Lame Adventure 376: Glimpse of the Future, Gander at the Past

I am hanging out with my friend Coco in SoHo, a neighborhood in lower Manhattan to anyone unfamiliar with this island. SoHo means South of Houston Street, and Houston is pronounced like Mouse-ton with an h, not like the city in Texas, or the movie director, John Huston, Anjelica Huston’s dad. Eagle-eyed Milton took this gotcha shot of Anjelica last year with his iPhone when we were people watching outside the New York Film Festival.

Anjelica Huston at the New York Film Festival in 2012.

Anjelica Huston at the New York Film Festival in 2012 unable to escape Milton’s iPhone.

Fast forward back to the present, Coco and I are walking south on West Broadway, a street rife with expensive boutiques I never enter and art galleries that can be interesting. Coco is very excited because she wants me to see something. She’s walking so fast, she’s almost jogging; she cannot wait for me to see this sight. She stands in front of a window, antsy.

Coco: You’ve got to see this!

My reflexes are a tad perverse. I look at the window right across from me, into a salon. I look back at her quizzically.

Coco (insistent): Look here! In this window!

Coco resists banging her head on the pavement. If she is thinking something rude about the inefficiency of my ability to comprehend, she resists mentioning it out loud. I walk over to join her outside the Eli Klein Fine Art gallery barking:

Me: What?

Industrial strength sign.

Unassuming sign.

Coco smiles devilishly. I see it: a lifelike sculpture by artist Shen Shaomin of a hag who checked her modesty at the door. She’s sitting naked as a jaybird on a deck chair sunning herself. It’s called, I Want to Know What Infinity Is.

I Want to Know What Infinity Is, 2011-2012

I Want to Know What Infinity Is, 2011-2012

Is this, the artist’s rendition of what a woman who lives to be older than dirt can anticipate — catching rays and forgetting about wearing a bathing suit? Am I looking at myself in approximately 50 years? Will my flab be overcome with sag? I update the grocery list in my mind:

Mental grocery list: bananas, pita bread, yogurt, someone who’ll still love me when I’m completely decrepit and will ensure that I’m always clad.

Coco is marveling at the sculpture’s stick thin calves and how gravity has taken such a toll on the breasts. Until my friend mentions that the two dark pointy nubs are actually nipples, I did not realize that those were breasts draped on the sides over the ribs. I assumed that I was looking at leathery flesh dotted with buttons. Because I have a few decades on my pal, and I’m much closer to looking like this withered snoozing crone than she, and that is not a comforting thought.

I wonder if there is someone out there that would actually buy this sculpture and display it in his or her house? It would be quite a conversation piece:

Sculpture Owner: Someone else bought Munch’s The Scream. That was when we decided to go in a completely other direction.

Shen’s even equipped this sculpture with a motor to make it appear to be breathing. I’m not sure how many D batteries are required nor do I know if they’re included with purchase

Foot traffic continues to move at a steady pace past the gallery. Let’s face facts; New York City pedestrians come very close to having seen it all.

Eh, just your average old lady tanning au naturale.

Eh, just your average old lady sculpture tanning au naturale.

Across the street, something even more shocking than this silica gel replica of a naked centenarian catches my eye. Once again, I’m completely captivated.

TV antenna in modern day Manhattan or rooftop art?

TV antenna in modern day Manhattan or rooftop art?

I cannot recall the last time I’ve seen a TV antenna in the thirty years that I’ve lived in Manhattan. It’s possible that I’ve never seen one here until this very day.

Me: Coco! Look up there!

Let's do the time warp again!

Let’s do the time warp again!

I point. Coco looks up. It’s her turn to look at me quizzically.

Me: Who still has a TV antenna in Manhattan in the year 2013?

Coco ignores my question and returns her attention to the sculpture.

Coco: Look, she even has a bunion on her foot!

Maybe in this case, "Untitled" would have worked better?

Maybe in this case, “Untitled” would have worked better?

To see more of Shen’s fascinating, freaky and disturbing work, click on this link. As with the elderly woman sculpture the animals in the series I Sleep On Top of Myself are motorized to appear to be breathing. As my grandmother would say:

Lame Granny: What will they think of next?

In Shen’s case, maybe we don’t want to know, but I imagine that if I saw it, I would not be able to look away.

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96 responses to “Lame Adventure 376: Glimpse of the Future, Gander at the Past

  1. Because they’ve seen so much, I can imagine that New Yorkers are seldom surprised. I’m with you about both the sculpture and the antennae … don’t forget the iron supplements for the list.

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  2. Nice try averting Coco’s attention to the T.V. antenna. Both the sculpture and the antenna are odd, I would agree. I suspect that sculpture is bound for some modern art museum. While I love much of the art displayed in such places – Matisse in particular – there are lots of odd pieces that I just don’t get. This would be one.

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    • Cathy, once again you’re the Voice of Reason on this site. You’ve probably right that that sculpture’s destiny is a modern art museum (it would seem to be right at home on MoMA’s 4th floor — Milton’s joke floor). I think what Shen does is interesting, but I’m with you about what does it mean? I suppose I grew up watching too many cartoons and reading too many comic books to get it.

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  3. Looked at the photo of the sculpture on the trusty iPhone with my seriously out of date prescription specs and thought my favorite neighbor from Nutley, NJ (not Martha Stewart), had a new paying gig. Alas, it was not to be. I definitely like the photo of Ms. Huston better.

    If you need to see more of NJ’s Tan Mom, you can check out this link. http://www.google.com/search?q=tan+mom+wiki&client=safari&hl=en&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=uAyeUeHsFobT0gG0hoCYCw&ved=0CDkQsAQ&biw=320&bih=356&sei=0QyeUZf-FaP84AOuqoDwBA.

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    • How soon before Tan Mom becomes Skin Cancer Mom? Of course, I’m so pasty pale, I make Casper look tan. That sculpture does bring out the voyeur in one, but the subject is also behaving like an exhibitionist and the gallery is certainly trying to press the shock factor button by putting it in the window on a street that attracts a lot of foot traffic.

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  4. Snoring Dog Studio

    Oh, my. Right there, for everyone to see – her pink parts. Except probably not so pink anymore. I’m a bit horrified by it. It is disturbing. If that’s all it takes, I’ll start painting shriveled up old ladies exposing themselves. A fortune awaits.

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    • In person, Jean, those parts look burnt sienna, possibly due to lack of sun block? If you did paint a watercolor or series on the naked and shriveled and called it something esoteric, like Potted Plants Are My Friends you just might make your retirement income in a few brush strokes.

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  5. Excellent – I love her and your assessments.

    R.

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  6. You *do* manage to find the oddest thing on that little island there m’lady. How long have you been shipwrecked at this point? :>

    I have window pic I’d like to put up here but don’t know if that’s an option… hhmmm… let’s give it a whirl. It’s an abandoned store window, right next to a Harry’s Smoke Shop down in Olde City Philadelphia:

    Hmmm… OK, *that* didn’t work. Well, if you’d like to see it, just send me an email at Cantiloper over on gmail and I’ll send it to you. It’s not quite as strange, but on the other hand, it’s probably a lot cheaper! (As in, at least I saw no indications it was for sale or anything….)

    🙂
    MJM

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  7. I love it! The peace on her face is obvious. Bless our hearts for being repulsed by our own bodies(WAY before that look like that!)
    I find I have a tenderness for her and what she has surely seen. I love how she is boldly enjoying sunning her well worn body. May we all find that peace and ease in our lives(and bodies). Sooner rather than later! Great post! Thanks for sharing! 🙂

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    • Crystal, that’s some empathy you’ve got for this sculpture. I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I must say that every day I fail to exercise, I inch closer to being repulsed with my own plush carcass.

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      • In terms of the blatant window display of full frontal nudity… what if the art subject had been a hot 20-year-old?

        As for her peaceful expression while enjoying the sun, I’ve always thought it interesting that one of the more outstanding “picture memories” I have from my college years is one of an elderly “bum” type blissfully sunning himself sitting on the side of a path between two segments of the campus. He was old and dirty and kind of sickly looking, obviously with little in life and nowhere to go but down (as opposed to all of us fresh young college kids), and yet he was so TOTALLY happy and peaceful and enjoying the warm springtime sun on his face!

        – MJM

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  8. I had to click on the photo to see the old woman’s boobs.At first I thought she was completely flat chested.:)
    Maybe the owner of the TV antenna left it up there as a bird perch.

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  9. Like lookin’ in a mirror.

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  10. writerwendyreid

    I don’t know who in their right mind would want that sculpture in their house. I certainly don’t want to be reminded that one day I will look like that naked. As for the tv antenna, I imagine that due to the high rental rates in NYC, they want to save money on their cable bill.

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    • Wendy, I don’t think that outdoor antennas work with digital cable. I do think that if someone out of their mind installed that sculpture in their living room, it would be quite a conversation in and of itself. It might even prompt the familiar, “Either it goes or I go” type of ultimatum chat.

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  11. V, this is kind of….disturbing, not sure if that’s the word I’m looking for. I clicked on the link and saw the dog one that looks shaved and has human-like flesh. And the whole motorized breathing-thing…that’s rather strange. I don’t remember if I was in a museum in D.C. or Memphis but I saw a HUGE sculpture of a fat naked man…it was like this…the skin, wrinkles…everything looked real. I took a pic of it but it’s in a box somewhere. I may not appreciate the art for the sake of it but I do appreciate the skill that it must take to create it!

    Now, the antenna..perhaps someone in Soho had to give up cable since 300 square feet there goes for about what..3 or 4K/month to rent? I do like walking around in Soho though, but not once did I ever stumble across a lifelike naked elderly lady that appeared to be breathing in the sun. Seriously, I gotta get out more.

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    • I found the animal sculptures much more disturbing than the lifelike naked elderly lady. I think that Shen’s technique is impressive, but as for what it all means, I would not mind if there was a user’s manual cluing me in on that secret. I’m still wrapping my challenged brain around why MoMA has a plank painted pink on display for that seems more like modern fraud than modern art to me. Seriously, Brig, you have got to visit this island paradise again! You never know who or what you might see through any window.

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  12. I’m going to pick up a copy of this sculpture and place it on my Victorian front porch in our small town. This will ease the concerns of neighbors who haven’t seen me in a while and suspect I have fallen down my winding back staircase and have gone to explore infinity. Observing the image on my front porch, they’d also assume I hadn’t eaten in decades, that I had stepped away from my computer where previously I sat for infinite hours plushing my carcass.

    I have considered “going antenna” myself, for why should I give the cable company $65/mo. to watch a couple of hours of PBS Masterpiece on Sunday nights and occasionally Anderson Cooper?

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    • This is definitely one of your funniest comments yet, Samantha! I love the idea of you having this naked sculpture on your front porch. Your neighbors will have plenty to yak about then. I need a treadmill desk, I spend so much time like a blob in front of the computer.

      If you’re serious about unloading cable, check out this link.

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      • The treadmill desk, I definitely need. I’ll have to read the whole story in my New Yorker. Also, I love the Roku box. I don’t have a flat screen TV, though — but with the money I’d save I could eventually afford one — well, if I have money left over after I buy toilet paper and other basics. But, wow, indoor antennas; that’s pretty cool. But, then, I guess I’d have to get a MagicJack for my phone, and then — what to do about my computer…? Ideas to ponder. My Comcast cable cuts out just when I’m in the midst of online banking or cuts me off mid phone conversation. Some neat choices. Thanks!

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        • You’re welcome! Keep me posted if you do the Roku box. I wish Santa would stuff a treadmill desk in my stocking, not that I have any place for one in my thumbnail-sized garret.

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          • I will definitely let you know, V. I tend to get complacent, so not sure how soon, but it is a great idea. I am so very close to publishing Vol. II of my book (O.K, I know I’ve been saying this for months, but I’m closer now than I was then, and I’d like to get it out there before the end of allergy season.)

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            • The memory of what it’s like to get a book out is still very fresh in my head. I COMPLETELY understand your priority. Wow, Vol. II!

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              • :-). Yes, and thanks to my surrounding myself with friends who are brighter than I who awakened me to use my secretarial/admin. ass’t, typesetting, formatting, writing/editing talents to potentially make a buck, I am going into the publishing business, now that I’ve formatted two ebooks (Vol. I, once for Smashwords and once for Kindle) and two paperbacks, Vols. I & II). I’m experienced — experienced lets say in just how much longer it takes than you think it will take. And then I can buy that treadmill desk, once I have customers who are patient with getting their self-published tome formatted.

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                • I am seriously considering taking this phrase of yours, “… experienced lets say in just how much longer it takes than you think it will take” and having it translated into Latin and placing it over the entryway of my sanctum sanctorum. Truer words were never spoken when it comes to self publishing. The Kindle conversion also cost Godsend, my graphic designer bud, a major chunk of her sanity.

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                  • 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 Do. Your comment rates 5 happy faces. When you get the translation, send it to me, please. Definitely a slogan to place over a door and across the top of the computer screen. You would think just some simple copying and pasting into the new format would do it, but oh, no, no, no.

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  13. I’ll go with the antenna. Ewww….
    did you see the story in the NYT about the night club in the water tower? I knew I loved those water towers!

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  14. I didn’t realize those were breasts either.

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  15. I think I’ve seen her in the locker room at my gym. You never know what awaits when you go through the door.

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  16. Again, thanks for including locales. South of Houston (by which I mean not specifically SoHo, but the lower chunk of the island) is the part of Manhattan with which I’m most familiar, because I’ve actually done touristy things there. The rest I’ve seen mostly in transit.

    I can’t imagine why anyone would sculpt a naked sun-bathing centenarian or more why someone would want that in their home, but I can’t deny that it’s provocative, and not in a cheap way, but in the way art’s supposed to be. I sometimes know that stuff when I see it, because, as in this instance, I have a reaction to it WITHOUT understanding completely how I feel about it. Another time that happened was when I first saw “The Last Temptation of Christ.” I watched the flick and felt very strongly about it immediately, but it took me about twenty-four hours to figure out that I really liked it.

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    • I was thinking EXACTLY of you Smak, when I gave the location details since you appreciate them so much. I completely agree with this observation of yours: ” I have a reaction to it WITHOUT understanding completely how I feel about it.” I think that many other people feel just like you, too. It is indeed provocative, it made me think about aging in an up front and almost personal way I don’t like to think about, and it’s very well crafted. But what does it mean? I think that’s for the viewer to decide for him or herself, but I can be so lazy. I don’t want to have to work to figure it out.

      I’ve never seen the film adaptation of “The Last Temptation of Christ” but I read the novel about 25 years ago, around the time the film was being made. It was summer and I was doing my laundry at the same laundromat I go to today. There’s a cement step outside that I used to sit on and read as my clothes dried. I was reading that book on the step when a middle aged guy walked past me and sneered, “Ugh! Jesus freak.” As my preferred source of religious comfort, Bugs Bunny, would say, “What a maroon!”

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      • The Bugs was indeed a deep soul.

        I hadn’t known LTOC was a book at the time I saw the movie, or I would have read it first (I have a thing about that that borders on compulsion). I watched it because I wanted to see what all the fuss was about (I was introduced to the sublime Salman Rushdie in a similar fashion). Ironically, because the Catholic church offered Scorsese something like $15 mil to bury the flick, I think it is the most trenchant and beautiful exploration of the central tenet of Christian faith ever put to film, and is actually a cinematic (and I presume literary) celebration of Christianity. Contrast this with Jesus Fight Club (also known as “The Passion of the Christ”), which the Church absolutely loved.

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        • The Passion of the Christ was a film I intentionally did not see, but I immensely enjoyed the Season 5, Episode 3 of Curb Your Enthusiasm called “The Christ Nail”. If you have not seen that episode, I highly recommend it.

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  17. my next door neighbor is 95 and no lie, she sun bathes half nude on her front porch. I call her the golden buddha I had to do a double take while pulling into my driveway because I had no idea what I was looking at– I was in total disbelief. At least she was golden brown… and yep the nips were pointing east and west and everything else..southbound. Little scary and it kinda made me smile cause she did not give a shit who saw her.

    I am with you on the antenna. However– i have friend that still uses one. Funny right..

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  18. Oh, to live in Manhattan. Today when I went out walking with C in our small town in North Carolina, I saw some dirt. But maybe that’s not too different from the decrepit lady?

    Totally unrelated: my husband saw a news item yesterday that the Whitney Museum changed its logo and letterhead after a million years. Totally thought of you.

    Another unrelated note: finished your book last night. PERFECTION ;D

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    • North Carolina dirt could have a very MoMA feel to it.

      Tell B that I for one much preferred the Whitney’s old logo Emily. I am a big believer that if it’s not broken, don’t fix it. I hope this spindly new logo goes the way of New Coke, but I don’t think that’s likely. Now you’ve planted a seed in my head. The Whitney, like MoMA, is free on Fridays from 6 – 9 pm … Well, you pay what you want, at least one cent. I can easily spring a few laundry quarters. An Edward Hopper exhibit just opened. Maybe I can get Milton to go with me.

      I’m so glad that you enjoyed my little tome, especially since you’re such a wonderful fellow writer! If you feel like publishing a little review about it on Amazon, that would be cool, but just the fact that you bought it, you read it and you enjoyed it is so SCHWING (to access my Wayne’s World side), you’ve done plenty already (including that shout out on your site). Thanks!

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  19. NO to the sculpture! YES to the treadmill desk!

    I’m loving your book and relishing it in delicious little bites! Well done you!

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    • So you’re fantasizing about a treadmill desk, too, Patricia? I definitely am not fantasizing about that sculpture or the day when I closely resemble it.

      Thank you so much for the compliment! If you need a fix of silly in the city, it’s fairly reliable source material. The tales are definitely bite-size!

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  20. Well, I love the sculpture. Just love it. Perhaps we are all a little too hooked on the body beautful. The thing the sculpture is missing is that spark of life, though. It’s what makes a very old body extraordinary, that very concentrated experience. Look at Miss Marple.

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    • You might be pleased to know, Kate, that that sculpture is motorized so it appears to be breathing. When Coco and I were observing it, we did not notice it breathing, so the batteries may have died. Maybe he’ll wire future ones, maybe even one sculpted to look like Miss Marple (clad or naked) to get up, do a little Riverdance, and then re-assume the position.

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  21. This always intrigues me… what makes art, art? Is a product under the handiwork of someone acknowledged as ‘an artist’ automatically becomes art, or does art has an inherent, objective definition? I have no answer, and my question probably sounds very naive and stupid. However, with this very old lady sunbathing as an art object, I’m proud to declare I’ve got two… almost a century old too, 93 and 95. Believe it or not, they do sunbathe whenever they have the chance, albeit not naked, and know what, they can get up from the lounge chair and walk around too, one with a cane, the other a walker. Yes, some art, my parents.

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    • Very sweet. I hope I am like that at that age. Being around those who have reached old-old age changes our perspective on life. My mother died at 97; she got dementia at 90 and I cared for her. My aunt is 99, in a nursing facility, still of sound mind (mostly). “Life imitates art far more than art imitates life.” –Oscar Wilde, “The Decay of Lying”

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      • You sure carry the longevity gene. My utmost respect to you for being the caregiver to your mother. As for the quote, it flashed in my mind for a quick second. Thanks for putting it down for me here. Never knew it comes from Wilde. Now, that makes us artists without our knowing it? 😉

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        • Ah, the question continues to be raised. I had Wilde’s quote posted in my writing area for a long time years ago, when I began my writing career. I wholeheartedly agreed with him then, and then later I maybe didn’t, and now … I suppose it’s all the same …? 🙂

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    • I think your question about what makes art, art, Arti (couldn’t resist that trio) is well put and makes perfect sense. I don’t know the answer, either. I do know that I am impressed with Shen’s technique. His hyper-realism does bring out my inner voyeur and it makes me want to stare. But, if I had a choice, I’d much prefer to have The Starry Night hanging on my wall than a silica gel centenarian on display in a corner of my crowded 12′ x 20′ abode. Besides, through the years, I’ve banged my knee enough on the corner of my bed’s platform; I don’t need to find myself tripping over a fake old lady.

      Awwwwwwwwww, that’s sweet that your parents are still sunbathers, but with their modesty intact. Kudos to them!

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      • I’d be careful about the “stop and stare” lotus test re art. Most motorists (much to the chagrin of fellow drivers) will stop and stare and a car wreck. That don’t make it art, lady. Your definition (I know it’s really NOT your definition, but I’m on a rant) is the necessary corollary of Justice Potter Stewart’s (Jacobellis v. Ohio, 1964) definition of pornography–I know it when I see it.

        Civics class is now dismissed.

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  22. There’s a tv antenna on top of the apartment building next to mine. Every time I look out the window and see it twisting this way and that in the wind, I think, isn’t it about time someone took that effing thing down?

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    • I would think the exact same thing, Jackie. It’s probably still up there because people don’t want to take on the hassle of taking it down. They’d rather play Russian Roulette with a lawsuit.

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  23. Hahahaha, there’s a TV antenna on top of my house. It hasn’t functioned for many years, but nobody could be bothered to take it down. Since we’re moving and will be out of this house by next weekend, it now becomes somebody else’s problem. Perhaps you might be interested in the fact that back in the dark ages when TV antennas were still in use, we once had one struck by lightning.

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    • I had an old antenna on my roof from the late 80s until 2008 or thereabouts. :> Haven’t really had a functioning (or at least active) TV since around 2004 when I had a fight with the cable company and told them to just turn the thing off. Reception, even WITH a roof antenna, had never been very good in my part of Philly and I wasn’t that big a TV freak to begin with so I just never bothered trying to reactivate it.

      Today I use Hulu for my few series — Arrow, Hannibal, W13, Endgame, Fringe (ended now… :/), Booth on the End, stuff of that stripe.

      – MJM

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      • It is true that you can access so much programming through one’s computer, but I haven’t ditched my TV yet, Michael, but I do think about it more and more. Still, I like the convenience of just turning it on for a quick fix of sports (watching the French Open right now) or some big news event. Overall, I can take it or leave it. I’m much more into the Internet.

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        • Ahh, you are a sports addict. Very sad… it’s an addiction often taken up in childhood (over 95% of sports addicts began as children) and tends to last until death. Fortunately I somehow escaped the trap. I have NOOOO clue as to who won the last few world series or superbowl cups and would be just as happy (actually unhappy) watching bowling as a basketball game. In terms of the net, I’m on here with my research and writing and politicking at least 60 hours a week. Checking my email is the first thing I do in the morning and the last thing I do in the evening (heh, well, whatever passes in my world for mornings and evenings in any event!)

          – MJM

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    • Whoa, struck my lightning! Now if only that happened while you were on a cruise (so you can angle your theme into your post), I’d love to hear that tale!

      Ha, you comment plays into my response to Jackie who has a TV antenna on top of the apartment building next to hers. It twists in the wind and she wonders why they just don’t take it down? Your comment backs up my response.

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  24. Poor crone! No one likes her. She shows a little too much while Yoda is so cute. But then he’s not buck naked either. Now, I know this may be urban legend and since i’ve never lived in the urbanest of all places, New York, I know it sounds crazy, but I’ve heard a simple old-fashion antenna will add stations to cable. I only heard it….

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  25. Serendipity: this joke just arrived in my email box today:

    =====

    Retirement is different for everyone:
    One day, while going to the shop, I passed by a retirement village. On the front lawn were six old ladies, lying naked on the grass. I thought this was a bit unusual, but continued on my way.
    On my return trip, I passed the same retirement village with the same six old ladies lying naked on the lawn.
    This time my curiosity got the better of me and I went inside to talk to the retirement village Administrator, and asked her, “Do you know there are six ladies lying naked on your front lawn?””Yes,” she said, “aren’t they darlings? They’re retired prostitutes – they’re having a yard sale.”

    – MJM

    Like

  26. M’lady, I do my best…. 🙂

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  27. beverly halliday

    Excellent indeed!!!
    I like the joke too

    Like

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