The walls in my apartment are mostly bare. The only hanging pictures I have right now are posters from the Transit Museum store. These are pretty cool, but having the same art in my home and my train is a little depressing.

I was browsing through eBay, looking for — what else — Japanese prints to replace the posters. Since I was little, I wanted to own a real Japanese woodblock print. Not a reproduction. A real print.

When I was working as a porter in a Manhattan building, I once had to help an old lady move a piece of furniture. On her walls hung several small woodblock prints, which to me, looked exactly like the Utamaro reproductions that I’ve seen in a book. They definitely looked old. I asked the old lady about them, and she mentiontioned that she bought them many years ago in an auction for next to nothing.

Now I understand that I overestimated the value of the prints. Ukiyo-e prints were made by tens of thousands even during the lifetime of the authors, not counting the contemporary bootleg copies. The publishers retained the woodblocks and made even more prints later. They still continue to do so today.

It’s true that the museum-quality prints of famous printmakers can cost into hundreds of thousands. But luckily for people like me, collectors of Japanese prints are very similar to the stamp and coin collectors: they put a lot of premium on the condition of the print and its rarity, leaving a wide spectrum of less than perfect, but much more affordable material, which is still impressive as hell. For instance, my research shows that an early edition of a print by a household-name artist like Hokusai or Hiroshige in an average condition can cost as little as a cheap digital SLR camera. With the worsening of the condition the pricing moves into digital point-and-shoot camera price range. But unlike the camera, a real Hiroshige is not likely to diminish in value or become obsolete. Later editions and reprints can be had for the price of a restaurant lunch.

I need to do a lot more research before I’ll buy some prints, probably from an offline dealer, but meanwhile I came upon something interesting on eBay. A hanging calligraphy scroll, the type for hanging in a tokonoma, caught my eye. It had a single kanji, Yume. Yume literally means “dream.” The kanji representing it looked like a person leaping in dance to me. I did not win a bid on it, and went looking for another one like that. To my surprise, the second calligrapher’s “dream” looked like a spooky bird. I did not win that auction either, but I wonder what a whole collection of these would look like on a wall…

I particularly like the brush streaks.

Victory Day

Time is slowly erasing the traumatic memory of the two world wars. That is to say that the people who fought in it are dying out, and the younger generations do not like to think of the horrors that the two great wars brought.

When I was growing up, World War II did not seem very exciting to me, from the infantile militarism standpoint. Bootleg American movies, like Rambo and Star Wars seemed oh so much cooler. WWII killing machines seemed outdated and andand reminiscences of veterans who were invited into Soviet classrooms prior to every May 9th – boring.

I did like the Polish movie serial about WWII, called “Four tankers and dog” (“Четыре танкиста и собака” in Russian and “Czterej pancerni i pies” in Polish). It was an awesome, awesome serial about a Polish tank’s crew in WWII. Recently I purchased it on DVD from a Russian movie store as a present for my childhood friend. We watched it a bit, and I’ve got to tell you, it held up amazingly well.

Later, I realized that “Star Wars” technology was based on WWII, down to space battles mimicking real aerial dogfights. The rest of ideas Lucas lifted from Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress. That was probably one of the reasons why the original 3 episodes were so much cooler then the new ones.

WWII is all the rage these days. You can’t swing a dead cat without hitting an awesome WWII game. Mike Mingola brought back WWII chic in his Hellboy comics, Nazi mad scientist and all.

I particularly like WWII-style superheroes, without overabundance of superpowers and in baggy costumes with many gear pockets and bandoliers. In Hellboy’s origin story, there’s a panel where a group of Allied soldiers poses for a picture with Hellboy and Liberty Torch, a wartime superhero, that appeals to me a lot. I also liked how in Batman: Year One Batman uses thermite as a weapon that he gets from his military-looking bandolier belt.

For the firts time since Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace and Charles Babbage, computer programmers became active, this time being driven not by intellectual curiosity, but by a dire need to break Nazi codes. If not for the Polish scientists who created the first Enigma-breaking mechanical “bombes”, Alan Turing and the rest of the computer pioneers, me and my dad not only wouldn’t be computer programmers, but probably would not have been born.

That reminded of an echo of WWII that I once encountered. I used to work as a doorman, porter and elevator operator in an Upper West Side residential building where Robert Oppenheimer was born. There was a very nice old man who lived alone in a huge pre-war apartment. Every year he asked one of the staff to help him set all the clocks in the apartment during the daylight savings switch. It remains one of the more memorable experiences for me from my employment there. I remember a huge apartment with many clocks. The old guy seemed to be very anxious to have all of them set, and all of them set correctly, asking me several times to check and doublecheck. Must have taken me half an hour to get them all. Once I set all the clocks he became very relieved.

I guess the guy had a very special relationship with time. My boss told me he saw a number tattoo on the old man’s arm. That most likely means that he had a “user id” for an IBM punchcard machine in Auschwitz.

WML: How To Remove Gum From Stuff or Goo Gone Guy – the Real Magic American ™ Hero.

A few days ago I was very sleepy in the morning and sat right into a huge wad of gum that some asshole left in the middle of a train seat. The monstrous stinking blue glob firmly attached itself to my favorite Politburo coat. It was probably a couple of packs of Extra. I did not notice it until some guy pointed it out to me in a grocery where I was ordering some fried eggs for breakfast. Interestingly, he was the only person to mention that to me the whole day even though I was walking with a huge blue blotch on my ass the entire day.

In any case, chances are pretty high, that when you ask somebody (even google) about removing gum, you will get a lot of stupid answers, the first one usually being “freeze it with ice”. You know, I am pretty sure that all those clowns have never tried removing gum with their methods.

The first page stupidly recommends:
freezing it
egg whites
peanut butter
lemon juice
WD 40

The result of these remedies highly resembles what happed in this Simpsons episode.

You know, when I worked as a porter in an apartment building, at some point I was tasked with removing gum from the sidewalk. My boss ordered a special spray (very similar to “canned air” spray used for dusting off electronics.The spray would freeze the gum, at which point it was supposed to become brittle and fall off. No such luck. The modern formula allows the gum to stay stuck even when frozen. And the spray achieved temperatures much lower than the temperature of ice.

I’ve seen special crews with steam blasters cleaning gum off sidewalks of the Rockefeller Center. But even with high pressure steam they have to spend about five-ten minutes per piece of gum.

In any case, the solution to my problem is very simple. There is a product that really works on gum. It’s called “Goo Gone StickerLifter ®”. It consists of petroleum naphtha (aka n-hexane ) and citrus oil. You see, it turns out that n-hexane dissolves most dry adhesives like there is no tomorrow. It’s not very smelly and not very toxic. And it dissolves in warm water + soap.

Removing gum, dry glue and stickers is a pleasure with it. I took out the whole gum stain in a couple of minutes. I don’t know if “the enjoyment of this experience was “better than sex.” “, but the Goo Gone Guy might disagree.

“Never fear, Retailer Man is here!”
“Holy profit margin! It’s a truck load of Goo Gone!”
“Oh, Goo Goone Guy you are a real Magic American ™ hero.”

They don’t mention n-Hexane, but the Retailer Man is right about the profit margin though :)