This may just be one of those things I dreamt, but I don’t think so. In the earlier part of this past decade, in 2003 or so, J. showed me a VHS documentary on the Athens, Georgia music scene from the late 1980s. It was a very good film and I remember quite a bit about it — there was a scene where Howard Finster was playing guitar with Dexter Romweber — but specifically, I clearly remember a scene where Michael Stipe looks at the camera and claims that he was the first person ever to use Christmas lights as everyday art-punk indoor house decoration. The first person, ever. In the late 1970s, he claimed. Before that, no one had ever strung up Christmas lights for decoration off-season. I may be misremembering this. But the reason I think I remember it so clearly is that I think J. and I watched the movie on that tiny TV-VCR I had in my bedroom on Gaulbert Avenue — a bedroom that was itself decorated with Christmas lights. I remember looking at Michael Stipe onscreen, and then looking at the Christmas lights, and then thinking, “wow, there is a direct correlation here.”
What a bold statement, Michael Stipe. If indeed he did make this statement, is it true? I had Christmas lights up in every apartment I lived in between 2000 and 2005. Around the windows, strung across the ceiling, over doors, around the perimeters of the ceiling. White ones, mostly, but I had a few blinking ones at various points, as well as the tube-style lights. I even once had purple Halloween-themed Christmas lights (I guess they would be called “Halloween lights”) that cast a ghostly purple light over the tiny one-bedroom apartment I had at Highland and Bardstown. It made everything that happened in that space seem important and cinematic and a little bit surreal.
Fifteen years after Michael Stipe first strung up Christmas lights in his Athens, Georgia art-punk house, it was still de rigeur to decorate your art-punk house Christmas lights. As far as I know, it still is, ten years after that.
I tried to confirm this with a Google Books search, but it’s not very helpful. There is no record I can find of Michael Stipe making such a claim. References to “Christmas lights” on Google Books first appear in print in the 1950s, from what I can tell. Wikipedia backs that up: “It would take until the mid 1950s for the use of such lights to be adopted by average households…Over a period of time, strings of Christmas lights found their way into use in places other than Christmas trees. Soon, strings of lights adorned mantles and doorways inside homes, and ran along the rafters, roof lines, and porch railings of homes and businesses.” It makes sense that it might take two decades for someone to figure out that they could be used to adorn mantles and doorways during the off-season. It makes sense that the person to figure that out might be Michael Stipe. Young, twenty-year-old Michael Stipe, in Athens, Georgia. Here I guess one could point out that Christmas lights create, in a room, an abstract sense of that room, not fully illuminated but filtered through a blur, in a similar way to how Stipe mumbles the lyrics to his songs, how he abstracts and blurs the words. One could point that out, but come on, let’s not get carried away.
A while back, my friend Erin brought to my attention that an educational and scientific supply wholesaler was liquidating their stock of tiny historical American flags for the incredible price of five for .75 cents. They came in assorted varieties, meaning anything from the Guilford Courthouse Flag to the Taunton Sons of Liberty flag. Naturally, I did the same thing you would have done with this information: I bought 75 tiny historical American flags, had them rushed to my apartment overnight, and took the next day off work so I could wait around for them to arrive.
“Do you have any plans for those flags?” Erin asked.
“The question really is, ‘Do those flags have any plans for me?’” I said. I was very excited to do something, anything, with my 75 tiny historical American flags. Almost certainly an art or curatorial project of some kind.
Now, of course, on this 4th of July, several years later, I have still not found a good use for these tiny historical American flags. They’re sitting in the box they came in, waiting to be put to work for some half-baked art project. They are a handsome lot, as you can see from the samples pictured above. So, reader, as I have so often in the past, I am appealing to you. For the holiday, I am throwing the door open for a collaboration between the two of us.
Describe a project that makes use of anywhere between one and five of these tiny historical American flags. Ideally, it will make good use of both my talents and yours. It should be best conducted by mail, but for local readers I will make exceptions.
Send your plan to my email address, email@example.com, with S. 12TH 4TH OF JULY TINY HISTORICAL FLAG COLLABORATIVE PROJECT. Or, just click here.
Happy 4th of July to you. May it be filled with liberty and union.
I Green Heart Portland. And I do. I am at PDX right now. I am not sure what I’ll do with this sticker. Put it on a card and send it to you, maybe.
“PDX” might my favorite airport abbreviation. It’s that “X.” It accounts for the unknown, which seems to be a key part of the Portland experience. Portland is a city that seems intent on making sure oddball things are happening to you every moment you are there. That’s the “X.”
What a weekend. I made the acquaintance of some great artists, practicing in every corner of America. I ran into a brilliant guy I worked with in Pittsburgh that I haven’t seen for almost ten years. Despite eating poutine, burritos and Portland creme doughnuts, I didn’t significantly stain my white pants. I sang “Louie Louie” and “Youth of America” by the Wipers, the two great anthems of the city, with a pick-up jam band in some dude’s apartment over a bar in Southeast Portland. I finally made the acquaintance of Mike Buchino, a guy who grew up in Louisville at the same time I did and hung out with all the same people but who I’d improbably never met before. I won two cases of beer in a trivia contest, which I drank in a park with Colin and Shanai like a bunch of teenagers. I saw San Francisco artist Amy Francescheni give a talk, and was in awe — she’ll be at the Walker for Open Field with Futurefarmers this summer. I learned, somewhat improbably, that something I wrote on this very blog utterly infuriated the conference organizers. How did they even find it? If the same organizers are reading this now, let it be known that I hereby rescind my uncharacteristically snide comments of earlier and congratulate you on fine, thoughtful and very weird event. I plan to go back every year until I die of social practice-related injuries.
A few years ago, I had a combination TV/VCR that the previous tenant of my apartment had left behind when she moved out. I already had an old TV, and didn’t need a second, so I decided to get rid of it. The TV part still picked up broadcast television just fine, and the VCR part still played VHS tapes with no trouble, so it seemed reasonable that I could get about fifteen bucks for it on Craigslist. I posted an ad, with a photo, and it sat there for a few days with no responses. I considered putting it in the free section.
But then I thought about VCRs a little more carefully. Why would someone want a VCR when they could have a DVD player? I wished I could repost the ad in 1993, when people still needed VCRs.
Then I realized that I could. I rewrote the ad, and instead of a photo of the TV, I used a photograph of the Cheers title screen.
Then, instead of text describing what the TV/VCR looked like and how it worked, I wrote a little essay about how you could always record Cheers on a VCR, and watch the tape later. And that was how you interacted with Sam and Rebecca and Woody and Frasier, because maybe in the late ’80s and early ’90s you had to work late on Thursdays. You could come home at night and the gang at Cheers would be waiting for you. I suggested you could relive these times with the TV/VCR I had.
Almost immediately after reposting it, I got an email from a guy in one of the far-flung western suburbs, probably almost an hour out, who said he’d loved Cheers and that I should call him in the next thirty minutes. I did, and he made an appointment to stop by that afternoon to take a look. He asked me if I’d seen the recent special that Ted Danson and Rhea Perlman hosted.
Two hours later, he dropped by, and we spent fifteen minutes talking about our favorite episodes of Cheers. He was a fan of the episode where Lillith made Fraiser move into a cabin in the woods. I didn’t remember that one, but we both remembered the episode where the gang went sky-diving. He bought the TV/VCR for fifteen dollars.
I felt a little guilty initially, like maybe I’d fleeced this person by making him drive an hour into the city and preyed upon some treasured memories of a television program he’d loved for my own profit. But I don’t think this was the case, because the thing was, I really enjoyed talking about Cheers with the guy.
When Nate and I didn’t approach those two kids and offer them $5 a piece to stop raking the leaves in their front yard.
This was Nate’s idea when we were both at my parents’ house on Christmas Eve taking a walk. The kids would have taken it, right? “Hey, you two, raking leaves, huh? We got five dollars for both of you if you stop.” They take the money, we split, and a suburban yard goes unraked. Ten dollars is a small price to pay to spread dischord and sloth throughout our childhood homestead. Plus, best of all, we figured the kids’ parents wouldn’t believe them afterwards:
“Cody! Noah! Why aren’t you out there raking the leaves like I told you to? It’s still a mess out there!”
“But dad, two Russian-looking guys in furry hats, beards and twirly mustaches gave us five dollars to stop…”
“What an outrageous lie! You’re telling me there’s two guys wandering around the neighborhood in supervillian outfits on Christmas Eve paying children to not do their chores? Absurd! That’s it! Go to your room!”
And Operation: Chaos begins.
However, we walked by again later and the kids had done a really, really good job raking. They probably wouldn’t have taken our blood money, anyway.