Sunday, July 31, 2016

BALLS

   In 1980 I had a job as exhibits designer for the New York Hall of Science. it was kind of a strange museum, because while other ciies like Toronto and San Francisco had world-class Science Centers, The NY Hall of Science was, honestly, patheic. It was housed in the Science building in Flushing Park, Queens, constructed for the 1964 world’s fair with a few ‘left-over’ exhibits and while plans were discussed to make it a truly great center, any actual funding or construction was still years away. 


   Nevertheless I had a small dedicated staff and an even smaller budget and it was our job to make the place ‘work’, so rather than deal with abstract science concepts, I decided to, as best I could, teach science that would be relevant to what was currently in the news.

   For example, the whole country was at that time going thru an energy crisis and the idea of fireplaces and burning wood for heat was becoming a subject that people were discussing so I designed an exhibit called ‘POTBELLY’. We had dozens of different wood and coal burning stoves on display and we were able to teach some great principles of combustion and heat distribution by using the different techniques that each stove employed. The show was so popular that we even got to be on NBC’s TODAY show! More about POTBELLY later.

   The Science Center being in Queens instead of Manhattan had its disadvantages and advantages. Because I lived in Manhattan the greatest advantage for me was driving to work every day going in the empty and opposite direction of everyone else. But a serious advantage, and the reason for this blog is that we were right across from the National Tennis Center (NTS) where every year the U.S. Open was held, and it was coming up soon.



   My idea: Micro-Tennis: An Exhibit of Tennis through the microscope! With our limited budget we put on a photographic, but scientific examination of tennis equipment as seen thru the microscope. Our researcher Dr.Larry Rosen had some connection with a hospital in the Bronx that let us use their Electron Scanning Microscope at night. It was fantastic. Shots of plastic racquet strings look like cables that held up a bridge while those same strings of natural material looked like pieces of meat complete with ‘marbelling’.

   To display our photos we built giant tennis rackets out of plywood and sandwiched concrete reinforcement wire to look like the strings and then clamped our photos on the grid. We hung the tennis rackets from the ceiling and their slow natural rotation made a rather limited exhibition look actually exciting. You can see the tennis rackets in the background of the photo.
Hair on a tennis ball as seen on the Scanning Electron Microscope
   I walked over and showed the folks at the NTS what we had i mind and they loved it. They let us put up our posters and promoted our exhibit in any way they could. They even gave us some expensive ($325) tickets to the Open. How cool was that!

   Now here’s where it gets interesting. I wanted to build a giant microscope out of used tennis balls and have a guess-the-number-of tennis-balls contest with some prize for the winner. I knew the picture of it would get us a lot of publicity (it did). I didn’t think it would be to hard to round up used tennis balls. First I called the nearby National Tennis Center who told me that they had JUST donated lots of used balls to the Girls and Boys Clubs in the area. Damn. I don’t recall how many calls we made but nobody seemed to have a lot of used tennis balls for us. It was getting close to the opening of the show and of course I was starting to panic. I needed those balls ‘now’ if we were to have any chance of building the ‘scope’ in time.

   I don’t remember the details but I do remember making some rough calculation of the number of balls I thought we might need and that if you crammed them all together they would fill a 8 foot x 6 foot crate. 

   Now desperate, I thought of calling the manufacturers. My first call was to Wilson Sporting Goods in Chicago, who I knew supplied the US Open. I managed to connect with a marketing guy and when I explained what I was doing, and where I was located he thought the idea was great. He said unfortunately they don’t have any used tennis balls but he’d be willing to send us new balls for our project at no cost. Wow. I told him that would be great and, because I needed them right away, I volunteered to pay for them being air shipped to us. Done!

   So now it’s Friday afternoon and still no balls. The exhibit opening reception is on Wednesday.. Three o’ clock and four o’ clock came and went. And then, right at 5 o’ clock I see a forty-foot tractor trailer pulling towards our loading dock. Finally.

  “Got some tennis balls for ya!” The driver shouts from the cab and as he opens the back doors I see that the truck is packed full of big Wilson Tennis Ball boxes. Full. Wall to wall. The driver starts to unload. “Wait there must be some mistake, that’s a lot tennis balls, are you sure youre at the right place?” “Hall of Science!” he says as he hands me the invoice. He’s still unloading. I said “maybe you better take them back until we get this figured out.” “Look pal,” says the driver probably already pissed having to work late on Friday, “if we have to reload and take these back they’re going into some warehouse and you’ll be lucky if you ever see them again”. Ya gotta love New York. “Besides”, he says, “there’s another tractor with more balls coming behind me”. I signed the receipt.

   I’m just stunned as I watch all these boxes being unloaded. I opened a box to find brand new Tennis Balls in their cans. 3 balls per can. And to top it off I see the museum maintenence guys loading boxes into their car trunks like it’s Christmas. Finally the trucks leave. Everybody heads home. I’m standing there with two tractor traier loads of tennis balls. And then it hits me.

   I volunteered to pay for the air freight for this. I am totally screwed!

   That weekend was one of the worst in my life. I imagined what a Boing 747 full of tennis balls was going to cost. How was I ever gonna explain this. I was dead.

   Finally Monday came. Wilson was in Chicago so I had to wait for the time zones to catch up to call. Finally I got thru to the guy I was dealing with and told him what happened. I held my breath. He just laughed and I heard him tell somebody in his office ‘oh that’s where those balls wound up’. Seems that THEY screwed up the shipping and he told me not to worry about it (a little too late). He said that we could use what we needed and they’d send a truck to pick up the rest later today. Oh man what a relief.

   The rest of Monday and Tuesday was spent hot gluing those tennis balls together. You know it really was a crime to ruin all those new balls, used balls would have looked and been so much more sensible but I had no choice. I think we even lost count of how many we used so we counted the used cans and made up a number and gave out some good prizes anyway.

   The show was a big success with many tennis industry pros as well as spectators from the US Open walking over to the Hall of Science to see Micro-Tennis and learn some interesting science facts about their sport.

   But I wouldn’t want to ever go thru a weekend like that again.







Saturday, July 23, 2016

BY AN EAR

1974


In 1974 I had a fellowship at M.I.T. and I was looking for some part-time work to supplement my income. I met a Cambridge architect named Michael Sand who saw my work from Hawaii and mentioned that the Boston Children’s Museum was looking for an exhibits designer. I applied and I was incredibly fortunate to get the job. The Boston Children’s Museum was an absolutely incredible place, leading the museum world in creating wonderful exhibits that were all ‘participatory’, what we now call ‘interactive’.


When it came time to plan our next big exhibit I came up with the idea that it should be about the kids themselves. I named the exhibit ‘ME’. The basic idea was that we would give each kid a little ‘ME’ card, like an ID card, and as they went thru the exhibit they would enter facts about themselves like their height and weight and hair color but also they would vote for their favorite color (which would be automatically stamped on their card), measure their lung capacity and learn what their armspan was....lots of facts about themselves. I imagined the exhibit as a series of stylized manniquins, each a station for one or more of the activities. I even had dreams about the exhibit being put on a flatbed truck and traveling to other locations.



It was a big undertaking for our little design team but everybody loved the idea and worked on it with gusto. Genius craftsman Janus Spalvins created and built the wonderful mannequins and their mechanics, Edie Kraska did the graphics, Bill Mayhew the electronics, and many others contributed their skills. Michael Hatfield and I did whatever we could to keep the project moving forward. These were exciting times.


But there were problems. Remember, this was 1974 and microprocessors were just coming online but it was still primarily an analog world. For example, the way that the ‘VOTE FOR YOUR FAVORITE COLOR’ was supposed to work was that there were twelve slots on the mannequin, each representing a color.

Vote for Your
Favorite Color
You ‘voted’ by sticking your card into the slot (color) you were voting for and a mechanical stamper inside would stamp that color onto the appropriate place on your ME card. By the way, the card was designed so that when you closed your card, your favorite color would show thru the perforated word ME on the cards front. Also there were numerical counters so everyone could see the ‘popularity’ of each color.

Anyway that was the way it was supposed to work. The problem was that with the state of the electronics we had at that time there were a lot of problems. Sometimes the stamper would work but not release the card and other times a different stamper would be triggered than the one you selected. There were all kinds of interference problems and as we came close to the exhibits opening I was getting scared that we might not be able to solve the problem in time.

So I had an idea. I mentioned that at this time I had a research fellowship at M.I.T. When I  walked down the corridor of the main building I always saw the doors to what was labelled the ELECTROMECHANICAL LABORATORY, the lab of Dr. Harold Edgerton. Now ‘Doc’ Edgerton was world famous for, among many, many other things inventing the strobe light and those wonderful photographs of the bullet going thru the balloon and the drop of milk forming that amazing crown. I had no idea whether I would even be able to meet with him but I decided to go see whether he would help us with our problem.



So there I was, my hand on his lab's doorknob. I figured I’d be meeting with some secretary or assistant first but as I turned the knob and entered I was standing three feet from Doc Edgerton, who turned, smiled at me and simply said “yes?” I was unprepared. I stammered something like “I’m Stan Resnicoff. I’m the exhibits designer of the Boston Children’s Museum and we’re working on a show called ME but we’re having interference problems with our electronics and.”

I think that was as far as I got because Doc Edgeton walked over to me and ACTUALLY GRABBED HOLD OF MY EAR, TURNING ME AND LEADING ME BACK TOWARDS THE DOOR! BY THE EAR! TOWARDS THE DOOR! This could have been the most humiliating moment of my life except for what he said next. “I have no idea what you’re talking about young man but if you want my help go and bring your electronics here and we’ll see what we can do.” Amazing.

I think I was back in his lab in a half-hour with our mechanism. He looked at it, smiled, and said to me “We’re gonna solve this problem with POWER!” With that he told his assistant what he needed and who soon returned with two car-battery-sized olive drab military capacitors. They hooked them up somehow and then, all of a sudden, ALL the stampers went off simultaneously as if to salute Doc Edgerton. It took him no time to get everything working perfectly but I was concerned by the military apparatus he used. “Is this safe for kids?” I asked. He assured me it was because although he was using a gazillion volts, the amps were very low. I thanked him profusely and left with my mechanism and the capacitors.

Back at the museum there were big discussions as to whether this setup would really be safe for us to use. The conclusion of those in charge was that it wasn’t and we didn’t. The show opened and several of the mechanisms, including VOTE FOR YOUR FAVORITE COLOR didn’t work. The kids all still seemed to have a good time with the other parts of the exhibit and their ME cards, but to me, having worked so hard, it was a failure.

I recall sitting, tired and totally dejected by the side of the exhibit at the opening, staring at the floor. When I looked up, Michael Sand, who was instrumental in getting me the job so many months ago, was talking to me. ”I know that you are disappointed with the way some of this turned out, but I just wanted to tell you that you changed my ideas of what a museum exhibit could be.” I was too tired, and broken-hearted to appreciate his thought.

Over the next week there were a lot of hard feelings at the museum about what had just happened. Many people worked very hard, very long, and for the show to be ‘less than perfect’ was a huge disappointment. It was my fault. And to top it off, I had spent my whole year’s exhibit budget (Six Thousand dollars) on the show. I was fired.


AFTERWORD


When I designed the little “ME” card, there was a lot of talk about whether we could afford to give one out for free to every kid. They were going to be a bit expensive because we were using some special fingerprint paper developed by the FBI that used a clear, non-toxic liquid
(so we didn’t have fingerprints all over the museum) and this paper had to be individually applied to each card. I wanted the card to have round corners, be individually numbered, perforated and other features that made it even more expensive and time consuming to create. Those who were opposed to the card mentiond that, in the past, whenever the museum had given out a ‘handout’ lots of them were found thrown away in the garbage or found in the parking lot. It didn’t make me any friends when I suggested that might have been because of the value of those particular ‘handouts’.

In any event I found out much later that after the exhibit opening only one card was found in the parking lot and the kid who had lost it turned up the next day to see if anyone had found it. I also know that many kids kept their ME cards for years.

It’s been about forty years since the ‘ME’ show. I can now look back fondly on that time in my life, treasuring the moments, and the people, and the problems and the dreams. Sometimes I even wonder what a version of the ME show would be like today with all our modern technology. I’m not sure. But what I do know is what it should be called.....ME TOO !




Wednesday, July 13, 2016

CAPITALISM

   Maybe at some other time I’ll tell the story about how I (with the help of BarbieTM) helped Leonid Rabinovich (‘Lenny’) and his family emigrate to America from the old Soviet Union:USSR. In any event soon after he got here, around 2000, I was writing my BIG PARADE books, and I knew Lenny was the perfect choice to illustrate them, but first his son would have to translate all of my rhyming and somewhat ridiculous words into Ukrainian. Lenny spoke English well enough but he just felt more comfortable in his native tongue, and while words are words, sometimes concepts and idioms are more difficult to translate and even harder to draw. Lenny did a masterful job as you can see.

Detail from 'The Big Parade: San Francisco

"And the Navy sent the Pacific Fleet,
Followed by the largest single piece of Shredded Wheat."


To understand the following story you have to remember that Lenny spent his whole life living under communism…and there was absolutely no commercial advertising under communism.

 Anyway, for one of my little panoramas I had written the rhyme:

“And Lincoln delivered 
The Gettysburg Address
Brought to you by
American Express”

I always checked with Lenny by reading the words to him and asking if he understood how to illustrate what I was saying. He usually said he did (whether he did or not) knowing that his son would be translating for him later. This time, when he said he understood I noticed some concern on his face and I asked again. “Lenny do you really understand?” 

“No” he answered.

I was surprised. This was one of my simpler rhymes. What was there not to understand? 
I said, “Lenny, what don’t you understand? Lincoln?”

Lenny looked at me as if I had insulted his intelligence and said “Abraham Lincoln, sixteenth president of the United States, born on February 12…”

He went on and on and it was clear that Lincoln wasn’t it.

“The Gettysburg Address?” I asked.

“Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation..."

Nope, not the Gettysburg Address.”

I was running out of words. “American Express”? I questioned.

“Stenley”, he replied, “Everybody know American Express!”

What else was there? “Lenny, what could you possibly not know how to illustrate?” I asked.

His answer: “Brought to you by."


Just in case you are interested, three editions of 
The Big Parade (New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco)
are available on Apple's iBookstore.



Sunday, July 3, 2016

FASHION MUMMIES

The Olsen Twins and BarbieTM:  Two Fashion Miummies that I wrapped and built display cases for in 2003. I have several more that I'll probably post at some later date.

The Olsen Twins Mummies

The Olsen Twins Mummies Display Case

Golden Barbie Mummy

Golden Barbie Mummy Display Case


Saturday, July 2, 2016





ROJO O AZUL

   How I found myself outside of a small town somewhere in the middle of Mexico in 1965 (when I should have been in school in Brooklyn) is another story that maybe someday I’ll write about here but in any event there I was and as I walked down a dirt road looking to find something to eat I soon heard what sounded like a crowd cheering occasionally somewhere off in the distance. I followed the sound until I came upon a plain building, no ‘neon’ lights (or lights of any kind), just a big painted sign: FRONTON. I walked in and found myself in a small hall with what looked like ‘teller’ or ‘betting’ windows lining one wall but the room was completely empty. All the sound was coming from behind a curtain at the far end of that hall, and as I parted the curtain, there it was..a jai alai court in full action.

   It was the smallest fronton I had ever seen. I mean the actual jai alai court was full-size but the audience was small and sat in wooden tiered bleachers just 6 or 7 rows deep. There were maybe a couple of hundred people there. There were no ‘pari-mutual’ boards; no electronics at all. I took a seat and tried to figure out what was going on because walking back and forth in front of the bleachers were several men in either blue or red shirts yelling out things, all in Spanish of course, and throwing blue or red colored tennis balls to various people in the audience, who then threw them back at them. These balls were flying everywhere. And fast. It was one hell of a show.

   I sat and watched. I finally figured out what was happening at the end of the first full game when the men from the front left the arena to man their ‘payout’ windows at the room outside. These men were taking bets. Before every point they would call out the odds they personally would offer (the players wore either red or blue shirts too). If you accepted his odds you signaled that particular guy, yelled out how many pesos you wanted to bet, he initialed a little slip of paper receipt, put it into his same colored tennis ball that had a big slit in it and threw it to you. You caught the ball, took out the slip, put your cash in the ball and threw it back to him. When the full game was over, the men went to their windows in that outside hall and if you had won on any of your bets, you handed him the slip and he paid you off. The important thing to know was that these balls were flying fast because many people needed to get their bets in because betting ended when the players started each point, and would resume as soon as one or the other  players won that point, of course now with new odds as the score had changed. Each bet taker had multiple balls in ‘play’ and seemed to be throwing, catching and writing those slips simultaneously and effortlessly. 

   It was an incredible spectacle with just as much action happening in the stands as on the court.

   Once I got the hang of it I bet too. I had no idea what the odds were that they were yelling so all I had to do was yell ‘rojo’ or ‘azul’ and hold up my pesos and a ball came flying in my direction. My biggest fear was dropping the ball thrown to me because NOBODY did that and it would screw up everything as the ball would roll down under the tiered seats. But I didn’t miss one catch and even won a couple of pesos for the night. Sweet.

Friday, July 1, 2016

SLOWMOBILE 

(THE COW)

video

This is one of my SlowMobiles. It's powered by a clock motor so it actually moves very  s l o w l y. This movie is sped up to show 10 hours in 35 seconds. It's one of my older SlowMobiles that wasn't working and I wanted to just fix it up and add the cutout holes. That's when I thought of a new word: WRECKTIFY. You get it. It's when you try to make something better and everything you do makes it worse. Anyway (finally) it it came out ok. The cow? Check out the last frame.

THE JAI LIFE

1957

   Back in the 1950’s, when I was in elementary school, one of the local television stations in New York showed Jai Alai from Mexico. I was one of the kids who watched this exotic sport with rapt attention as Mendi or Gorrichio climbed high up the fronton wall to catch the pilota in their sesta baskets and launch it back at over a hundred miles an hour. Fantastic.

   Across the street, my friend Peter Drago also watched. Naturally, the next step for us was to remove our rear bicycle fenders, and after hammering them a bit and taping them to our wrists with black electrical tape we set out for the schoolyard and its handball court.
Now the schoolyard was reportedly the place where the ‘big kids’ hung out, a place of supposed danger to kids like us. Personally I never found that to be a problem but that myth hung over the place.

   Nevertheless, we rode our fender-less bikes there, dismounted and, in perfect fronton ceremonial fashion, marched, one behind the other to the handball courts. The few kids that were around wondered what the hell we were doing, but we were focused and after a little practice we were soon whipping that 'spauldeen' (Spaulding) off the wall with force. Nobody bothered us because, as we swung our metal sestas around we looked dangerous, probably more to each other than to anyone else. We considered that day a success and left to plan our next foray into the Jai life.
   
   The next time we entered the schoolyard we made one small change. Instead of a rubber ball we now were using a golf ball. If we were dangerous before, we were now deadly. The golf ball bounced off the concrete wall like a bullet, our sestas were now ‘weaponized’. We even attracted a little audience.

 In the many years that followed I got to watch great Jai Alai players in Florida and an amazing spectacle once in Mexico, always thinking back to those early days of me and Peter Drago down at the schoolyard.

We were really something.