Thursday, August 22, 2019

Dust jacket scrap from kinky book:
"The Stoned Apocalypse"

When I picked this up on a lark at a book sale in Lancaster, the dust jacket was tattered and beyond salvaging. So I trimmed it down to a portion that I could save for posterity. You can see what the full dust jacket looked like here.

  • Title: The Stoned Apocalypse
  • Author: Marco Vassi (1937-1989)
  • Author's full name: Marco Ferdinand William Vasquez-d'Acugno Vassi
  • Designer (presumably of the dust jacket): Jack Jaget
  • Publisher: Trident Press, New York
  • Publication date: 1972
  • Pages: 251
  • Format: Hardcover
  • Back cover excerpt: "By the time he was thirty, Marco Vassi had worked as a translator of Chinese, a New York public-school teacher, a psychotherapist, an editor of men's magazines, a librarian, and had been in a Franciscan monastery deciding whether he wanted to be a priest. The following three years ⁠— the subject of this book ⁠— took him through a period of chaos during which he engaged in a coast-to-coast, surreal wrestling match, and observed the spiritual death of the psychedelic sixties."
  • Should I send the kids to bed now? Probably.
  • First sentence: "Are you ... searching?"
  • Last sentence: I have stopped searching.
  • Random sentence from the middle #1: We all flashed the existential dilemma of our reliance on the sun, that source of all life which is so obvious we come, stupidly, to take it for granted and forget, each day, to reel in the wonder of its existence.
  • Random sentence from the middle #2: And now the two of them were flying to Chicago to confront the dragon and come away with booty.
  • Well, that's not so bad. Just wait.
  • Random sentence from the middle #3: We began making animal noises, and making the big bed squeak with our thrashings.
  • Um. You were warned.
  • More about Vassi: According to Wikipedia, he "was an American experimental thinker and author, most noted for his erotica. ... Vassi was born and lived most of his life in New York City. He was married three times, but was well known for sexual, drug, and alternative-lifestyle experimentation. He viewed life as the theory and practice of liberation, an exploration of being sexual, that is an all-sexual being, bisexual, and homosexual. Vassi coined the term metasex, which meant any sex outside the bounds of heterosexual marriage."
  • Goodreads rating of The Stoned Apocalypse: 4.06 stars (out of 5)
  • Goodreads review excerpt: In 2009, Lena wrote: "The book also served as an intriguing window into a world that was mostly over before I was even aware of its existence. Vassi's depictions of the drugs he took while bouncing between hippie crash pads is colorful to say the least. In the midst of expanding his mind, he also expanded his sexuality, moving through various stages of denial and experimentation before finally accepting his own bisexuality."
  • Amazon review excerpt: In 2012, Sarah wrote: "After I read this I had a much better understanding of the 1960's and the mindset that was innocent enough to believe there was still such a thing as a free ride, a free life, a free mind and body."
  • Opposing Amazon review excerpt: In 2014, Ian wrote: "He gets involved in a few spiritual movements, takes LSD and meanders though the 1960s. He's a shallow vessel and the book becomes tedious. I gave up about half way through."
  • Best title of a Vassi novel: The Devil's Sperm is Cold

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Happy 20th birthday, Hua Mei
(recalling Panda Cam mania)

Infant Hua Mei, left, and Bai Yun appear in this panda cam screen shot from November 24, 1999.

Break out the frozen-juice cake!! Today is the 20th birthday of Hua Mei (华美), a female giant panda. The daughter of mother Bai Yun (1991-present) and father Shi Shi (c. 1970s-2008), Hua Mei was born at the San Diego Zoo on August 21, 1999, and became the first giant panda cub to survive to adulthood in the United States.

In 1999, during the early years of the world wide web, connections were slow and multimedia technology was primitive. But we did have Panda Cam, and it was one of the coolest things on Earth! The Panda Cam window was about 3 inches wide. It was a low-resolution, black-and-white video image. It was prone to lagging. But it was addictive! Here's a short sample clip:

Fellow copy editor Mike McCombs and I would watch the 24/7 Panda Cam endlessly on our PCs in the Spartanburg Herald-Journal sports department. It's a wonder we managed to finish the section on some nights, as we watched Bai Yun's daughter Hua Mei grow from a little peanut to a toddler. It was just like The Truman Show, but without Laura Linney pitching products.

Hua Mei has lived in China since 2004 and has given birth to at least 10 cubs over the years. Giant pandas can live to the age of 30 to 35 in captivity, so she should have many birthdays remaining.

This past spring, 27-year-old Bai Yun and her youngest cub, Xiao Liwu, left the San Diego Zoo to return to China, per the terms of the zoo's conservation loan agreement. To the best of my knowledge, only three American zoos still have giant pandas — Zoo Atlanta, the Memphis Zoo and the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. You can see the National Zoo's Panda Cam here. It's a lot snazzier than the one we were watching 20 years ago.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Papergreat's whole lotta
late-summer reads 2019

Instagram photo by me

OK, I think I went overboard on this big batch of mainstream and less-mainstream reading recommendations. There's more than enough interesting content here to tide you over until Halloween.

Serious stuff

Less-serious stuff

Frivolous-yet-still-meaningful stuff

Instagram photo by me

Monday, August 19, 2019

It's never too soon for the fairy tale of autumn school days

Across Pennsylvania, many kids are donning their backpacks1, grabbing their lunches from the counter, boarding buses and returning to school this week. It's one of the first signs of autumn, along with the Reese's pumpkins that hit stores, oh, about a month ago.

Papergreat has been awash in School Days history and nostalgia for many years, with 150+ posts under that label. Shown above is the perfect example of an illustration style that evokes wistful memories for many generations who navigated the 20th century, particularly from the 1940s through 1970s. This two-page spread comes from Let's Count: Growth in Arithmetic, which was published in 1953 by World Book Company and written by John R. Clark, Charlotte W. Junge and Caroline Hatton Clark. More importantly, it was illustrated by Betty Alden and Revere F. Wistehuff.2 Those two artists captured the spirit of a time that hits home for many. There's the one-story school building with windows that open to serve as the air-conditioning. There's golden fall foliage, kickball, jump rope, light jackets, sandals and dress shoes, and so many smiling faces.

So many white smiling faces. You won't find any people of color in Let's Count, unless you are referring to the Native American mask being made by a student in one of the illustrations. This was 1953, of course. Later textbooks, starting in the 1960s and especially into the 1970s, were slightly more inclusive when it came to the skin color of the children in the illustrations. And I've seen excellent school books from circa 1970 that went out of their way to be diverse, but those were definitely the exception.3

But even beyond the whiteness of these illustrations, they present a bit of a comforting fairy tale of autumn School Days that never existed. When we were present in those times, either as students or as parents with our own children, it was never about the beauty of the outdoors or the playground or the flag pole or the classroom decorations or the other things highlighted in mid-century school illustrations.

It was about staying in strict lines in the hallways, surviving the drama (and sometimes the bullies) of the playground, the chaos of the crowded cafeteria, the runny noses, the quizzes, the trips to the nurse's office, the looming presence of the principal4, the threat of punishment for talking too much or breaking other rules, the constant watching of the clock and learning to count by counting the minutes until the dismissal bell. We weren't sitting at our desks thinking these are the true golden days.

There was some good, of course. "Library day" meant taking a class trip — everyone stay in line! — to the room filled with books. There, you could find something interesting to read and squirrel yourself away in the sunkenarium or some other quiet corner until it was time to march back to the classroom.

But, beyond that...

I'm not saying that we have no great memories of our School Days. We all definitely do. I just find it interesting to see how we have such rose-colored glasses about certain aspects of the past, especially when we know it was never close to being how it looked in the pictures and illustrations.

And, of course, websites like this one perpetuate and encourage that nostalgia.

1. Kevlar backpacks, in some cases.
2. Revere F. Wistehuff is one of the best names to appear on this blog.
3. The Cooperative Children's Book Center tallies the numbers and percentage of children's books featuring people of color each year. Progress remains too slow. But it's certainly better now than it was six decades ago.
4. One of my elementary school principals had a paddle that was only spoken of in hushed whispers.