will we be satisfied?

As I have said before on these pages, our books are not comics or graphic novels, the categories into which most of the stuff at MoCCA is likely to fall. So we could be shunned and avoided, people walking by our table, averting their eyes and whispering conspiratorially and laughing sarcastically.

Or, there might be some interest. We just don't know. And so we are preparing for the best case scenario.

Our goal is to sell a lot of books at the MoCCA festival, with the hope of "getting the word out", creating a bit of name recognition and, hopefully, signing up a few new subscribers. (I prepared the mailing labels for the volume 7 mailing today, by the way, and the number of subscribers is up to 170.) In anticipation of the potential flood of eager, cash-waving customers, we are creating a massive inventory of past volumes, hundreds and hundreds of books. The real bottleneck in book production is the printing. And so Robbi has been doing so in earnest.

Here are 100 copies of Facial Features of French Explorers, boxed and ready for the trip to NYC.

Last week we gave Staples a lot of business. We ordered:

-12,000 sheets of fancy text stock
-6,000 sheets of 8.5x11 card/cover stock
-5,000 1/4 inch heavy duty staples
-100 rolls of "glue dots" (used to adhere covers to the book 'guts')
-12 new paper cutter mats (supports the rolling blade in the paper cutter
-6 new rotary blades for the paper cutter
-1 new scoring wheel (just so that we have a backup, given the critical importance of the scoring wheel, of which we have but one at present)

Here is some of the haul.

Here are 100 trimmed-but-yet-unstapled copies of Death of Henry.

Over the last few days, 150 copies of Ten Thousand Stories rolled off the printer before, out of sheer exhaustion, perhaps, the printer decided to jam in a chronic sort of way. We're giving it a break.

Here is what the table looks like in the midst of book production.

I have been having intense longings lately for a factory to call my own. A huge room with sturdy formica counters, well-lit and stocked with endless reams of paper and many scoring blades. I call it paradise.

While I have been making old books, Robbi has been finishing a new one. Volume 7 is called Understanding Traffic. It is a book more than 6 years in the making. At least in my mind. Whenever I sit stuck in traffic I fume and curse and dream of someday writing a book explaining the many nuances of traffic's sprawling complexity. My dream found fruition with Volume 7. For the past few days, Robbi has been doing the illustrations.

Here she is at her light table.

After drawing through the night, around 5:00 this morning, Robbi finished the illustrations. I'm starting to think that she prefers to work this way.

As is our habit upon completing a book, we called upon our editorial guru, the spectacular and wise Matthew Westbrook. We decided to drive across the bridge to take him the finished book in person. The fact that we would be able to make a pit stop in the Annapolis Chipotle played some role in the decision to deliver the book instead of emailing it, as we otherwise might have.

Last night we parked the car beneath a tree full of pink flowers.

When we got to Elkridge (south of Baltimore, where Matt lives), we enjoyed a Chipotle lunch and then looked at the many fossils Matt found on a recent trip to a sulfate mine in North Carolina. Among his finds was the inner ear bone of a prehistoric whale. It was pretty cool.

While Matt read Understanding Traffic, grinning madly, cackling wickedly, and wielding his red pen, we frisked in the yard with Iggy, who was in true form.

She and I had a bit of a standoff.

The Westbrooks, it turned out, have recently added to the household.

I know that picturing kittens on one's blog is kind of a cheap ploy.

But pictures of violently eating them is less expected.

It was good to get my hands on some kittens again. I know just how they like to be held. I am very intuitive this way.

Posted by bogenamp at 10:28 PM

May 01, 2007

Will Grill for Sex

I have given this entry a racy title to provide some interest for those of you who would otherwise be bored by an entry which is, fundamentally, about friends, food, and babies, with plenty of each on the docket. I promise that the racy title will become relevant at some point, but not likely to a satisfying degree. Read forward at your peril. Not much happens from this point on.

Last Thursday we got in the car and drove to Massachusetts. As we were nearing the exit that would take us from I-87 across the I-90 extension and onward, through a series of small, wooded roads, to our destination, Williamstown, Massachusetts, my brother called and, in the course of the conversation mentioned his "wife." My brother is 21 and unmarried. He has no wife. Confronted with the "wife" mention, Robbi and I got agitated and proceeded to miss our exit. It turned out that the "wife" comment was the product of my brother being "funny". He has no wife, but on that stretch of I-87, missing one's exit means committing to another 20 miles before having the option to regroup. So we took the long way to Williamstown, through beautiful Troy, NY, and pulled in late to stay with our friend Gina.

We slept in the playroom, surrounded by toys (Gina's son Diego plays with the toys). In the middle of the night, this toy came suddenly to life. It started to glow and began speaking.

Through the haze of sleep I could not make out what it said, but it spoke the phrase three times, a demonic incantation. I was terrified. Robbi denies having heard the voices. If and when I ever have a child, I will avoid this toy.

The next morning we rose early for breakfast with my sister Andy, my brother Alex, and my brother's non-wife Megan.

We ate marvelously at the local breakfast place, The Chef's Hat. Alex is a regular at the Chef's Hat. They know him by name.

After breakfast Alex headed to work, and Andy, Robbi, and I headed to Hopkins Forest with our small tribe of dogs for a spirited walk. It was raining lightly, but we decided to risk it. The weather gods cooperated and we had a fine time.

After the hike we drove up to Bennington, VT, where Alex works. He helps fix up really old, really high-end cars that sell at auction for millions of dollars.

He and the guy he works for spend years fixing up each car, delicately refinishing old parts, carefully machining replacements for missing components, delicately recreating features like leather upholstery and canvas hoods. It's very cool work.

And also very manly.

I tell myself that if I work very hard I will someday be as manly as my brother Alex.

But deep down I know that it will never be.

Friday night we had dinner with some old friends, Barbara and her husband Craig.

They are very nice, interesting people, excellent cooks, and loyal Idiots'Books subscribers, but the real reason we went to their house was to visit the minor Robbi Behr art gallery in their dining room.

See Robbi admiring the recently reframed prints from her senior thesis.

Craig is an enterprising sort of fellow, and so he designed this enormous swing, based on his design for a four-sided ladder. Basically, one stands on a round disk suspended from four cables. There are handles for the weak of heart to grab, but the truly gifted operators of said swing don't really need them. Craig and Barbara's daughter Camille was one such prodigy. Unfortunately, I neglected to photograph her at work.

Lucky for you, however, Robbi took this shot of me failing miserably to make the thing work. Apparently the device is a reliable litmus of manliness. And we've already covered my deficiencies on that front.

Robbi was a natural, however.

And Craig got downright medieval on the thing.

That night we drove to Andover, MA, to visit my mom and her husband Dean, who happen to live there. We had a fine afternoon walking around town and visited the Andover Book Store, where it appears that we'll be doing a reading in the fall.

We had a thrilling brush with fame when we happened to walk past the Addision, Andover's art gallery, which just happened to be featuring a retrospective on William Wegman, the man who put Wiemaraners on the map.

Moments after this photo was taken, one of Wegman's dogs shot like a bolt out the front door of the museum and made a beeline toward Iggy. This very famous dog sniffed Iggy's butt, did a few laps around her, and returned to the museum, where Wegman himself loomed, beckoning. To the dog. Not to us. We were like chopped liver and moved on.

That night we had dinner with some old friends from college.

From left to right: Kay, Mike, and Josh. And us. But you already know us.

We had dinner at a very fine Cambridge establishment. I had a burger but forgot to take a picture of it. It was delicious.

Over dinner Mike told us a story: one night he was at a conference (Mike is a scholar, see) and was walking around in shorts and a t-shirt. It was about 30 degrees outside. Mike was cold. Mike ran into a group of people who were concerned about his attire in light of the cold. One of these concerned people gave Mike a t-shirt. A "Westy's" t-shirt. Westy's is the name of the bar from which the group of concerned persons had just come. It is the bar to which a less-cold Mike, donning a Westy's t-shirt, then proceeded to go. The Westy's crowd approved of Mike's choice of shirt, apparently.

The next morning we had breakfast with our friends Jen and Simon and their daughter Molly.

Molly, who is almost three, informed us that it was Mr. Penguin's birthday (hence, the party hat).

We ate all sorts of delicious smoked fish for breakfast. It was better than a cheeseburger.

For the bored stiff and yawning, here's where things get racy. That night we decided to grill a lavish meal for mom and Dean. For which I donned this apron. Enough said.

Here's where things get boring again.

This is swordfish. Not terribly interesting, perhaps, but awfully tasty, I tell you.

The meal was a fine one, all around.

The next morning we had breakfast with mom.

And then began our journey home. One stop remained. This fine home.

Roost of friends Brian and Stephanie and their son Leo.

We went to college with Brian and Stephanie. We were meeting Leo for the first time and were eager to make a good impression.

I got the sense that he liked me ok.

Another friend, Cyd, and her new arrival Rebekah, came over to say hello.

It was a day of babies. Good babies. The kind of babies that make a powerful argument for parenthood. My parents tell me with some frequency what a horrible baby I was. I am confident that if and when I have a baby, it will be a terrible one.

Brian and Leo enjoy cooking together.

And swinging together.

To and fro.

With Leo's assistance Brian cooked us a feast. Robbi helped stir.

Eventually it was time to go home. Though we had to travel through the two states least fun to drive through (Connecticut and New York), the journey back to Chestertown was smooth and uneventful, even more so for me as I slept most of the way.

What do I take away from the recent trip: my brother is yet unmarried, I lack manly swinging skills, Iggy has a famous boyfriend, and it's great fun to hang out with someone else's well-behaved baby.

It's good to be back in the barn.

Posted by bogenamp at 10:51 PM