Belated Birthday Post: Coulrophobia

This year, I spent my birthday (two weeks ago) in Poland, where I saw an old mailbox (above) but missed the annual birthday tradition where I get to post something random with no contextualizing at all.

After a few days in Poland, we passed through Czech for a wedding, where I was crushed to find that the National Jo-Joo Circus has already left town:

Belatedly, in this spirit of circus arts and birthday randomness, I present to you this video on Coulrophobia, where a woman’s anxiety at facing Mr. Giggles is offset somewhat by the comfort of her stuffed sheep Parsley:

Where Amazing! Means Ordinary

Next week, I’m making my standard pilgrimage back to San Francisco. Only this time, I’m scrambling for accommodation, having apparently overstayed my welcome at the usual crash pad (long story, but it doesn’t include any episodes of vomiting or trafficking exotic animals this time). As a result, I’ve been thrown to the ravenous clutches of, which has been a fairly scandalizing experience:

• First off, the prices people are asking for their dorky studios seem like the crazed ravings of madmen to me. Now: I have been gone awhile, so it’s quite possible that I’m being a naive country field mouse about this. Nevertheless, some of these posts do make me yearn for a jeep full of vigilante Taliban to cruise around the Mission and punish demonstrations of heedless greediness that offend Allah’s sight. The above listing for the $300 sofa, for example, includes this gem:

The couch is a two-piece, so one tall and one short person can sleep. Blankets provided.

Well, then. What about if I try to stack three short people on— does that cost extra?

(Could this— and other posts like it— be a hoax? If so, the author is a comic genius)

• My main grievance is not the price but the fact that people can’t be bothered to update the goddamn calendars that are supposed to indicate when the sublet is and isn’t available.

This means that you’re constantly making bookings that you have to wait a day to find out have been refused. The whole vibe of snooty time-wasting makes the experience feel like a virtual counterpart to the 10 minutes spent waiting at the Beauty Bar for some too-cool-for-school mofo bartender to deign to serve you. And basically makes me start to wish I’d picked someplace to go for my vacation. Let’s just move on…

• If I’ve learned anything useful from this experience, it’s that the word ‘Amazing’ apparently means Absolutely and totally nondescript with nothing whatsoever to recommend it when it’s followed by the word ‘Apartment’ in the English language. As in ‘Amazing Studio at 16th and Mission!’.

In fairness, I have to say that the most insanely histrionic claim I’ve come across during this search was not on but rather in a listing for the San Francisco Guest House:

I mean… OK, so…. exaggerations are par for the course. But would it surprise you if the person who wrote this simply burst into flames on the spot?

So, anyway: see you soon, SF. Me and my short companion await our stay on your magic, separable couch.

In-The-Way Man

Last night, I had the chance to catch up with a friend who’s recently found work after a long bout of unemployment. Here’s his account of his new gig:

“Yeah, I got a job as In-The-Way Man at this new bar that opened on the Kollwitzplatz. You know how every bar has one guy who’s constantly in the way any time the bar is semi-crowded? This new place needed an In-The-Way Man, so I work there a few nights a week when business is good. Right now, I’m just getting in the way a few nights a week, but I hope to work my way up to working the door after a few months of this. It’s not bad: easy work… just not very challenging, and you have to be on your feet most of the night. Only when things are really crowded can you grab a seat and still get in the way.”

In-The-Way Man seems to be a burgeoning new career choice in today’s urban environment of increasingly-crowded bars. While In-The-Way Men often lack prior experience, academic institutions have begun offering two year programs in Getting In the Way.

In-The-Way Man should not be confused with Halfway Man, who is defined by a propensity to eat half a sandwich at a time and wrap the rest up in his pocket for later, or Line-Bifurcation Man, who specializes in walking into situations where people are queueing in a single line for two bank machines and creating a new line in which he conveniently happens to be the first person.

A Social History of Jamaican Album Covers

My latest Smashing Magazine rant is up: A Social History of Jamaican Album Covers.

The intention was to write something that’s enjoyable if you’re a fan of the music, interesting if you’re not a fan, and validating if you hate the music. Accordingly, my favorite twitter comment so far was when somebody wrote, “This looked totally obtuse to me at first, but then I realized it’s actually well-executed.” High praise indeed!

Culinary Update

Last night, I had my first-ever sip of Diesel. Diesel is the widely-reviled popular German drink that involves an equal mixture of beer and coke. Actually, it tasted just like root beer and didn’t offend at all. This taste experience posed two unsettling questions: (1) What exactly is root beer, anyway? and (2) What if it’s not as distinctive as we imagine it to be?

Mysteries of Czech Language: Diminutive Fever

Though I’ve left the Czech Republic for Germany, I feel obliged to keep up America’s favorite ongoing blog series, The Mysteries of Czech Language.

Czech language has a built-in structure where you can form diminutives from just about anything. A waitress at our favorite Prague restaurant seemed to have a nervous disorder that compelled her to use them constantly and ask me things like if I want ‘another little beer-y-poo.’ But the system of forming diminutives is applied most exhaustingly to children’s names: Zuzanna becomes Zuzka becomes Zuzinka and so on.

One couple we know had a daughter and named her Justina (like Justine, but the Ju sounds like ‘You’). Via the diminutive system, she’s most frequently called Justinka, like ‘you-STINK-a’. It’s almost impossible for me not to laugh every time I hear this. I try to keep a broad mind and remember that it sounds perfectly acceptable (a touch exotic, even) in Czech. But it just sounds like a corny set-up for one of those old ethnic humor shows, like Life With Luigi:

Hey-a. I come to America and everyone says, ‘Hey… you stink-a! And I say, ‘No, it’s-a not me. It’s my baby.’ And everyone says, ‘Oh, what a poor baby. She’s such a pretty girl. What’s her name-a?’ And I says-a-to-them ‘Justinka’. And they get angry and a-punch me in the cucalabanga! Hey-a!

While we’re here: my friend recently posted photos from his vacation to a small town in the Czech Republic, Lazy. He reports that there is also Horni Lazy nearby (Horni = high).

And: there is a phrase in Czech that sounds exactly like this: ‘FUCK YO?!’ It means, ‘Oh, really?’ and Czechs say it all the time. Just so you’re forewarned.

The Curious Case of J. Jitters

In case you’ve been reading along and worrying about whether I’ve found a workspace here… fear not, it’s been taken care of. I’m currently based out of the Berlin game studio Kunst-Stoff, where I sit at a makeshift desk set up in the office kitchen, pumping out my mellow blend of adult-contemporary design. Kunst-stoff (the name is a pun on the German word for ‘plastic’… also means ‘art-stuff’ the way they’ve spelled it) is an independent game development company started by my friend Patrick. I’m permitted to squat in their kitchen in exchange for about five minutes per week spent proofreading the English translations of their press releases.

If you ever get a chance to swing something like this, I can highly recommend any situation where you’re surrounded by people who are busily working on something, but where you have no professional connection whatsoever to whatever it is they are working on. In this case, whatever it is they are working on is an iPhone/iPad game called Pudding Panic that was released to the iTunes store a few weeks ago. The game’s premise–- described on game’s web site as ‘An anxious little pudding is trapped in a scary ghost train!”-– has earned the company highly positive reviews with titles like “Pudding Panic redefines weird“. If you like iPhone/iPad games, you should definitely check it out. I do not like such games (my feelings about gaming are discussed in this post about the Sims)– I bought a copy of the game to be a good sport, but have yet to install or play it.

I am quite smitten, however, with the game’s main character, a perpetually-shivering plate of jello named J. Jitters. Jitters seems ready-made for franchising and stars in a series of clever trailers for the game.

Also, I was interested to learn that Pudding Panic has climbed near the top of sales in the respective iTunes stores of a number of countries, including… Jamaica! This got me wondering about what the other best-sellers might be in Jamaica that Pudding Panic would have to knock off to take the top spot there:

  1. Mount Zion Picnic: scale the lofty heights before Babylon gets there and opens its picnic basket of roast mutton and other unclean foods.
  2. Super Haile Selassie Brothers 3: the year is 1973 and there’s a palace coup to put down! Throw barrels on the heads of your would-be usurpers as they attempt to climb up ladders to the top and wrest away your crown!
  3. Michal Rose vs. Zombies: Michal Rose’s coffee farm is under attack from Matthew Wilder and other pretend-reggae-musician zombies. Defeat the zombies or else your rhythms will appear on Solid Gold next to Marilyn McCoo.

Not the New Identity For The Jewish Museum

On Tuesday, I took a train to Prague to personally chaperone my final proposal for the Jewish Museum identity redesign to the museum administrators. My proposal did not win. In fact, I got the phone call from the museum’s PR department while I was still on the train back to Berlin the next day.

I don’t know much about the selection process other than that there was a committee of 17 doing the voting on five proposals, and that one of the other four was apparently selected (I’ll be curious to see what this looks like when it’s formally announced in a few months, presumably). In any case, it was an honor to partake in such an interesting project, and I’m happy with the proposal I came up with…


Form is based on the top of the Maisel Synagogue and is also meant to reference a Hanukkah Menorah

Czech version

Schematic showing proportions (this isn’t important to show…. I just like these)




Wayfinding system:

These are three icons out of a total of seven– there was also a proposed system for signage. The actual proposal was 12 pages long, in fact– this is just a partial sampling.

I Am Looking For Freedom

I’m so up on being in Berlin right now that it’s annoying even to have to hear myself thinking about it. Yesterday when I started biking home from my workspace, the trip began with me standing on a sidewalk waiting to hop into an adjacent bike lane that was so packed with bicycling Berliners that it took me a full minute to actually get a chance to merge the flow of traffic. What heaven.

The one thing that’s really bugging me is being behind the Great German Internet Wall. If you don’t know about this: youtube blocks just about any video content that any large corporate entity has a copyright claim to, due to an ongoing dispute over royalties with something called GEMA (details here). As a result, the youtube experience here contains an awful lot of this:

Wanna watch the most enjoyable clip on all of youtube, Sts’ Rolling Stones parody? Not in Germany you won’t. Or, say, the Matthew Wilder Solid Gold clip I did the short running blog to a few weeks back? Same story. You have to wonder if Germans as a group are going to turn into the national equivalent of that kid you went to grade school with whose progressive parents didn’t allow him or her to watch TV and so didn’t understand basic pop-culture tropes and was forced to try to fake it in order to get by.

Grim as all this is, it’s given me an idea for an alternate revenue stream in case this whole graphic design thing falls apart. My plan is to use my connections to get to Prague– that land of freedom and civil liberties to the east– where these youtube clips are still legal. Then I will set up a video camera in front of a computer monitor, record various videos with shaky camera work, and finally transfer them to VHS tapes that I will smuggle back into Germany and sell from under a bridge someplace in Kruezberg. Banned videos from the internet! I will surely be able sell each one for literally dozens of Deutsche Marks.