I was pretty happy when I came across this article with this headline: Urban Outfitters Shares Are Crashing—Here Are The Biggest Problems With The Brand.

It couldn’t have happened to a nicer chain store. </sarcasm> I’ll admit that I don’t shop at Urban Outfitters because that chain is on my personal list of stores I’d love to see go out of business. Why all the hate? Here are my reasons:

1. They have a history of ripping off the designs of independent artists without credit or compensation. Here’s are a few examples:

http://cutpasterepeat.blogspot.com/2014/09/urban-outfitters-steals-again.html

http://glam-trash.tumblr.com/post/65124842231/by-popular-request-i-removed-this-first-line-but

http://www.dailydot.com/business/urban-outfitters-steal-artists-work/

2. They have a history of selling outrageous and controversial items not because they want to promote a message or taking a courageous stand on a controversial issue but because they are simply a bunch of attention whores that have no compunction with selling crap like a t-shirt that has a star placed over the shirt’s left breast that looks similar to the Star of David patches that Jews throughout the Nazi-occupied areas of Europe had to wear during World War II.

3. But their douche behavior doesn’t end there. This next link has a laundry list of the crap that Urban Outfitters have pulled in an effort to get free publicity and encourage people to buy their overpriced crap (the majority of which are made in Third World countries for very cheap prices).

http://theweek.com/article/index/220370/racist-navajo-attire-and-7-other-urban-outfitters-controversies

As for Urban Outfitters, I’ll buy something from them only if and when they have a “Going Out of Business” sale.

Benjamin Franklin

Proclaim not all thou knowest, all thou owest, all thou hast, nor all thou can’st.

I recently created a new YouTube playlist consisting of all the official videos from the Baltimore chapter of Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School where my own drawings make an appearance. I created this playlist in case I ever need to show someone the drawings I did there as well as what the atmosphere is like at a typical Dr. Sketchy’s. I only included the videos where my drawings appeared under the names Kimberly Keyes, Kimberly Ann Keyes, or Kimberly Keyes Stark.

So far the playlist only has the videos from the Baltimore chapter. The DC Dr. Sketchy’s never made videos so I can’t include any from that chapter. (There also haven’t been a new DC event since last October. The last Facebook posting was in February where Reverend Valentine was trying to decide whether to find a new venue as well as whether it was even worth keeping that chapter going due to low attendance at the last few events.) There are 10 videos in this playlist as of this writing but I’ll include more as I attend more events in the future and I don’t delay in sending my scanned drawings to the Baltimore organizers so they can include them in any future videos. All of the videos in this playlist are NSFW.

If you want to know the story behind any of the videos in this playlist, I suggest that you click on the Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School category in this blog so you can pull up my original posts on each session that I participated in.

Here is the eleventh video in a series of computer animations called The Unicorn With An Attitude that I did back in the 1990’s in an ill-fated attempt to show off my abilities as an artist and a computer whiz in the hopes of either 1) get famous or 2) get a higher paying job than the office administrative work that I was frequently offered.

I created this animation way back in 1996 and I actually uploaded it on various BBS as well as CompuServe. I originally created it as a QuickTime movie using various software for an Apple Macintosh. I have totally remastered it in high definition video using Apple iMovie. As for the music, I used one of YouTube’s royalty-free songs.

This animal basically lampooned the Democrats and Republicans as being similar. While a unicorn is working on a painting outside, a donkey and an elephant are arguing nearby as to whose political beliefs are better while alienating the unicorn in the process. Sadly, this animation is just as relevant in 2014 as it was when I created it back in 1996.

Here’s my original write-up for this animation:

The Unicorn is painting a picture in the park only to have a donkey and an elephant annoy the Unicorn with their argument over which party is better: the Demicans or the Republocrats.

So, without further ado, here is “Politics Suck!”

I’ve just got word about the horrible shootings in Ottawa that may have possible terrorist implications. The story is still breaking as I’m typing this. There is more than one shooter involved and shots have been fired inside the Parliament building, which was captured on video.

I’m hearing on the news that President Obama is getting briefed on what’s going on in Canada and the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa is on total lockdown.

It totally sucks because I know Canadians there and my then-husband and I have traveled to Canada twice. (One time was on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls and the other was when we traveled to Montreal.) I also live outside Washington, DC and that city has been fortified since the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. I wouldn’t be surprised if that city gets more paranoid about similar attacks and there is even more fortification as a result.

I’ll just end this post with a video of a newborn white lion cub playing with a couple of dogs. It serves as a reminder that sometimes animals of different species can get along yet it really sucks that people will just kill each other for no real reason or for some idiotic political/religious cause.

I recently decided to go to Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School event in Baltimore for the first time since August (I’ll write more on that later). On the way to The Wind Up Space, I decided to make a detour to check out the former home of a famous sideshow performer and artist named Johnny Eck.

I first heard of the guy when I read this book as a teenager written by Frederick Drimmer called Very Special People and I thought it was cool that he came from Baltimore. (I kept the paperback for many years until I finally got rid of it last year when I decided to do a massive downsizing of my home after my husband walked out on me and filed for divorce.) I also saw the movie Freaks several times (where he had a minor role) and I even own the DVD.

Back in March I attended a special exhibit on painted screens at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, which included the screens that Eck painted after he retired from the sideshow circuit as well as a separate exhibit on Eck’s life and the art that he created (which also included a miniature circus, photography, and drawings). That exhibit inspired me to try writing an article for Make magazine focusing on why, if he was still alive today, Eck would be perfect for the Maker movement only to get no response after three tries. I ultimately ended up uploading that story on Medium.com.

I found out through Eck’s Wikipedia page the address of the home where he spent his entire life and I toyed around with actually driving by that place until I finally got around to doing it. I had originally planned on visiting his home then driving to nearby Green Mount Cemetery, where he is buried, and finally move on to The Wind Up Space for Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School. Rainy weather caused me to nix the cemetery visit so I decided to just make a brief visit to his home before heading to The Wind Up Space.

Johnny Eck’s home is located at 622 North Milton Avenue on the east side of Baltimore in the McElderry Park neighborhood. Here is what the city block is like.

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The red brick rowhouse was originally purchased in 1906 by Eck’s parents, who then moved in with their 8-year-old daughter Caroline. (Back then there were no heavy steel doors covering the first floor door and windows like today.) That same year the mother gave birth to a second daughter who later died at the age of two. Shortly after that child’s death, the mother gave birth to a son who was stillborn. The family would go through one more pregnancy for the last time.

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On August 27, 1911 Johnny Eck and his twin brother, Robert, were born in the front bedroom on the second floor. While Robert was born normal and healthy, it was said that one of the midwives present at the twins’ birth had this reaction when Johnny was born: “Oh my lord, he’s a broken doll!” Johnny was born with sacral agenesis or Caudal regression syndrome, which resulted in a truncated torso and underdeveloped legs that were unusable.

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Despite that major birth defect, Johnny managed to thrive in that home. He taught himself to walk with his hands while he and his twin brother both showed an interest in art at an early age. His family tried to provide Johnny with an upbringing that was as normal as possible. A chance meeting with a magician at the age of 12 forever changed Johnny’s life as the magician not only strongly encouraged him to become a sideshow performer but he also became the twins’ first manager. From that time until sideshows lost their appeal with the increasing popularity of television (starting in the 1950’s), Johnny and Robert were on the road most of the time. Johnny was frequently displayed in the sideshows as a “Half Man” while Robert was displayed alongside him as the “normal” twin.

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(Above photo from phreeque.tripod.com/johnny_eck.html.)

Johnny even had a brief Hollywood movie career, with Freaks being the high point. Here’s one of his scenes from that movie.

Soon after he finished making that movie, he learned that his parents were on the verge of losing their home to foreclosure due to the Great Depression. To help raise enough money so his family can keep their home, Johnny accepted a gig at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair where he performed for the Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Odditorium while being billed as “The Most Remarkable Man Alive.”

Once Johnny and Robert retired from the sideshow circuit, they returned to their childhood home where they spent the rest of their lives. It was during this time that Johnny learned the art of painted screens and he made extra money painting and selling them. Here’s one of his screens that I photographed during the MICA exhibit back in March.

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Both Johnny and Robert could frequently be seen sitting on the same marble steps as in the photo below, where they would entertain the neighborhood children.

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Johnny Eck with his dog Major sitting on the front steps in 1985.

Johnny Eck Signed Photo

(Above photo from the Flickr page of Bat County Books, LLC.)

In the 1980’s the brothers began to receive visits from fans who have just discovered Freaks on home video even though Johnny wasn’t entirely comfortable with some of them, telling a friend “You’d be surprised to see these ‘avid’ fans. I say they are crazy.”

When the twins were born, McElderry Park was a working class neighborhood consisting mostly of first and second generation European immigrants where most of the residents worked in the nearby factories. As time went on, the neighborhood—like the rest of the city—underwent a major change due to white flight to the suburbs starting in the 1950’s, the closing of the factories starting in the late 1970’s, the closing of nearby public housing starting in the 1980’s which flooded the neighborhood with Section 8 tenants, and the arrival of crack cocaine starting in the 1980’s. The neighborhood became increasingly poor and majority African American with high unemployment and all the social problems that came with it. This can be easily seen in the next three photos that I took during my time there. Across the street from the home is this laundromat that still has a “Grand Opening” banner while the fine print underneath made it clear that it has been opened since March.

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The photos show a neighborhood that have seen better days.

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In fact, while I was driving to and from Johnny Eck’s home, I saw plenty of boarded-up homes located nearby, such as the ones a few blocks away on North Milton Avenue, which can be seen using Google Street View.

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Even the door and window on the lower level of Johnny Eck’s home have been sealed with thick steel doors due to the neighborhood’s high crime rates and the excessive drug trade.

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When Johnny and Robert lived there, they were forced to directly face the reality of their changing neighborhood when two thieves broke into their home in 1987. One of the thieves mocked and sat on the 76-year-old Johnny Eck while the other thief took the twins’ belongings. After that incident the twins went into total seclusion where they stopped sitting outside on their marble steps, stopped receiving visitors, and communicated only with their closest family members. Johnny Eck would go on to say “If I want to see freaks, all I have to do is look out the window.”

In 1991 79-year-old Johnny decided to take a nap on the couch in the living room, where he suffered a heart attack in his sleep. Robert continued to live in the same home by himself until his death in 1995 at 83.

Since then it seems like the house has been uninhabited. Looking at The Johnny Eck Museum website, which was founded by Jeffrey Pratt Gordon, there is an implication that this museum now owns the home (although I could be wrong about this). Yet the house remains heavily shuttered. I don’t know if there are any plans to eventually turn this home into a museum that would be opened to the public.

Opening a tourist museum in that neighborhood would be a major challenge given the current nature of the neighborhood. I’m not being facetious about this either. I can remember years ago when I made my one and only visit to the now-defunct American Dime Museum, which was devoted to carnival sideshows and other oddities. It was a really awesome museum and I enjoyed it. The downside is that it was located near a marginal neighborhood and I still remember when I made a harrowing two or three block walk from the nearest light rail stop in order to reach the museum then I had to make the same harrowing walk back to the same station. About a year or two after my only visit the museum closed for good.

But I have an idea of what to do about Johnny Eck’s former home that would not only help the residents in the neighborhood but would also honor the life of Johnny Eck. Both Johnny and Robert were artists and Johnny even had a second career as a painted screen artist. In recent years there has been a trend towards putting up STEM technology centers, Makerspaces, Fab Labs, or just general places where people gather and start making things. There is a whole Maker Culture movement currently underway in the United States where people are making and inventing things.

Wouldn’t it be cool to convert Johnny Eck’s former home into a Makerspace? People would gather and make things. People would teach their skills (whether it’s Linux or knitting sweaters) to anyone who’s willing to learn. Having such a Makerspace would honor Johnny Eck’s memory as an artist and maker and provide a place for people to gather that’s an alternative to dealing drugs or shooting each other.

And there is a precedent for opening a Makerspace in a less-than-safe area. Fab Lab DC opened in the northeastern part of Washington, DC that was once notorious for being a crime-ridden area. That opening was part of a total makeover that have resulted in the creation of new businesses and the building of new housing while lowering crime at the same time. In fact, the neighborhood has now been given the moniker NoMa. I still have fond memories of the time when I went to the 2012 Summit of Awesome that was held at Fab Lab DC and I took a short tour of the place and it impressed me very much. Surely something similar can be done with the former Eck residence in Baltimore.

If I had extra money, I would buy that house myself and convert it into a Makerspace. Unfortunately my finances are too tight to consider such a lavish idea. So I decided to write such an idea here in the hopes that someone with very deep pockets would read this and think “WOW! That’s a GREAT idea! I’ll get some people to work on buying and transferring the deed to make this Makerspace a reality.” It would be so cool to have someone with the wealth of a Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg to see this and put this idea into motion.

It may sound idealistic but I’d rather see some idealistic rich people work on this than to see this house continue to be boarded up with heavy steel for years.

The one thing I like about where my Unitarian Universalist congregation is located is the lovely glen located on the back of the property. During certain times of the year, I can get great shots like this photo, which I took on the same day as the photos I took using the Mikuture app that I got for my smartphone. This scene was so lovely that I decided to turn that app off and just take a regular photograph.

glenatpbuucoctober122014-small

One week, when I was attending my weekly support group meeting for people who are separated or divorced, I decided to take a back route along Route 193 to Route 450 to Route 3 in order to get to Crofton because I wasn’t in the mood to fight the rush hour Beltway traffic. While I was stopped at a traffic light, I took a photo of the gigantic Bowie Public Library to send to one of my friends who works at the Takoma Park Library and who’s such a big champion of public libraries in general.

bowiepubliclibrary-smallpicture

Recently David Letterman had this teenaged Japanese pop singer named Hatsune Miku on his program. Except she’s not a real human, as you can see in the clip from the show.

This appearance, coupled with the awkward interaction between Letterman and Hatsune at the end, went viral online.

As I watched that clip, I thought that I could’ve sworn that I’ve seen that Hatsune Miku somewhere else before. I went through some back entries of this blog and I realized that, yes, I have encountered her before in one form or another, starting with this cosplayer at Otakon 2010 in Baltimore.

Cosplayer at Otakon 2010

A figurine at Otakon 2012.

Japanese PVC Collectible

Some more figurines from Otakon 2013.

Otakon 2013, Day 1, August 9, 2013

Otakon 2013, Day 1, August 9, 2013At the time I took all those photos, I naturally assumed that this blue-haired girl was a character from an anime that was popular on Japanese television. I was wrong about that assumption. (LOL!) It turns out that she was created as a virtual pop star by Crypton Future Media. Despite her cute girly presence, she is just a computer software program that was based on Yamaha’s Vocaloid program. She has gained worldwide popularity with lots of spin-off products (that are sold on sites like J-List, Play-Asia, and Amazon) and she has even appeared in a number of video games. Her appearance on David Letterman’s show was timed to coincide with the two American Hatsune Miku Expos in Los Angeles and New York this month.

While I was reading about Hatsune Miku, I found Mikufan.com, which has the latest news regarding the virtual pop star. Through that site, I discovered that there is a photo app available for both iOS and Droid called Mikuture. I downloaded the Droid version when I saw that it’s a free app.

Even though Mikuture is called “an augmented reality app”, it’s basically a photo app where you get to pose Hatsune Miku (you can choose from various poses, facial expressions, camera angles, and even lighting), snap her in your photos, then share them with the social media of your choice. I played around with it, starting with Miku standing in the dimly lit foyer of my townhouse at night.

My First Photo of Hatsune Miku

The following morning I attended Sunday service at my Unitarian Universalist congregation. Before the service began I took this quick photo using the Mikuture app.

International pop superstar Hatsune Miku arrives at Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church. #IAmUU #UUSunday #PBUUC

After Sunday service ended and the coffee social hour began, I really cut loose with that app as I put Miku in a variety of poses.

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International pop superstar Hatsune Miku arrives at Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church. #IAmUU #UUSunday #PBUUC

International pop superstar Hatsune Miku arrives at Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church. #IAmUU #UUSunday #PBUUC

What was really funny about the next photo is that at the same moment I took a photo of Miku in that pose, my friend Carol, who’s in the right background, lifted her hands in a similar position to Miku’s. In addition, Carol is wearing an outfit in the same blue and black combination as Miku’s.

International pop superstar Hatsune Miku arrives at Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church. #IAmUU #UUSunday #PBUUC

I even played with the app’s camera angles by taking this next photo while I was standing on the deck overlooking the wooded glen below. It was so easy to make it look like Miku was actually in the woods below and I was looking down at her.

International pop superstar Hatsune Miku arrives at Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church. #IAmUU #UUSunday #PBUUC

Only a virtual person would have no problems with kneeling on a wooden deck the morning after a heavy rain storm swept through the area.

International pop superstar Hatsune Miku arrives at Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church. #IAmUU #UUSunday #PBUUC

After I took that last photo, I was planning on leaving until a man from Papa John’s Pizza arrived with several pizza boxes. I remembered that a group of people were trying to have a series of all-ages pizza lunches in the glen once a month. I was invited to come last month and I really enjoyed myself. I decided to delay going home for a while and go into the glen. I paid $5 towards helping with defraying the pizza cost while I ate food and took some more photos with the Mikuture app.

International pop superstar Hatsune Miku arrives at Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church. #IAmUU #UUSunday #PBUUC

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International pop superstar Hatsune Miku arrives at Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church. #IAmUU #UUSunday #PBUUC

International pop superstar Hatsune Miku arrives at Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church. #IAmUU #UUSunday #PBUUC

International pop superstar Hatsune Miku arrives at Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church. #IAmUU #UUSunday #PBUUC

International pop superstar Hatsune Miku arrives at Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church. #IAmUU #UUSunday #PBUUC

I had fun with that app. The only reason why I played around with it on the church grounds is because it’s a Unitarian Universalist congregation. If it had been a more rigid and straight-laced house of worship like a Roman Catholic church or an Orthodox Jewish synagogue, I definitely would’ve been leery about using that app. I really liked that app’s ease of use. It’s something that I could use again if I ever reach a point where I need new material for this blog that I could whip up pretty quick. Since I live near Washington, DC, it would be cool to try having Miku pose near such landmarks as the Lincoln Memorial or the White House.

One Saturday evening I decided to check out this Oktoberfest dinner that was held at St. Hugh’s Catholic Church in Greenbelt, Maryland because I was in the mood for some German food. The event began at 4 p.m. but I decided to wait until after 6:30 p.m. because there was the usual Saturday evening mass scheduled at 5 p.m. and I wanted some of the mass crowd to leave before I arrived. That turned out to be a big mistake because by the time I arrived, some of the dishes and all of the pretzels and deserts were sold out. Fortunately there were still a few dinner dishes left so I still was able to eat German food for dinner.

I also took a few pictures of the event, starting with the various German flags.

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It was a very festive event with the decorations, the accordion player, and the German dancers.

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I took this last photo of the menu because I liked the names of some of the platters (such as the pork roast platter named after Pope Francis).

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For the record, I ordered the Nurenberger Wurst with a side order of sauerkraut. The sausage was good. As for the sauerkraut, I received such a big portion that I took part of it home to eat at a later date.

I managed to socialize with this older couple who have been members of the church for years. (I was sitting there eating dinner when they were sitting at the same table as I was and they started talking to me.) They were quite friendly while talking about their children and grandchildren (including one grandson who has just started attending the University of Maryland). They also told me that they have recently moved to a retirement community in Beltsville but still attended St. Hugh’s in Greenbelt because they have been members for so long and most of their friends are still with that church.

They reminded me of an elderly couple who were longtime active members of my Unitarian Universalist congregation until they both passed away about five years ago or so. (I remembered the husband passed away first then his wife passed away just six months later. The couple were married 64 years when the husband died first.) That couple were among those who reached out to my future ex-husband and I when we first started to attend that church and they even continued to attend Sunday services at the same church after they moved to a nearby retirement community just a few years before their deaths.

Eventually that couple decided to leave and I decided to go as well because I wanted to get home in time to watch the latest episode of Doctor Who on BBC America. As I left the church, I heard the accordion player starting to play Abba’s “Dancing Queen”. I thought that was so hilarious that I attempted to shoot a video of that performance but I couldn’t because I was running very low on battery power and my smartphone simply refused to let me turn the videocamera on. Oh well.

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