Pen or Bike?

I have a difficult choice to make. Pen, or Bicycle.

Last December, when people asked me what I wanted for Christmas, instead of the usual hemming and hawing and “Oh, I don’t need anything,” I answered directly and succinctly, “I want cash.”

You see, when I thought about what I wanted – it was too expensive for any one person to buy for me. I wanted a pen.

I’ve been collecting/addicted/messing around with fountain pens for a few years now. I am not a serious collector – I am what is known as a “user.” I am interested in actually writing with the things – getting ink on my fingers – which is odd, because I have the world’s worst handwriting – but it is what it is. I am not interested in glass trays of pristine pens in perfect shape and rare colors.

That is a good thing – because I can buy pens with small flaws (like scratches or engraved names) that do not affect the use of the pens, but lower the price. It is also good because it eventually came to limit the number of fountain pens I would buy. I can only use one at a time and once I have explored the gamut and found the pens I liked to use I could pretty much stop buying them.

That’s more or less where I am now. I have a goodly number of pens in my rotation, I know what I like, and I don’t feel an overwhelming urge to buy any more, really.

Except for one. There is what is called a “grail pen.”

I want a Pen for Men.

I have big hands and am always attracted to large pens – they simply fit in my hand better. I like the Sheaffer inlaid nibs. I like the snorkel filling system – the most complicated fountain pen. Put all of these together and you have the Sheaffer Pen for Men, or PFM. Sheaffer came out with the PFM in 1959, right at the end of the line for the classic fountain pen. The ballpoint was gaining ground fast and fountain pens would soon be known as an anachronism, a collectable, or simply an overpriced sign of affluence.

The PFM was an oversized version of the classic snorkel filling line (I have several older snorkels already – I do like the triumph nib style on these) and is highly desirable today – but was not very successful when it came out (few were made, that is one reason they are so dear now). They were only produced in volume for four years or so and all production ceased in ten.

So, in short, I want one. I figure I can get a nice, user grade PFM for a little over two hundred dollars. That’s a lot of money to spend on a pen. Too much money – but I so rarely desire material possessions, that when I do, it feels a little overwhelming. So I started saving up money until I had enough to pay for a PFM.

While I was saving up, I began to have second thoughts. I began to think that I was about to waste my money. At the same time, I noticed some internet ads for folding bicycles.

I have two bikes – both over twenty years old (a Raleigh Technium road bike and a beater mountain bike I bought at a pawn shop for ninety bucks) – though they are workable. The worst thing about my bicycles is the engine, of course: old, worn out, and not very taken care of. A goal I have for myself is to ride my bike more this year – see if I can get in better shape and see some countryside/urbanside while I’m at it.

So, the idea formed in my head – save some more money (maybe around four hundred) and buy a folding bike. I have the idea of keeping it in my car trunk and going for little rides here and there – on the way home from work, on the way to various spots, or on out of town trips. There are tons of bikes out there and I began to look… I’m thinking about a single speed model (less expensive, I live in a flat place, more reliable, and good exercise) – maybe a Dahon Speed Uno or a Dahon Boardwalk. I don’t need a high-end bike – this is for light use and short, flat distances.

So, what’s it going to be…. A bike or a pen. If I get a bike, is a folder a good idea? If I get a folder, what inexpensive model is the best idea? Candy suggested I buy the pen, then start saving for the bike. I’m not sure if I’m going to live that long. The bike would be a smarter decision – I can use it as a goal, a motivating factor.

The pen would be pure luxury. Then again, the pen would be pure luxury.

Decisions… Decisions.

Any advice?


Or Bike?

Super Bowl Sliders

The Super Bowl has become one of the biggest holidays of the year in the states. It doesn’t matter that it isn’t an official government edict, that it has no religious status – not even some ancient pagan ancestor, or that it is usually a pretty crappy football game that only people in the two cities involved really cares about. It is a reason to go to someone’s house, gather ’round the big screen, and eat yourself into oblivion.

This year we were invited over and told to bring sliders of our own design. At first, I was not too excited. I am not a football fan (college basketball is my sport of choice – I went to Kansas and my son goes to Duke) and I didn’t relish a wasted day of boring sports and overindulgence. I started to think about things and try to make the best of it. There was some serious cooking skills at this place (professional caterers, graduates of chef school, people from Louisiana) and I decided to go for it and make an effort at putting together some original sliders.

If you don’t know, sliders are small hamburgers, originally from the White Castle chain. They have gone beyond those simple (but good) tiny versions of the All American Burger. Recently, I have been to a couple of food trucks – Easy Slider and The Butcher’s Son for example – that raised the bar on the creativity of sliderdom.

So I sat down with a sheet of notebook paper and worked out three different versions of sliders – two fairly pedestrian ones and one that was a bit more exotic.

First, BLT sliders. Simple – bacon, lettuce, and tomato on a roll with a little mayo. Easy and foolproof.

Then, for a second slider, I went for a Blu Cheese slider. Sliced sausage with blu cheese coleslaw and blu cheese crumbles on top.

Finally, with a little trepidation I designed a Korean slider. Pork Bar-b-que with caramelized kimchi. Soy sauce and Sriacha on the bun for a spicy kick. I still had a bunch of kimchi left over from my trip to Super H Mart. I ground some up in a food processor and sauteed it with some brown sugar (caramelized kimchi).

So I made a trip to the store and then set up an assembly line on the kitchen counter. The nice thing about sliders is that you can make a boatload of ’em without too many raw materials. There isn’t much in each little thing.

So we headed over and I lugged my trays of sliders into the house. The BLT and Blu Cheese were fine cold, but I heated the Korean sliders up in the oven. The first two disappeared immediately. I didn’t even get to try any myself, they were gone as soon as I set them out. The Korean sliders weren’t such a big hit. They were too spicy for most folks’ taste – but the more adventuresome eaters seemed to like them. I thought they were good – but I’m used to kimchi and spicy stuff.

I guess I had a good time, though we stayed too long and I ate way too much. I remember looking at a plate where I had stuck a few jalepeno peppers wrapped in bacon and thought, “I should not eat these. I’m already full and if I do it will make me sick.” I did and they did.

There was some point in the game where I think the announcer said, “And on that play Brady had no choice except to eat the football.” I know how he felt. I felt like I had eaten a football.

It even killed the next day. I walked around in a haze, dehydrated and worn out from the effort of digesting all that food.

So I swear I will never do that again. I’ll have to read this again to remind myself before next year’s Superbowl.

BLT Slider

Blu Cheese slider

Korean slider - bar-b-que, kimchi, and sriacha

Slider assembly line

One nice thing about sliders - they are easy to transport

 Thunder Burger

More Food Trucks

Hawaiian Ham and Cheese Sliders

Barbecue Sliders with Coleslaw

Sweet potato mushroom sliders—a huge thumb’s up

Homemade Meatball Sliders

Bangkok Burger Feature: Sliders (Mini Burgers)

duck shredded & sandwiched

Five Under 5: Meatball Sliders

Whiskey BBQ Sliders with Jalepenos

Turkey Burger Sliders


Turkey Bacon Sliders

White Castle

Island Sliders

New Product: Gardein’s Ultimate Sliders

Oven Baked Burger Sliders

Bison Sliders w/ Crinkle Fries

Hot Pepper BBQ Pork Sliders

Pulled Pork Sliders w/ Homemade French Fries

The Best Sliders

Spicy Whiskey BBQ Sliders (by PW)


Dallas Snuggie Pub Crawl

A while back (Saturday February 4th to be exact) I was waiting to get on the McKinney Avenue Trolley down by the Dallas Museum of Art. Glancing over at the folks waiting in line to board, I noticed that some of them were wearing odd items of clothing – at a glance, at a distance, at first… they seemed to be some sort of colorful flowing robe. My first idea was that they had come from the Crow Museum of Asian Art (which was having some festivities that day) and were wearing some cheap imitation Asian costume of some kind.

Riding down McKinney Avenue in the Trolley, I started to notice other folks wearing these robes. Now, though I could see them a bit better and realized what they were. These people were wearing Snuggies.

A whole group of Women of a Certain Age clambered aboard wearing matching tiger-striped Snuggies, cateye sunglasses, and silver tiaras (sorry, I was so gobsmacked by the whole entourage I forgot to bring out my camera). I asked them what was up and they said it was the third annual Dallas Snuggie Pub Crawl.

All along the route I saw folks all snuggified – though a lot were cheating – they were simply wearing their bathrobes backward. I know this is alright… the rules say:

This is a Snuggie Pub Crawl even so a Snuggie of some kind is REQUIRED but you can also wear:

  • Slankets
  • Designer Snuggies
  • Snuggie knock-off brands
  • Adult Onesie or Forever Lazy
  • Robes

I’m sorry, but I think these rules are too lax… I don’t think robes or Forever Lazy should count. I go out in those all the time.

We chugged along through Uptown and began to pass the bars where the pub crawlers were congregating. It looked like a blast. It was tough to get decent photographs – the trolley was packed and moving fast and I had to shoot through bits of glass.

So, I assume there will be a fourth annual Dallas Snuggie Pub Crawl in or around February next year. I’ve made a note in my planner – it’s the only thing I have marked for 2013 so far.

I’ll have to buy a Snuggie, though. I am not going to go out there in a backwards robe.

The Snuggie People boarding the trolley

OK, this is Texas, so I guess the burnt orange Snuggies are all right, but what is that big green case he is lugging and why does she have such an armload of notes for a pub crawl?

When you and your insignificant other meet another couple in Uptown for drinks... is it more embarrassing to forget your Snuggies... or to remember them?

The bars were hoppin'. Are those Mandelbrot set Snuggies?

D Magazine Photographs from this year’s Snuggie Pub Crawl

Snuggie Pub Crawl in Uptown

Pegasus News, First Pub Crawl Photos

2010 Pub Crawl Photos

2011 Pub Crawl Photos

Skull & Crossbones Snuggie

Ode to My Snuggie

I Sing the Body Snuggified

Jimmy’s Food Store

A while back, Candy had this wine at an Italian restaurant in Fort Worth. It was Lacryma de Christi del Vesuvio – which translates as “Tear of Christ.” It’s a type of wine produced on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius. We had been looking for the stuff all over the Metroplex and nobody had it. They all said the same thing though, “have you looked at Jimmy’s? If anybody has it, they will.” I looked up Jimmy’s Food Store and found it was on the corner of Fitzhugh and Bryan in East Dallas. Today we had some time and drove down there.

I’m familiar with that area. For years I went through there twice a day on my way to work downtown – either driving or on a bus. It was always a poor area, pretty lively, but not the place you wanted to wander around after dark. Lately, though, a lot of the run down old apartments and crude homes have been torn down and the area is primed for redevelopment and gentrification.

Meat Case - Italian Sausage and more

Do you like Nutella? - here's an eleven pound jar for seventy dollars.

Jimmy’s Food Store is a fantastic place. It’s the motherlode of specialty Italian food and wine. I heard the owner talking – he’s been in the same location for forty-two years. The neighborhood has been through some serious changes over that time, but his store has stayed the same. It was crowded with people buying Italian groceries – about a quarter of them speaking Italian.

The store isn’t very big, but holds a lot of goodness, crammed in as tight as can be. The biggest area is dedicated to wine, a huge selection of Italian wines, arranged by region and type. You can learn a lot about wine simply walking the aisles and reading the little articles they have taped to each variety.

Sure enough, they had a couple Lachryma Christi whites (the one red they carry was sold out). There was a Mastroberardino and a Vini Nobilis. We bought one of each and a couple other bottles of wine. We picked up some pasta (Pastosa – imported from Brooklyn!) some cheese and a couple of sauces to go with the pasta.

A couple of Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio

This is the kind of place you don’t want to go when you are hungry. You will buy too much stuff. In addition to the wine and groceries, back next to the meat counter, is a little place where you can order sandwiches. We bought a Cuban and a Muffaletta, some drinks, and took them out to a little table out by the street. The day had started out crisp, but the Texas sun was warming everything up quickly.

Mufalletta - big enough for about three meals

Cuban Sandwich

Seating out on the street.

It was really nice sitting out there on the street eating sandwiches and enjoying the day. There was even live music – a partly blind man, Vincent Van Buren,  playing harmonica and singing the blues (and a lot of old Beatles tunes).

It doesn’t get any better than that.

Vinnie Van Buren 1

Vinnie Van Buren 2

Vinnie Van Buren 3

Vinnie Van Buren 4

Video – Partially Blind Man Plays Harmonica at Local Food Store

Antonio Ramblés – Dallas’s Italian grocery

A lot of restaurants use Jimmy’s Sausage – Like Fireside Pies

What’s Worth Drinking – Lacrima Christi del Vesuvio

Bike Lids

Mockingbird Station, Dallas, Texas

According to the DART web site, these bike lids were all bought with a federal grant and meet all homeland security requirements. I had to think about that for a while – I guess it’s harder to hide a bomb in these, compared to the old bike lockers. There are 142 of these all over the system.

Bike Lid

DART Bike Lids

DART station access

Commuting Works For Me, but I have a DART issue

DART Bike and Ride Program

DART Bike Pods

Bike Friendly Dallas – DART Bike Lids and Katy Trail Phase III progress

What I learned this week,February 24, 2012

I stumbled across this image on one of my favorite art-related web sites, But Does it Float. It’s an illustration by Virgil Finlaygreat stuff. I remembered this particular drawing as an illustration for The Tell-Tale Heart, but don’t remember where. Some book sometime long, long ago.

Throughout history, poverty is the normal condition of man. Advances which permit this norm to be exceeded — here and there, now and then — are the work of an extremely small minority, frequently despised, often condemned, and almost always opposed by all right-thinking people. Whenever this tiny minority is kept from creating, or (as sometimes happens) is driven out of a society, the people then slip back into abject poverty.
This is known as “bad luck.”

—-Robert Heinlein

Chin-Up Bar

The Odd Existence of Point Roberts, Washington

Wandering Google Maps can reveal magical geographies.

The world’s tiniest coffee maker brews the world’s tiniest cuppa

Best Burritos in Dallas

  • Monica’s Aca y Alla
  • Mariano’s Hacienda
  • Avila’s Mexican Restaurant
  • La Victoria
  • Good 2 Go Taco
  • Gonzales Mexican Food

Video Piece on the new Woodall Rogers Park by Lexie Hammesfahr

A Nasty Little Piece of Work

When I was a kid, I saw a lot of movies. The military bases all had a discount theater showing second-run films – though I didn’t know they were second-run at the time. Back in those days, we didn’t have the access to instant information and I didn’t know about films when they were released. So I would go to the base theater maybe three times a week, a quarter clutched in my paw, to see whatever was showing. I was pretty much an adult before I realized they didn’t play the Star-Spangled Banner (and everyone stand) before every movie. The rating system wasn’t really up to speed either, so it was pretty much hit and miss.

So I saw that they were going to show a movie called The Conqueror Worm. I would have been eleven or twelve. By that time I had read all of Edgar Allen Poe’s work and was familiar with the poem.

The Conqueror Worm, illustration by Frantisek Kupka

The Conqueror Worm – Edgar Allen Poe

  • LO! ‘t is a gala night
  • Within the lonesome latter years.
  • An angel throng, bewinged, bedight
  • In veils, and drowned in tears,
  • Sit in a theatre to see
  • A play of hopes and fears,
  • While the orchestra breathes fitfully
  • The music of the spheres.
  • Mimes, in the form of God on high,
  • Mutter and mumble low,
  • And hither and thither fly;
  • Mere puppets they, who come and go
  • At bidding of vast formless things
  • That shift the scenery to and fro,
  • Flapping from out their condor wings
  • Invisible Woe.
  • That motley drama—oh, be sure
  • It shall not be forgot!
  • With its Phantom chased for evermore
  • By a crowd that seize it not,
  • Through a circle that ever returneth in
  • To the self-same spot;
  • And much of Madness, and more of Sin,
  • And Horror the soul of the plot.
  • But see amid the mimic rout
  • A crawling shape intrude:
  • A blood-red thing that writhes from out
  • The scenic solitude!
  • It writhes—it writhes!—with mortal pangs
  • The mimes become its food,
  • And over each quivering form
  • In human gore imbued.
  • Out—out are the lights—out all!
  • And over each quivering form
  • The curtain, a funeral pall,
  • Comes down with the rush of a storm,
  • While the angels, all pallid and wan,
  • Uprising, unveiling, affirm
  • That the play is the tragedy, “Man,”
  • And its hero, the Conqueror Worm.

Oh yeah, that’s the stuff pre-teens should be reading, classic literature. It’s a miracle I ever went to sleep.

At any rate, I went to see the movie and was a bit disappointed to find out it had nothing to do with the poem or Poe in any way. It was a British production called Witchfinder General, staring Vincent Price. The title was changed and a tiny bit of Price narration at the beginning and end were tacked on to make a slim connection with American International’s string of cheap Poe pictures, directed by Roger Corman and starring Vincent Price. Those movies were campy, almost funny, spoofs of the horror genre. I had seen them already.

What I saw that day was something completely different. It was horrifying.

It’s over forty years later and I still remember most of that film. I remember the opening where the man is building the gallows out in the English Countryside. The basic plot (such as it is), the torture scenes, and the bleak hopeless ending all stuck with me, hanging on from my impressionable youth.

The film pretty much disappeared from existence. There were some bad, grainy, cut VHS transfers, a German version (with added nudity), and various versions here and there, but the original Witchfinder General was out of my reach. I did read about the film, and learn some of its history.

It was directed by Michael Reeves, a promising young director that had a bright future. For now, though, he was making low budget horror films. For Witchfinder General he wanted Donald Pleasance, but the studio insisted on Vincent Price. He thought Price was too broad and hammy and fought to get him to moderate his performance.

The story is that Price hated this and finally bellowed, “I have made eighty four films, what have you done?”

Reeves replied, “I have made two good ones.”

Later, once the film came out, Price understood what Reeves had wanted and went on to acknowledge that it was his best performance – full of quiet, understated evil.

The film received terrible reviews in England. It was considered grotesque. Playwright Alan Bennett said it was “the most persistently sadistic and morally rotten film I have seen. It was a degrading experience by which I mean it made me feel dirty.” In the United States, however, the critics mostly ignored the film and it went on to modest success (no doubt aided by hordes of underaged Poe-reading moviegoers).

Not only was it Vincent Price’s best performance but it was Micael Reeves’ masterpiece. He died at the age of twenty five of a barbituate overdose a few months after the movie’s release.

After discovering this and other juicy details in the intervening decades since I saw the thing, I was filled with a dark desire to see it again. I was glad when a newly restored version showed up on the Netflix Instant Queue. And it was pretty much as I remembered it. A nasty little piece of work.

It did have a surprisingly pleasant soundtrack. The “love theme” is a good example of lush classical music for film.

The movie is a simple story of Matthew Hopkins, a self-appointed Witchfinder General that roamed the countryside during the war between Cromwell and the Royalists. He would torture and execute witches for a fee – and he was good at his job. The hero of the story is a soldier who is in love with a beautiful young woman that falls into the Witchfinder’s clutches.

Most of the graphic horror is in the methods used to determine if the subject is a witch. For your education, here is a little documentary that shows the real historical methods of detecting witchcraft.

Since rewatching Witchfinder General/The Conqueror Worm, I had been thinking about the reaction to the film. It is a horror film, and maybe a tad graphic for its time – but it isn’t anything like a modern Saw or Chainsaw Massacre – though it shows a lot, at the most horrible instants, the camera cuts away. It is nowhere near as graphic as it seems to be, or as its reputation suggests.

It didn’t take much thought to realize the reason. Most horror films (even modern ones) have moments of humor, or reduced tension, or even winking at the camera. They have built in mechanisms to release the tension during the film. Witchfinder General does not do that. It is relentless. It presents an entire world – historically accurate, it talks about the anarchy that reined during the English Civil War – without rules, without mercy, without hope. The gorgeously filmed countryside is populated with evil men preying on the population’s fear, greed, and base desire for blood. There is madness loose in the world and there is no hope in resisting its inevitable victory, one way or another.

That is why the movie is so horrible and horribly effective at what it does.

BFI Screenonline – Witchfinder General (1968)

Michel Reeves: Witchfinder General

1968 New York Times Review of Conqueror Worm

Trailers from Hell – Witchfinder General/Conqueror Worm

Film Review The Conqueror Worm (1968)

The Conqueror Worm / Witchfinder General / Matthew Hopkins, Witchfinder General (1968) ***½

Laissez les bons temps rouler

Candy and I couldn’t afford to go visit Lee in New Orleans for Mardi Gras this year… but we had to go to a parade. Luckily, the Bishop Arts District in Oak Cliff had their Mardi Gras on. Saturday was a run and Sunday was a parade.

It was a blast. Though not up the the standards set in New Orleans by the big Krewes, it was still a fun time. Plus, it was a lot easier to get there, park, and find a place along the parade route (The logistics of going to Carnival in New Orleans is daunting).  The parade had a nice neighborhood feel to it with a lot of schoolkids, bicycles, and dogs walking along. Still, it had a lot of floats too – most with a strong sense of humor.

There were beads thrown, crawfish gobbled, and a beer or two tossed down. There was fun for young kids and grown kids too.

Photos: Oak Cliff Celebrates Mardi Gras with beads and beer

Mardi Gras 2012 – Oak Cliff TX

Bags of live crawfish iced down.

The crawfish go into the pot. One looks like he's going to make a run for it.

The crawfish are boiled with potatoes and corn

This guy is watching the parade from his own shop.

A kid on a float is taking his own photos.

These kids were across the street from us, having a great time.

Kermit on the back of a tandem.

Instead of beads, this woman wanted to throw live alligators.

Krewe of Elvis

Krewe of Elvis

Mardi Gras float

Mardi Gras Float

A very shy bead thrower in the parade.

Dancing in the parade

Nothing better than Jello Shots to get you through a long parade

Disco Float!

Yes, that's a hula hoop

Yes, Ron Paul had a float

It's Texas, so there has to be a dance team.

Sunset High School Cheerleaders


Dallashenge Photographs

The day was here, Wednesday, February 15, 2012. Dallashenge. I had done the calculations via I had done the test shots.  And now, today, according to my best ciphering, the sun would set exactly in alignment with the canyons of highrise buildings in Downtown Dallas.

It would not be as spectacular as the very well-known Manhattanhenge, of course. As far as I know, I am the only person that recognizes this phenomenon in Dallas.

The forecast threatened thunderstorms. All day the sky was cloudy; fog wrapped the city. I had set 3PM as my decision time (I was thinking that maybe Friday would be a better day anyway for photographs) and as if by magic, the Texas sun burned the fog away, leaving the sky blue with only a few wisps of long rope-like clouds. The best I could hope for.

So I left work a little early and lugged my tripod and camera downtown on the train. It was very awkward – I need to find a way to carry/strap my tripod in/on a pack with my camera. After my test shots, I had decided to set up on a little spot of sidewalk at the intersection of Pacific, Live Oak, and St. Paul. It wasn’t the most “canyon-like” intersection, but it was impressive looking, gave me a spot to stand without dashing back and forth across the street, and Pacific Avenue isn’t blocked at the end by the Lew Sterrett Jail like the other downtown streets.

I set up the camera and tripod right at six and waited for the sun to set. gave the sunset time as 6:13, which turned out to be the time the last bit of sun dropped below the horizon. Even on Pacific, the horizon isn’t unblocked, so the apparent sunset time was earlier; I took my last picture at about 6:10. It happened quickly – I was snapping, changing the camera position, adjusting the exposure, zooming in and out, and checking my photographs on the screen on the back of the Nikon.

I saw nobody else that was aware of the ‘henge. Only one person paid any attention to me. A man out walking his dogs stopped and I told him what I was doing. He said, “I walk my dogs every day at this time, and I noticed the sunsets were looking nice recently – but I didn’t realize it was because it was setting along the streets.”

Dallashenge (click to enlarge)

(Click to Enlarge) This is my new desktop wallpaper

Dallashenge (click to enlarge)

The Henge through a bus window.

I think I was there a day or two early. Even if this is the “official” henge date, the sun will be a little higher and a little more to the right in a couple days and that might make for better pictures. Next evening henge date I’ll go a little later. Also, I want to try some other intersections, especially the Elm and Harwood intersection by the Majestic Theater. I want to try and get into that pedestrian overpass – that should give a good shot.

This summer, on August 23 (6:57 AM) is a morning Dallashenge. Looking at the city maps, there is a parking garage at Lew Sterrett that might give a great view straight down Elm and Main. Sometime over the summer I need to check it out – see if the garage is public, how high its guard wall is, and if it is open at that hour of the morning.

Taking pictures of something this fleeting is sort of an all-encompassing activity. One henge day I want to go without a camera and just look at the thing.