Monday, July 16, 2007

1.36 - The Lost Carousel

MONKEY ISLAND, DECEMBER, 1990 - One of the biggest crimes perpetrated against the good people of Monkey Island was committed not by common thieves, but something far worse: Public officials acting in the supposed common good.

To wit: A treasured roadside attraction, a small, family-owned amusement park, cherished in the memories of numerous generations. Property values were skyrocketing on the island in the 1990s, and the owners, long past retirement age, sold the land to commercial developers who wanted to put an auto-parts store there. All well and good, as most of the outdoor rides were somewhat dowdy, but when the owners announced plans to sell their treasured antique carousel, there was an outcry among the generations of now-grown children who'd ridden it, who'd brought their own children to ride on it, and had hoped to bring their grandchildren there as well. Worse still, the ride would not be sold as a unit, but was to be taken apart and auctioned.

The shame of the world today is that such an item as this carousel is worth more in pieces than as a whole. The hand-carved horses alone (41 of them) were expected to fetch tens of thousands apiece. Then there were the two chariots and a lion, as well as the original organ. It was a great moral dilemma for the owners, who were already past retirement age. They were seen to be squeezing as much as they could from it, yet, isn't that what an asset is for?

Local officials jumped at the opportunity to suck up to the public's goodwill and condemned the carousel, paying the owners a pittance whilst promising to 'restore' the ride and open it to the public at another location.

But it certainly didn't seem to be in need of 'restoration'. It may have been a bit run-down, but it was almost 90 years old, you'd expect it to be run-down; that was part of its charm. Yet, however run-down it was, it still ran fine, up until the day they closed it, took it apart, and carted it away.

No progress on the 'restoration' has been reported since at least 1997.

1.35 - Elf Service Laundry

MONKEY ISLAND, AUGUST, 2002 - Specialty shops abound here on the island. When catering to the tourist dollar, it's wise to have plenty of variety. There are Italian restaurants, English pubs, Irish bars, and roadside diners. There are Kebob take-out stands, dirty-water dog carts, pitarias, and sno-cone stands. We've got the Gap, Old Navy, Banana Republic, as well as more T-shirt shops than Key West. And as required by law there two Starbucks located on every other block, each on opposite sides of the street.

And those are only at the ferry landing.

Then there are the laundries. You see, our unusual laws prohibit residents from placing washing machines in their homes. The reasons are arcane, and lost to history, and most people feel it's better that they take their apparel out to be cleaned. But that need for variety remains, so mere Laundromats don't suffice; Monkey Islanders want choice.

So there are hand laundries and dry cleaners, and regular laundermats for the obsessive-compulsives who can't have anybody touching their clothes, and even a 'green' dry cleaner, who doesn't use the usual chemicals.

But if islanders are particular about how their clothes are cleaned, they're even more particular as to who does the cleaning. There are Chinese hand laundries and French dry cleaners, all-American coin-op laundermats, and drop-off laundromats. (The difference in spelling is the result of another arcane law here. If you want to wash your own clothes you go to a laundermat; if you want someone else to clean them you drop them at a laundromat.)

But the ultimate specialty service has to be the business pictured above. This is where Monkey Islanders of smaller stature bring their clothes to be cleaned by even smaller people. Obviously of limited appeal, it's the only one of its kind here.

Truly a market with no potential for growth.

1.34 - The Walking Crows

MONKEY ISLAND, OCTOBER 1986 - It's never a good thing when a creature makes it to the endangered species list, and it was a dark day when Monkey Island's famous Walking Crows were declared to be near extinction and placed under federal protection.

A dark day indeed, for the Walking Crow has been long considered to be just about the most annoying animate object around, and eliminating it from the face of the earth has long been the goal of many islanders. The birds being placed on the endangered list would only make this task harder.

Some background: Like kudzu to the American South, like mesquite to Texas, like Martha Stewart to the east end of Long Island, the Walking Crows are transplants from another land. They are descendents of the famous ravens that guard the Tower of London, brought here as stowaways aboard a ship of Sir Walter Raleigh in the early seventeenth century. Ah, I can hear you say, but aren't the tower ravens wingless because their wings are clipped? Because if they fly away, the story goes, "the Tower will fall, and with it the Crown."? So are these 'walking crows' not just common ravens that someone's taken a scissor to?

Well, yes and no.

It was only one pair that made it here, and they bred a few times, hatching normal raven chicks, except that the first pair of nestlings never learned how to fly, being that their parents had no wings, and so couldn't teach them. Subsequently the later (inbred) generations not only never learned to fly, but their wings, over the course of more than three centuries of inbreeding and nonuse, became nothing more than feathered stumps. Because flying was unknown to them, they had evolved away the means necessary for it.

In return though, the birds developed very strong legs, a loud screech and ready willingness to fight. Most of these birds are able to jump upwards of four to five feet vertically, and the inability to flee unpleasant situations leads them to be unafraid of most confrontations. In short, they are a major pain in the ass here on the island.

As flightless birds go, only an ostrich has a meaner disposition, but with an ostrich the anger comes only if provoked. The walking crows seem to spend every waking moment hopping around, pissed off at the world. But flightless, and about the size and shape of a football, make them an attractive target to those whom they chose to display their wrath. Retaliation, in the form of a swift kick, is what has led to the thinning of the population, and the subsequent protection laws.

This may be an island, but it isn't always paradise.

1.33 - His Other Car

Monkey Island is full of colorful characters, harmless loonies, and the occasional homicidal maniac. We actually have more than our share of these characters, naturally, given the type of lifestyle followed here. Tolerance of the alternate ways that people pursue their goals has always been the rule.

Our reputation for alternate ways of life, our semi-tropical climate, our dependence on the tourist dollar, cheap rum, all combine to form a society where lunacy is normal, and normal is seen as odd. (Which also means that if 'normal' is 'odd', then 'lunacy' is 'odd'. Hmmm...better delete this paragraph...)

No one embodies this spirit more than Ralph Icebag. A real mensch, he's one of the island's richest people, though to see him on the street you'd never know it. Seen here traveling on his secondary mode of transit, you'd never guess that he's really an able-bodied man of fifty-five. He just loves that scooter.

He's also the owner of the island's only used car lot, where he sells only Rolls-Royces. (Rolli-Royci?). But don't say the word 'used' in his presence; he claims a unique status for these status symbols, he considers that their actual owners never, in fact ever drove the cars to be very special. This led him to coin the term "PrePossessed", which if nothing else, makes for an arresting sign.

As for his bumper sticker, most folks just consider it silly.

1.32 - Barber the Elephant

MONKEY ISLAND, JANUARY, 1987 - It has been speculated that if you sit one hundred monkeys in front of one hundred typewriters for one hundred years, eventually they will reproduce the greatest works of literature ever known to humankind. Or they'll spend all that time throwing their feces around, and beating the hell out of one another with the machines. Not matter what they do, the room is sure to stink to high heaven before long.

We've never tried that experiment on Monkey Island, though if we did, my vote would go for the latter event to occur. What we do have though, is a unique place known as the Elephants Barber College.

This is the place that young, career-minded elephants attend in order to avoid the otherwise mandatory service in the circus, not at all unlike those young men who sought student deferments during the Vietnam War. Of course, most people realize that elephants are completely unfit to serve as barbers, considering that it is impossible for them to operate a pair of scissors, given their lack not only of opposable thumbs, but opposable nostrils as well.

Oh but they try, as do their instructors. It isn't easy teaching a two and a half-ton pachyderm to wield a three-foot straight razor with his trunk, nor is it very safe. Students and teachers regularly wind up in the infirmary, and something as simple as a shaving cut very often ends up with someone bleeding to death.

1.31 - The Lagoon Creature

MONKEY ISLAND, APRIL 1986 - Every exotic location has its mysteries, its legends, its folklore and myths. Scotland has the Loch Ness monster, the American Northwest has Sasquatch, the pine barrens of central New Jersey are the reputed home of the Jersey Devil. And Westport, Connecticut, of course, has Martha Stewart. All unique to their areas, although the Sasquatch and Martha have been sighted as 'Bigfoot' in many other locations.

Monkey Island is no exception, since being a strange and unusual place is one of its attractions. If it wasn't, none of us would be here. (Although some of us are here as a result of probation requirements.) And like Loch Ness, we have a famous aquatic creature that shows up on occasion.

The Monkey Island lagoon is a rather dreary place, one that seems to be sheathed in a perpetual fog, regardless of the outside weather. Dampness permeates the air to a degree beyond mere humidity: A visitor is soaked to the skin within minutes of arrival. This is a place listed in few guidebooks, and even the locals try to avoid it when they can. But the Lagoon Creature, for lack of a better name, draws its share of curiosity seekers.

Like 'Nessie', our creature is elusive, and, as a result, has never been photographed very well. In fact, the creature moves so fast that it's hard to tell just what kind of animal it is. Photographs are largely inconclusive, the thing darts about so quickly that no one has been able to capture a sharp image, and the inhospitable conditions of the area render most cameras unusable after only a few minutes. The pictures that have been made are universally bad, especially since they are taken mostly by over-excited amateurs using cheap disposables. The only really good pictures are the ones that have been faked.

And since the hoax pictures are the ones most commonly seen in tourist brochures, we instead present here one of the better of the many true pictures made over the years. It shows the creatures entire body, and is one of the few that document its ability to fly. However, the overall blurring of the image still leaves questions lingering as to the identity of the beast. Guesses have ranged from a mutant swan to the headpiece of the Flying Nun.

1.30 - No Jogging

MONKEY ISLAND, OCTOBER 1993 - There are a lot of health fanatics here on the island, but not a lot of places for them to work out. Sure, there are health clubs, but runners have a problem finding places to pursue, well, whatever it is they're chasing. Our school system is too small for a high school (after sixth grade students are ferried to mainland schools) so there's no track for runners to use.

Jogging in the streets, however, is not a good idea, given the questionable driving skills of many islanders (see Postcards 1.2, below). So, as it seemed many runners were eventually winding up there, a lot of people started taking their constitutionals in one of the local cemeteries. The placid, winding roads rarely had traffic on them, the trees provided adequate shade, and there were even plenty of faucets for refilling water bottles.

But, as with most things on Monkey Island, this practice soon got out of hand. Running clubs were being formed, and weekends were sometimes finding hundreds of joggers descending upon the graveyard. Runners were finally banned after an informal track meet was held, with the featured race being the 400 meter hurdles.

I'll leave it to your imagination as to just what they were using as hurdles.

1.29 - The Dog's Life

MONKEY ISLAND, AUGUST, 1990 - Dogs are a big part of life on Monkey Island, every man worth his salt has a dog, and a smart dog at that, one that's been trained to do more than just fetch the paper.

A good, smart dog makes life much easier for everyone.

Smarter, well-trained canines, along with some rather broadly interpreted labor and motor vehicle laws (given the questionable territorial status of Monkey Island), have led to a native group of dogs here unlike any other. These are intelligent, well co-ordinated puppies who can actually do serious things, like drive tractor-trailer trucks short distances, making local deliveries. Being dogs, their understandably short attention spans make long-distance assignments impossible, for now at least, but breeders are working on this. A breakthrough in that area would open all sorts of possibilities.

Here we see one of a number of inner-city drivers along his route. Not much distracts these dogs from the task they're assigned, bred as they are to have little in the way of peripheral vision.

1.28 - The Butterfly Migration Festival

MONKEY ISLAND, SEPTEMBER 1999 - The annual migration to Mexico of monarch butterflies was extraordinary this year, unsurpassed by any before. Being located at approximately the second third of the southward journey, and blessed with the common milkweed plants they subsist on, Monkey Island finds itself the last ditch layover for the tired and hungry orange beauties as they flutter their way to their winter residences.

Since we don't have the guaranteed weather of more southern resorts, Monkey Island draws its tourist dollars with fairs, celebrations, and so-called "appreciation days."

And so it is that the Butterfly Migration Festival is held at this time of year, to coincide with the usual week-long or so layover of the butterflies. Most of these butterflies are only on the island for, tops, three or four days, but, since the the monarchs arrive in a staggered fashion over a period of days, the tourists can be here for a fortnight or more, even longer if the beer holds out, all the better for the economy. 

The Migration Festival begins around the last Friday in September and runs till the second Monday in October. Hotel space is at a premium, so make your reservations early!

1.27 - Problem Graffiti

MONKEY ISLAND, FEBRUARY, 2002 - Graffiti is a big problem here on the island, yet, our lifestyle is so laid-back that even elected officials have a hard time taking anything very seriously. Which can make enforcement of this quality-of-life crime somewhat problematic, given that so many artists live here, and so few of them consider the decorating of building walls to be criminal. In fact, the entire fabric of Monkey Island's society was founded by so many of the artists whose tags adorn public buildings, that prosecuting them would most likely lead to total anarchy.

Take Governor Stefano, for example. As an avid muralist and professional housepainter (given that the governorship is only a part-time position with a token salary, he has to make a living somehow, and a token is worth only a buck-fifty in these parts) he has accessibility to the materials and scaffolding which allow him to make his presence known. Given too, the limited number of houses to paint, he finds himself with lots of time on his hands

The Governor likes to let our citizens and visitors know he keeps an eye on things, no matter what or where those things may be. A lot of folks here compare him to George Orwell's Big Brother, and, although he was first elected in 1984, the similarities end there. In fact, the only thing they have in common is that they're both fictional.

The building that this mural covers is actually the governor's own warehouse and campaign headquarters; the fact that he has reformed himself from being a nuisance artist was the cornerstone of his original election drive. Located on the only road leading into town from the ferry landing (see Vol. 1, No. 3) its also one of the first things visitors see.

1.26 - Above Ground Burial

ALLSORTS CEMETERY, February, 1982 - People live life to the fullest here on Monkey Island, and death is a subject most don't wish to dwell upon. For many, in fact, the standard sets of rituals involved with death are considered strange. Native islanders prefer to think of dying as the release of the soul, and don't understand why the body is placed in a confining box, which would prevent it alighting from its earthly base.

Similarly, the idea of burying the body, thereby keeping the soul trapped not only in a box but further complicating matters by being placed underground, is totally unacceptable; so the only way around these beliefs are with cremation or above ground burial.

Cremation is popular, for the smoke and scattering of ashes insure the departed a safe journey. Others opt for above ground burial.

Of course, 'above ground burial', as done on Monkey Island, isnt burial at all, nor does it imply the accepted practice of placing the casket in a vault inside a mausoleum, since that would still be keeping the soul trapped. Here on
Monkey Island the term 'above ground burial' is taken quite literally; a cemetery plot is purchased, a stone is carved, and the deceased is laid to rest. As pictured above.

Of course, this means that no more than one person can be laid to rest in a particular grave, but on the other hand, it's a lot easier to find a particular loved one, and there's no doubt as to how much room is left in the family plot.

1.25 - The Zipper

VILLAGE GREEN, JULY 1987 - Every year the traveling carnival comes to Monkey Island, and every year the maintenance crews spend the week afterwards cleaning vomit from the midway of the fairgrounds. Why? Well, one reason, aside from rancid cotton candy, is this bit of masochistic entertainment.

The Zipper.

Not content to simply lock its riders in a small cage and spin them around in a circle, no, the Zipper spins its riders along an oblong rail, and then SPINS THAT RAIL IN A CIRCLE! In the opposite direction. So while the cage you're in moves, say clockwise, the rail that the cage is attached to moves COUNTER-CLOCKWISE! At an estimated speed of more than seventy miles per hour.

Needless to say, this ride is kept very far away from the food stands, and all riders are required to sign a release.

1.24 - Fireworks Factories

MONKEY ISLAND - JANUARY, 2002 We have a lot of interesting businesses here on Monkey Island, some uncommon, and some that are downright weird. Weird, like, the EZ Bake Oven Factory. No, it isn't the place where EZ bake ovens are manufactured, it's a snack food company, and everything they sell is made with EZ Bake ovens.

We haven't cornered the market in sanity here, but we are closing in on the market for low-wattage light bulbs. And tasty, bite-sized cakes. MMmm, MMmm! Little Debbie, watch your fanny!

One of our less weird, yet still uncommon, industries is the Monkey Island Firework Factory. Founded at the turn of the nineteenth century, the Factory is located in a series of interconnected warehouse and loft buildings on the west side of the capital city. The area is a virtual labyrinth of loading docks, testing grounds, manufacturing facilities, taverns, smoking lounges and elementary schools. The vastness of the property insures that a proper safety inspection hasn't been made in many years, at least since the Harding administration. Even then it wouldn't have mattered, since the territorial status of the
Island has been in dispute since the mid- 1800's.

But gosh, the wastestacks put out such a pretty display, all day and all night.

1.23 - Telephone Box

MONKEY ISLAND, OCTOBER 1986 - There are several of these 'authentic' London telephone boxes located around the downtown tourist areas. A lot of cities and villages looking to cash in on their Q-factor (Q, in this case meaning quaint) have purchased these from the 'authentic' City of London, England.

How do we know they're the real McCoy? Well, the bottoms are rusting out on most of them, the paint is peeling, and the glass panels leak. (A lot of the glass was damaged in shipping, and the cost of replacement is astronomical.) They were also wired for the European phone system, so it costs an average of $1500 each to re-wire them with American fiber optics. Finally, most of the doors refuse to stay closed. As well, most native Monkey Islanders dearly love their cell phones.

In such a state, how could they be anything BUT the real thing? And, as pictured here, like children on Christmas morning, the faces of the tourists make it all worthwhile.

1.22 - Ghosts

MONKEY ISLAND, September 1986 - Not everything is as it seems, not here, nor anywhere. Ghosts are abundant here on the Island, everyone acknowledges their presence. However, it is possible to over-believe, and this photo is proof positive.

Looking quickly one might assume that they're seeing a photo of two ghosts, but closer inspection would show there to be one ghost, trailing alongside a live person. Can you tell one from the other? Hint: Only the living cast shadows.

1.21 - Antique Postcard

MONKEY ISLAND, Early Twentieth Century - Before its incarnation as an accidental resort for residential tourists, Monkey Island had a sordid reputation as an offshore haven for knitting factories and other parts of the garment industry.

This hand-tinted postcard from about 1910 shows the front of the notorious
Handel-Schwemer-Kaplowitz shoe factory. The owners of this company were well-known for their psuedo-benevolence in hiring only people who had lost one or both feet in industrial accidents, which were very common at the time.

Crippled as they were, employment was hard for them to come by, regardless of their skills. H-S-K was not only able to hire them for a cheaper rate, but was able to do so with an air of good will.

You may have guessed the third advantage for a shoe manufacturer hiring employees with missing feet. The rates of employee theft were miniscule.

1.20 - The Multitasker

MONKEY ISLAND, OCTOBER 1986 - She might look like just another street entertainer, but there's more here than meets the eye. For this woman is a groundbreaker and she doesn't even know it.

Not many people realize that the ability to multitask, highly praised in business, actually began with street performers here on
Monkey Island.

Look closely at the picture.

She's playing a tin whistle, with a marionette on each arm, and another puppet operated with her foot. A pure example of multitasking. Additionally, though you can't tell from the photo, she's insulting the tourists under her breath!

1.19 - The Drive-In Movie Museum

MONKEY ISLAND, JULY, 1991 - Welcome to the Monkey Island Drive-In Movie National Historic Site, a fine example of your tax dollars at work. An actual abandoned drive-in movie, it is meticulously kept in a state of permanent overgrowth. Although the speakers and their poles have been removed, and cars can no longer navigate the lot, a number of automobile benches, as pictured here, dot the landscape.

They're all back seats, too.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

1.18 - The Robot Cat

MONKEY ISLAND, AUGUST 1988 - There is no scientific explanation for it, except to credit it to advanced artificial intelligence. The search for the ultimate cat, one that would combine both mousing and birding abilities, coupled with the intelligence of a standard-bred cat and the obedience and loyalty of an average Golden Retriever. Breeding such an animal was out of the question; electronics had to be the answer.

Artificial intelligence and the most advanced bio-mechanical animatronics are joined together to create the ultimate pet: RoboCat 2002. An incredibly lifelike simulation, it manages to mimic everything about cats, specializing in arrogance. From insisting on, then ignoring various gourmet foods (ingesting anything would, of course, destroy the circuitry. Conversely though, food must be placed in front of it twice a day, or else it will walk figure eights around your ankles while meowing for ninety minutes. There is no way to override this mode; in fact, the power supply compartment door locks itself shut), to expectorating artificial hairballs (actually very fine wire and excess battery acids, these are far superior to feline hairballs in that the battery acid insures destruction of any surface).

Robot cats are available in most breeds. However, technology limits the choice of eye color to the red/orange family. It is hoped that later generations will offer more natural eye color selection, though for now it's handy to be able to tell these cats apart from biological ones.

1.17 - The Palace Gates

MONKEY ISLAND, OCTOBER 1986 - The gates of the Imperial Palace of Monkey Island, which lead to the parking lot for the convention center of the same name, have an interesting history.

The convention center was originally built as an automobile factory for General Motors' Cadillac division in 1968. Although that plan fell through halfway into the project, the Cadillac logo remained prominent on the front gate. The factory building was abandoned for many years as several buyers took possession with plans for attractions such as a multiplex movie theater, television broadcast facilities, a community college, and even a 500-chair barbershop (Absolutely, Positively NO Waiting.)

Although that last idea may seem far-fetched, the first group to book the building after its conversion to the Imperial Palace of Monkey Island Convention Castle was none other than the Midwest Brotherhood of Baptist Barbers.

(Just for the record, there has never been a royal family or anything of that ilk here.
Monkey Island is run as a corporate entity by a duly elected board of directors. Thats right, it's a co-op.)

1.16 - Lavender Chevy Nova

MONKEY ISLAND AUGUST 1987 - Just as you can't blame the child, you can't blame the car, so don't even start. You can only blame the parent, the name on the registration, for this poor, lost child. Some allegedly rational person said, "Yes, I want it in THAT color."

It was parked on a main road, as if it wanted the attention, as if it needed it. At least it was clean, though a bit worn; a tad dog-eared at the doors even. But it had its pride: the nameplate was still there, secure and true. The hubcaps were in place, at least the two street-side ones were. And the color accent on the wheel rims - this auto's parents may have been misguided, but they at least had an innate sense of design.

1.15 - Parked Benches

MONKEY ISLAND NOVEMBER, 1988 - One of the advantages to having Rudy Giuliani as the Parks Commissioner here was the firm regimentation he brought to the job. Though his attitude often clashed with the more laid-back ways of the natives, it did lead to the island having the best park system of any quasi-autonomous federal island territorial state in the hemisphere.

One of his innovations is the concept of cleaning the woods on alternate days. The picnic tables are removed three times a week, and vacuum trucks scour the grounds of trash, loose dirt, and slow-moving wildlife. A lot of parks workers squawked about having to drag the benches back and forth to the parking lots every other day, but the comments from visitors about how the dirt looks so clean makes it all worthwhile.

What people often don't notice as well is how each tree has had any leaves that may have fallen during the previous days replaced. This not only keeps the trees looking fuller, it eliminates the possibility of any lawsuits arising from visitors slipping on wet leaves.

1.14 - Surfrider

FERRY BEACH, FEBRUARY, 1998 - Simple exercise is the best medicine, simple, basic workouts. Walking. Perfect exercise. Bicycle riding. Great exercise. Walking in sand is a fabulous way to build up your legs, especially your calves. Swimming, some people say, is the ultimate full body workout. (I disagree with that. I think swimming is just a way to keep from drowning.)

Combining these activities is a passion with some islanders, though the results can be less than spectacular. Bicycle riding in the sand is a skill that takes much careful development. Here we see one resident who miscalculated the depth of the powdery sand and is having a go at it through axle-deep drifts. This is a great way to build up the quads, and severely strain the hamstrings.

1.13 - Waiting for Lunch

, JUNE 1998 - There are two kinds of cats on Monkey Island, mousers and birders. Well, okay, there are three kinds of cats, but the lazy-assed sleep-on-the-radiator all-day kind doesn't figure in this story.

Having a good mouser is a blessing, for here on Monkey Island a mouse in your house is about as common as Budweiser on tap at the American Legion. Most cats learn to mouse at an early age. Real birding is a talent only the strongest and surest undertake. After all, while any kitten can catch a sparrow, the real problem on the island is the indigenous pigeon population. A cat that goes after them is a valued addition to any family.

Here we see one of the islands best birders, bar none. Cookie may not be the toughest of names for a cat, but his moniker is the result of his method. For this is a cat that has learned not only how to catch these big birds, he's learned how to entice them as well. For as you can see, Cookie spreads breadcrumbs on the sidewalk as a kind of bait, then waits behind a nearby fence for his meal.

1.12 - Andy Warhol's Cat

MONKEY ISLAND, FEBRUARY, 1987 - Not well publicized was the fact that, just before he died (and possibly a leading cause), Andy Warhol spent some time on Monkey Island. He really didn't care for the place and departed after barely a quarter of an hour, complaining of a gallstone attack. But being the prolific artist that he was, he was able to create several pieces before he left. Here we see one of his silk screenings of a well-known local cat, Batman.

1.11 - No Picnic

MONKEY ISLAND, May 1989 - I know, I know. It's a picnic table, and it wears a sign that says you can't have a picnic there. What can I tell you? That this is where you go when your day at the park is no fun?

The truth of the matter is, with his need for unilateral control, Rudy Giuliani didn't last too long as Parks Commissioner on Monkey Island.

1.10 - Village Fire Patrol

MONKEY ISLAND, July, 1986. - Always diligent, ever vigilant, we can rely on the boys of the Monkey Island Fire Patrol to be constantly on the lookout stuff.

1.9 - Chasing Sunset

MONKEY ISLAND, August 1998 - Some Monkey Islanders look to the west at the close of day, their eyes hungrily taking in the sunset, trying for a glimpse, if it comes, of the fabled green flash as the sun drops below the horizon.

Others prefer to mark the end of day by looking to the north, or, as pictured here, the south, to watch the magic line of twilight race across the sky. The dusk forms a magnificent arc, embracing the last bits of daylight and chasing the sunset off into the night. As if in a time-lapsed film, the darkness soon overcomes the light.

Although best viewed in person for its etherealness, the phenomenon can be seen somewhat in this photograph. Click on the image, set your browser window to full screen, and step back a bit from the monitor.

Squinting may help a bit, too. Maybe take your glasses off. Or, put someone else's on.

Oh, hell. It works for me....

1.8 - Flamingo Sunrise

MONKEY ISLAND, April 1986 - The officially recognized national state bird of Monkey Island is, of course, the plastic lawn flamingo. Popularly thought to be indigenous to the area, it turns out they occur as naturally as French toast does in Nice.

The first nesting pairs were imported from an extruding facility in
Taiwan sometime in the 1950s, when the birds were stretching their spindly wire legs across much of the western world. Trouble was first noticed on Monkey Island in the late 1960s, when the population of the birds was threatening to outnumber humans by more than three to one. The complacent attitude of the islanders led to the plastic birds taking over both houses of the national government for the better part of a year. (1970-71) It was only after the election of Don Featherstone as Prime Minister in mid-1971 that islanders finally took action.

Not one, but two hunting seasons were declared. The first, running from August 1st till February 29th, allowed the taking of two (2) flamingoes per hunter per day, with the stipulation that the weapon be an automobile. The second season ran from March 17th through July 23rd, with the required weapon being lawn darts.

Although property damage was substantial, by early 1973 the
flamingo population was at more manageable levels. The pair pictured here are trophies displayed on a resident hunter's front lawn.

1.7 - Birdwalk: Key West

MONKEY ISLAND, July 1998 - The restaurant industry has been accused of late of aiding in the fattening of Americans by increasing the size of meal portions. I actually heard this on NPR. Here on Monkey Island, our economy is partly based upon helping the restaurant industry do just that. Increasing the size of portions, that is, through genetic mutation and manipulation of animals. Not the gaining weight part. If you're worried about gaining weight, just don't eat so damned much. Ask for a doggie bag. I also heard that on NPR.

Many years ago
Monkey Island began funding biotech labs for the purpose of expanding the realm of science and technology to just beyond the outskirts of town, enough that we don't have to worry about neighbors or zoning... Well, the purpose was mentioned in there somewhere. Anyway...

The labs are located on outlying islands, and the only contact natives and visitors have with the products are with the occasional escapee, as pictured here. This, for example, is actually a chicken.

An oversized, featherless chicken such as this would supply the average Olive Garden or Applebee's menu for at least two days: grilled, baked, deep-fried, Caesar salad, chicken salad, whereas an average-sized chicken would make up only about two orders of the misnomered Chicken Fingers appetizer. With a fowl this big, hotels and institutions, schools and hospitals, can make enormous amounts of chicken salad. Imagine your Super Bowl party with chicken wings the size of a human arm.

Those powerful wings, in fact, are what enable it to fly here from the neighboring islands. This has been a problem for the managers at the labs, as birds captured on the main island are not necessarily returned straightaway. Given their size, these birds would feed an average family of thirty-six for, well, a meal. A family of four, conversely, would have the remains rotting in the yard in a week. Of course, many folk here just enjoy the thrill of the hunt, and there is an informal catch-and-release program, as well.

Special thanks this week go to my dear, wonderful wife, Sherry, who is a REAL good sport. (And who does a mean chicken imitation.).

1.6 - Opening a Golf Ball

, June, 1987 It's the sort of thing every kid tries to do; and, while most succeed without incident, others have been lost through the inter-dimensional portal located within certain golf balls.

It's the sort of thing one never expects. One moment you're slicing through the outer cover, cutting your way through the wound rubber strands, when suddenly....

Well, it's not known what happens after that, as no one who has done it has ever been heard from again. It sure does seem to be one helluva trip, though, judging by this photograph, a self-portrait of local caddy Nick Larson as he apparently cuts directly into the core of what turns out to be an inter-dimensional golf ball. The camera, found in the ruins of his apartment, contained a full roll of film, with this as the first (and only) frame exposed.

Nick has not been heard from since, and, as of late 1995, his caddying job was still open.

1.5 - Tony Vera, The Comic Fireman

WASHINGTON SQUARE PARK, September, 1985 - A street performer sets a spectator on fire as the finale of his act. The crowd goes wild, and fills his fire helmet with cash as it's passed around the fountain. An improbable event? No, just a regular weekend happening in the park. I know, I was there.

And he didn't really set anyone aflame, that's just your eyes playing tricks on you. Shot with a 200mm lens from a distance of only about 75 feet away, all planes-foreground, midground and background-are compressed together, so it only seems like the gentleman with the crossed ankles and folded arms has burst into flame.

I love shooting people in a crowd with that lens. You can get so close and intimate from far enough away that no one feels conscious of the camera. It leads to a more natural, more relaxed photograph. Being amidst a street performance was wonderful; I could shoot without restraint, since no one was paying attention to me, and I could pretend to be shooting the show. Which I was doing as well.

Tony Vera was a great performer, and eating fire (or more spectacularly, spitting fire), was only part of his schtick. He balanced bicycles on his chin, he balanced metal folding chairs with small children in them on his chin. He told jokes. He riffed on the crowd. He had about forty-five to fifty-five minutes of material, and through the hierarchy of the group of weekend performers in
Washington Square at the time, he was a headliner. He even had an opening act.

Tony moved to the west coast not long after this picture was taken. Since then he's been doing his act on weekends in
Venice Beach. He's got a website, and a myspace page, neither of which have been tended to in some time, and are a something of a mess, so I won't bother putting any links here. That's what Google is for.

1.4 - Ocean Club Reflections

LONG BEACH, January 1998 - We had been hit with a midwinter nor'easter at just about the worst possible time: high tide during the full moon. The waters crested in the boulevard dead-ends on most blocks, but because of the winter berm formed at the normal high tide line, most of the water that had run up the beach remained pooled on the shore after the storm tides went down. I had to walk several hundred yards to the west in order to get to enough dry sand leading down to the surf line. Then I trudged several hundred yards back east in order to take the picture.

The building in the foreground is the main lifeguard shack for the city, behind which is the Ocean Club condo, built on the framework and shell of the only remaining structure from Long Beach's heyday, the Nassau Hotel, known to later generations as the Promenade. It stands on West Broadway at
National Boulevard. An interesting note: During 1999 (a year after this picture was made) all the balconies on this building were redesigned and replaced because the originals (which were never part of the 1920s hotel) had deteriorated to a degree that strips of siding were peeling off and blowing down the street.

1.3 - Waiting for the Monkey Island Ferry

MONKEY ISLAND, March 1998 - It's not a ferry in the conventional sense, but little here on Monkey Island is conventional. With no docking space anywhere on the island, about the only way to arrive here is by washing ashore. Or one may experience the adventure of the ferry to the mainland, aboard a surplus WWII amphibious landing craft called the S.S Lancelot Link.

A slow morning finds a lone commuter dozing on a bench near where the boat will appear out of the mist, hurling itself through the breakers, and crashing to the shore like a beached whale.

Every hour on the half-hour.

1.2 - Driving School

, JUNE 1998 - There are several ways to reduce your automobile insurance and remove points from your license. One way is to sell the car, cancel the insurance and polish your shoes, or or get yourself a job in IT at the DMV.

While the latter is risky, failure likely to result in some criminal penalties, the former is a very healthy solution. Being Americans, ( i.e., lazy, looking for the easy, enjoyable way out) many people go for a third option: the opportunity to have dinner (and drinks!) while listening to tedious lectures. You then get a certificate attesting to your increased cholesterol levels to send your insurance company and state DMV, and you're down two points.

Or you can be like me and keep putting it off until the points expire all by themselves.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

1.1 - Geese Crossing

MONKEY ISLAND, June 1998 - The migration of the Canada Goose has begun. Pictured here a family of seven migrates from the north side of Merrick Road to the south, apparently having befouled the north side to such an extent that even they could no longer deal with it.

Cars patiently wait out the birds, since federal environmental law prohibits mowing them down, as most people here would like to, given the birds' fondness for demonstrating the expression 'like grass through a goose'. (There is also a state law prohibiting motorists from mowing down photographers.)

Canada's filthiest export, yet protected by law. Perhaps this is why we only give them eighty cents to the dollar.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Greetings and Wecome

(What follows is the introduction to the original 'Postcards from Monkey Island' website):

Ever since I first printed business cards with the words "The Monkey Island Graphics Company, Ltd." on them, I have had people asking me just where
Monkey Island is. The truth of the matter is, I have no idea. I just liked the way the words sounded, like something out of a Road Runner cartoon. "A subsidiary of the Acme Printing Company", perhaps.

Of course, if you type 'Monkey Island' into a search engine, say, Google, for example, you will get back 830,600 hits. That is not a typo. 830,600 sites, most of them dealing with a trilogy of video games made by LucasArts (yes, THAT Lucas) called The Secret of ; The Curse of; and Escape from Monkey Island.

I understand it has something to do with pirates.

Monkey Island is also a curiously popular name for real estate developments, of all things. Oklahoma has a Monkey Island, as does Louisiana. The one in Louisiana also has a (federally subsidized) ferry. In England, just down the river from London, is Monkey Island. (Bray-on-Thames, Maidenhead. This one boasts a four star hotel.) Monkey Island is a children's book by Paula Fox. It was also the title song from the 1977 album by the J.Geils Band. (I hadn't even heard of J.Geils in 1977!)

And here I thought I was being so original.

I first began using the name in 1981, at least, that was the year the words were first printed on anything. As I wrote in the original introduction to the email versions of these cards:

"...It was in late November or early December of 1981 that I sat down with rapidograph in hand to create my first holiday card, a tradition that has endured and evolved through this day. (Some of you may have even been on that first list.) I lettered a poem by Shel Silverstein called 'The Peace Proposal', added a small drawing, and printed them up after hours at my job. I needed a name and a logo for the back of the card--I wanted them to look legit--so I drew a two and a half inch high figure wearing an apron. So much for the logo. Now for a name.

At the time I was reading a Kurt Vonnegut anthology called Welcome to the Monkey House. Well, "monkey" was nice, but "Monkey House Graphics" didn't sound right to me. Living as I do on Long Island, I realized that 'island' would go nicely. Thus, in a moment of rashness and stress, The Monkey Island Graphics Company, Ltd., was born."

This website evolved out of that weekly email which was sent to a group of friends. As with any mass emailing undertaken by a lone individual using Microsoft products, there were problems. Some people would get the message and the attachment, some would get nothing. Some would get the text, but not the picture. Some would receive everything, and still not get it. (I have no solution for them). Some would notice that they'd never got one or two from past weeks, could I forward it to them?

It was making me crazy. So when the opportunity to start a website came along, I was primed. Now I just have to send a simple text message containing a link to the page and I'm done! I update the page once a week or so. If I add any other goodies, I'll let you know in the weekly reminder. The best part, however, is that if YOU think someone else should see this, you don't have to forward an email. Just send a link.

Well, for now, that's all. Let me say, "Welcome to Monkey Island. Glad you could make it!"

Neil J Murphy
Long Beach, New York
August 4, 2001