Sunday, October 16, 2016

WATERS OF THE WORLD



The Black Sea. Was it really black or was that just some name everybody agreed to before I
got here? And what about the Red.... well, you get it. These were the conundrums of my 9 year-old mind. I figured that someday the only way I'd know for sure was to see for myself. And if it was, black that is, I'll get a sample and start a collection of waters of the world. From all kinds of exotic places. The Nile. The Amazon.That sounded good to me at the time and then I forgot about it for fifty years or so.

I should mention that in one of those years I actually did get to the Black Sea. I did, it was, and I briefly remembered my childhood plan. Very briefly.

Everything changed when I was working in my garage one day listening to the radio when  'Surfin' USA' came on. I must have heard the song thousands of times (even hearing it when it was a new release), but then the lyrics came to:

Haggerties and Swamies
Pacific Palisades
San Onofre and Sunset
Redondo Beach L.A.
All over La Jolla
At Waimea Bay...

Redondo Beach! I could start my water 'collection' right here in this 'exotic' place. Yes. And even better, I could make a small surfboard with the waters from all the sites mentioned in the song. So I did.

SURFIN' USA

My friend Eric and I even went around to the local sites mentioned and collected water samples but later we figured it would be better if who ever wound up with this would have to fill 'em theirselves. 


I also built a blue board:


And then I thought it would be great to have smart individual boards for water from famous surf breaks from all over the world:























These were harder mainly because the wood 'rings' that held the tubes had to be from the same plank as the board so they aligned visually.

By this time it made no sense to leave out a set for the oceans of the world:




And they're great for a reason: The Great Lakes:




And finally, the water that I always wanted to personally collect:

LOCH NESS



Thursday, October 6, 2016

ME VS.THE INTERNAL REVENUE SERVICE


   It was one fall day back in about 1967 when I found a postcard SCOTCH-TAPED to my mailbox — from the IRS. How’s that to start your day? Now back in those years I was consulting for museums around New York and had made very little money, just enough to stay alive, but it was also true that I hadn’t filed any tax returns for the last three years or so, so I knew I was in trouble. The message on the card was terse: It said: “Please call”.…and there was a telephone number listed. That’s all. Trouble.

   Now, I hate calling. ESPECIALLY when I’m in trouble. I want to talk to someone in person, face to face, no matter how bad the outcome is going to be. I remembered that I knew where the IRS building was downtown. So, instead of calling, I got cleaned up (as best I could), put on my sport jacket, went to the bank and withdrew every penny I had ($300) and headed down to Chambers Street and the IRS.

   You have to remember that this was ages ago, before terrorism changed the nature of everything, so I was able to just walk in the door (no metal detectors). I walked up to a nice lady seated at the front desk (not behind bulletproof glass) and when she said “Can I help you?” I handed her the card and  said “Yes, I’d like to speak to someone about this.”

   She read the card and seemed confused. “Did someone here ask you to come in?” she inquired. 

   “No," I answered, “I just decided that I would like to speak to someone in person about this.” 

   “Oh,” she smiled sweetly, “No, no, you have to call the number on the card” 

   “I understand that’s what it says, but I’m already here and I would really like to speak to somebody.” 

   She again reminded me that the card specifically asked me to call. I tried to convince her that since I was already here perhaps someone could take a minute to discuss my situation with me. I really didn’t want to take ‘no’ for an answer. 

   I think at some point she realized that she could possibly be talking to a crazy person, so she calmly said “All right, come with me and we’ll have someone come down and meet with you.” She then took me around a corner, asked me have a seat in an empty cubicle and told me that someone would be with me shortly. I felt relieved. 

   I sat there alone for five or ten minutes looking around the cubicle which had a plain desk, the one chair I was seated on and a telephone. And then the telephone rang. It rang once. It rang twice and then, not knowing what to do I answered it. “Hello?”

  “Mr. Resnicoff?”, a man’s voice on he other end. 

   “Yes,” I replied. 

   “You have to call the number printed on the card.”

   Beaten! After all that they beat me! 

   But just as I was about to give up and go home I heard this sound coming from the next cubicle and as I stood up and looked over the divider… there he was… the man who was telling me I had to call. I was dumbfounded and just stared at him with my mouth open.

   Having been caught ‘red-handed’ he just shook his head, smirked, and said something like “OK, you got me. Come on over here and let’s talk”

   Victor Bonanno introduced himself and invited me to have a seat. Then, somewhat apologetically he explained that the reason that I have to call that number is that they have absolutely no tax records at this office. That’s all handled someplace upstate. He was reasonable and friendly and when I explained my situation to him his advice was, without knowing any details, for me to file as soon as I could because if there were to be any penalties they would be minimized. 

   It seemed like sound advice so I took out my certified check for three hundred dollars — and he panicked. 

   “I absolutely can’t take that from you. We don't handle any money in this office.” 

   “You have to!” I demanded. “You’re the IRS and I’m just following your advice.” 

   So after a bit of thought he said “here’s what we’ll do. I’ll take your check. ME, Victor Bonanno and I’ll get it into the system for you, today. Will that make you happy?” 

   “Yes” I replied. 

   And with that he opened the desk drawer and took out a piece plain lined paper (I recall the lines being about an inch apart like in kindergarden) and wrote me a receipt. It said something like: Received from Stanley W. Resnicoff the sum of $300 to be applied to his income tax. Signed Victor Bonanno and dated.  And that was that. We shook hands, I thanked him and I was gone.

   I went home and filled out all the tax forms I needed to the best of my ability and couple of months later I got an official refund for three hundred dollars.

   Thank you Victor Bonanno.





Wednesday, October 5, 2016

ALOHA NUI LOA (CONTINUED)

    So now that I had the US Government car firmly in my grasp ("for official business only") I
set out to get the materials to build my new home in the banana patch I'd 'rented'. First I figured that I'd need some big bamboo to use for the basic structure so I headed over to the Dept of Forestry and, after showing them my Official Government ID, told them I what I needed (I mentioned something about building playground equipment). They said they didn't have any big bamboo lying around but the best place to get some would probably be around their weather station at the top of Mount Tantalus. They gave me directions and also gave me a key to a locked gate that I'd need to use for the private roadway that led to the top. I had to promise that I'd bring the key back to them, which I did, both promise and bring it back, and I set out for Mt. Tantalus.

If you look closely you can see the incredible road that lead
up and down Mt. Tantalus
   The drive up Mt. Tantalus was as luscious and exotic as the name suggests with a road that any sports car driver would love. Near the top I found the gate and after opening the lock I proceeded up to the mist covered mountain top. Beautiful. The top was a veritable forest of gigantic bamboo trees, most too big for my use but some smaller ones would do, but the thing I recall the most was this wonderful musical clacking sound of the bamboo
trees rubbing up against each other in the wind. I don't remember how I cut and hauled the bamboo I needed down that road but I did and before I returned the key to Forestry. I stopped by a locksmith to have a duplicate made for myself, just in case I ever want to go back again. This was perhaps going to be a little more difficult than it sounded because stamped clearly on the key were the words: Property of US Government DO NOT DUPLICATE.

   The locksmith could read and as his wide eyes looked up at me, probably ready to explain why he couldn't make my key,  I had my Government ID out and ready for him, and without another word he proceeded to make my 'personal' key to the top of Mt. Tantalus.

   After I had procured the bamboo I wanted to get my floor off the ground since there were many life forms co-existing with me in the patch, most of them harmless (but large) insect varieties except for one species, the giant centipede which was poisonous. I generally like all insects but I put mosquito netting on my procurement list so at least I'd be fairly secure while I slept. 'Fairly secure' is appropriate as one night I jumped up as two giant 'things' ran across my face. I quickly got my flashlight and found two fist-sized spiders crawling on the inside of the mosquito netting. It took me a little while to get them safely outside, but I liked all those critters, so this is what I'd call a 'minor inconvenience'. 

   Anyway my next acquisition turned out to also be free...used airplane tires that were scattered outside Honolulu International Airport would keep my floor off the ground. I did have to purchase some wood flooring that I got from a used building materials junkyard and with the final addition of some rope and clear plastic sheeting (for a roof) I was ready for construction.


Here it is! VISTA, of course thought I was 'strange' but after Alaska this was 'cake'. You'll notice
there is a tiered roof. That was so the wind coming down the valley could blow through the roof
while the rain would cascade from the first tier to the second and flow off the roof behind my bed,
while I stayed  cozy and dry. And it actually worked, for a while....
   Now all this time I was working at the Curriculum Center at the University and learning about their programs and figuring out ways that could help. I was in charge of about twenty student artists/designers so the first steps were getting to know them and their skills and also making sure they had the tools and supplies they needed to do heir jobs.

   My boss, and head of all the creative services at the Center was Dr. Julius Yucker, Colonel, USAF, PhD. Ret., and as you can imagine, in many ways, we couldn't have been more different. Col. Yucker was military. Straight as an arrow, neat as a pin, wore a sport jacket and tie every day, had perfectly polished shoes, and hair short and probably trimmed to military specification. He had perfect posture. He arrived and left on time and was generally was the opposite of me.

   My dedication was to the specific project I was working on so there were weekends where I worked around the clock to get something ready for its deadline. This was 'normal' in the design world I came from. Everything else was secondary. I came and left when I felt like it (usually showing up late and leaving after everyone else). This was also Hawaii, man, so I never even owned shoes other than those rubber zoris, certainly no tie, and I guess my hair was a bit longer than military spec would suggest. And we really don't have to discuss 'straight', do we?

   Nonetheless, I was apparently doing a good job by the results that were flowing out of my department and although we had our superficial differences, Dr. Yucker and I liked each other, either that or we both found each other entertaining.  Actually everybody I met at the Curriculum Center was talented, dedicated and a pleasure to work with.

   One day, after a couple of months on the job, Col. Yucker called me into his office. "Listen Stanley", (I knew I was in trouble when people used my full name) he continued, I really don't care what clothes you wear, or the hours you keep, or how you comb your hair or the way you run your department." (What the hell was this leading up to I'm thinking) "I just have one favor to ask of you....(here it comes)...."just don't exaggerate!" Wow, my first thought was "I'm dead!". 

   Actually I was relieved that this wasn't something serious and I immediately agreed with him, but at the same time I knew that when I got excited about the possibilities of what we, the Curriculum Center, was attempting to accomplish, I knew that an optimistic view of the future could be misconstrued as an 'exaggeration'.  Anyway, as far as I was concerned, nothing had changed.

  And what exactly was the Curriculum Center about anyway? Well, it seemed that a lot of Hawaiian kids who graduated High School on the islands and who went on to schools on the mainland had the experience of being teased about their 'accents', their use of the English language. The Center's goal was to teach (introduce) kids (grades 1-6) to Language, specifically English, and was divided into three sections SKILLS, LITERATURE, and SYSTEMS.

   SKILLS was what it sounded like: developing the basic reading, writing and comprehension skills to communicate. What I couldn't fully appreciate at the time was that the Center was developing unique 'peer teaching' materials so that, simply put, kids could teach each other. If you've read my blog here called 'APPLAUSE' you'd have a glimpse of the kind of creativity these educators were developing. Today we'd call these materials
A Spelling Kit
'interactive'. The Curriculum Center was years ahead of it's time, and the materials were specifically targeted to the children of Hawaii. It was funded by grants from the "Great Society' of Lyndon Johnson, but where other school districts on the mainland might wind up with educators writing papers, the Legislature, Board of Education and College of Education at the University of Hawaii decided to do something concrete for the kids of Hawaii. It's not easy to know how visionary a project is when a) you're not an educator b) you've just spent a year living with the Eskimos and c) it's your first real design job, but looking back I believe the educators at the Honolulu Curriculum Center were way ahead of their time and were all brilliant.


  Now the people I was working with were almost all PH's with credentials in education up the ying-yang and while I had a degree in Industrial Design from Pratt, the truth was this was still my first job and I was a bit intimidated by their knowledge and position. That all changed when I was handed an assignment from one of the PhD's to look over and make some design suggestions. I asked a question or two and she shrugged them off saying that the materials were self-explanatory. It was Friday so I had the weekend to look over the stuff and when I spoke to her on Monday I told her that there were things that I didn't understand. "What do you mean?" she said, "It's self-explanatory!", as if not understanding it was somehow my fault. Well, I just smiled and said ok or something like that but while walking away I thought this PhD was just not that smart because self-explanatory means I have to understand it. So rather than argue specifics I went ahead and changed some of the instructions and the content to match the design I was proposing simply to make the experience more 'self-explanatory'. Making those kinds of changes was perhaps outside of my 'rice bowl' but when I handed it in and after she saw how well it all worked together, my stock went up a bit (just a bit) and I think my content contributions were perhaps accepted a bit more. I still screwed up enough stuff to keep me realizing I still had a lot to learn.

   My favorite division at the Center was the LANGUAGE SYSTEMS group. They attempted to answer the question: "Why do we have to learn language anyway?" The group, led by Dr.Ted Rodgers had a brilliant answer for those kids. It was "Because language is used in a million ways after school like... in popular songs, in advertising, in animal communication, in sign language etc. etc. and they developed full multi-media educational kits (with creatively written subject guides,workbooks, records, films, examples, audiotapes etc.) on those different subjects that the kids could explore, investigate and create with for a couple of weeks when that particular subject kit was in their classroom. Genius.

   Take ADVERTISING for example. The kids studied how language was used in ads and of course wound up writing (and drawing) their own ads, some of which were reproduced and
Book Cover
printed into the workbooks for the following years students to see. One of my favorites was "BUGS AND MUGS", one kid's ad for cups that came pre-printed with insects already on it, cause if you lived in Hawaii, you'd get the joke. And it was a great ad. We told advertising stories and gave kids an immersive experience that, again, I thought was brilliant. Here's some examples of the ads the kids developed:



'Bugs and Mugs' and 'The Right Bright Shoe"


   Or when we were working on the SIGN LANGUAGE UNIT, it just so happened that the first Boeing 747 was soon going to be landing at Honolulu International Airport. I don't remember who made the contact for us (everybody knew everybody on Oahu, or they knew someone who did) and so, on that great day, my Government car full of my design team was allowed to drive right onto the tarmac to watch the signal man bring that behemoth to a complete stop. We also got pictures of all his 'signing' commands for our book: check it out:



   And for ANIMAL COMMUNICATION we got permission to reprint and illustrate a current article from Psychology today on how Sarah, a chimpanzee was communicating with her human 'friends'. Great, great stuff.



   It's also pretty easy to see how these seminal experiences led me to have a pretty successful career as a designer of interactive museum exhibits and as a consultant to museum education departments developing 'kits' for places like The American Museum of Natural History, The Brooklyn Museum, The Bronx Zoo, The Detroit Institute of Arts and, by invitation, The Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC.


   So you get the idea: the Curriculum Center was a great place to work. When my VISTA commitment ended, they hired me as a regular employee and it was my first real paid design job. I made a lot of mistakes, but also helped develop some cool projects and work with some great people. The worst part of leaving VISTA was that I had to surrender the car, and surrender was the right word here. I've had a lot of cars in my life but that Government grey Rambler American was the only car I actually kissed goodbye when I had to turn over the keys.


  And my 'Banana home'?.... it was great for several months until the 'winter' (not to be confused with the Alaskan 'winter') came with its torrential rains and winds that drenched and shredded my 'home' (and me) back into the 'real' world, but by that time I could (just) afford a small place on the beach which, as everyone knows, is pretty much as good as it gets.

   One more thing. I now needed a car and remember those winding roads up Mount Tantalus....

ALOHA ! 










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