Casey cracked up. Pete, Bob, Gary, and George disappeared.

I was going through a box of old sports memorabilia last week when I found my dad’s autographed Casey Stengel baseball.  He got the ball signed when he was a kid and continued to play with it for many years, eventually ruining what would now be a valuable autograph.  When I asked him why he played with a baseball signed by a Hall-of-Famer, my dad said, “It was the only ball I had.”

Even though the ball got thrown around and smashed with bats for years, Casey Stengel’s signature is still visible on the ruined, cracked-up leather.  It’s right there on the sweet spot in faded red ink.  Have a look:

casey stengel

(Casey Stengel)

Now the thing about this baseball is that my dad has always insisted that it used to be covered with autographs.  He even claimed that it once had Pete Rose’s signature on it.  Although there are spots where random bits of green ink can be seen with the naked eye, there’s nothing legible or anything that even slightly resembles a full autograph.  Pete Rose on a Casey Stengel ball, yeah right!

Well, I decided to get to the bottom of this mystery and see what would happen if I took pictures of the baseball and then manipulated them with digital filters and image editing tools.  Would I be able to draw out the invisible remnants of long-faded autographs?  If so, would I be able to identify the players?  I had no experience with this sort of thing, but it sounded fun and I gave it a try.  My results are shown below.  The pictures on the left are the before-shots, of course.  The ones on the right are the same images after I ran them through the filters.

I surprised even myself by finding a signature on my very first picture.  It looked like “Bob Taylor”.  I knew Pete Rose began playing for the Cincinnati Reds in 1963 and that Casey Stengel retired as the New York Mets manager in 1965, so I took a look at the rosters for both teams for the 1963-65 seasons.  Sure enough, the Mets had a catcher named Bob Taylor.  He started playing for them in 1964.

My second picture wasn’t as clear, but now that I had the year narrowed down a bit, I soon identified two more New York Mets signatures.  The last name on the top one began with a prominent K- and ended in -LL.  I dug around a bit and discovered that a pitcher named Gary Kroll joined the team on 8/7/64.

The last name on the signature immediately below Gary Kroll’s appeared to start with ALT-.  Another look at the roster revealed an outfielder named George Altman.  The thing about these two players is that they were only on the Mets together for 53 games…from 8/7/64 through the end of the season on 10/4/64.  I dug up the schedule for that year and noticed the Mets only played two games in Cincinnati (where my dad lived) during that time period.  Yes, my dad most likely got these autographs at a Reds vs. Mets game in Cincinnati on either 8/25 or 8/26/64.  He would’ve been thirteen.

The final picture shown above features some indecipherable gibberish up at the top.  Although it appears that the word ends with -Y, it doesn’t seem long enough to be both a first and a last name.  And nobody on either team had a signature that resembled that.  I must admit I’m stumped on that one.  But that doesn’t really matter at all, because right beneath the gibberish is Pete Rose’s autograph as clear as day.  Hah!

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This one’s (also) for the ladies.*

Do you remember that photograph I posted last year of Marion smoking a cigar and drinking a beer on a tiny lakeside pier?  Well, I’m happy to report that I found the companion shot of her future husband doing the exact same thing at the exact same spot on the exact same day.  According to the information written on the backs, Marion and Herb visited a place called Twin Lakes on July 17th, 1938.  Here’s the Herb picture from that day:herb on the pier
And while I’m here posting vintage beefcake shots, I suppose I should also share this undated one of Herb rising out of the lake.  I spent a good five minutes with a magnifying glass trying to figure out who the person floating behind Herb was, but I just can’t make them out.  Is it Marion?  Mary Fife?  Arnold Timm?  Colin Firth?  We’ll never know.

herb goes swimming

[* = The (also) is in there because I already had a post entitled "This one's for the ladies."]

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Let’s Totally Smotch!…and other pictures from Seattle.

Here are eleven ten photographs I took on my most recent trip to Seattle. You can hover your cursor over the individual shots for more information.

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The music lasts all day.

The three pictures in this post show the music I acquired before, during, and after my recent trip to Seattle.

It was a slow few weeks leading up to the trip and I only got a couple records and a few CDs.  Highlights included Andrew Bird covering the Handsome Family, the new Luluc, and a Willard Grant Conspiracy CD that somehow managed to come out last year without my knowledge.

before seattle

(before seattle)

My stay in Seattle featured daily stops at Everyday Music along with visits to at least three other record shops.  I came away with a lot of stuff.  I got more Luluc, new reissues by the Jayhawks and the Dream Academy, the Jeff Lynne/ELO tribute I’d been looking for since 2010, rarities by a bunch of performers starting with the letter T, some cheap replacements for things I accidentally sold, The Rebel Kind: Girls With Guitars 3, a Chris Von Sneidern collection personalized in silver ink to someone named “Hideo”, a handful of radio comps that I intended to cherry-pick and discard but ended up keeping, and hard-to-find jazz by Larry Young and Don Wilkerson.  The best thing, though, is the CD up at the top left of this second picture.  That’s Beth’s copy of Ida’s Live at Angel Hall.  Yes, after hearing about my troubles tracking down a copy, she decided to give me hers as a birthday present.  Thanks!

seattle music


Although I celebrated my birthday while I was out in Seattle, I didn’t get some of my presents until I returned home.  Many of the things shown in this final picture were belated birthday presents.  Others are things I ordered like a comp of cat-related songs called Feline Groovy and the Loser Edition of Luluc’s Passerby on blue vinyl.  (Yes, Luluc is in all three pictures.)  I should also point out that I found one of the 25 signed copies of Richard Thompson’s Salford Sunday 7″ at Everybody’s for $4.99.

after seattle

(after seattle)

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45 Germans in a Cave

This photograph had been sitting in a pile at the local antiques shop for the last two years.  I must’ve flipped by it at least a dozen times.  Four dollars always seemed kind of steep to me, but I recently noticed the writing on the rock and realized I might be able to do an online investigation if I could figure out what was written there.  Four dollars suddenly seemed like a great bargain.  I bought the photo, scanned the rock as clearly as I could, and then did a search on my best guess, “Kermannshohle”.  I didn’t find anything there, but I soon discovered that Hermannshöhle is a tourist cave in Germany famous for its bear bones.

hermannshohleI then did an image search on the cave and found many similar photographs taken in the exact same spot, one as recently as 2012.

While I’m here, I would like to draw your attention to the girl wearing the kerchief and the floral print dress over on the left.  Despite the fact that she’s wearing socks with sandals, she’s definitely the coolest of the tourists.  She’s probably one of those child detectives we’re always hearing about.  I should also mention that the blurry lady next to the crouching woman wasn’t actually there that day; she’s the ghost of someone who was eaten by a cave bear years before.  I’m not entirely sure, but I think the old mustachioed man on the right was somehow responsible.  The detective is probably there investigating him.  I’m not sure what happened next, but I know the old mustachioed man totally flipped out when he noticed the ghost in his souvenir photo.

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Reading Rainbow

I noticed a few weeks ago that I only had six books left on my Books to Read Shelf.  That’s about the number I like to keep on there and significantly fewer than I had at the beginning of the summer.  I also noticed that if I moved the Chekov collection from the far left over to the right and switched around two of the NYRB Classics, then I’d have a rainbow.  So that’s what I did.  I also took a picture:

reading rainbow

(the book on the far right is a deep purple)

Then today I suddenly decided that this picture from last month was post-worthy.

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Stuff I’ve Been Reading: A Monthly Column, Part 2 (7/14)

This is the second post that covers the books I read in July.  The first post got a total of seven hits, but I didn’t take the hint.

Mr. Mercedes–Stephen King
This is essentially a detective novel that stays firmly grounded in reality.  That doesn’t mean it’s not scary, of course.  It’s scary like the author’s short story “A Very Tight Place” is scary.  Stephen King doesn’t always need monsters and demons to to give me the shivers; sometimes he can do it by trapping a character in a portable toilet or by introducing a sociopath who likes to run over people with a stolen Mercedes.  That horrific vehicular crime takes place in the first few pages of Mr. Mercedes.  The rest of the book is about the retired detective who takes it upon himself to track down the killer.

I liked this one a lot.  The mystery kept me hooked right up to the end.  I liked Mr. Mercedes so much that I pushed it off on my mom.  I think she liked Mr. Mercedes even more than I did.  Why else would she have read the entire thing in a single day?

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry–Gabrielle Zevin
A.J. Fikry is an ornery widower who runs a bookstore on an island off the east coast.  One morning he wakes up hungover to find that someone has stolen his prized copy of Poe’s Tamerlane in the night.  The local police investigate but the valuable book is gone without a trace.  No longer having anything of value to steal, Mr. Fikry takes to leaving his doors unlocked.  It isn’t long before someone sneaks into the store and leaves him something that will change his life even more than the loss of his prized book.  Have a look at the cover if you’d like to know what it is.

This book was recommended to me by my mom (I actually traded Mr. Mercedes for it).  I was hesitant at first because we don’t always agree on what constitutes worthwhile reading.  I liked A.J. Fikry despite the fact that it featured a bit more sap and inspirational blah, blah, blah than I usually like.  Still, it was a pretty good recommendation.  My favorite part about the book is that each chapter was named after a famous short story (“A Good Man Is Hard to Find”, “A Perfect Day For Bananafish”, etc.).  I wrote down all of the mentioned titles, so now I have a list of stories to track down and read.  I’m particularly interested in reading the stories by Richard Bausch and Grace Paley.

Wonderkid–Wesley Stace
I found this ARC sitting on the free shelf at Blue Manatee.  This was just a few weeks after being blown away by Wesley Stace’s album Ovid in Exile, so I decided to see what the man could do with a novel.  While I still prefer his recent music, I think Wesley Stace did a good job telling the story of the world’s first rock band for kids.  It was biting and funny and full of music references.  And it made me want to listen to the Presidents of the United States of America (the band I imagined when reading about the Wonderkids).  I thought there were a couple places where the story got a bit off track and far too many male characters with similar names, but other than that I thought Wonderkid was a good read…especially for free.

McSweeney’s #43–Dave Eggers (editor)
After nine years of maintaining a subscription to McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, I decided that the publishing house was putting out better t-shirts than literary journals.  I cancelled my subscription a couple days after #43 arrived in the mail.  It sat unread on my shelf for a year and I finally got around to reading it a few weeks ago.  There were fiction highlights by Charles Baxter, Ludmilla Petrushevskaya, and T.C. Boyle, but about half of the space was taken up with non-fiction pieces that left me sleepy.  I don’t care about the political situation in Egypt, and I care even less about the stories of real life people in prison.  Although McSweeney’s has always included non-fiction pieces, it seems like the amount of space devoted to them has been increasing in the last few years.  This was one of the deciding factors in my cancellation and reading this last volume has convinced me I made the right choice.

There Is a Country–Nyuol Lueth Tong (editor)
This book’s full title is There Is a Country: New Fiction From the New Nation of South Sudan.  It came bundled with McSweeney’s #43.  John Oryem’s “Potato Thief” was a decent story with a good ending, but that was the only highlight in the entire 96 page book.  Oh, and all nine authors published in this volume are men.  The editor included his own story, but couldn’t find a single woman in the entire country who had written something worth publishing.  I know South Sudan is a new country, but that’s just disgraceful.

Mr. Blue–Margaret Embry
This is a children’s book from the 60s that I bought at Half Price Books for $2.  I bought it because I thought it might have some good cat drawings inside.  It did, but the story itself wasn’t much.

The Free–Willy Vlautin
The Free is a book about a severely injured war veteran and two of the health care workers responsible for his treatment.  A failed suicide attempt leaves the vet stuck in an imaginary world where his real memories get mixed up with the science fiction he used to enjoy reading.  The parts written from that perspective read like second rate sci-fi and sucked the life right out of the otherwise excellent book.  I commend Willy Vlautin for trying something new and risky, but The Free ended up being my least favorite of his four books.

july books

(more july books)

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Josh Ritter @ Woodland Park Zoo (7/30/14)

Beth and I went to see Josh Ritter & the Royal City Band at the zoo last night.  That sounds sort of exotic, but the truth is that I didn’t see or hear any animals other than birds and gnats the entire evening.  I didn’t even smell any animals.  The predominant smell in the air was that of garlic fries.  The animals at Woodland Park Zoo must be very shy, polite, and hygienic.

It was a perfect evening to be out on the grass for an outdoor concert, but I soon became grumpy because the opening act, a group called Lake Street Dive, wouldn’t leave the stage. Long after I thought they should’ve wrapped up, the singer was talking about playing a few more.  Then they played more after those.  No opening act should ever be onstage longer than 40 minutes.  That’s a rule.

Lake Street Dive eventually went away and Josh Ritter & the Royal City Band took the stage.  Josh Ritter is so earnest and enthusiastic that it’s hard to stay grumpy once he’s doing his thing.  He’s pretty much the John Denver of the 2000s.  I don’t mean that as an insult either.  I always liked John Denver.  I think he got a bad rap because he had awful hair and hung around with Muppets too much.  He was a true entertainer who seemed to genuinely enjoy being onstage and singing his songs for people.  I get the same vibe from Josh Ritter.  He has a good time up there and seems to appreciate how lucky he is to be able to make a career of it.  And his enthusiasm is infectious.  Okay, let’s just say I smile a lot at Josh Ritter shows and move on to the next paragraph.

Josh Ritter’s most recent release is The Beast in Its Tracks which came out in early 2013 (and took the #5 spot on my Albums of the Year post).  He’s still traveling with his Evil Eye backdrop, but it didn’t feel like he was really touring in support of that album.  He only played three songs from it.  The setlist felt more like a career retrospective to me…what I’d call a “hits” set if Josh had ever had a hit.  He also played two brand new songs as part of a mini solo acoustic set in the middle of the show.  He didn’t give the titles of these new songs, but I’m calling them “Devil in His Eye” and “Get Yourself Back to the Country”.  Maybe I should’ve called that first one “Henrietta, Indiana” because he likes to use place names as song titles.  I don’t really know.

Here’s the setlist:

Main set: Good Man/Hopeful/Me & Jiggs/Southern Pacifica/Harrisburg/Right Moves/Kathleen/The Temptation of Adam (solo)/”Devil in His Eye” (solo)/”Get Yourself Back to the Country” (solo)/Here at the Right Time/Lantern/Wolves/New Lover/Naked As a Window–>Girl in the War/Joy to You Baby/Lillian, Egypt

Encore set: Roll On/To the Dogs or Whoever

Blah, blah, blah.

I’m not finishing this one.


(digital flyer)

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Stuff I’ve Been Reading: A Monthly Column (7/14)

I took a month off from this website and spent a lot of my extra time reading books.  I read so many, in fact, that I had to divide my book writing into two posts.  This first one documents my thoughts on The Best American Comics 2013 anthology and the graphic novels it inspired me to read.  The second post will be about the other books I read during my time away.

The Best American Comics 2013–Jeff Smith (editor)
I own the first six volumes of the Best American Comics series.  I disliked 2011’s anthology so much that I skipped right over 2012 and only got back into the series this year because I liked Kate Beaton’s cover art so much.

This year’s edition started off with a very dull 25-page excerpt from Alison Bechdel’s Are You My Mother?  Despite the fact that I didn’t care for it, I was happy to read the excerpt because it convinced me I no longer needed to read the full book.  The anthology continued on with another 100+ pages of stuff that didn’t interest me in the slightest.  It wasn’t until James Kochalka’s American Elf turned up on page 131 that I found something I liked.  I ordered that book from the library along with two others I found out about in this collection, My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf and The Voyeurs by Gabrielle Bell.  Kate Beaton’s “Velocipede” comic from Hark! A Vagrant was so much fun that I decided to buy a copy of that book instead of checking it out from the library.  Evan Dorkin’s “Fun Strips” was enjoyable about half the time, but they were the only other highlight in the entire anthology.

I think it’s safe to say that editor Jeff Smith and I have different ideas about what constitutes quality in the world of comics.  I actively disliked a few of his selections.  Still, there was enough of an overlap between our interests to make The Best American Comics 2013 worth my time.  I got four solid books out of it, after all.  Now I’ll write about three of those:

My Friend Dahmer–Derf Backderf
I got frustrated when I finished this graphic novel about Jeffrey Dahmer’s high school years as it seemed to end rather abruptly.  It bothered me so much that I went back and reread the ending.  That’s when I noticed that someone had ripped pages 197 and 198 from the book.  I found digital versions of the missing pages on Amazon.  They rounded out the end of the book a bit better, but I still found Backderf’s story more engaging as an excerpt.

American Elf–James Kochalka
James Kochalka got it into his head that he should draw a daily autobiographical comic documenting his life.  This book collects the first five+ years of these sketchbook diaries starting in October of 1998.  I’d say that about 10% are terrible, 10% are excellent, and the remaining 80% are just expressions of the monotonous minutia of daily living.  The artist himself comes off as a manipulative baby-man, but his wife Amy and cat Spandy help make the book a worthwhile read.

American Elf, Book 2–James Kochalka
This second volume collects James Kochalka’s sketchbook diaries from 2004 and 2005.  He and Amy have a new baby with herpes, so things are both increasingly schlocky (oh, our baby is the best baby ever) and disgusting (oh, look at our baby’s cold sores), but Spandy is still around to redeem the book.  This volume is in color, so it’s much more visually interesting than the first five black and white years.  Kochalka kept his diaries going until the end of 2012, but I probably won’t be reading the rest of the series.  There are only so many comics about losing your hair, getting drunk, peeing on things, and playing video games that I can stand.  Still, Spandy is the best!

The Voyeurs–Gabrielle Bell
Gabrielle Bell was my favorite cartoonist for most of 2009.  I read all three of her books over the course of a week and wrote a rave review about them on Vox.  Then–as often happens with me–I completely forgot that she existed.  It wasn’t until I read “Cody” in The Best American Comics 2013 that I remembered that I used to think “Cecil and Jordan in New York” was the best comic ever.  I did some research and discovered that Gabrielle Bell published a fourth book of autobiographical stories back in 2012 that I’d managed to overlook.  I ordered The Voyeurs from the library and walked up as soon as it came in.  Well, I sort of wish my Gabrielle Bell amnesia had continued, as The Voyeurs didn’t delight me like those first three books did.  In fact, it left me depressed.  Whereas Gabrielle Bell’s earlier work came off as quirky or slightly neurotic, her stories now seem like an expression of someone with serious issues.  It’s hard to feel sorry for a world-famous author who makes her living writing comics, but there was something truly pitiable about this book.  I hope she’s making some of it up…or at least exaggerating a bit.

The Free–Willy Vlautin
Hark! A Vagrant–Kate Beaton

graphic novels

(recent comics & graphic novels)

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Luluc @ the Fremont Abbey (7/22/14)

No offense to Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, but the best concert I’ve seen by an Australian band so far this year wasn’t their show in Louisville last month but the one Luluc put on in Seattle last night.  The two bands have almost nothing in common other than their country of origin, so maybe it’s not fair to compare them, but I went ahead and did it anyway.  I thought it made for a good opening sentence.

Let’s go back a couple weeks.  Beth and I were on the phone and she mentioned she wanted to see Luluc when I was in town.  Although I knew the band had two songs on a Nick Drake tribute a couple years ago, I’d never heard any of their original material.  I went ahead and agreed to the concert.  The way I looked at it, if Beth could go see Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds with me, then I could go see Luluc with her.

I wanted to be prepared, of course, so I did some research.  I found out that Luluc is a duo comprised of Zoe Randell and Steve Hassett.  They released a CD called Dear Hamlyn six years ago, did the Nick Drake tribute, and then signed with Sub Pop who was scheduled to put out a new full-length called Passerby in a few days.  I went to Everybody’s Records on release day and picked up a copy of the new Luluc.  I took it home not really knowing what to expect.

I’m happy to report that I immediately fell for Luluc’s songwriting and beautiful harmonies.  Passerby quickly became one of my favorite releases of 2014.  Luluc has an early 70s British folkie-thing going on, but the quality of their lyrics puts them above most of the hippy-dippy singers and bands from that scene.  It might just be that Zoe Randell’s voice reminds me of some (forgotten) singer from that era.  I don’t really know.  There are also a few contemporary bands I’ve heard that have a similar sound…specifically some from that The Sound the Hare Heard comp I got last year.  They also remind me a bit of Over the Rhine.  I’m rambling, I know.  Let’s just skip to the concert.

This was my first show at the Fremont Abbey.  It’s a small, intimate venue with good sound.  It lent itself well to Luluc’s quiet, sometimes fragile-sounding songs.  I remember thinking it felt like I was among friends seeing a show in someone’s living room.  It was that kind of atmosphere.  Luluc played nine of the ten songs on Passerby.  My favorites were “Small Window” (which has a lovely video) and “Reverie on Norfolk Street”.  The title track was also a highlight, but it was slightly marred by a skunky weed cloud that showed up for about three minutes and then promptly dissipated.  Luluc finished their showcase of new material and then closed out the evening with two older songs from Dear Hamlyn.  The first of those (fake) encore songs, “Little Suitcase”, is a particular favorite of Beth’s.  She likes it so much that she actually blurted out a request for it.  I’m glad they agreed.  As always, here’s the setlist:

Main Set: Early Night*/Without a Face/Reverie on Norfolk Street/Senja*/Small Window/Winter Is Passing/(country girl vs. suburban boy)/Passerby/Tangled Heart/Star

(Fake) Encore: Little Suitcase/I Found You

The two songs marked with an asterik were songs that Luluc had never played live before.  “Country girl vs. suburban boy” wasn’t a song; that’s just the name I gave to the humorous story Steve told about meeting Zoe’s father for the first time.  I usually don’t include stories in my setlists, but this one was worth documenting.


(sticker, shirt, setlist)

I should also mention that the opening act was a Seattle singer/songwriter named Sophia Duccini.  I liked her enough to puchase a copy of her In the Nature EP.

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