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June 20, 2006

Where are the Podunks of yesteryear?


Well, let's see: there's one in New York, one in Connecticut, two in Michigan and one in Vermont, where Washington Post writer David A. Fahrenthold recently ventured to see what he could see.

His entertaining report appeared in the June 6 Washington Post, and follows.

    Life Goes On in a Town Called — What?

    Yes, this is really Podunk. In other places, the word might be a generic put-down, a concept, a mythical map dot somewhere between Hick Town and Nowheresville.

    Here in Vermont, though, it's a real somewhere.

    "This is the center of Podunk," Dan Hescock [above], an auto mechanic and local historian, said after stopping on a dirt road here one recent morning.

    He was looking at an old outhouse without a door, a schoolhouse whose last pupil departed about 90 years ago, and a whole lot of trees. To an outsider's eye, Hescock was in the middle of the woods. But he really was in Podunk, a hilly crossroads in southern Vermont.

    This community, like a handful of other places with the same famous name, has a story that helps explain a little bit about how Podunk America got the way it is today.

    The name "Podunk" appears to have originated in languages of northeastern Indian tribes, for whom it meant "marshy meadow," according to the late language expert Allen Walker Read.

    In his 1939 work "The Rationale of 'Podunk,' " Read wrote that the word gained its current meaning -- a small, rural town -- in the 1840s, after a series of humorous articles in a Buffalo newspaper set in the fictional burg of "Podunk." The secret to its success? Funny sounds, Read determined: ". . . - unk and - dunk and po - have been irresistible to the American people."

    Vermont's Podunk, an area of the town of Wardsboro, is one of five current "populated places" with the P-word as their primary name, according to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names. It's still not clear how the name caught on in Wardsboro: It may have been the Indians, move-ins from Podunk, Conn., or, according to one probably unreliable local story, the "poor Dunkles," a family whose name eventually was corrupted to Podunk.

    Hescock estimated that, in the early 1800s, perhaps more than 100 people lived here. They were primarily farmers, raising sheep, cows and crops along steep, often deforested hillsides.

    As the 19th century wore on, Podunk began to fade, the victim of a mass migration from northern New England to industrial cities farther south and better farmland out west.

    "Vermont was exporting its people," said Arthur G. Woolf, a professor of economics at the University of Vermont. "It's much more fun to be a farmer in Ohio, where you actually don't starve, than on a rocky hill farm in Podunk, Wardsboro."

    In Wardsboro as a whole, the population shrank from a high of 1,125 in the 1850 census to 322 in 1960. Podunk's schoolhouse closed down about 1916, Hescock said, as the number of students dwindled.

    And as homes and farms were abandoned, the forest returned: Estimates are that Vermont was about three-fourths cleared in the mid-1800s and now is about three-fourths wooded.

    Hescock demonstrated this by driving the road that used to lead to one of Podunk's biggest cleared farms. It is still lined by the old stone walls, but now ruts and low-hanging limbs make the way nearly impassable.

    "You can see how the forestation is just -- whoops! There goes my antenna," Hescock said, as a branch pulled a magnetically mounted radio antenna off the hood of his SUV.

    All that's left in Podunk now are 50 or so full-time residents, a roughly equal number of livestock, the decaying schoolhouse, and Upper and Lower Podunk roads. Residents of the area say they've often been surprised to walk in the woods and see stone walls, gaping cellar holes or other traces of the community that once was here.

    "You wound find occasionally a cemetery in the middle of nowhere . . . three headstones and a falling-down fence," said Sarah Wolfe, a former New Yorker who moved to Podunk in 1991 and then left for a slightly bigger Vermont town in 1999.

    Also remaining, of course, is the name. Residents say that, while Podunk sounds normal to them, it can be funny to catalogue-company phone operators, tourists and other people hearing it for the first time.

    "You actually live in Podunk?" they ask Barry LaMarche, who lives on Upper Podunk Road. "I say, 'Yes, I do.' I don't get offended by it," he said.

    "It's a good chuckle, you know."

    Similar declines also affected a few of the country's other Podunks, as tiny farming communities across the North and East became less viable in the age of the railroad and then of the automobile. Officials in Michigan said the remnants of their two Podunks are an old dance hall and a lake, respectively. New York's Podunk, part of the Finger Lakes town of Ulysses, has dwindled down to eight or nine houses, an official there said.

    Connecticut's Podunk, in the town of Guilford, has been affected by the opposite menace to small-town life: urbanization. In the past few years, it's been covered by a new subdivision with 30 or 40 homes, said municipal historian Joel E. Helander.

    "A sea of houses," Helander said. "And I will tell you, it's hard to go back."

    Now, a similar trend is beginning to threaten the essence of Vermont's Podunk as well. In the past decade, large new homes have begun to be built along both Upper and Lower Podunk roads, vacation places for people who ski at the nearby Mount Snow and Stratton Mountain resorts.

    The newcomers are the kind of people who put hand-painted signs with the family name out front -- people who don't know their neighbors, or the story of the place they've bought in to.

    "The people that come in here wouldn't have any clue as to where Podunk is," Hescock said.

June 20, 2006 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Dogs with sunburn are 'one of the No. 1 pet issues over the summer'


Who knew dogs can get sunburned?

I sure didn't until I read Jennifer 8. Lee's story in yesterday's New York Times.

Here's the article.

    Pale Mutts Take Cover

    The dog days of summer are not dog-friendly at all.

    Dogs, like humans, can get sunburn from ultraviolet rays, which is why veterinarians recommend that pet owners use sunblock on their dogs and shade them when possible.

    "You basically treat them just like the way you treat yourself," said Kelly Connolly, a specialist with the Humane Society of the United States. "You want to limit your pet's exposure to the sun."

    During summer months vets often see pale dogs suffering from sunburn. "It's one of the No. 1 pet issues over the summer," Ms. Connolly said.

    Symptoms include signs of redness, hair loss and skin sensitivity. Be especially wary of any red lesions that may emerge on your dog's skin that are not from a fight with a neighborhood cat. In extreme cases, it may be early signs of skin cancer. Yes, dogs can get skin cancer, too.

    Dogs with light-colored short hair are the most vulnerable. That includes breeds like bull terriers and Chihuahuas. "Anything with a lighter tone with less shaggy mane," Ms. Connolly said. "You don't want to clip your fur too short because it does act as a sunscreen, a sun shield."

    But don't slather Coppertone over Fido, as human sunscreen may be toxic to dogs. Dog-specific sunblock is important since dogs, more so than humans, lick themselves. What starts on the outside may end up inside the dog. A two-ounce spray bottle of SPF 15 Pet Sunscreen sells for about $10 online and at some pet stores.

    As with humans, sunblock may need to be reapplied on the dog several times a day. Ms. Connolly advised that sunscreen should be put where the fur is thin and the skin is exposed: tips of ears, nose, lips, groin area. Lastly, Ms. Connolly added, "If your dog rolls around on his belly a lot, you might want to put it on his belly."


A 2 oz. spray bottle of SPF 15 Pet Sunscreen (top) is $9.99.

Q. Can I use my dog's sunscreen if I run out?

A. Arf. (That means "sheesh")

June 20, 2006 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Exhibit 1201 — Or, portrait of the artist (British sculptor David Hensel) as a dejected man


Here's how it went down, as related by Lawrence Van Gelder in his "Arts, Briefly" column in the June 16 New York Times.

    Case of the Headless Plinth

    As the British artist David Hensel understood things, his sculpture "One Day Closer to Paradise," depicting a very large laughing head [below],


    would be part of the summer exhibition at the Royal Academy of Art in London. But when Mr. Hensel, 64, attended a preview, all he saw on the plinth that was to display the heavy sculpture was the little piece of wood [top] that was intended to support the head, the BBC reported. The Academy said the judges had assumed that the wood and the head were separate pieces, and they preferred the wood. In a statement, the academy said, "It is accepted that works may not be displayed in the way the artist might have intended." The head is in storage, and the organizers of the show may reconsider.


Word gets around.

In today's Wall Street Journal English novelist Lionel Shriver weighs in on the kerfuffle; that article follows.

    'Thought to Have Merit'

    Once in a while a news story so speaks for itself that it threatens to put commentators out of a job.

    In this year's summer show at London's Royal Academy of Arts, "Exhibit 1201" is a large rectangular tablet of slate with a tiny barbell-shaped bit of boxwood on top. Its creator, David Hensel, must be pleased to have been selected from among some 9,000 applicants for the world's largest open-submission exhibit of contemporary art. Nevertheless, he was bemused to discover that in transit his sculpture had gotten separated from its base. Judging the two components as different submissions, the Royal Academy had rejected his artwork proper -- a finely wrought laughing head in jesmonite -- and selected the plinth. "It says something about the state of visual arts today," said Mr. Hensel. He didn't say what. He didn't need to.

    Moreover, the Royal Academy denies having made an error, for the plinth and hastily carved wooden support were, according to an official statement, "thought to have merit."

    For those who despair that artists these days seem to have lost the skill of fashioning meticulously crafted objects, don't blame Mr. Hensel. While the slate base took only four hours to hack from a mortuary slab, and the little boxwood prop less than an hour, he had painstakingly carved and polished that laughing head for two months. But alas, the sculpture itself has -- shudder -- emotional content. It was originally christened "One Day Closer to Paradise," a far too expressive title; Mr. Hensel would have been better off with the portentously enigmatic "Exhibit 1201." His laughing head is not only fatally well rendered, but exudes a sense of joy and hilarity, and the overtly evocative is declassé. How much more sophisticated, a stoic square of slate that speaks of -- well, ask the viewers.

    "The sculpture is a mixture of heavy stone with a light piece of wood on top," the Daily Telegraph quoted a Dane as explicating last week while admiring the plinth. "I like the total effect. It is a really nice contrast." A Londoner rejoined, "If it was in more of a minimalist show, it would definitely seem more beautiful." Presumably these folks would find an emperor clad in a "minimalist" manner equally stunning.

    Me, I just put a brick on my desk. I gaze in wonderment at the contrast in textures -- the smooth, unyielding sides of the brick, the rough, almost sexual crumble on its chipped corner, the humbler, more submissive sensuality of the scarred plywood desktop. I marvel at the fierce, affirmative perpendicular of the brick, in firm opposition to the languid, taciturn serenity of the lateral . . . But that's not even funny, is it? Joseph Beuys has piled bricks on a floor of the Guggenheim and called it art. How exasperating, a field so far out in la-la-land that it is impervious to parody. You see what I mean about being out of a job.

    Of course, the Royal Academy's exaltation of that plinth recalls many a misapprehension in galleries, where visitors are wont to coo over the fire hydrants, ventilation grates and trash cans, all of which are more durably and fastidiously crafted than the works on display. For that matter, one gift that contemporary art seems to have given us viewers is a way of seeing every object in our surround -- as I look about my study now, the powerful yet precarious piles of paperbacks, the airy, ephemeral flutter of bank statements -- as art. But in that event, we not only don't need commentators; we don't need artists, do we?

    Or the Royal Academy.

June 20, 2006 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Peephole Reverse Viewer: Because sometimes it's better to be on the outside — looking in


    Peephole Reverse Viewer

    The Tactical Door Viewer was developed with the help of the law enforcement industry to help them assess potential hazards behind dwelling doors.

    This peephole reverse viewer is simple to use and can be carried in your pocket for use anytime.

    The officer places the reverse viewer over the peephole in the door and can look into the dwelling without alerting anyone inside.

    They can identify any potential threats or activity before proceeding with their tactical mission.

    This peephole reverse viewer fits most common peepholes used in the United States for apartments, condominiums and houses.

    The peep hole reverser can be used in other countries where the peepholes are similar to those used here.

    Made of high quality lightweight materials, the housing is a strong, lightweight composite with an all-weather coating.

    The lenses are high-quality precision ground glass custom-designed for the Tactical Door Viewer Peephole Reverse Viewer.

    Designed to be carried by all types of law enforcement officers.


If you're paranoid or just curious about what that noise is in your hotel room — when you're the only one registered — this might be just the ticket.



June 20, 2006 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

How you know you're a supermodel


When you're so big, so alluring and so much in demand that you don't even have to show your face to collect your fee.

Above, the bottom third of page 4 of this past Sunday's New York Times Styles section.

Hint: she's from the U.S.

June 20, 2006 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Ice Spoon


Official spoon of the the Ned Vizzini Fan Club.

From the website:

    Ice Spoon Mold

    Ice Spoons chill and stir beverages from bottom to top!

    Just add water, juice or any tropical blend to mold, then freeze.

    Spoon shapes become stirrers and drink chillers.

    No extra utensils to clean!

    "Lemonade spoons" chill iced tea deliciously.

    Dishwasher-safe plastic makes 2 spoons.

    Spoon dimensions: 9-1/4" x 5/8" x 3-1/4".



Recipient of a coveted bookofjoe Design Award™.



June 20, 2006 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

ARKITIP Magazine — 'Original, site-specific artwork'


It's a magazine created by artists that began in 1999 with the 100-copy, hand-stapled, black-and-white issue 0001 (above).

The latest issue is number 0034 (below),


which consists of a numbered limited edition of 1,000.

Each issue sells out so the only certain way to obtain a copy is to subscribe: $130 for one year (6 issues).

I think I just might do that.

After all, if they know about me


it's only right and proper, not to mention fair, that I get to know more about



June 20, 2006 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Stonehenge Watch — Walk like a Druid


From the website:

    Stonehenge Watch — A Classic Timekeeping Gadget

    Stonehenge is certainly surrounded by mystery concerning why it was built and by whom.


    Druids, aliens, Merlin, the devil — heck, we don't know — probably built by some ancient ancestors of modern geeks.

    You can now harness the power of the sun and the stones by using the Stonehenge Watch.

    Just position the watch using the accompanying high-viscosity compass to tell local apparent time just as the builders of Stonehenge did thousands of years ago.

    Prove the accuracy of both The Stonehenge Watch and your mastery of its power by confirming your calculation of the time by reference to the analog watch that is set into the reverse side of the watchcase.

    The Stonehenge Watch allows you to predict the exact moment of the winter and summer solstices.

    • Pocket watch with chain

    • Analog watch on the reverse side of the watchcase


    • Scale replica of the major components of the 5,000-year-old megalithic monument

    • Includes watch, chain, shadow casting gnomon, working compass and instructions



[via Allan Moult and leatherwoodonline]

June 20, 2006 at 09:13 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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