MONKEY BUSINESS


The Winged Monkeys in the 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz served at the pleasure of the Wicked Witch of the West and terrorized Dorothy and her companions, and thousands of small children watching the big screen throughout the country. My youngest daughter was one of those children. Many years later I purchased a pair of bronze candle holders in the shape of flying monkeys, and I am not allowed to use them when she is around.

I think for children the goblinlike Flying Monkeys. squealing servants of the Wicked Witch are the stuff of nightmares. For the most part the monkeys were not played by the same small actors as the munchkins. Only a few of the more athletic midgets were asked to don the monkey make-up and costumes fitted with battery-powered wings. The wings were motorized so they would flap while the monkeys were airborne.

Veteran Hollywood midget stuntman Harry Monty was one of the actors who played both a Munchkin and a Flying Monkey. Those who played the brown flying chimps mostly were too tall to play a Munchkin.

They had a harness around them and strung them up on wires. Then they would swoop down. One terrifying moment was when a Flying Monkey swooped down and grabbed Toto, Dorothy’s little dog. They were to be paid $20 for swooping, but there was a misunderstanding about the number of swoops were to be paid. The director assumed it was per day, and kept telling monkeys to keep swooping, while the Flying Monkeys thought it was $20 per swoop. To get the matter settled the monkeys went on strike. It must have been quite a picture– twelve monkeys sitting on chairs with their arms folded and legs crossed arguing with the director over money. As soon as it was settled they were back in the air on black cables which were invisible during the filming.

The rest of the illusion was created by dangling little rubber, painted monkeys about eight inches in length. These molded figurines–complete with foamlike wings and a pipe cleaner for a tail–were suspended on wires, much as the actor/monkeys were, and flown along at the same time to create the illusion of a large army of evil beasts. In 1996 one of the decaying, rock-hard rubber monkeys was auctioned off, fetching $3,000.

After more than fifty years, the slim steel tracks that were built and and installed in the reinforced rafters of MGM Sound Stage 29 are still there, high above the floor as a haunting reminder of Oz’s monkeyshines.

Excerpt from The Munchkins of Oz, by Stephen Cox

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IN T HE PRESENCE OF ANCESTORS


The Paddle to Seattle in 1989 was coordinated by our good friend Emmett Oliver (1913-2016) a member of the Quinalt Nation, retired Coast Guard commander, and educator, was serving on one of the State of Washington’s centennial committees. Tall ships would be participating in the celebration, and Oliver felt the state’s indigenous population was being ignored.

The high profile return of Coast Salish canoes to ancestral waters was a shot in the arm to Native cultures. A new generation of canoe carvers emerged. Young ones began learning their Native language. Elders who as children were punished for speaking their language, began teaching their dances, songs and stories.

Then, in 1993, in response to an invitation issued during the Paddle to Seattle, canoes traveled to Heiltsuk First Nation in Bella Bella, British Columbia, and the Tribal canoe Journey was born.

Villages long separated were once more connected by Native pride. Once more Arts and Culture were exchanged.

Emmett Oliver is gone, but his legacy burns on in his descendants. Son Marvin Oliver, professor of Art at the University of Washington, and daughter Marilyn Bard, are involved in the Journey, even the youngest grandchildren, too young to be pullers are learning their heritage. In the water, in their canoes, as they are traveling the highways of their ancestors, they cannot help but feel the powerful connection to their people’s lifeways, and for the connection to the other tribal territories they now visit.

CHILES THE HEART OF THE CUISINE


Red chile sauce floated into California from Mexico as on a chile river. Discovered by the Spaniards when they rode into the Valley of Mexico in 1521, they filled their pockets with seeds and dropped plants along the way through California, Arizona and New Mexico. The beloved chili came in all shapes and in all degrees of heat.

Chile heat may not be to everyone’s liking, but it is an essential ingredient in Mexican cooking. Where would our beloved enchiladas and tacos be without red chili sauce?

The smell of roasting peppers is addictive, much like he smell of roasting garlic. I roast them over an open flame before stuffing with cheese for chile relenos. The kitchen is filled with the good smell of cooking, and it says that dinner is not far away.

As Californians we understandingly eat a lot of Mexican cuisine. and their are plenty of Mexican taquerias around if you don’t want to cook. Years ago we hosted a couple of teenage boys from Kodiak, Alaska for several days. Knowing the appetites of teenage boys, I prepared a large tray of enchiladas and another of make your own tacos plus a big pot of pinto beans. They ate sparingly, and after dinner they asked to be taken to the nearest Kentucky Fried Chicken store where they purchased several dinners to bring back home. I had not taken into consideration that they had never eaten Mexican food. I guess unless you are raised in the chile river realm, a plate of good old fried chicken is the best bet; after all what’s not to like?

On my first evening in New Mexico, they asked if I liked chiles. Until that time my relationship with chiles was in a pot of beans, which I liked very much. When dinner was served I was surprised to see a large bowl of stewed chiles set before me. I remember drinking a lot of Kool-Ade to cool me down. In New Mexico large strands of chiles are strung together and hung beside the outside door to dry. You just pick one off when you need it.

It’s interesting to find the use of chilies in cooking is world wide. My friend from Jamaica grows the pretty and very hot Scotch Bonnet pepper. Asian cuisine claims other varieties of pepper, and the Middle East uses still another. Chile heat fills your nostrils, makes your eyes water, feels like your mouth is on fire. So why do we love it? Search me; I think it’s just because it’s good.

OLD AT THIRTY-THREE


There seems to be a difference of opinion as to when we get “old”. I think some people actually are born old. It would be nice to test that theory and watch the old wrinkled face and grey hair miraculously transform into vibrant, energetic youthfulness. It woud be even nicer to stop the process mid way when we became satisfied with the result and just stay there. Unfortunately that is not the case. The Mills Brothers in the 1950’s sang a warning not to be old at thirty-three. Does this mean that age is simply a matter of choice?

Looking at family photos of our families from the past, I am amazed at how old the people looked when still in their thirties and forties. They not only looked older than their years, they acted older. Their risk-taking and playfulness was gone and they were serious about their parenting and everything else.

When I was 38, being late for an appointment, I ran up a flight of stairs, taking the steps two or three at a time. I was reminded of my mother, whom I thought old when she was 38 and I was 18. I was shocked that I could have been so cruel.

Today I heard that we might someday live till the age of 122. The question is do we really want to stick around that long? We are bound to lose some important faculties in that extended time. Driving could be a problem, but With the advent of driver-less cars it might not be so bad. As with old cars, their would always be some tweaking to be done; a new paint job, valve change, emission tests, etc.

The Alameda girls, who haven’t been “girls” for over seventy years, gathered for lunch at Rossmoor last week. Rossmoor, for those of you who don’t know, is a rather posh adult retirement community in the town of Walnut Creek, surrounded by 1200 acres of gorgeous natural landscape. One of our members moved their five years ago, and though very happy, she no longer drives, and her daughter lives an hour away. So the maternal guilt will soon send her back to Alameda, where her daughter still lives. There are several daughters who bring their mothers, and one daughter brings her year old grandson. They listen to old high school memories and marvel that we were so ‘modern’ in the “old days”.

One of our mates has recently shown some problems with dementia, and will be living in a facility in San Francisco. Her daughter, who has brought her mother to our luncheons for several years, told the facility that her mother wanted to be “usefull”, so she is now folding napkins, towels, etc. Yes, she was busy and useful all her life, helping to raise children, help in her husband’s business.

One friend, in the ROTC with me, and ballerina with the San Francisco Ballet, works at her church feeding the poor, helping put on weddings, volunteering at the hospital. When she recently passed her driver’s renewal test, she went out and bought a new car. She, along with two others has lost a child within the past two years.

My point is that these women, all over 90, are still doing what they can. Do we look our age? Probably, but I haven’t noticed the change. My husband often asks if I think people know we are older? When young girls offer to help him lift a heavy bag of compost into the trunk, or someone rushes past me calling out “You need help Mama?” I think they recognize our advanced years, and I think people are genuinely kind.

Long ago, a very young grandson asked how old his great grandmother was. I answered that she was 82. He then asked how old I was and I jokingly said I too was 82. Puzzled, he gripped the sides of his hair and said ” well if you are both 82, why don’t you have that hair?” I wonder if they look at our photos now and see old?

Remember, it will all come out good in the end, and if it isn’t good, it isn’t the end.

HERE TO CREATE


A story can be told in two ways: the way it happened, and the way it is remembered. The storyteller is welcome at every table, though the story may change with each telling. It really doesn’t matter, it is after all, just a story.

Children are the best story tellers, since they have little recall, the stories they tell are usually created in the moment. If you question the story, they are able to embellish it on the spot. When I was a little girl of four, I created four big brothers. When questioned, they were suddenly locked up and fed bread and water. Clearly a mistake. Are these kind of stories a form of wish? The idea that exaggeration somehow enhances our self-image arrives early.

We are here to create, and all stories do not involve overestimating one’s own abilities, though a stretch of the truth often gives flavor to the imagination.

The creation stories of the Native American cultures, Greek and Roman mythology. and the stories of the Bible are all crossover creation stories. Oral tradition is extremely important, for without it, there would be no story telling. Each tribe, like each family, has its own story, of which there are multiple versions. Just as two or more siblings remember the events of childhood in various ways, our own stories take on new luster in time. More often than not, the Native American stories involve animals or humans who transform and do miraculous things, all explaining the unexplainable mystery of life.


“I Am a Child of the Sun and the Rain” watercolor by kayti sweetland rasmussen

We are all story-tellers; you tell me your story and I will tell you mine. Those stories may change from time to time either from new experiences or from remembrance, but the things we say are mostly true. Taken all together stories form the glorious tapestry of our lives.

CANTALOUP AND KOOL-AID
by kayti sweetland rasmussen

Where is the door to the story?
Can we all walk through it?

A story lives on the lips of
Diego from Hollywood days.
Far from this dusty village
Where nothing happens.
Cantaloup and Kool-Aid
And a bedroll on the floor
In this stone village
where he tells his stories.

Even the tree outside our windows
seems to listen with ruffled
leaves tipping and cooling
in the evening chill.

The pleasant knicker of an Indian pony
through the open window over
heads drowsy with sleep
announced the coming of the dawn.

We sat around the fire pitching our
own stories into the lap of the story teller.
We dropped troubles and pain.
Are they now someone else’s stories?

THE ART OF THE LOOM


Coming into Southwest Indian country for the first time some fifty-five years ago was a revelation in many ways. We drove through the hot desert land of Chumash, Hopi and Navajo before arriving in New Mexico, home of the Pueblo people. My own art had taken a turn toward the Southwest, and we had begun collecting a few pots and pieces of jewelry from indigenous artists.

I was fortunate to have my good friend Georgia Abeita Oliver as my companion while I accompanied her “home” for the summer. Wherever we are born, home-going is a special occasion which never gets old. There were friends and relatives to meet and greet, and a cultural education for me as a guest.

To be steeped and accepted into the culture of another is a privilege for which I have been grateful these past many years.

The domestic skills such as weaving, pottery, jewelry and basketry seem to be practiced primarily by individual villages. Pueblo and Hopi pots, but Navajo weaving and jewelry.


Two Grey Hills rug, Navajo

My husband was staying in the La Fonda hotel in Albuquerque several years before my trip, where he saw a very large Two Grey Hills rug on the wall. The story goes that a customer wished to buy the rug, and he was sent to the Two Grey Hills village to bargain for it. He came back dismayed because though he offered them twice its price, they refused to sell to him. I had a similar situation a few years later when I commission a rug after I was back home. When it arrived, the rug’s colors were not what I had wanted, so I returned it with the hope of another more suitable rug to come; but did not hear from them again. We are, after all, two separate cultures with different views on what is important. I did not make the same mistake again in all my years of travel in Indian country.

Why is it that the Navajo are the master weavers? Why not the Pueblo? The Hopi do weave lovely small runners, though and the men weave their prospective bride a burial shawl. I always thought that was either a threat or a warning.


“How the Navajo Got The Rug” watercolor by kayti sweetland rasmussen

My own interpretation of how the Navajo got the skills to weave is that maybe it just came down from the sky. That is as good an explanation as any. We met an old weaver just outside Taos, patriarch of the Trujillo family, who had been weaving since he was a boy. He made us a nice large room size rug which is in my studio.

It is easy to imagine how so much of the architecture got its beginnings; the whole desert terrain with its mesas and sculptural forms is ever present. Making use of natural materials like clay, wool, and natural dyes keeps people connected to the land. I have always preferred to work with clay for that same reason. It connects me also with my own forebears who were potters for over 200 years in England. It just feels natural to me when I think of the generations before me who made their living through love of clay.

The Saturday markets are crowded with people bringing everything from pickups full of wool to homemade tamales. In fact the best tamale I ever ate was at a flea market in Gallup, New Mexico. In the days I first visited New Mexico and Arizona, one frequently saw the wife’s mother sitting in the bed of the truck with the bundles of sheep skin for sale. She usually was in a large chair like a queen surveying her subjects.

I bought a cradle board made by an old woman who had brought only one to sell. A young pregnant girl was trying to decide if she had money enough to buy it for $40. Seeing me waiting in the wings, she graciously offered it to me. I said I noticed that she might need it more than I did, and she said “But YOU want it.” I have yet to see someone in our society be that generous of spirit.

Native people, whether Southwest or Northcoast, as somewhat suspicious of strangers, but through the years I have known and cared for people from both cultures, I have always found acceptance and love.

PASSING IT FORWARD


We are a sports minded family, greatly encouraged by the devotion of Dr. A, who made an early mark in high school track and basketball. As a family we attended all football games, tennis matches, crew races, and track meets. I, on the other hand, was put into a posture class in high school, although I was a fast enough runner to escape any boys chasing me until Dr. A appeared.

Sports are, after all, a pure kind of competition. As in horse racing, it depends upon who comes in first. We watched the track meets for some years to follow the son of a good friend who was showing promise as a runner. His grandfather and father were morticians, and we sometimes traveled to Fresno meets in the large black limo, which lent a certain amount of grim humor to the occasion.

In many situations, a bit of gentle help can get you a job, or even get you into a University education. Working up the chain of command, Dr. A contacted his best friend who knew somebody with a voice, who got our young runner into USC, where he excelled in the 800m, or two times around the track. He also ran in a medley, where he and the others who ran it with him still hold the record.

He did not qualify for the Olympics, but his good friend Rex Cawley went on to win the 400 m hurdles in the 1964 games in Tokyo, and still holds the record to this day.

Collegiate loyalties run deep, and the gratitude for having been the beneficiary of his opportunity, our friend Kevin Hogan, is still giving back. He is a tireless supporter of USC, and is head of the USC alumni in the Bay Area. He recently was somewhat instrumental in helping the grandson of the man who helped him so many years ago.

No one walks alone, and we all need a little help now and then, even if it just mentally. I wrote recently about the passing of our friend Leroy Sprinz, whose strong spirit overcame the debilitating loss of his arm. I spoke with his widow this morning, and she told of so many of his former students who had called her with such gratitude for their former teacher.

We all have something to give, whether it be physical help or merely a smile of encouragement. I have had many people tell me that they had no talent. Talent doesn’t reside in the Arts alone, and any artist worth their salt will tell you hard work trumps talent any day. If you think you have nothing to give, try passing on that recipe your aunt Hattie won a prize for at the county fair. Someone will thank you every time they make it.

When we write these little blogs, we are sharing something which is special to us, and which we hope will somehow register with you.