Friday, August 22, 2008


“Did yuu see that Jamaican?” shouts the hefty, red-faced, middle-aged man who has swung open the post office door and stands twenty yards away from the postal workers he’s addressing. His deeply accented voice thunders through the large silent room like a sudden tanker explosion, startling the few customers in line who are unfamiliar with him and his penchant for nonstop conversation.

Walking up to counter, he delivers cold juice and soda beverages as gifts to the postal workers, whom he considers close friends and who smile and thank him, and then takes his place in the short line bellowing the whole time like a cannon.

“That Jamaican was soooo fast. He just blewww away them other guys. It wasn’t even close. Did you seeee that?” he exclaims.

“He was fast,” says the postal manager smiling knowingly at the man

“Do yuu know he’s only 21 years old?”

“21 years old,” he repeats for emphasis. “I can’t wait to see the relay. He just burned them other guys. There was nobody in sight. That Jamaican just flew! Have yuu ever seen anything like it?”

“Carl Lewis,” says the postal manager.

“Well, now Carl Lewis was fast in his day,” continues the burly man, “but not like this Jamaican. Was that an Olympic record or a world record that he broke?”

“A world record,” confirms the manager.

“He was so far ahead of them other guys. He just blew past them. Them people in Jamaica must be real proud of him. He’s the fastest man in the world, the fastest man who ever lived,” he says also proud.

“Ya know,” he continues after a three second pause, evidently ill at ease with even a moment’s silence, “I always fall asleep on the couch and wake up during the rowin’. I hate the rowin’. It’s so borin’. I’m always asleep and then I wake up and it’s always the rowin’.”

“Always the rowin’,” he repeats in a resigned tone.

“Yes sir, the rowing is not very exciting,” the manager concurs. “I like the track & field, the gymnastics, the swimming.”

A regular at the downtown post office, the man always bursts through the door, conversational topics at the ready. It could be the work they’re doing on the freeway downtown causing an awful traffic jam, the thunderstorms that have been predicted for the weekend or his upset stomach after a delicious seafood lunch. He is a hit with the post office’s bored employees who enjoy the free cold drinks and don’t mind the one-way blabbing.

“Now, I’m ashamed to say it,” says the man with a hint of embarrassment, “but the women’s basketball, they shouldn’t even show that on TV.”

The lady working the other counter laughs at this assertion. She has been smiling, along with everybody else in the post office, since the man entered.

“That’s not sport. They was playin’ this Swedish team and the girl was like 5’5. That ain’t no competition. That ain’t no basketball. Who wants to watch that? Now, the American men’s team, they’re good. Nobody can beat them.”

“But that Jamaican, Oooee!” he yelps making a full circle back to the subject closest to his heart, “he was spectacular.”

“Yes sir,” the manager agrees. “He was fast.”

Sunday, August 17, 2008


With Christianity in all its most cockamamie forms as fervently popular in the South as liposuction and frozen yogurt are in Los Angeles, outsider art, which frequently features peculiar Christian subject matter, is an idiosyncratic, local tradition. A rural, religious upbringing often inspires the outsider artist to start painting his or her vision of the apocalypse involving wild turkeys descending from the heavens on pieces of scrap wood. He or she might be mentally challenged, hear voices or see visions. A non-religious outsider artist could be an outcast in a small town who collects hubcaps and kitchen utensils and twists them into robot-like creatures. The High Museum of Art in Atlanta has an exceptional assemblage of outsider art in their permanent collection, including a portion of the late Reverend Howard Finster’s Paradise Garden, which can be viewed in Summerville, GA.

This weekend we went and checked out Folk Fest, an annual convention of galleries that specialize in folk art, about sixty percent of which could qualify as outsider art. This was as large a collection of outsider art as you’ll find in any museum. Though, it was all for sale and for the most part amazingly cheap, with regular folks buying it up in great quantities. As you’ll see in these photos, the most popular themes are: Elvis, Jesus, angels, chickens and other farm animals. You’ll also occasionally bump into a fucked-up clown holding a monkey in its lap while smoking a cigarette.

These face jugs are very common in the South. These little devil, goblin guys are a bit nicer than the usual ones you see in every antique store.
The Parade by J. Whipple

Three other works by J. Whipple

Daniel Johnston performed and had a booth at Folk Fest

Elvis with Teddy Bear

A customer

Some outsider art in the bathroom stall

Friday, August 8, 2008


In August, the South is one sprawling, nasty swamp slithering with every type of critter. Some I can identify effortlessly such as the giant cockroach or the sweaty man with no shirt who really should be wearing one. But the majority of the creatures socializing on my front porch I am not familiar with. Late last night, when I attempted to put a letter out by the door, a huge hovering beast flew just above me spinning around the porch light. At first, I thought it was a bat or perhaps a bird. I ducked, scampered back inside recalling Hitchcock and slammed the door behind me. The creature then settled down, resting on the rim of the porch, where I could gape at it through the window. I soon realized that this furry, flying, 6-inch-long-or-so creature was the bat-sized moth (Australopithecus Mothusus), a prehistoric omnivore that has lived on the Earth for 20,000 years dive bombing porch lights. (I was unable to obtain a shot with the beast in midair, so all I have is this one crummy photo, which belies the creature’s true immensity and wingspan.)

After this discovery, the entomologist within was awakened and I decided to explore the backyard, where I came upon other native arthropods such as the big, fat, crazy-looking, probably poisonous spider (Arachnoid Schmidous), the little green fella (Glubious Verdeious), the funky-looking beetle (Hipsterous Obnoxiousious), the pesky squirrel (Squirrlous Peskious) and the loud, screeching thing in the tree (Shutupus Insanus).