Driving Around Looking at Big Things While Thinking About Spam
Graduate Thesis, in conjunction with the show "Domesticated", University of Kansas, April 2001
It seems like I've lived my life on Highway 50.
Hwy. 30 to 50 outside of Lawrence, KansasStarting out again on the same highway. Grandma and Grandpa always called the road I grew up on 50 Highway, flipping the normal wording. I suppose you'd call them hillbillies (2), but that's such a derogatory term and it more accurately describes the dialect. They both taught school - Grandpa taught for just a bit when he finished High School at a one room schoolhouse around Clarksburg, and Grandma taught as a profession. Mom did the same. In kindergarten that's what I said I'd be. I spent the rest of school and High School and undergrad trying to not do that. Then, after becoming an art prostitute (Graphic Designer) and not liking it much, I decided to go back for one more degree and teach on a college level.
Mile marker 142. Why the hell am I mapping this?I hope I didn't miss my turn.
Oops, in Newton - need to see where to go...Sonja (my older sister by two years) found Grandpa's letters to Grandma from World War II. The stories my sister and I remember were about his buddies and packages from home, and what he missed about his fellow soldiers of the 355th infantry. None of us had ever seen the letters before, and they were such a different voice than what we expected from my Grandpa. They were warm and tender, defining the extent of his capacity to love and to cherish. The communication (7) I remember around them emanated from the television. Who changes the channel? Grandpa seemed more attached to it, but Grandma used it at the end of her life for background noise. Radios and murmurs, creating a crowd in the living room.
Now where - the World's Largest Grain Elevator is here somewhere, butI think I'll move on. How 'bout Dodge City - or maybe... yeah, Dodge City.Seems silly to be positively nostalgic for or about the 80s, but for some reason I associate 80s music with being in the car, visiting Dad wherever he was stationed that summer, and having a new life for a few months. (OK - I'll stop driving and write - I need coffee anyway and I'm in Hutchinson. The Cosmosphere is closed because I always seem to pass through in the dark, so I'm at an AMPRIDE in front of the attached restaurant named RESTAURANT). One of my students asked me what it was like to grow up in the 80s. I think the actual words were "I bet it was really cool being a teenager in the 80s." When ranting about the comment later, it was pointed out that most of my current students weren't born until 1980 or after. Well, to answer the question, it sucked. I was a loser geek with no ability to put on makeup or get my hair really high (frontal claw bangs and the sagging dog ear sides that take a long ritual of spray, brush, spray again). I didn't date because it was a small town and if you're labelled a 'freak' early on, you're socially doomed. But summers were great. No status quo, no paranoia about social cliques or standards, a new life each and every time. A new place with no history. Change. All the other parts I try not to think about.
Between Mullinville and Dodge City, KSI thought the sun came up at 6am, but I suppose I'm wrong. I've passed through Greensburg three times, and am now watching the moon go down. It's huge and orange and looks like it is deflating rather than setting - it shifts and squishes like a slow computer trying to refresh its screen...
Wow - looked up and I'm in Lacrosse...... home of the Barbed Wire Museum, Big Ball of Barbed Wire, and Post Rock Museum. Of course, it's closed (just like last time - out of season) but the ball is outside. Its not really all that impressive, but I do want to see the barbed wire museum someday.
Now it's 9:33 and I'm trying to decide if I want a shot of the Big Ball or not...I just remembered how I made myself fall asleep the second time last night. I was thinking about how Grandpa used to move through the house. He stood on my hair once while feeding the fireplace. He didn't sit in comfy chairs. He preferred sitting at one dining room chair while leaning on the back of a second dining room chair, boots off, table to his right, blue and chrome ashtray at the ready. That's the position I remember most vividly. The other picture I have is riding with him in the big ol' Chevy Silverado, grey with an MFA (Missouri Farmers Association) logo on the side, propane tanks, vinyl seats, dusty, dirt and muck and yellow paper. Anything that entered the truck automatically yellowed and antiqued. I loved the smell. It was a warm comfort smell. I pieced it together later: cigarette ashes, old mouldering whiskey, and the sweat smell that only alcoholics exude. It didn't have any negative connotations to me at the time - it was just Grandpa's truck smell.
Cawker City, KS. Home of the World's Largest Ball of TwineIn a conversation with Uncle Glenn, I came up with an observation directly resulting from primary experience reasoning. He was talking about a documentary examining the effects of high power lines on a small farming community. The residents were politically active and empowered, conducting experiments and collecting data, hiring analysts, making charts, all of which failed to prove their hypothesis (even though you can make statistics say whatever you want them to say - pro or con, it's all in the skew). Their goal was to prove the damaging effects of high power lines on living things in the area. One piece of evidence was the difference in growth rates and densities of flora in the area spanned by the lines, but the tests still weren't providing proof. I thought about fence rows and clothes lines and other suspended linear elements and said "Well, that's where the birds sit. Of course its going to be greener and more diverse." That was the only thing I've reasonably deduced from my own observations - everything else I have read somewhere or seen on TV.
Alton, KS. Birthplace of Russell Stover.I wonder about the descriptor "Birthplace" as opposed to "Home". How many little towns out there claim the birthplace of people, but were never able to supply the "Home"? And how many famous people had to move on and make their 'home' somewhere else, but are held captive by the roadsigns announcing their birthplace?
Back home, in Lawrence, KansasThese trips take me home. 'Home' doesn't mean the ending point, and it certainly doesn't keep a stable mailing address. 'Home' is in the sparks of memory that take me back to a strong past, remembering strong people who were dealing with uncertainty and fear while sheltering their offspring and their offsprings' offspring from the uncertainty of the world.
Footnotes and Works Cited
1. Kitsch - Kitsch refers to the LOW-ART artifacts of everyday life. It encompasses lamps in the shape of the Eiffel Tower, paintings of Elvis Presley on velvet, and lurid illustrations on the covers of romance novels. The term comes from the German verb verkitschen (to make cheap). Kitsch is a by-product of the industrial age's astonishing capacity for mass production and its creation of disposable income.
The critic Clement Greenberg characterized kitsch as "rear-guard" art - in opposition to AVANT-GARDE art. Kitsch, he observed (in "Avant-Garde and Kitsch," published in Partisan Review in fall 1939), 'operated by formulas... It is vicarious experience and faked sensation. It changes according to style, but remains always the same. Kitsch is the epitome of all that is spurious in the life of our time." He defined kitsch broadly to include jazz, advertising, commercial illustration - all of which are generally regarded now as POPULAR CULTURE rather than kitsch. Although Greenberg's definition of kitsch is overly expansive, his analysis of how it operates remains apt. Today kitsch is most often used to denigrate objects considered to be in bad taste.
Attitudes toward kitsch became more complicated with the advent of POP ART in the early 1960s. What had been dismissed as vulgar was now championed by individuals who were fully aware of the reviled status of the "low-art" objects of their affections. This ironic attitude toward kitsch came to be known as "camp," following the publication of the essay "Notes on 'Camp'" by the cultural commentator Susan Sontag in Partisan Review in fall 1964.
Obscuring the distinctions between low and HIGH ART was key to the repudiation of MODERNISM and the emergence of POSTMODERNISM. (Atkins, p. 109)
2. Sojourn - To dwell in a place as a temporary resident or as a stranger. A temporary stay. (Webster's)
3. Pathetic Art ...Pathetic Art is not a STYLE but the embodiment of an attitude that rejects the model of the MODERNIST artist's quest for the heroic sublime. Self-depreciating and emotionally cool, pathetic artworks reject the familiar notion of art as a quest or journey in favor of settling in the psychic terrain of failure and ineptitude. In 3-dimensional works this attitude is often expressed through the use of cheap materials or shoddy craftsmanship; in 2-dimensional works it tends to be embodied in a preference for cartoonlike drawings over the more status-laden format of paint on canvas. Examples include Cary S. Leibowitz's "loser" line of mugs and T-shirts; Candy Noland's Chicken in a Basket (1989), a shopping basket filled with a flag, a rubber chicken, and beer cans. ...Mike Kelley manages to straddle the divide usually separating these two approaches through his use of pathetic FOUND OBJECTS (often children's soiled stuffed animals) to create sometimes unnerving works about the reality of children's lives and childhood sexuality. (Atkins, p. 140)
4. Communicate - n - 1. To impart; convey; as, to communicate a disease. 2. To make known; as, to communicate a secret. v.-1. To partake of the Lord's Supper. 2. To hold or afford communication, to converse; also, to be connected; join; as, rooms that communicate. (Webster's)
5. Simulation ...A simulation is a replica, something false or counterfeit. The terms simulation and simulacrum are virtually synonyms in current art parlance. Although simulation can accurately be used to describe a forgery or the reenactment of a newsworthy event, in the art world it usually refers to the POSTMODERN outlook of Jean Baudrillard and other French thinkers whose beliefs became influential in the late 1970s. Baudrillard asserts that we can no longer distinguish reality from our image of it, that images have replaced what they once described. Or, in the SEMIOTIC language of "The Precession of Simulcra," published first in the September 1983 issue of Art & Text, "It is no longer a question of imitation, nor of reduplication... [But] of substituting signs of the real for the real itself." Responding to the new technology that facilitates the endless reproduction or cloning of information and images - television, facsimile machines, even genetic engineering - Baudrillard suggests that the notion of authenticity is essentially meaningless. His work poses the questions: What is an original? And where do public events leave off and the flow of images representing and interpreting them begin? Baudrillard's line of reasoning dovetailed with some artists' concerns about the meaning of originality at the end of the MODERN era, an epoch that had placed so high a premium on AVANT-GARDE originality. Artists such as Sarah Charlesworth, Clegg and Guttman, Peter Halley, Barbara Kruger, Sherrie Levine, Allan McCollum, and Richard Prince - and critics writing about them - often referred to Baudrillard's notion of the simalucrum. Many of these artists are associated with APPROPRIATION, and self-conscious use of images culled from art history or POPULAR CULTURE. During the mid-1980s the term simulationism was briefly popular. (Atkins, p. 169-170)
6. HILLBILLY A back-woodsman or mountaineer of the South. (Webster's)
7. From Thelma Sappington's memorial service, June 6, 2000. Rev. Frank Whitney, speaking. ...but I have to confess to you as odd as it sounds I do enjoy the times of the memorial services, the funerals. Because its there you get to listen to families talk about their loved ones. Talk about stories gone by, days gone by. And this was a delightful family that I got to share with. A family I didn't know, I only knew Thelma. But they shared a story that I hope I can weave in to a closing today. A story of days gone by when telephones managed to work with a ringer that you could spin, and party lines, and you had a ring. You remember those rings? Thelma's ring was one short and two longs. Is that correct? She taught her children that when it was time to go, she would pull up and honk the horn one short and two longs, here come the Sappington kids. There was a bell outside their home and she would ring the bell one short, and two longs. Here would come the Sappington kids. Anytime they hear a short and two longs, well, here comes the Sappington kids. In Thessalonians there's a passage of scripture written that says "I would not have you to be ignorant, brother, in concerning those which are asleep." And the writer of Thessalonians tell us that "those that are asleep in Christ are going to live at that day that he comes again in the Eastern sky." Now that Thelma will be a part of that great resurrection hope, I just wonder today, if when ol' Gabriel blows his trumpet, if it might not be one short, and two longs. And he'll gather in those Sappington kids.
8. Grandma said that the only time she ever gotten a 'D' was when Grandpa was courting her. We found that out when we were cleaning out the house in McGirk after Grandpa died.
9. A salesman goes door to door, selling his wares. After an afternoon of rejection, he knocks on the door an elderly lady, who hasn't had anyone to talk to since her children moved away and her husband died. She eagerly accepts the salesman into her home, and tells him to make himself at home. While pitching his amazing product, he snacks on a bowl of peanuts, obviously intended for guest consumption as they were on the coffee table nearby. At the end of his selling spiel, he realizes that he's eaten all of the old lady's peanuts. "I'm terribly sorry, ma'am. I've eaten all your peanuts." the man says. The lady replies "That's alright. I can't eat peanuts with these dentures, so I just suck off the chocolate ."
10. LP history - Lawrence Paul Cook the original grew up with Grandma, Lawrence Paul Cook the Second was beat up and terrorized by mom, and Lawrence Paul Cook the Third was my playmate (punching bag). Differentiation between them in conversation was handled thusly: (eldest to youngest) Lawrence Senior, Lawrence Paul, and LP. I gave LP the nickname that is now his e-mail address - LPC3PO. He got married in Collinsvillle, Illinois, home of the World's Largest Bottle of Catsup.
11. At the 74th Annual Sappingtons of America family reunion, held in California, Missouri, I attended a Sunday dedication of a new headstone for an ancestral civil war soldier. On the way to the cemetery, I found out that we were to be honoring a confederate veteran, and the group heading the dedication ceremony was the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Usually after a dedication ceremony, the group of reenactors will stick around for recruiting, looking for anyone interested in "...perpetuating the ideals that motivated your Confederate ancestor." During the ceremony, the Pledge of Allegiance to the Stars and Stripes was followed directly by the Pledge of Allegiance to the rebel battle flag. The text was conveniently reproduced in the bulletin. You had the option of not pledging, but as I looked around me, not only did the majority of the crowd (my blood kin) join in, but they had no need of a printed reminder of the words. I edited together a video of the highlights of the reunion (Confederate dedication included) and sent it to my Aunt and Uncle in Fresno. They were surprised and shocked, and at the reunion the next year (when Uncle Richard brought back a biohazard bag from the emergency room with his fingernail in it for me, 'cause it was my fault he dropped the telephone pole on his hand, breaking his finger and popping off said fingernail) they had a new set of filters through which to observe the seemingly innocent interactions of our relatives. (SCV)
12. Cal's Thriftway - owner Cal Gerlack Cal owns everything in California now - grocery, liquor, laundromat, car wash, rental properties, even the California motel. I worked at the grocery store from 1989-1991, first as a checker, then in the deli. When I was a senior in High School, he built a huge motorized shopping cart (possibly a World's Largest) for annual parades. The cart comes complete with large groceries and a place to sit in the baby/purse/produce section, up near the handle. Being one of only two markets in town, family members would come in regularly and stop by to chat a bit. One day, Aunt Mildred, Uncle Edward, and Grandpa all came through the store at different times. I was in the deli at the time, and as I saw each one I'd ask how they were. They all answered (mind you, separate incidence and times, same day, same place) with one word each. Uncle Ed said "Old", Aunt Mildred said "Slow", and Grandpa said "Tired".
13. Cawker City's Twine-A-Thon : 3rd Saturday of August. There's a gift shop now at the World's Largest Ball of Twine, and according to the lady there Ripley's did try to buy the Cawker City ball for one of their museums, but the people of the town knew better. There's only so many ways a town in the middle of Kansas can manage to attract tourists. So the Ripley's people had to settle for the big faker plastic ball of string, currently residing in the Branson Ripley's Museum. She was glad to hear about the other ball in Darwin, Minnesota and didn't seem to hold any animosity.
14. Pink Pickled Eggs (Time Life Picture Cook Book)
1 cup canned beet juice
1 cup cider vinegar
1 garlic clove, crushed
1/2 bay leaf
1/4 tsp. ground allspice
1 tsp. salt
freshly ground black pepper
Hard cook eggs; plunge into cold water and shell immediately.
Put eggs in quart jar.
Combine remaining ingredients and pour over eggs.
Cover, cool and refrigerate overnight or at least 8 hours.
World's Largest Things
PO Box 101
Lucas, KS 67648-0101
| Home | | Store | | World's Largest Things | | Schedule a Visit | | Become a Member | | CV |
copyright and trademark 2003 Worlds Largest Things and ERNCO Value Added Products