Art by mail: A dazzling wasteland

Postcard collage of Great Salt Lake Desert, woman, and fish

Message on postcard:
Hi Tara! When asked to choose between a kid-friendly and non-kid-friendly postcard, you specified, “Vulgarity, please.” So I am gosh dang happy to bring you the most foolin’-est vulgar postcard my pottymouth mind can muster.

My Aunt Christine keeps telling me, “Sweetie, you should use less profanity when you write! You’re too good a writer to use such a lazy trick.” And I’m like, “Dang it, yo! I don’t think you appreciate how flippin’ rough life can be, and how my unique blend of personal experiences has contributed to my one-of-a-kind street flavor. I love you, but you need to respect my fudging work, please.” And the truly sad thing is that when she steps with this bull hooey, she doesn’t even realize she’s instigating the kind of soul-wrenching internecine conflict that legitimates my casual use of profanity.

Anyhowski, take a peep at that map to the right and sit back while I regale you with tales of my fantastic voyage across the American West. It was hot as the blazes of heck the day I drove through the southern reaches of the Great Salt Lake Desert on U.S. Highway 50. Western Utah is home to a few rough-and-tumble street gangs, including the Wasatch Blood Donors and the much-feared Salt Lake Safety Razors. Tensions were running high during my visit, and earlier that week the two gangs had exchanged a particularly cutting volley of letters to the editor. If I broke down in the desert I would have to rely on my own wits and survival skills for up to forty-five minutes, which is how long the sheriff told me I could expect to wait before encountering a random act of good samaritanism.

“Shucks, sir,” I said to the sheriff, “I don’t think you realize what a bleedin’ tough son-of-a-good-mother you’re talkin’ to.”

But the sheriff was unimpressed. “Don’t be a silly fool, son. Stay the night in my guest cottage and you can chow down at the senior center spaghetti dinner tonight. My treat.”

Well, I knew better safe than sorry, so I looked him square in the eye and took him up on his hospitality. I learned a valuable lesson that day, I assume.

Map of Great Salt Lake Desert

The above-mentioned map of the Great Salt Lake Desert.


Art by mail: America’s dazzling, continuing revolution

Postcard collage of Multnomah Falls, salmon, and a quasi-political caption

Message on postcard:
Hey Paul — How is Portland, sir? I’m camped out in McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area (I’d never heard of it either) and I just got your mailing address through Kickstarter. I’ve prepared a bunch of custom postcards for your reward tier, and your timeliness has earned you the first of the batch. How are you always so on the ball? I wish I had your skills.

I hope it doesn’t seem disappointing to get a Multnomah Falls postcard — here I am driving thousands of miles across the country and sending you a postcard from someplace half an hour out of town — but you do love Portland, and you are a fan of America’s dazzling, continuing revolution, so it seemed appropriate. I found a Reader’s Digest “America’s Greatest Splendors” book at an old couple’s garage sale in the Black Hills, and I bought it and cut it up and to pre-make postcards for places I’ll be visiting. But I’m jumping the gun and writing this postcard from Colorado.

Oh, shit. Sometimes when I write I forget that I have to explain things. Remember above when I said “your timeliness has earned you the first of the batch”? What I meant was that you were the first person to respond to the survey soliciting mailing addresses. So I was referring specifically to your timely attention to that matter, and not your overall tendency to act in a timely manner, although the two are certainly related.

It’s dark out and the moon is sunk beyond this rock outcropping, and every once in a while the wind will pick up and rustle something and I’m momentarily convinced that the space beings have shown up to terrorize me. Normally that stuff doesn’t cross my mind, at least not since age 16 or so, but a couple weeks ago in the Badlands I met a girl who was convinced that space aliens are secretly visiting Earth and I guess you know going all Roswell on unsuspecting victims in the middle of the night. This trip has given me a newfound appreciation of my ability to attract and interact with people from some of the more exotic regions of the bell curve.

And of course as I write this I remember this time back in Utah in April when two other campers and I saw a dancing light in the night sky, and it was weird, and I realize that of course I attract and interact with these people; I’m practically one of them.

Art by mail: Devils Tower National Monument

For the next week or so I’ll be posting a series of oversized postcards I sent to my Kickstarter project backers. For this first post, I’ve taken the liberty of including a scan of the back of the postcard. It should give you an idea of what the handwritten component actually looks like.

Especially astute readers will notice that there are one or two tiny differences between the original and transcribed text. As a general rule with these postcard updates, I preserve the text as originally written except in cases where the addition, removal, or rearranging of a very small number of words can remove ambiguity or clarify my original meaning. But there’s no heavy editing, because I want to preserve the original flow of the text. When I write things out with pen and paper, the slower writing pace seems to affect the way I frame/state ideas.

If there’s a more substantial change, I’ll place it in brackets, as I’ve done with the new sentence at the very end of the transcription.

I hope the above explanation comes off as informative and not blah-blah-blah art-guy wankery. The sad thing about art-guy wankery is that the spank material isn’t even art, it’s the art-guy’s ego.

Postcard collage of Devils Tower National Monument and elaborate costume

Message on postcard:
01. Sebastian — Thanks for backing my Kickstarter project! This is Devils Tower, a huge column of rock in Wyoming, just west of the Black Hills.

02. Devils Tower was featured prominently in the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Actor Richard Dreyfuss sculpts the tower out of mashed potatoes in the movie.

03. This was parodied in the Simpsons episode where Homer goes to clown college. Homer sculpts a circus tent out of potatoes at dinner.

04. I frequently goof up when spelling “Devils Tower”. There’s no apostrophe in the name. Apparently there is (in the U.S. at least) a geographical naming convention that drops apostrophes. English is weird.

05. Lately I’ve been listening to a lot of audiobooks while I travel. One of them is called In the Spirit of Crazy Horse. You probably won’t be surprised to learn that Devils Tower was sacred to American Indians.

06. This book is mostly about troubles on the nearby Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in the 1970s. In 1868 the Lakota Sioux and the U.S. Government signed a treaty guaranteeing the tribe ownership of the Black Hills and nearby land. Of course you can imagine what happened when white people found gold.

07. In the 1970s, some American Indian activists demanded that the tribe be treated as an independent nation in accordance with the treaty.

08. Others on the reservation wanted to take a cash settlement for the Black Hills. There was fighting within the tribe and between activists and the F.B.I.

09. If the Pine Ridge Reservation had their 1970s murder rate but New York or L.A.’s population, they would have had about 15,000 murders per year. There’s no real resolution today. [Although the murder rate has fallen.]

Text for Devils Tower postcard

If you’re wondering why the text above is numbered, it’s because I sometimes use a layout that places the text into little word balloons.

Clown college and Devils Tower

A detail from the reverse side of the postcard — one of the word balloons. I self-assess my handwriting legibility at maybe 7.5 out of 10, and I welcome courteous corrections from anyone who thinks my estimate is off.

Devils Tower doodle

Another detail from the reverse side of the postcard — a little doodle of Devils Tower. I love drawing tiny little things like this.

Found on mantle: A postcard

I’m housesitting for my friend Tom while he honeymoons. There’s a postcard of mine on the mantle above the fireplace. I sent it to him shy of a year ago. I enjoyed re-reading the message, so I thought I’d post it here.

Llama in front of the Andes

Message on postcard:
Yo! TW! What’s up my homeslice! Greetings from Santiago, Chile. I fly home tomorrow. Most of my time here was spent making friends with the llama you see on this postcard. His name is Scruffy Sweaters, Junior. But don’t be fooled. His cute name hides a tragic past. During The Cosby Show‘s broadcast run, over 5,000 llamas were cruelly exploited to provide raw wardrobe materials for the program’s eponymous star. But today with your help we’re changing things. Friends used only 200 llamas during its last three seasons, and today New Yankee Workshop is the first TV show to be certified llama safe. Will you support our valuable work?


A few more postcard collages

These are postcard collages that went to my Kickstarter project backers at the forty dollar level. They also got a two-page letter and some zany crap I found while traveling.

Postcard collage of a critical car

Hey Reid — How are you? This postcard is from Redwood National Park, but I bypassed that particular destination on this trip. The last time I was there a drunk guy with no license and no insurance drove into my truck. And then when I got home my girlfriend broke up with me. This time around I saw the redwoods farther south, just off 101 on the “Avenue of the Giants”. This trip has been way better, with the exception of the fact that a pig tore up my legs and sent me to the hospital.

Postcard collage of a strange creature in the redwoods advertising five pro tips

Hi Pat — Here are five pro tips that I try to abide by:

1. ABC — Always be coureous!
2. Be good to dogs.
3. Drive at a safe and reasonable speed.
4. Eat three square meals a day.
5. Shower every morning (still working on this one).

I hope you’re having a good summer, and I hope you like this postcard that Amanda ordered for you!

Postcard collage of eohippus and old country house

Caption on back of postcard: Eohippus measured about 18 inches in length. Its back was curved and its legs and neck were short.

Hello Cheyenne! Isn’t this tiny prehistoric horse just cute as the dickens! This postcard pretty much describes the last few years of my life. I got rid of all my genteel trappings — country house, a horse barn built for non-cute, non-miniature, non-prehistoric horses — and traded it for … I don’t know what. Driving around in a van? Holy shit, it’s terrifying that this actually constitutes an upward trajectory to my life.

Postcard collage of Camaro with top secret answers

Hi Kelly — It’s August 19th, and I’m camped out in Trinity National Forest in Northern California. I found a little stand of big old trees with a clearing underneath, and I’m spending the weekend here. A couple folks have cruised by on four-wheelers, but otherwise I’ve had this place completely to myself. My friend Tom gets married in Portland next week … I don’t know why I just told you that.

Postcard collage of Pervez Musharraf contemplating space rescue in front of bison

Hi Kim! I hope you’re having an excellent summer. Mine has been peaceful and relaxing, with a couple glaring exceptions. In Santa Rosa this last week I met a crazy guy on a broken motorcycle who asked me first how he could end all the pain, and then to beat him up. I suspect the motorcycle was just out of gas, but that he was tweaking too hard to realize that fact. But overall mostly things have been good.