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May 30, 2007

Shoes on Parade — Episode 2: Middle Gate, Nevada's Shoe Tree


Just in yesterday from Steph Haggarty, formerly of Reno, Nevada and currently sojourning in Queensland, Australia, in response to the previous day's Shoefiti post, the following:

    Hi Joe,

    I thought you might find this interesting, as it ties into your Shoefiti story. There is a shoe tree [pictured above and below] in Nevada on Highway 50 between Fallon and Austin, two tiny towns. If you check out the following link, it has the original "story" of how the phenomenon started. The tree sits alone at the side of the highway and has a deep arroyo to the side of it, which sometimes has water that flows through it... but I digress. An interesting article, nonetheless. And yes, I have a pair of shoes on the tree.


RoadsideAmerican.com offers "A round-up on Shoe Trees, where hundreds of discarded sneakers and other footwear are tossed. The shoe tree blooms with polymer beauty."

They note, "More have been sighted in Nordman, Idaho; Milltown, Indiana; Hodgdon, Maine; Atlanta and Owosso, Michigan; Lyndonville, New York; and elsewhere."


Charlie LeDuff wrote about the Nevada Highway 50 Shoe Tree in a May 18, 2004 New York Times article, which follows.

    Middle Gate Journal; On Loneliest Road, a Unique Tree Thrives

    The Loneliest Road in America is indeed lonesome. As lonesome as a solitary shoe.

    The road, officially known as U.S. 50, cuts through the heart of the Nevada high desert, stretching 260 miles from Carson City in the west to Ely in the east. There is a whorehouse at each end and not much company in between.

    There was a solitary man standing in the middle of the desolation today with his thumb out. He was an oddly angular fellow and psychologically not wholly convinced of anything more than his own existence. He said that his name was Dwight and that he had spent a winter of misery in Frisco and was in search of someplace else. He had bits of sage in his shirt as he had slept in the bush the previous evening, the rides being far between on the Loneliest Road.

    ''There's nothing out here,'' Dwight offered in a slurred, nasal tone. ''I don't mind. I'm just more comfortable in the absence of people is all it is.''

    Dwight was a military brat moving from place to place to place as a child. This has left him bereft of long-term friends, he said, no hometown, no family, no place to go, no place to be, no love.

    ''Love?'' he pushed the word around his mouth like a rye seed. ''I don't know love. I've never been in real love. Not unconditional love.''

    Love of course comes with many conditions. There are the contrivances, bad habits, betrayals. To coexist with these flaws of character requires patience and endurance. Love needs tending to like a tree.

    Proof of this existed about 100 miles back in Middle Gate, in the middle of nowhere or 100 miles east of Reno, depending on how you look at it. But Dwight missed this proof somehow as he had his head down, too involved in his solipsism to see it.

    Just a few miles outside of Middle Gate is a stand of cottonwoods whose roots have found water. In the limbs of one of these trees hang thousands of shoes, the tree starting to bow and crack from the weight of them all.

    The shoes are like some kind of letter or photograph or stain, the locals explain, some proof that something happened here, that there are other souls traveling on the road of loneliness. There are snorkeling flippers, tennis shoes, work boots, flip-flops, high heels, pumps, baby booties.

    There used to be snowshoes and a pair of skis but someone took them, which is fine, said Russ Stevenson, proprietor of the Old Middlegate Station, a bar and grill.

    ''Take what you need,'' said Mr. Stevenson, the tall, sturdy cowboy type once seen on cigarette advertisements. ''Some people buy new shoes just to put in the tree without recognition, to do something right for their fellow man. And people are grateful to get them. One hitchhiker had shoes so worn out with holes he had blisters on his feet.''

    The tree, Mr. Stevenson said in his own plain-spoken way, is an emblem of charity and decency, the way Americans out here wish to think of themselves.

    The population of Middle Gate was 18 until February when Clark Warfield Cole died. They found him in his trailer. They also found a bundle of empty money bags from a Denver bank. The suspicion is that Mr. Cole was a stick-up man before he came to the desert to get lost. This might explain the $100 bills in the soles of his boots. The townsfolk here believe Mr. Cole may have buried the money somewhere on Carrol Summit, he spent so much time there. But that is another story.

    In any event, all Mr. Cole ever wanted was someone to stop in off the highway and play him a game of chess, Mr. Stevenson said. The desert can be a lonesome place.

    And so goes the reason for the Shoe Tree. Mr. Stevenson's wife, Fredda, said the first pair of shoes was thrown into the branches about 20 years ago. It seems that a couple who had just gotten married in Reno stopped to camp under the cottonwood. The husband was angry with his bride for having blown their money in the slot machines. ''He said it was her fault they didn't have any money,'' Mrs. Stevenson said.

    The young wife grew annoyed with the henpecking and threatened to walk back to Utah. The groom told her that if she was walking back to Utah she was going to walk in her bare feet and threw her shoes into the tree. He left his wife standing there and drove to the bar for a beer.

    ''He was here for two or three hours,'' Mrs. Stevenson said. ''I told him, 'With an attitude like that, you'll be fighting for the rest of your lives. Go back there and tell her it was all your fault.'''

    The man did as he was told. The couple patched things up and the groom threw his own shoes into the tree as a sign of solidarity. A year later, Mrs. Stevenson said, the couple returned with their baby and threw his shoes into the tree as well.

    ''Love is hard work,'' said Sherry Milan, the daytime bartender. ''Love is the hardest thing I've ever done.''

    Down the road a hundred miles or so stood Dwight, the loner, the human tumbleweed, pleased to have heard this story.

    ''I suppose it's good to have company,'' he said. ''I had a dog once. Maybe I'll get another.''



Let 100 shoe trees bloom.

May 30, 2007 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

SanDisk Sansa Express 1GB MP3 Player


But wait — there's more!

• 3.1" x 1.0" x 0.65" (a 5-stick pack of gum is 3.0" x 0.81" x 0.43")

• World's first "direct connect" USB MP3 player with microSD slot

• Plays MP3, WMA, Protected WMA, WAV & Audible files

• FM tuner/record functions built-in

• Voice recorder

• OLED display


All that's the good news.

The bad news: PC only — Mac folk like me can go cry in their Diet Coke Plus.

Pink or Black — $49.99.

May 30, 2007 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Newsmap: Find out what's happening in any country in the world — from anywhere, anytime


"Select any country in the world and up pops a live feed of relevant articles from Yahoo News,"


wrote Lucas Graves about this website


in the March, 2007 issue of Wired magazine.

May 30, 2007 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

BehindTheMedspeak: Is there a biological equivalent to the Higgs Field?


This past Memorial Day weekend, as I lay around miserable, under the weather, with chills, fever, insomnia, a sore throat and runny nose, pressure in my sinuses, no appetite, generalized weakness and malaise, muscle aches, photophobia and itchy eyes and an upset stomach (did I leave out any major organ systems?), I got to thinking about how we view such disturbances as the result of a reaction to infection of some sort or an allergic response.

What if, instead, such symptoms resulted from passing through an invisible field that suddenly caused the our tissues to react to it in such a way as to produce the symptoms we call "sickness?"

Peter Higgs has been waiting 43 years — since his two 1964 papers characterizing what has come to be called The Higgs Field — for high-energy physicists to conclusively demonstrate the existence of the Higgs boson so that he can finally make the trip to Stockholm to collect his Nobel Prize.


Me, I don't expect to be around to get mine but hey, that's okay — pretend this was your idea and run with it.

May 30, 2007 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Birdsong of the Lesser Poet — by Josephine Jacobsen

Exuding someone's Scotch in a moving mist,
abstracted as he broods upon that grant,
he has an intimate word for those who might assist;
for a bad review, a memory to shame the elephant.

Who would unearth a mine, and fail to work it?
His erstwhile hosts are good for fun and games
that brighten the lumpen-audience on the poetry circuit.
He drops only the most unbreakable names.

Disguised as a youth, he can assign all guilt:
his clothes proclaim a sort of permanent stasis.
With a hawk's eye for signs of professional wilt,
he weeds his garden of friends on a monthly basis.

And yet, and yet, to that unattractive head,
and yet, and yet, to that careful, cagey face,
comes now and again the true terrible word;
unearned, the brief visa into some state of grace.

May 30, 2007 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Manny Being Merlot — It's gone!


I'm all excited about my favorite ballplayer on the planet extending his brand into the world of fine wines.

Well, wines, anyway.


Manny Being Merlot is one of three Chilean wines being marketed by Ramirez and fellow Red Sox Curt Schilling and Tim Wakefield to raise money for charity.

Sports Illustrated's latest (May 28, 2007) issue features the new wines on page 26 (below).


From the wine website:

    Manny Being Merlot

    This estate-grown, hand-crafted merlot shows a deep red color with aromas of black pepper and ripe red fruit. The velvety and spicy finish matches perfectly with grilled meats, pastas and pizza.


$12-$13 a bottle in New England stores and restaurants everywhere beginning this Friday, June 1.


This just in: Manny Being Merlot has just been named the Official Wine of bookofjoe™®.

May 30, 2007 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Saxton Freymann — 'The Willy Wonka of produce'


Say what?

Long story short: for the past decade the New York City artist has transformed fruits and vegetables into minimalist carvings.

Now, I know what you're thinking: that you've been doing it since you were a little kid.

But hiding your light under a barrel (or, in your case, the edge of your plate) doesn't qualify.


Jeff Houck profiled Freymann in a February 28, 2007 Tampa Tribune story, which follows.

    Culinary Cutups

    Some people look at a banana with a couple of nicks and bruises and see a piece of ripe fruit.

    Saxton Freymann sees a spotted giraffe. Or a pack of yellow dolphins frolicking amid a seabed of edamame pods. Or a napping yellow Labrador puppy.

    Some people just see the world differently. Freymann is the Willy Wonka of produce.

    Take a look, count to three, sculpt a broccoli tree.

    The New York City artist combined his unique vision with a talent for transforming fruits and vegetables into minimalist carvings to create a career that has spanned a decade. A collection of his works, greatest hits culled from various children's books and other projects, has been compiled into the new book "Food Play" (Chronicle Books, $16.95).

    The story is entirely visual, with green pepper frogs, weightlifting mushrooms and grumpy oranges with wrinkled navel noses for a face. In fact, the only words in "Food Play" come in Freymann's dedication in the first few pages: "For my family, who ate most of the contents of this book."

    Speaking by phone from his home in New York, he recounted how the improbable became fanciful and attracted the adoration of children and adults alike.

    How did you get to do this? How did this happen?

    The kind of short version is I was doing a lot of things. I was a painter, making paintings and drawings and living from one oddball art-related job to another. New York City has plenty of those.

    My wife was working at a publishing company and through someone at work met this publisher-packager named Joost Elffers, who is kind of a crazy Dutch guy. He had packaged a book with someone in Europe that sold mostly in Germany and was mostly about the history of garnishing and showing all the possibilities of decorative food carving. He couldn't get an American publisher interested in this book that he had done. They thought it was too European or too formal or whatever. But he thought that carving food was an oddball sort of interesting design topic, so he was kind of casting about looking for talent to deep and get into doing something like this.

    My wife perked her ears up and said, "My husband would be perfect for that." [laughs] And she called me up and said, "Here comes another cool, weird job for you."

    What was it that she thought you would be able to acccomplish?

    First and foremost? It was a job. That was her main impetus. The fact that I'm a genius was totally secondary. [laughs]

    Unemployed genius is such a rare commodity these days.

    Exactly. She knew that I had done lots of nutty, wacky things. As it turned out, she was right. It came very naturally to me. My impulse was to make little characters, which brought it into a different direction that was appreciated by the American audience.

    So I went to a grocery store, and I bought some things and turned them into things, took some shots and sent them off to Joost. He called and said, "This is wonderful. Why don't we begin?"

    Over the course of about a year, we had about 10 sessions with a photographer where we would just arrive at the studio with bags of groceries and I would basically play.

    He put together a beautiful book with a talented young designer and a writer. It was just a remarkable project because Joost did put together a beautiful book with the things that I made. What was miraculous was that it wasn't a photography book, it wasn't an art book, it wasn't a children's book. There was absolutely no category for it, so the only way it was going to sell a single copy was if every bookstore in the country stuck it out on that table in the front as you walk in. Which is what happened.

    Sort of an impulse buy kind of thing.

    Right. You see it and you go, "Oh, that's really cool." That led to doing several children's books for Scholastic and now this book for Chronicle, which is a collection of things we've done for the last 10 years.

    Some of the books were very simple and were just a single object on a page. Others were extremely complex and difficult to do. One, which is out of print and difficult to find because it came out the week of 9/11, unfortunately, was the most laborious one. I created this whole world, and it has a narrative "Wizard of Oz" type of story. There are broccoli meadows and artichoke cities. I mean, it's crazy. One of the side effects of that book is that there are things that you would have never seen if you weren't looking for them. What "Food Play" allowed me to do was go back and isolate some of these elements and stick them in dialogues with other images.

    I'm actually proud of "Food Play" because, even though it's a compilation, it's really its own book because of the dialogues that are set up on each spread.

    There is a narrative thread through the book, in the photos that are on facing pages. There isn't a sense that it's disjointed.

    That was one of the challenges. I have this body of work, and some of it was done for very specific reasons and specific context. For example, I did a book called "Fast Food," which is all vehicles. I have all of these different objects, so when Joost said, "Why don't you pull these things into a collection that will go back to our original audience?" it was really fun to go back and look at the pictures. Without a narrative, how do you put the things together? Well, there will be the same fruit for a couple pages, or when you turn the page, there will be some sort of continuity. That was a lot of fun for me to morph, going from spread to spread, matching a mushroom that's a house with a mushroom that's a face. Or a pepper that's a car with a pepper that's a frog.

    Would you qualify this as sculpture?

    You know, I don't know what to call it. When I first started out, it was almost like performance art. I'd show up with groceries and the photographer would say, "What's the first shot?" The clock was ticking, the meter was running, and it was like I had to get something in front of the camera. I was a much more plodding, slow-moving artist before this. I wasn't used to doing things so quickly. That was fun. Also, the produce doesn't take that much to alter it. The best things I make are subtle, things where I do the least intervention on the original form. Then there's the element that you want it to look as fresh as possible in every way.

    This is one of those things that looks easy but is the furthest thing from it when you consider the fruits and vegetables. Not every eggplant wants to look as pretty as you want it for as long as you want it. Just because you're working with a banana doesn't make it a banana that you want to eat. You don't want it to turn someone's stomach by looking at it.

    It's funny. The first designer I worked with was this Dutch guy, and he was really into it whenever there was an abrasion or some type of sore-looking thing on the side of one of these things.

    Hey, look! Its soul is screaming!

    Right. A lot of those mushroom elements were originally published in these extremely complicated composites. The opening of this book, which is called "Gus and Button," is this story of Little Gus. He's a little mushroom guy who lives in this mushroom world in a mushroom house. The opening scene is in his living room. He has mushroom parents sitting on mushroom easy chairs with a mushroom table and a mushroom TV with a mushroom fireplace, mushroom light fixtures, mushroom ottoman, mushroom dog. Every single thing in the photograph, and there are about 60 things, is made of mushrooms. You can't do all of that at once because the mushrooms dry out and they brown. That became a tricky thing to keep up with.

    The other thing is that when I was working with the mushrooms, the studio smelled like a forest. It was such an intense, loamy smell. Their smell is unlike any other vegetable. That pressure in the studio was eased somewhat about five years ago, when I got a camera and started shooting things myself. It made things much easier and much more inexpensive.

    Is there a vegetable that you particularly like working with, one that's more expressive than the others?

    It's like choosing your favorite child, and it really depends on what you need. Pumpkins are so ridiculous because they're beautiful and their color is so intense. You can carve crazy teeth, and they have that wonderful surface under the skin that you can sculpt. They come in such a great variety of sizes and shapes, and the stems give you such great noses.

    Pumpkins are wonderful, but oranges are similarly magical. They've got the pith underneath that you can carve, just like a pumpkin. They've got the wrinkles, too. There's something about the scale and familiarity of an orange and the surprise that it's a face.

    I don't like to do too much to them. I like to leave as much of the original organic object as possible. That's what gives you the pun, when it completely continues to be a tomato or a pumpkin or a mushroom and yet it's something else.

    I try to remain as elegant as possible. I don't like to mix two different kinds of fruit. It's very pleasing to me when I find, for example, that if I want to make an ant, all I have to do is put three cherries together and the stems were the legs. It still stayed within the realm of cherries.

    Well, there are a couple levels here. You have the simplicity of making a mushroom snowman by piling three mushrooms on top of each other and then poking out the eyes and mouth. Then there's the "I see dead people" kind of experience you must have where you walk through a produce section and see a piece of ginger and think, "Oh, that looks like a lobster."


    I'm sure plenty of people noticed this stuff. Just no one decided to spend 10 years doing it.

May 30, 2007 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

'It felt like my head was going to fly off' — Sports Illustrated columnist Rick Reilly on driving four laps at the Brickyard


The writer (above, all dressed up and ready to zoom Zoom ZOOM) visited the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 14, 2007, during qualifying week for this past Sunday's rain-shortened Indianapolis 500.

It was part of the new Indy Racing Experience, which lets anyone with $399 take four laps in a real Indy car.

FunStory: Reilly coasted into the pit after his "four furious laps" and asked the lap guy, "How fast did I get? Was I over 150?"

Uh, no.

"He looked at his clipboard. 'Not exactly.' Turned out my lap average was 95."

May 30, 2007 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

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