Now that I live some distance south of the place where I spent most of my life, I find myself travelling a lot to visit friends & family and keep up with colleagues and contacts in the north. I sometimes fly, but if I have the time I like to take the drive. Driving is very relaxing for me – I get to chill out a bit, ruminate on the world and listen to all those podcasts for which I never seem to be able to find the time in my regular life.

Plus, I get to stop at truckstops for a bacon & egg roll and a chance to view the appalling, yet somehow grimly fascinating phenomenon which I call ‘Condom Art’

I don’t know if you ever see them anywhere other than truckstops (I never have) but the bathrooms always come equipped with a dispensing machine for condoms, and those machines are decorated with the most hideous advertising artwork known to humankind (and truly, that’s saying something).

Ah, the sexual vistas promised by those images: the Evening Magic of a desert island tryst or wild Rugged ‘n Ready adventures with a windblown gun-totin’ bikini clad cowgirl. I can’t help but envy the dashing lives of the truckers that buy these colourful super-studded latex wonders.

But brace yourselves! I’ve started off tame, dear friends, because the night is young.

Maybe a dusky native seductress peering from the pandanus is more your style? Or perhaps a rough ridin’ tousled biker chick with thigh boots? Whatever the choice, make sure you throw some ‘texture’ in there!

One thing I hadn’t known until I started paying attention to these artworks, is just how considerate truckers and travellers evidently are to their lady friends! It’s not just the ribbed condoms that your $2 will tempt from the machine: ‘Arouse her inner fire’ with ‘a ring of stimulating fingers’ promises Passion Plus! And prepare to be arrested for disturbing the peace if you use the Screamer (earplugs not included!). My goodness. I might have to sit down for a minute.

But my favourite by far has to be this:

No aspirational promises there – just a formidable medieval-looking device on a strident bilious yellow field. In yer face truckers! Ah, I am joyful with glee at all the wonderful things in this ad. First of all it’s called The Tingler, which immediately conjures up all kinds of confronting images. ((Good advice from William Castle there: “Don’t be alarmed – you can protect yourself!”)) Then it has the advantage of being able to glow in the dark because… well then you won’t lose your way, right? And I don’t need to tell you that ‘Boldy glow where no man has glowed before’ is the very pinnacle of advertising slogan achievement, second only to ‘In space EVERYONE can hear a Screamer!’ (I seriously don’t know how they missed that one).

I am humbled in the face of genius.

♩♫ One of these things is not like the others,
One of these things just doesn’t belong,
Can you tell which thing is not like the others
By the time I finish my song?♬ ♪

Did you guess which one, boys and girls? Did you say ‘herbal teas’?

That’s right! Herbal teas are just teas made from herbs and all the other things are made from BULLSHIT! Do you know what bullshit is, boys and girls? Bullshit is the stuff that comes out the of the butt end of a bull! Yes – bull poo! Hahaha. Isn’t that funny! But it’s not half as funny as believing that magic water or dirty shoe inserts or hot wax in your ear will make your life better. Aren’t some people just so silly?


*This sign spotted on a recent trip to Port Fairy, in the far south of Australia.


A little while ago, Violet Towne and I drove up to Sydney as we sometimes do. It’s about a ten hour trip and we’d usually make it in a day, but this time we decided to break it by leaving on Friday night, driving for a few hours and stopping on the way at at a motel at which we’d made an online reservation. To save the proprietors from embarrassment, I’m not naming names, or even putting a pin on the map, but suffice to say the place we chose was a sizeable establishment in a largish country centre with more than enough reason to know what constitutes modern expectations of hospitality. Somehow or other I ended up on their mailing list. I’m not really sure how this happened, as I’m usually fastidious about not handing out my personal email address unless it’s absolutely necessary. I suspect that they got it through the online booking form, even though I opted out of any email ‘notifications’ as I always do.

Whatever, I know they now have my details, because this morning I got a cheery update from them, espousing the wondrousness of their restaurant’s new menu. Viz:

Bonzo’s ((Name altered to protect the innocent.)) Restaurant & Bar has recently launched the new menu with brand new dishes created by Head Chef, Hattie Bonilla ((Ditto.)) and her team with an emphasis on The Grill. The Grill has a big variety of steaks in all sizes and cooked to your liking with your choice of sides and sauces to provide you with the ultimate meal.

Then follows what we must assume is meant to be a pictorial representation of ‘the ultimate meal’ (completely unaltered from how it appeared in the email):

Oh, my absinthe-addled one-legged maiden aunt. Could they possibly have made something look any less appetizing? This must surely be the best example I have ever seen of what NOT to do when photographing food. Here at the cusp of the visually hip 21st Century I find it almost impossible to believe that anyone could achieve anything quite so awful unless they actually set about it intentionally. Why, even the average iPhone meal snap looks tastier (and more professional) than this.

These two blobs of anonymous meat cuts, flanked by iridescent plasticized broccolini and a smear of… what is that – industrial sealant? Baby poo? – served up on a medical specimen tray and bleached out by a blinding flash of light on a morgue table are less a depiction of a tastebud temptation than a snap from a crime scene. And for Christ’s sake – how about a second shot to at least get the whole thing properly framed? It’s not like it will cost you anything!!!

Violet Towne has been on holidays visiting me in Hollywood, and while she was here we took the opportunity to visit The Edison, one of the many cool nightspots that can be found in the great big sprawling City of Angels. The Edison, located in downtown LA in a former power station called the Higgins Building, promises a flashback into times when electricity was still a novelty, when the in-crowd dressed for a night on the town, and when cocktails were serious business rather than fluffy concoctions of gaudy alcoholic lolly water.

I read about The Edison over a year ago and it seemed like exactly the kind of place I’d find time to hang out, if it was half as good as it sounded. The club styles itself as a remembrance of things past – an antidote to the crass modern pickup joints that most nightclubs have become. The article I read emphasized The Edison’s draconian dress code: make an effort pal, or get your ass kicked back to the cheap margaritas and watery bourbon up on Sunset.

The Edison is dedicated to a resurgence of Old World style and sense of romance that once dominated Los Angeles Nightlife. Thus, innovative, sophisticated and cultured attire is required. We will always strive to more quickly accommodate those whose style and imagination suit the environment. Our door has sole discretion with regards to enforcement of our dress code.

Fair enough! This is not something that daunts either myself or Violet Towne, and so, dressed in our best retro 1900s contemporary fusion we headed off downtown to see what the best of the best had to offer.

True to the form of door bitches from here to Bullamakanka, the guy with the clipboard in front of The Edison was brimming with attitude. There was no way he was going to get us on dress code, so the best thing he could come up with was to ask for our ID. What? We’re being carded? I haven’t got the foggiest idea what this was all about – there’s no mistaking either me or VT for being under age, sad to say, ((Unless of course there is an upper age limit for The Edison – I hadn’t thought of that till just now.)) and I really can’t think of any other reason he’d need to see ID. Prissy little power-monger. I fought back a very strong urge to call him ‘sonny’ and ask if his mum knew he was out this late. But all was well – we had a reserved table and he was plainly short on reasons to keep us outside, so in we went.

The Edison is a stunning place. The staff, dressed impeccably in a mash of couture that spans the fin de siècle to the 1930s, were polite and appropriately haughty. A descending stairway of impressive industrial gravitas takes patrons down into the club, which is arranged as an asymmetrical juxtaposition of halls and rooms radiating off a large bar. Each space has its own individual valvepunk flavoured interior design, and any of them would be a fun place to end up for an evening.

We were seated at a small table in the main room, a proto electric-age cathedral, with cascades of filamented light bulbs streaming from the ceiling, and every naked brick wall reflecting back projected images from the films of D. W. Griffiths and George Méliès. It was truly wonderful.

Drinks? If you would be so kind my good man! For Violet Town, an Absinthe ’75 – a cocktail made with Kubler absinthe, lemon and champagne. For me, The Edison – bourbon, pear cognac and honey. The recorded music meandered from Cole Porter to swing with detours via Gershwin and Tommy Dorsey. A pretty girl dressed as a green fairy appeared, pushing a little trolley of chemical flasks – flavoured absinthes by the test-tube. We each took a walk through the rooms – the early clientele seemed right in the spirit. There was a guy wearing a top hat and emerald green earrings, on his arm a woman in a long silk dress as red as fresh blood. Some kids who’d obviously escaped the ID screening looked pretty good in neckties and waistcoats, and their young girlfriends a little too dangerous under black veils.

For the first hour, it was the only place in the world I wanted to be.

And then it all went to shit.

Yes folks, the high-falutin’ talk of dress code, the pinch-nosed door Nazi, the pretensions to a time when things were… civilized… all seemed to melt down into a pathetic limp acquiescence almost on the dot of 9pm at which time there was an influx of the trashiest riff-raff I’ve seen this side of Marulan RSL.

Dress code? You say what? How did that guy with the cornflower blue shirt (no tie) and the plaid tam-o-shanter get in? What about the chap with the ill-fitting sports shirt (no tie) and tan slacks (did he come direct from his job at Kwik Kopy?) Or the girl with too much lipstick and the oh-so-teeny figure-hugging silver lamé dress? (No Atlas, that image you’re forming in your head is wrong. Add another 90 pounds to it, and reduce the dress by two sizes). What about those two sleazy guys in the black open-neck shirts with the gold chains? Innovative, sophisticated and cultured attire? If you’re in a Greek disco.

The only dress code I could see in operation here was ‘no flip-flops’, ((In Australia it would be ‘No Thongs’ but that phrase has an entirely different meaning here. And I’m guessing that such a rule would have turned away at least half the female clientele, aside from being rather challenging to enforce…)) and I’m not at all sure that the doorman wouldn’t have turned a blind eye to that either if someone slipped him ten bucks.

Around about this time, the guy waiting our table completely lost the plot, screwing up our drink orders and vanishing off out of sight. It was like someone had flipped one of those big old relay switches on the wall and plunged the building into a dark mediocre funk.

And then, as if the invading hoi polloi had brought their own CD collection as well, the music also went to shit. Gone was the urbane swing and the jaunty Cole Porter, submerged by the same old thumpy crap you can hear in any nightclub in the Western world. Oh the humanity. It was vastly disappointing. It was like waking up from the best dream you’ve ever had and realizing it was a school day. It was like seeing Blade Runner for the first time and wishing you’d never seen the mawkish ending and that the movie had played out with the profound scene of Roy Batty and Deckard on the roof of the Bradbury Building. ((Which is, coincidentally, only a few blocks away from The Edison.))

We stayed for another hour or so but the vision of what this place might have been had well and truly faded. Such a grand inspiration suffocated to death by the vast bland pillow of ambivalence.

Dear Edison owners: 10 big points for trying. No points at all for sticking to your principles. Somewhere this side of your grand vision, you appear to have well and truly lost your way, and it’s a great pity. Phone me when you really do have a dress code and taste that lasts at least till midnight, and when you’ve ditched the appalling and totally inappropriate ‘dance’ music. Then I’ll be back. Until then, I’m off to find The Tesla.

Last Monday was a public holiday in the US of A so I got that rarest of things on a Hollywood film schedule – a day off. To celebrate, I decided that I would make my way to the Museum of Contemporary Art in downtown LA and catch myself a little kulture. I have to confess: I am a little at sea with modern art. Some of it I think is beautiful and moving, but there are vasts rafts of it that to me just look like pretentious crap. I don’t know how you are supposed to tell the difference.

MOCA is currently showing a retrospective of an artist named Arshile Gorky whose work just seems to my eye like a semi-competent blend of Matisse, Miro and Tanguy, with none of the originality of any of those great painters. I am probably showing my colours as a Philistine of outstanding magnitude by saying that, but since I shoot my mouth off about everything else here on The Cow, why stop now? Here’s a Gorky that’s like something by Joan Miró painted (but never finished) by a blindfolded and inebriated Yves Tanguy:

It was probably undignified of me, but as I walked around the exhibition, I kept having the thought that Americans only embraced Gorky because they were jealous that they didn’t have any of the aforementioned European painters. ((The fact that he had a miserable life and then an untimely and unpleasant death probably added to the cachet.)) I know that there is a lot of borrowing and re-borrowing in the art world, but this particular instance seems so close to plain plagiarism that it baffles me that Gorky has the reputation he has.

Wandering onward through the nicely laid-out MOCA galleries I was further perplexed by the work of Craig Kauffman – plexiglass creations in bright colours with attached artist statements that were as nonsensical as anything ever written by Edward Lear.

Reading the little cards next to each work, I had the overwhelming impression that Kauffman was pulling everybody’s legs. Which is not to say that he hasn’t actually made some good works, ((I have seen some Kauffman that I quite liked, but MOCA doesn’t have any of those ones.)) but rather (as is, in my experience often the case) that his justification for creating them seems predicated on convincing less intellectually-inclined people that he is doing something profound by using elliptical language and vague philosophical pontifications. Art waffle-speak is as abundant as political waffle-speak, and that’s saying something. I have yet to see an artist statement that says something along the lines of ‘Oh, I dunno – I just started painting something and this is how it came out…’ God forbid that an artist might be proceeding purely along the lines of intuition. ((The reason for this is plain to me – if you want someone to buy your work, then the pressure is on to convince them that its genesis is something more than just your artistic muse speaking to you in incomprehensible-to-the-common-person muse language.))

Perhaps the work I liked the very least came from James Rosenquist:

Now I suppose there are many and varied reasons why this artist is considered worthy of being displayed in one of the premier art institutions of the USA, but frankly, buggered if I can see ’em. To me, this work, and most of the other Rosenquists on display just look like the kind of thing that a lazy high school art student with little talent would whip up the day before it was due for marking. I mean… can anyone explain to me what’s good about this? Anyone?

It has none of the majesty and gravitas of Mark Rothko:

…or the passion and power of Jackson Pollock:

…or even the wit and elegance of some of the lesser known artists also on display, like Antoni Tàpies:

…or Louise Nevelson:

…or Kenneth Price:

…whose works all show imagination and thought and originality and … well… skill. ((One thing I noticed when making this post was that rendering all these works to small jpegs has a weird consequence: the ones I disliked in the gallery are improved by the process, and the ones I liked don’t seem quite as impressive. It is truly a case of ‘you had to be there!’)) The thing I enjoyed most in the museum was its sizeable collection of the photographic works of Robert Frank. I have, of course, seen Frank’s work before, but seeing them here, in America, so beautifully presented, made them very moving indeed. My favourite work at MOCA? This Robert Frank portrait of a Jehovah’s Witness (it’s a bit hard to tell in this small jpeg, but the key to this image is the ‘Awake’ magazine that the man is holding):

One of the delights of being a Stranger in a Strange Land is discovering new and wonderful foodstuffs. In one’s own country, one is fairly familiar with the products on the supermarket shelves, but being abroad opens up whole new vistas of comestible possibilities. As I stood dazzled in the breakfast cereal aisle of the local Ralph’s, I wondered how I could ever pick just one from among the thousands of brightly coloured packages.

I thought I was reasonably circumspect in choosing Yogi Cherry and Almond Crunch.

Sounds alright, doesn’t it? All natural, no artificial thingummybobs, none of the dreaded high fructose corn syrup (that American food manufacturers seem to throw into everything with wanton abandon) and 5 grams of protein and 3 grams of fiber in every serving (although 3g of fiber – or ‘fibre’ as it is properly spelled – does seem a little on the shy side for something ostensibly made of grains).

So, anyways, I headed off home with my groceries and thought nothing further of it until breakfast the next morning, whereupon I poured myself a bowl of Yogi Cherry and Almond Crunch, splashed on some milk and bluuuuuuuurrrrghhhhhh! Gag. Gasp! How much fucking SUGAR is in this stuff!!! This is the sweetest breakfast cereal I’ve eaten since I was a kid. Sweeter even than Sugar Frosties! Let’s have a look at the ingredients:

Lotsa grains, evaporated cane juice, brown rice, almonds, but no suga….. waidjustafuckinggoddamnminute! Evaporated cane juice? EVAPORATED CANE JUICE!!!???

Yes folks, Yogi knows full well that the ‘s’ word is big minus mark when it comes to selling a ‘healthy’ product and so it doesn’t actually appear anywhere on the packaging. Instead we have evaporated cane juice. I almost find myself admiring their guile. Indeed, when I actually pay attention to the um… ‘creative’ language on the packet, it appears that various sugars make up almost a fifth of the volume of what’s inside the box of Yogi Cherry and Almond Crunch!

A little cereal with your sugar, anyone?

I’m also slightly uneasy about the cherry quotient, which is listed as cherry ‘powder’. Something about being able to turn cherries into a powder reminds me of anthrax. No, I don’t know either.


Disclaimer: Readers of this post should not infer that just because I chose to buy a cereal with the word ‘yogi’ in the name in any way implies that I am some kind of dippy trippy hippy. I was merely attempting to pick a cereal that had some modicum of healthiness. Plus, I always had a fondness for pic-a-nic baskets.


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