Posts Tagged ‘lighting’

Big Bird

Wednesday, August 19th, 2009

big bird lampWhen Sesame Street first aired in the fall of 1969 I was nine, a little older than the target audience. But I remember watching the show in our apartment in the Bankcroft Building on West 121st Street in New York City. If the Bankcroft sounds fancy, more often than not the elevator was broken and we got to ride the freight with the super.

There were seven of us living in a smallish 2-bedroom while my father got his doctorate at Teachers College of Columbia University across the street. When the front door was opened, the kitchen disappeared behind it. My parents slept on a pullout in the living room. To get some alone time I would read in the clawfoot tub for hours on end.

The college had a school for the children of graduate students. It was probably also some kind of weird 60s education experiment. The grades were combined—I think mine was 4th, 5th and 6th—and the classroom was often chaotic. It was taught by a team of two teachers, and at least one left (possibly drafted) and was replaced during the school year. Lester who took care of the gym tried to teach us how to pick locks. There was so little supervision that I went to the library two days straight to watch the Mets-Orioles World Series (they played in the daytime back then!) on the black and white TV way up on one of those multimedia carts. It was my dad who finally discovered me in there. Despite being a fellow Mets fan, he was not happy.

There was plenty of activity around the Columbia campus in 1969, but I don’t remember too much. I did write a collection of anti-drug poems and ran them off on a ditto machine.  To distribute my work, I placed the poems in pocket holders I had made of construction paper and put them up all over the college. My first self-publishing venture.

It was only a day or two after we found out Stephanie was pregnant that I spotted this lamp in the Salvation Army. And so Big Bird came to be the first object purchased specifically with this future soul in mind.

Since then we’ve acquired about a roomful of stuff–a changing table, a crib,  a bunch of plastic gates, a stroller, a thing that rocks the baby, another changing table, something called a pack and play, two car seats. Steph’s mom gave us a super cute stack of gently used baby boy clothes. There are toys, and a bookshelf full of children’s books. Thankfully, most of the items came from various friends who had babies not so long ago.

It’s an impressive collection of things for someone not born yet. I’m thinking of having a yard sale to lighten his burden.

Random question:  Both Woodstock and Sesame Street are 40 years old this year. Which has had a greater influence on our culture?

Flashing Lights

Wednesday, August 12th, 2009

flashlightWe had a sky full of lighting the other night. Right above us it threw a pinkish glow, flashing sideways across the clouds like giant illuminated eyeball veins. Each time it lit us all up on my neighbor’s back deck, garish electrical  fragments in the corners of our retinas that were subliminal memories almost before it happened.

On the horizon it was pure white, coming in frantic bursts, like mute bombs going off behind the distant mountains. All to a soundtrack of incidental thunder mumbling indolently now and then from its celestial orchestra pit. I left Josie and Bennett’s and walked two doors down to my house to grab the laundry off the line. As soon as I got inside, the wind swooshed through the darkened trees and the rain began its patter and the lights started to flicker. Everything died down within a few minutes and the power stayed on, but I cast an eye at the flashlight on my desk waiting to be featured as a thing of the day this week.

The label reads Ray-O-Vac Stainless Steel and is attached with sturdy rivets. Inadvertently keeping with the French theme running through the last few posts, Ray-O-Vac used to be called the French Battery Co. Located, of course, in Wisconsin. Check out Mister Ray-O-Lite from 1920, a combination of a genie, a sperm and a lighting bolt. (Reaching for new heights in corporate blandness, the company has been known as Spectrum Brands, Inc. since 2005.)

This particular flashlight is long and it looks like a device conceived to burn through batteries. And in fact the invention of the flashlight goes hand in hand with the invention of batteries, right at the turn of the century before the latest turn of the century.

It’s called a flashlight because the earliest ones only flashed on for a few seconds at a time. You can read more about flashlights at the Flashlight Museum. It’s run by a guy who “acted as an expert witness in 6 flashlight litigation matters.”  I don’t know about flashlight law, but in movies, the authorities use dogs and flashlights to chase escaped convicts through the woods and/or swamps.

I always seem to have one or two flashlights around, but they never
contain any batteries, or the batteries are dead. I picked up the latest
one at an estate cleanout I did recently because it had a spare industrial
look. It’s nice and light with no batteries. It takes four “D”s, which are pricey and would probably be dead anyway by the next time I might need a
flashlight.

I imagine mostly only super organized people and survivalists have flashlights handy and ready to go these days. My guess is they favor the ones with the big square battery. The last time I really used a flashlight with gusto was camping out as a kid in the backyard—piercing the vaguely mysterious summer night, projecting a yellow-green halo on the tent wall, flittering its beam up beyond the trees into the darkness of the sky.


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