CARTOONS AREN’T ALWAYS FUNNY


Triangulate
“TRIANGULATE” original sculpture by kayti sweetland Rasmussen

I have a method to reading the morning paper. Instead of ruining the day by railing at the political and world news until the cream sours in my morning coffee, I try to grab the funny papers from Dr. Advice and get a clearer perspective on the important things in life.

Comic strips take me back to a kinder and gentler time when I could climb onto my Grandpa or Great-Uncle’s knee while they patiently read the Sunday comics in the Los Angeles Times newspaper. Together we laughed at the antics of Blondie and Dagwood, Lil Abner, Katzenjammer Kids, and my favorite, Little Orphan Annie. Uncle Phil could pop his false teeth out at will, and Grandpa was able to wiggle his ears, which never failed to delight.

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Starting in the late 1920’s, comic strips expanded to include adventure stories and then soap opera type serials. Prince Valiant was a serial strip drawn by Hal Foster and taking place in the time of King Arthur, when dragons were running rampant, and the handsome prince in his page boy bob, was the designated dragon slayer. Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan was put into serial cartoon form by Foster as well. Tarzan showed us how easy it was to shinny up tall trees and make friends with monkeys, but the message brought forth in both of these strips was that good triumphed over evil, and all it took was a pure heart and a lot of muscle. I had a pure heart and though I lacked the muscle, I climbed, and promptly fell out of a neighbor’s cherry tree and drove a rusty nail through my leg. On another occasion, after dreaming I could fly, I jumped out of a second story bedroom window, and though I landed more or less upright, my ten year old teeth bit through my tongue. It was my only attempt at flying. Popeye the Sailor Man gave a boost to the canned spinach industry by showing Popeye scarfing down large cans of spinach and mothers tried to induce obstinate children to eat the terrible slimy green slop, so they could be like Popeye. Loyal Olive Oyl, his fair lady, was part of the love triangle between Popeye and Bluto. and later Swee’Pea appeared as either Popeye’s ward or son.

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Story telling using a series of pictures has been around for centuries. Cartoons have been found in Egyptian tombs, as well as in ancient graffiti all over the world. One medieval European example in textile is the lovely Bayeux Tapestry. The entire tapestry, which is 230 ft. long, has fifty different scenes depicting the Norman invasion. Germany and England presented us with some of the first satirical or humorous sequential narrative drawings.

In America, the great popularity of comics was due to the newspaper business. Various newspapers ran different strips, encouraging readers to follow their favorite comics which often ran in serial form, ensuring regular readership. Newspaper comic strips come in two different types; daily strips and Sunday strips. Most are syndicated, and distributed to many newspapers for a fee. In the United States, a daily strip appears on Monday through Friday and is printed in black and white. Sunday strips are usually in color, and follow their own story pattern. The two conventional formats for newspaper comics are strips and single gag panels. Bizarro, Dennis The Menace, and The Family Circus are two examples of gag panels; Charles Schultz’s Peanuts is a strip. Strips usually consist of three or four squares carrying the narrative along. Who would want to miss seeing Lucy kick the football away from Charlie Brown, or watch Snoopy attach the Red Baron? For Better Or Worse, the creation of Lynn Johston, is a running strip about the daily life of a family. Cartoons frequently are somewhat autobiographical, similar to a blog, but with pictures illustrating the story line.

The funnies are not always funny; the decade of the 1960’s saw the rise of underground newspapers. Political strips such as Doonsbury and Mallard Fillmore, frequently began in college newspapers under different titles, and continue the daily commentary of current affairs. Dilbert is a parody of today’s tech industry, pointy heads and all.

As long as newspapers keep running the comic section, I will look forward to keeping the daily news in perspective by chuckling along with the antics of Hagar, the irascible Dane, and watching the evolving love affair of LuAnn and her handsome Aussie beau Quill. Cartoons tell a simple little story in a simple way.

AT HOME IN THE LITTLE DIOMEDES


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“Inuit Mother and Baby” watercolor by kayti sweetland Rasmussen

Returning from a trip to Nome, Alaska some years ago, Dr. Advice brought back two black and white photographs which had been taken in 1913; one of a handsome young man bundled into his furs, and another of his wife, lovingly cuddling her baby in the hood of her fur parka. They were of an Inuit family living in the Little Diomedes, a group of islands off the Seward Peninsula in Alaska. These Little Diomedes Inuit are actually Danish citizens, and speak not only English, but Danish, French, Russian and various other languages. I found them so appealing that I did sculptures and paintings of both of them.
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Sitting in our sunny garden this morning with a latte and watching a small hummingbird perform an acrobatic flip on the feeder, I couldn’t help but feel all warm and fuzzy about living here in this moderate Mediterranean-type climate. The snow has never to my knowledge, buried this house, nor prevented me from walking to a grocery store if I could.

Yet for some reason, I also thought of the large group of people who live far north in the Arctic, and who somehow live just as satisfying a life; marrying, raising a family and who have repeated this cycle for a millennium.

Nevertheless, I’m not trading places. I like it just fine right here, and when our excuse for winter weather arrives, I will turn the furnace up a notch and make another latte while I challenge Dr. Advice to another game of gin rummy.

THE COLORS OF YOUR LIFE


Blanket Swirl

Swirling Colors” original watercolor painting by kayti sweetland Rasmussen

We each live many lives. While looking out my kitchen window this morning, watching the life of my neighborhood, I realized, that I have not always lived in a neighborhood, and it’s really quite nice. Color swirls about us moving us through to the next phase of our existence.

There are the new neighbors from Burma trimming their garden painstakingly. A young girl passes by frequently and we wonder about her. She is sad looking and does not look up nor answer a greeting. She just plods along to somewhere. There is the man we call the “Rock man” because we thought he always had a load of rocks in his backpack. It turned out to be his groceries. We recognize the neighborhood dogs being led on their daily excursions. It is through them that we ask their names and finally the names of their guides.

An old couple go by holding hands. They are stooped and have that peculiar rocking motion old people frequently have. The ethnic diversity has changed through the years. Instead of predominately blond, blue-eyed children walking to local schools, we see more dark hair these days. Mothers who help teachers walk past on field trips to the nearby children’s museum, frequently wear head scarves or saris. Through the years, the clothing may have changed, but the quirky behavior of the kids remains the same. Each year we seem to lose a few plants in the parking strip as energetic boys push each other into them. The language has changed however, with an inordinate use of the “F” word.

It also made me think of all the places I have lived in my life. I am a “Navy Brat”, which is what the children of Navy personnel are called. It is a proud appellation, and I’m sure all the “Army Brats” feel the same pride in their father’s career. The actor, Robert Duvall is an Army Brat, and has the same history of moving to new ports. You learn to make friends fast because you probably won’t stay long. During my school years up till the end of high school, it meant an annual migration for me. Even the birds migrate. We lived in a series of forgotten apartments, a couple of which had bathrooms down the hall.

I got used to always being “the new kid” at school. The routine was always the same. Someone took you to the right room and the teacher introduced you to the class, who then looked you over closely, and determined immediately whether you were worth knowing. The boys took the opportunity to make faces at their friends and the girls narrowed their eyes and sent the message that you were not “one of them”. I was never invited to an “overnight” stay until I was thirteen, and my father would not have allowed it anyway. The argument “all the other kids get to do it”, never went over with him. Girl Scouts and Campfire Girls were out of the question.

On my tenth birthday I had a birthday party with three other little girls in our neighborhood in Long Beach, California. I wore a peach-colored dress and a birthday hat. In New London, Connecticut, I was invited to a party when I was eleven, at which “Spin The Bottle” was played. I wore a new yellow silk dress, and when I found out the game meant you had to actually kiss a boy, I called my mother to come and take me home! We went as a family to see “Gone With The Wind” in 1939 when it opened in Hartford, Connecticut. I had a new pink coat, and hat with a streamer. My mother had a new dress and my father was out of uniform in a new suit which I had never seen before.

Strange how I always remember what I wore on various special occasions. In my last two years of high school, I joined the ROTC and wore a cool uniform. When I graduated from high School in Alameda, California, I wanted to join the Navy and wear a WAVE uniform, but being only 17 and underage, and my Navy father would not sign.

Though I love color, I have always identified myself as a sculptor who happens to paint. In sculpture, color merely enhances what the lines have already accomplished. We are all a mass of swirling colors hurrying to the next phase of our existence.

SEND ME NO LILIES


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I began feeling a bit weird during a nice luncheon with friends last week. It was the same feeling I had been having which had sent me to a cardiologist the week before.

I had not planned to finish my day lying flat on my back in the ER and hooked up to monitors and EKG, and looking at concerned unfamiliar faces, and my husband sitting quietly beside my bed. I didn’t feel threatened, but it was unsettling. There are two worlds, you see. The Healthy and the Sick. You never realize that until you join the Sick or someone you love does. In that world, you wear hospital gowns that gape in the back, and these kind but unfamiliar people and their machines take over your body. Maybe since your body has apparently betrayed you, you never knew it as well or really owned it the way you thought you did.

I went in at 6:00 and they played around with me until midnight, poking holes in me, taking both my blood and blood pressure, checking monitors which were doing what I don’t know. I thought they would have a quick look and I’d be on my way, so there I was without even a tooth brush, but at midnight they tossed me into a bed upstairs, with a sleeping woman who groaned audibly when the nurse told her she was getting a roommate. Impossible. I was having a dinner party the next day and hadn’t even shopped.

The next morning a nurse came in and told me she had been my nurse two years before when I had the shoulder replacement. I was in the same room, same bed. I began wondering if they planned this whole thing. They seemed to know everything about me. It was surreal and unwelcome, and the food was no better than it had been two years ago. But that afternoon my two daughters came in after having driven all day up from Southern California. I began to think maybe something could be wrong, and they had come to pay their final respects. It was a long way to come just to say hello. Grandchildren began calling to see if I was still breathing.

At 6:00 o’clock the next morning, I woke to the sight of three large paramedics asking if I was ready to roll. I grabbed my lipstick, which was the only thing I had with me to make me look a little human. I asked if I could call my husband, and they said “nope”, so they loaded me onto a gurney and into the ambulance. We tore through morning commute traffic to Santa Clara about 25 miles away, to another hospital, darting in between cars as we went.

I was glad Dr. Advice and I had not tried to find this place by ourselves because they hide these three enormous buildings on foreign and unknown streets in a city we have no reason to ever go to. It was too bad he had to find it alone without my superb navigational skills, because he did get a bit lost on the way.

While waiting for the action to begin whatever it was going to be, I had chance to talk to a cute little nurse with dark horn-rimmed glasses and wearing hospital green, and I told her they better be nice to me because I was a blogger and I would tell all. She told me about a blog she followed by a woman who met her French husband in a gay bar in San Francisco, and they got married and moved to Provence, where they had two children and raised chickens and pigs and a couple of dogs. It doesn’t sound like a lot of fun even though I love dogs and eggs. I could do without the pigs though.

Then I went into the operating room and in zipline speed they did an angioplasty, and sent me upstairs to the cardiac floor and I was officially a cardiac patient. A piece of cake until they said my artery had been 99% blocked. It might explain some of the mysterious incidents I had been having for they past several months.

The cardiac floor is a place all it’s own. You remain lying prone and absolutely still for 6 hours, and they don’t let you cheat even for 15 minutes. Try it sometime. They may get in and get back out in the surgery, but they make up for it by 6 hours of torture. They also keep you attached with a dozen wires dangling underneath the same kind of gown they seem to use everywhere. One size fits all and they said it isn’t big enough for some people. I suggest they either go on a diet or don’t get sick. Forget modesty, they don’t know the word, and you can’t even get up to go to the bathroom alone because you are tethered to an IV, and there is a sign just ahead of the bed which says in no uncertain terms NOT to get up without help. Later they connect an alarm to you to make sure you obey. I have always been a person who went Up the Down staircase, but believe me, I obeyed this one, because the nurse I got was a very large man who looked like he meant business. After spending another night, we picked up more medicine, which I guess goes along with the operation, plus another for nitroglycerine. My clever granddaughter said “Good. Now we can make a bomb.”

Well, I’m back home, and Dr. Advice is cooking. Need I say more? He did make my daughter’s oatmeal pancakes for breakfast yesterday to celebrate our 67th anniversary, and to go with the beautiful red roses which suddenly appeared, so all is better than normal. I will share the recipe for the pancakes in another post sometime. It’s the only way to eat oatmeal.

I make light of the occasion, but I am grateful to everyone for the wonderful care they have given me, and very glad to be here.

PETE’S PLACE


Victorian house Our older cousin Peter Vic was a native San Franciscan and proud of it. There is a difference you know, in having been born there and just having moved in. Native San Franciscans remind you of the importance of that fact now and then. He was well-over six feet tall, with reddish hair and a huge grin which was often on his face. He loved people no matter where they came from, and like a good Dane, he was always ready for a good time. Though not a social activist, he had great concern for the disadvantaged.

He graduated from the University of California at Berkeley as a lawyer, though he never practiced, but instead started a small trucking company in San Francisco. His father, big Chris Svane, who had been a palace guard for King Frederick in Denmark, had been a partner in the early Rasmussen Brothers and Svane Trucking company, along with my father-in-law and his brothers, until he too began his own company. I think trucking must run in the Danish blood, I know my husband is very proud of his roots in the business.

Peter Vic knew all the interesting spots in the City, and seemingly all the interesting people, from the Palace Hotel to the docks, and everybody knew Pete. He occasionally treated us to an evening out on the town, which was pretty heady stuff for a newly married couple not too long out of their teens. He took us to Finnochio’s and Mona’s gay night clubs once, and we ate at the Gay Nineties a few times, which was a very old restaurant below street level, and where if you were brave enough, you could enter by sliding down a metal slide to emerge into the dining area! It was difficult to maintain your dignity while trying to maintain a certain degree of modesty. I celebrated my 36th birthday at a surprise party there, wearing a pair of Chanel shoes which had purchased for my own birthday present that day for $36.00, which believe it or not was pretty expensive at that time!

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He was married seven times, but had only six wives, having tried it twice with one of the wives. The last wife was the only one with whom he had children. Wife number three was Genevieve, an actual countess, and the only one we saw occasionally. One of his wive’s had been married to the man who owned the famous racehorse Seabiscuit. After the seventh divorce, Pete made the naive admission that it might have been his fault that none of his marriages had worked out. It’s too bad too, because some of the women had been quite interesting.

There used to be a restaurant and bar called Pete’s Place, (no relation to Peter Vic,) which was tucked away somewhere in the City. We went there often. It was probably a speak-easy during Prohibition times. I remember it had high-backed private wood booths where you could snuggle in and have a small rendezvous if you had a mind to. On one evening Peter Vic, my husband and I were having a drink in the cozy little booth when in popped a very angry Genevieve wearing a gorgeous full length mink coat. Pete was a little embarrassed since he had forgotten to go home after work nor had he called her. His embarrassment accelerated, as did ours, when to all our surprise, as well as the other diners in the place, Genevieve threw open her coat to reveal that she was wearing nothing else but her birthday suit! After her performance, she turned and stormed out. It obviously supplied the entertainment for the evening, and a subdued Peter Vic.

On another occasion, long after they were divorced, and after Genevieve had married the man who had been the editor of the Stars and Stripes, a military newspaper during the War, she invited us to dinner at her apartment in the City. There were a number of very sophisticated guests, among whom was Richard Gump, of the venerable San Francisco Gump’s store. I remember that he was very kind to me, and took me around the apartment showing me the impressive art collection. He showed me one small oil of a South Sea scene complete with palm trees, and in my desire to appear more knowledgeable than I was, I said I thought it wasn’t very good, at which he laughed loudly and said he had painted it! Another of Life’s embarrassing moments.

Pete was a member of some of the old clubs in San Francisco, and one day shortly after we were married, he had taken my husband to the Bohemian club promising to pick me up for dinner later. I was to wait on some street corner and they would drive by and get me. The appointed time came and went, so to waste time,I went into the newspaper stand nearby and picked up a cooking magazine. My family were all plain cooks, and I was just beginning to learn to cook. I found a recipe for “Rabbit Ragout”, which sounded pretty exotic to me at the age of 20, but I thought I would give it a try. When the men finally arrived, I said I had found this great sounding recipe for “Rabbit Rag Out”, and Pete gently corrected me as to the proper pronunciation. I said I would try to make it and invited him to our little apartment the following week. I slaved all afternoon after work making the ragout, but true to form, Pete never showed up. It was the first and last time I made Rabbit Ragout.

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Pete lived in a wonderful old Victorian home on Cook St. with a large carriage house in the back, where he would hold family holiday parties with a large tree at Christmas, and roast goose on the spit. A real old fashioned Danish Christmas celebration. The front door of the house was never locked, and there were always a number of cousins who for one reason or another, needed a place to stay and where they were always welcome, as was anyone Pete thought needed a place to sleep.

We were living in Washington when he passed away and his daughter called us asking where we thought he might like to be buried. My husband told her that he thought Pete would really like to be beneath his favorite lemon tree under his dining room window. Peter Vic was one of a kind.