It’s hard to be sad and useful at the same time.


This quote came to me via one of my comedic heroes, Louis C.K., who cites as a source of inspiration in his own early life.

It’s apparently a snippet of dialog from an old Spencer Tracy movie in which Tracy was admonishing a young, beautiful socialite who was down on her luck and feeling sorry for herself.

I offer it here because it’s a reminder that an effective antidote for depression can often be a shift of focus away from our own interior struggles and toward others. Or to just be of use in the world, in some way, big or small, every day.



HiRes Chalkboard Background Files in PSD format


Bigger, more customizable chalkboard backgrounds for designers

Challenge: Lately I’ve had several requests for backgrounds that have particular features, like more “chalk” blur, or fewer scratches and specks, etc.

I’ve also been asked to provide backgrounds at larger sizes for posters and signs, especially for weddings, menus, etc. So…

Solution: Rather than reinventing the wheel and creating multiple versions of the chalkboard background files, you get to do all the work! Brilliant! Thank you.

So have at it, you uber-picky chalkboarders. Here are my original .PSD files for your edification.

  • 300 dpi so they’ll print with quality
  • RGB color space so you can add color tints if you’re so inclined. Change mode to CMYK of Grayscale for print projects.
  • Layers are clearly marked so you know what you’re altering.
  • Create more layers and/or add text according to the formula outlined here.

8.5x11 PSD files for 3.99

16x20 PSD files for 5.99


Tutorial: How to convert your hand-lettering into vector shapes using Adobe Shape


Stuff you’ll need if you want to try the techniques in this tutorial: 

(Sorry to any legacy Adobe application users. This tutorial relies on features only found of the Creative Cloud Libraries.)

Hey kids, there’s a fun new toy in the sandbox!

It’s now possible to go from sketchbook to finished artwork in a few clicks.

Graphic designers have been turning raster images into vectors using Illustrator and the Trace Image feature for a long time but Adobe Shape, albeit a less precise way to accomplish this, gives us a much more spontaneous way to vectorize 2D and 3D stuff in real time, so for those of us who are way into instant gratification, this couldn’t be more up our alley(s). Case in point…I was watching some Swedish murder mystery on Netflix the other night and had my iPad open to Shape and decided to try vectorizing a few scenes that had relatively little movement. This is what I got:


The top image is of a guy swimming in a lake. The other just two guys talking. I spent literally no time on these but as an example of how to capture abstract shapes from literally anything you can photograph. If you can see it, you can path it!

This next image is a Shape rendering of a still life photo that already existed in my Photos library.


How the title graphic at the top of this post was created using a simple vector shape, plus hand lettering and a background scene photographed with Adobe Shape. 


First, I created a pen shape above to contain the title lettering. I started in Illustrator by manually creating a vector shape, then brought that shape into Photoshop, then cut and pasted the layer into Corel Painter. I know all that sounds complicated but I wanted the pen shape to have a textured background and by selecting the black shape in Painter with Auto Select, I could then hide the layer and paint within the selection on a new layer with a pastel brush. I then saved the Painter file as a .psd and opened it back up in Photoshop.

Then some serious fun…


I printed out the pen shape and used it behind a piece of tracing vellum so I knew where to execute my pencil lettering then used a #2 Ticonderoga to draw the letters and didn’t worry too much about the minute details. Once I had it the way I wanted it compositionally, I used my iPad Mini and Adobe Shape to capture the vectorized version of the lettering.


It’s hard to see in the photo but Shape is zeroing in on the dark areas of the design and displaying those areas in green in the iPad display. You can adjust the level of sensitivity to refine the detail and it also allows you to capture a reversed image. Press the camera-style “shutter release” button and it auto-magically creates a vector file which is then saved to a designated Creative Cloud Library.

Creative Cloud Libraries could be the coolest thing Adobe has come up with in years—if you routinely use more than one application for a project (which I do lots of), you can access artwork you’ve saved from various projects, text, color swatches, images, stock photos and just drag and drop them into most CC applications. So to create the title illustration above, I opened a new Illustrator file, dragged my lettering vector artwork onto the art board to do a little vector path clean up, although I could have just as easily dragged the same file into Photoshop (the same CC Libraries appear in almost every Adobe app) and used masks and brushes to get rid of unwanted bits and pieces. It all depends on what kind of edits you want to make.

Starting with the same .psd file I opened up from Painter, I added a color layer for a background and dropped my lettering right on top of the pen layer I created in Illustrator.


I intentionally used a setting in Shape that would pick up a lot of the artifacts created by the wrinkly tracing paper and side lighting, which added some “schmutz” around the letters. I edited out 80% of it but left a little in for character.

The background needed some interest so I used Shape again, set up a “scene” and photographed it in order to create some background interest.


I used this layer right over the background color layer, filled it with color and reduced the opacity to help it recede into the background.



Shape also works on pencil/ink line work illustrations. Left is the pencil sketch nearly all inked in, right is the Adobe Shape vector version.



I played with multiple, layered copies and blending modes in Illustrator to give it a slightly offset color separation look and feel. Here’s one option:


 The Takeaway

Some extremely famous and talented calligraphers and letterers use a version of this technique for getting their work from sketch to digital canvas. Since my work is usually much less precise and more sketchy and imprecise, this technique suits my style perfectly, and workflow-wise is much more efficient than scanning and using image trace tools. Photographing 2D line work won’t pick up the fine detail that a 600 dpi scan will, but that’s okay for some projects.

So no, I’m not on the Adobe payroll but I do like to call out a good product when I run across it.

While my first reaction to this tool was definitely “kid in a candy store”, I probably won’t use it for every project. But used in conjunction with CC Libraries, it’s definitely now a permanent resident of my go-to tool box.

Without aspirations we are nothing but meat with habits :: Nancy Ellen Abrams

I read this quote in a recent article by scientist/philosopher Nancy Ellen Abrams on the NPR website and let out a “bwaaa-hah” that sent my cat into the next room. Love the pull-no-punches ideas from this author and this quote from her is both inspiring and a little sobering.

Nancy Ellen Abrams quote

And because I can’t help from spilling my guts about new hand-lettering techniques, here’s the deal with this one:

I sketched this in sketchpencil first, then inked it in with a .5mm Micron drawing pen, then erased the pencil. Then came the magic part. I opened an app called Adobe Shape on my iPad Mini and without even so much as moving from my desk, created a vector image of the sketch, which then was automagically uploaded to my Adobe Creative Cloud library, which then I accessed from the Photoshop CC Library panel. So cool. You can also store color swatches, graphic assets, styles and all sorts of other stuff in the Library and access them from Photoshop, Illustrator or InDesign. And the experimentation with Shape has only begun. The other night I was watching TV and tried photographing a few images of the screen with Shape. Suffice to say if you pick your moments…

The vector image from Shape created some odd interpretations in certain places so I created a layer mask over the whole text layer after sliding the artwork from the Library to an 8.5×11, 300 dpi background file I created in Photoshop. The mask allowed me to edit the layer without making permanent changes.

Then, to get some of the pastel effects, I placed the layered .psd into a Corel Painter file and with the text artwork layer selected, chose Select > Auto Select, which gave me a selection of the artwork. I hid the text layer, created a new one and started working on the text with a pastel brush. The backgrounds, counter fills, were also done with a pastel brush on separate layers. I saved the Painter file as .psd and opened it in Photoshop to generate the web images, etc.

The Shape of things to come

All this took about an hour. Of course to replicate this workflow exactly requires having a Creative Cloud account with Adobe, which I do for my day job anyway. But even without the instant gratification which the Adobe CC Library makes possible, scanning your inked artwork and “vectorizing” it makes for some intriguing results. There are services like Vector Magic that will do an online scan on a per piece basis, if you’re curious. They also sell a desktop version of their app but it’s crazy expensive. Anyway, these tools (Shape + Photoshop + Painter) really work nicely together with my particular lettering style which is more free form and primitive. But I know serious big time letterers like Jessica Hische work in a similar style—sketch, ink, photograph, vectorize, refine. In her case, refine refine refine refine. Not so much with me.

How to Make Kombucha in 6 Easy Steps :: Anatomy of a Runaway Infographic

I’ve been a serious Kombucha drinker for some years now and started making my own in 2013, partly to save money as store bought Kombucha runs about $3-4$ per 12 oz. bottle, as opposed to around $.50/gallon to make it yourself, but also because it’s just big nerdy fun to make a bunch of tea, stick a gelatinous frisbee thing in it and end up with some weird, fizzy lifting drink that Genghis Khan drank and that might have alien origins.

So because I love translating stuff I’m excited about into fun and practical infographics for my Foolish Fire readers, I began executing the one below so anyone interested in how to make this wonderful elixir of life would not just have another cute piece of hand-executed artwork but an honest to goodness at-a-glance reference, kinda like the Egg Guide and Fruit Sticker infographic. But then…

…the project got away from me. I really thought “6 steps” would end up being a manageable size for an infographic, after all infographics are typically long, but I’m afraid this one, when all was said and hand-lettered, weighs in at 73 inches deep x 8 inches wide!! Taller than me, truth be told. When the high-res version was finally finished, I went to generate the web version and checked the Image Size in Photoshop and almost fell out of my Herman Miller onto the floor laughing.

So I apologize to anyone who now has to figure out how to actually use this thing. In a web browser, I should provide complimentary bandaids to protect index fingers from scroll wheel overuse, cuz damn, it really takes five minutes to get to the bottom. I tried reducing the width but legibility quickly went south.

In print form, it requires 8 sheets of letter-sized paper that will have to be stitched together (maybe I should have included a ruler grid along the sidebar so it can double as growth chart for your kids.)

If this thing doesn’t break Pinterest I’ll be curious to see if anyone re-pins it. The Egg and Fruit sticker graphic have done quite well but a) I’m not enough people really know or care about Kombucha to bother reading it, and b) it’ll look like a piece of moldy fettuccine in the feed. Muolto estupido.

To any aspiring DIY Kombucha makers…there are some vastly more practical ebook format, PDF guides on and

To any aspiring graphic designers, consider the usability of your projects before executing.

To any aspiring illustrators with a bug up your butt idea you just have to share with the world, a few pens and a lot of paper, what the hell…onward and downward!


It’s Summer dammit!

I like inclement weather. The closer I physically get to the fog-shrouded coast the more chipper becomes my demeanor. But this is nuts. It’s frickin’ May, it’s flippin’ California and it hasn’t gotten above 68 for weeks. My cats are velcroed to the bed. I’m wearing a sweater as we speak. I know this qualifies as a heat wave in god-forsaken zip codes like Minnesota but we Cali types prefer we stow our sweatshirts sometime around tax day and retrieve them around Halloween.

So just in the nick, a client needed an illustration for a concert extolling the virtues of Summer. Might be over the top. But I’m cold dammit.


Mercury, dirty dishes and how I survived WalMart and lived to tell about it—a skeptic’s journal.

Mercury in Retrograde :: A Skeptic's Journal

I don’t believe in astrology because I try to be a rational, reasonable person. That said, I swear I can predict when Mercury has gone retrograde.

For you uninitiated who may not be familiar, the term “Mercury going retrograde” refers to a celestial phenomenon wherein 3 or 4 times a year the planet Mercury appears to “catch-up” to the Earth’s orbit and appears to be moving in an opposite, or retrograde orbital direction in relation to Earth. It’s really just an optical illusion. That’s the science part. The rest of it, like the disasters that inevitable follow,  is just astrological clap trap. Suffice to say Mercury went “retro” on January 21 and will probably be a pain in my ass until around February 11.

As mentioned, I don’t believe in astrology, or past lives, tarot cards, or most of the other crap theories you’ll find in the New Age/Occult aisle of Barnes and Noble. I am however on the fence about the Mercury thing. And here’s just one more example why…

I woke up last Saturday morning to a broken dishwasher—admittedly a first-world problem and I feel slightly embarrassed about even calling it a problem. But, as I do a lot of cooking and it’s an appliance I rely on every day,  let’s call it a ‘serious inconvenience’. Less of a thing maybe than a tree falling through your roof but more of a thing than say, a crack in your car windshield.

Like any responsible DIY homeowner on a Saturday faced with a broken appliance, Plan A is always to try to fix it myself. In other words I started pushing the same combination of buttons over and over hoping for a different result. No joy. I deep-Google the problem. No joy. So like most DIY homeowners I give up on Plan A within a few minutes and proceed straight to Plan B—call an appliance repairman/woman on Monday•.

*I’m careful to say “repairman/woman because I recently called a plumbing company to send someone out to unclog a sewer line and they sent a female plumber, which was both a reminder that I lived in the SF Bay Area and, made me wish my grandfather were alive just to see how long it would take him to ask her, “so when is the plumber coming?” What can I say? it was a different era. For the record, honestly, given a choice, I prefer female plumbers. But I digress…

Having accepted that I would be manually washing dishes for a while, I set about to attack the pile I assumed had been cleaned by my otherwise reliable German-made dishwasher 24-hours prior but in fact had just been sitting there in a steamy metal cabinet culturing strains of god-knows-what kind of lethal pathogen.

So fearing for my family’s health and safety, I grabbed the stopper device from under the sink and started to fill it up with hot water. At that moment the sink stopper contraption came apart in three pieces in my hand. At this point I would normally just chuckle benignly and chalk this up to coincidence but whenever something breaks—then something else breaks right afterward, I get a little nervous. A little back story may explain why…

Me and Merc go way back

A few years ago during a Mercury retrograde cycle, within a period of two days—and this is not just true but all too typical—my watch bezel broke, then my office phone, then my internet connection went down while uploading a clients’ website files, then I went completly blank on my ATM PIN number while at the Trader Joe’s checkout stand with 10 people in line behind me. These are not disasters—clearly—just a little chaos in a short amount of time. But wait there’s more…

Mi cepillo con muerte (my brush with death)

During a retrograde cycle that same year..and again, true story…while on an up-and-back hike with my sister in a local state park—on the “up” leg , minding my own business, just walking side by side along a hot dusty fire road, talking away, I stepped on a rattlesnake as it was crossing the trail in front of us. Never even saw it until my sister let out a screech that dislodged pine cones from the trees as I simultaneously stepped on the snake and executed a Cirque du Soleil-quality-never-before-seen bit of spastic maneuvering to avoid being bitten, as it slithered away, annoyed but unharmed. I, on the other hand, was traumatized, embarrassed, and already wondering what legal remedies I might seek to enjoin my sister from ever describing the dance I’d just done to any other living human. But it gets better…

On the way “back” up the trail, just when my adrenaline had reached close to normal levels, I was again, minding my own business, albeit more conscious of “moving sticks” ahead on the trail, discussing my previous near-brush with death, when I stepped squarely, precisely and pretty fucking perfectly, on another rattlesnake in the middle of the trail. Again…screech, bizarre dance moves like Jagger grabbing a downed power line, heart rate reaching hummingbird-on-espresso levels. But, we both live to tell about it (me and Snake #2, not my sister, who may choose to “tell about it” but not live long after that).

And just when you think that was all the deadly reptile one person deserves in one day….when I got home, and even before I could tell my wife the tale of my twin brushes with death…the gardner I had hired to clear some brush from the backyard called me over. He was clearly agitated and as his English was limited, employed dramatic hand gestures to aid the following story; apparently while weeding the back yard he had spooked “un grande serpiente” ,(at this he spread his arms and leaned back a little like he was about to hug a side-by-side refrigerator) and then he grabbed his pinky with his thumb and forefinger and wiggled it back and forth while making a “chickachickachicka” sound. I knew exactly what he was describing. It was Mercury in retrograde.

The bottom line is, since then my Merc radar is pretty much always set to sensitive and Saturday, as I surveyed the pile of fetid, bacteria-laden, unwashed dishes sitting on my kitchen counter, and the sink stopper in three pieces, little pings were starting to go off.

Two disasters do not a Merc-ing make

I repaired the sink stopper well enough to prevent drainage and went to squirt some dish soap into the sink from the sink-mounted soap dispenser. It was empty. When you have a fully functioning automatic German dishwasher, you don’t need a lot of dish soap, hence I don’t check it that often, hence it ran dry. But, not to worry. I have a bottomless, drum-sized, emergency bottle of Dawn I bought at Costco during the Clinton administration that I keep in my pantry closet. It was gone. The Dawn was, say it with me…gone.

Sense of humor still in tact there was no cursing or throwing dish towels at the cat. I simply informed my wife I was going down to CVS to buy some dish washing supplies before our kitchen became a Superfund site. Done and done. 

So let’s review (bear in mind I don’t know for certain at this point that Mercury is in retrograde but the evidence is mounting). First, a fairly new, top quality German engineered dishwasher breaks suddenly. b) sink stopper falls apart,  c) giant bottle of dish soap just vanishes. A flurry of admittedly pretty minor league problems, but this is exactly what Merc likes to do. Oh yes, I could smell a planetary plot unfolding. 

So I prepare to execute suburban homeowner Plan C— Step 1: go to CVS for dish soap and a drying rack (also missing), Step 2: rent a RedBox movie while there. Step 3: come home, cook a lovely garlic-dill salmon dinner, do dishes by hand (no problem), watch a movie, call repair person on Monday. It’s simple, it’s quick, it involves lots of no snakes.

I go down to the garage, get in the car and immediately notice a 12” crack in the windshield—and not just the little spidery, quarter-sized crack from a piece of random highway shrapnel but a crack traveling left to right in real time in a gentle downward arc. Spelling out in cursive, “you now need a new windshield—Love, Merc”.

Now I’m pissed. I pick up my phone.

“Siri…call Sara”.

“Calling Sara, James.”

“Hi, hon’.” my wife answers. 

“Hi…hey…what’s up with this crack in the windshield?” I’m on speaker while backing out of the garage.

“Oh right…I noticed that yesterday. Bummer, huh? “

‘Soooo you don’t remember how it happened?” I ask, partially aware that this may be a useless and potentially hazardous line of questioning.

“Well, no. Not really.” I could sense her blame radar was fully engaged but in that special way where even if I stupidly accused her of some kind of negligence, she would find it more amusing than insulting, knowing that the phrase “shit happens” was invented for exactly this type of event.

“Oh, okay. Geezus. Crazy, right? First the dishwasher, now we suddenly need a new windshield. Holy crap…you don’t think…”

“Hon…just breathe.” She senses my increasing agitation.

“Right, sure. Okay, I’m good. One thing at a time. Shit happens. Off to CVS. Back in a flash.”

Hardware. A guy thing.

On the way to CVS I remind myself that even a full windshield replacement is a first-world problem and nothing I can’t handle. Insurance will probably cover all or part of it anyway. It’s not life or death. No harm, no foul. And the dishwasher repair—okay maybe $100-200, plus a new windshield…I continue to take long, slow breaths as previously instructed.

I get to CVS. I buy a small, temporary replacement bottle of dish soap. But CVS has no sink stopper thingy, no drying rack. I go to the RedBox, rent a “feel good” movie, for obvious reasons. I still need dishwashing supplies so I go to the Home Depot about a mile away.

Entering the Home Depot I reflexively assume the  “don’t ask for help because you’re a guy in  a hardware store” posture, especially since I’m looking for a dish drying rack, which is just short of admitting I have no testosterone. I’m wishing I had a more masculine hardware need, like if a tree had fallen through my roof and I needed chainsaw oil and 200 board feet of rough “2-by’s” or really anything requiring an arcane knowledge of tools and several bags of cement.

Finally, I must have looked pathetic and lost enough to attract a Home Depot employee who asks me if I need help. With a hint of a southern drawl that seems to only emerge in hardware and auto repair establishments, I say, “yeah…my dishwasher broke and I need a dryin’ rack until I can fix it…do you have those?” I try awkwardly to mime “drying rack” but it comes out more like “me make sandwich”.

The Home Depot guy looks bemused. “No-o-o-o…I…don’t…think…we…carry…those.” he says, injecting enough ellipses between words to augment his over-the-top incredulity. “You might try Walmart for that”. He smiles a half smile. I think…”pretty smug for a guy named Bryce wearing an orange apron.” 

No please…not Walmart

“Oh sure, okay.” I reply.  “I’m trying to avoid Walmart, but thanks.” Which is actually true. I’ve never shopped there. Ever. I’m a good liberal progressive and I don’t like WalMart. I don’t support their business model which is centered around the false premise that cheap is good. Not to mention how they exploit their workers. I could go on. Bryce says, “I know what you mean. I quit WalMart in October. I hated it there. How about Target? They must have dish racks.”

Instantly Bryce becomes more likable. We probably hate Walmart for different reasons, but he’s now an ally in my quest to find manual dish washing equipment. I make some offhanded crack about not being able to “swipe your card at Target “ but he’s already disengaged and moving on to assist more qualified customers with their more pressing and manly, first-world problems.

So now I’m standing outside Home Depot on the horns of a real consumer dilemma wrapped up in a crisis of conscience and stuffed inside an unfolding cosmic clusterfuck. I can suck it up and go across the parking lot to WalMart, compromise my principles but probably buy a dish rack, or drive 10 miles down the freeway to Target and risk having my dinner at 10 p.m. and my personal data compromised.

And damn if this isn’t just the kind of chaotic conundrum that means Mercury must be in full, unabashed, retro-freakin-grade. I look skyward into the heavens, shake a fist at Mercury (later I learned the actual planet Mercury was actually 180 degrees behind me) and begrudgingly, and sheepishly, start walking across the parking lot, toward WalMart.

“Welcome to Walmart”

As I prepare to enter Walmart for the first time. Ever. I am chagrined but resolute. I immediately pass one of the infamous, elderly greeters sitting on a stool near the shopping carts who looks like he’s been there since I bought that mega bottle of Dawn dish soap. He says in a scratchy monotone, “Welcome to WalMart”  for the 16,000th time that day, no doubt. I return a scowly but sympathetic, “Thanks, man”.

The first thing I notice about WalMart is that it smells like a freshly unwrapped, plastic outdoor table cloth with just a hint of gym bag. The lighting is fluorescent on steroids, slightly chartreuse and a lot brighter than natural daylight, which added to the soft-rock soundtrack being piped in from my dead Aunt’s hi-fi in heaven, explains the overall sense that we may be in Kansas or some other flat, expansive, hellish netherworld. 

I head for the giant sign that says “Household” in Helvetica Bold. The aisles are stacked head-height on both sides, they’re maze-like, disorderly but containing a surprising mix of top brands along with obvious knock-offs. But, I know my kitchen tools and frankly, I’m a little impressed.

“Focus”, I mutter under my breath. “Dish rack. Sink stopper. Scrubber thingy. Back across the parking lot. Get in windshield-crack car. Hope nothing else breaks on way home. First, swallow pride, ask for help cuz not finding dish racks. Also losing articles and conjunctions at alarming rate.”

I spy an older Walmart employee milling about with a yellow cart full of “go backs”. I ask, “Excuse me, where can I find dish drying racks?” He drops his head, tilts it to one side, an eye skewed in my direction. He speaks very little English.

“Who…dish pack?”.

“No, Dish…rack. For drying dishes?” I enunciate but not too much. I’m careful not to insult. It’s a liberal thing—“show no impatience with ESL speakers”.

Finally, he understands and scuttles off ahead of me flicking his finger to follow. Success. I arrive at a loosely organized wall of all things “kitchen sink”.

There is a woman blocking my access and muttering to herself, “Damn. Should have measured first.” She’s obviously seeking similar quarry. She adds to the 3 or 4 dish racks in various sizes, colors and quality levels nested in her cart and realizes I have a similar objective by the antsy vibe I must be giving off. She sheepishly backs off as I pluck the first likely, stainless steel wire dish rack from the lower shelf and check the price tag.

Holy freakin’ crap…so cheap!

To a seasoned “WalMartian”, the reaction that followed is probably considered a normal  thing for a WalVirgin. I’m talking about the incredulous, gobsmacked “What the hell? Only $insert lowlow price?. Seriously?!” always uttered out loud, involuntarily, as the light of reason slowly fades from our eyes and we go a little dead inside.

With newborn fascination I return to the disheveled display of kitchen accoutrements to see what else I could score for almost no money. Two dish scrubbers for $1.67. A sink supper thingy for $1.19. A rubber mat for under the dish rack for $.99. I could pay for all of this with the lost meter change between my car seats, with what I spent yesterday at Starbucks! I find myself at a crossroads staring into Sam Walton’s big blue-eyed, American “Always Low Prices” abyss, mixing metaphors uncontrollably.

I look around at the carts of my fellow shoppers—14 cans of Stagg’s chile, a floor mop and a pressboard shelf unit. Another cart …2 cases of Red Bull on the bottom level, a dozen jars of sauerkraut on a bed of  polyester pajamas the color of an irradiated flamingo, and a blister pack of screwdrivers in the kid carrier. No rhyme, no reason. It’s so cheap. It must be good. Cheap is good. Is cheap good? Cheap IS good. I feel a flood of dopamine release in my brain. No wonder people shop here. Then a voice from deep down said…

“Run, you fool!”

After my self-inflicted dope slap, I lose no time choosing the closest of 82 register lines and anxiously await my turn, ATM card out of wallet and poised to swipe. A woman ahead of me in line and dressed in sweats and 50’s glasses is accusing the checker of charging her twice for a bottle of water. She clearly has two bottles of water on the bagging table, which is pointed out matter-of-factly by the emotionless Walmart checker (or Guest Services Attendant, or whatever). I nervously tap my ATM card on the conveyor belt as the terse transaction ahead eats up precious seconds I could be NOT spending in this place where consumers go to blissfully die, having spent their kid’s inheritance on crap they don’t need but might need so they buy ten of them because it’s sooooo cheap…it must be good.

“Get out of my head,” I almost say aloud. 

It’s finally my turn. I swipe. I pay. The checker is careful to ask, or declare (I’m not sure which) “You don’t need a bag, do you.” in accord with the new California plastic bag law that went into effect just days before. I reply “Nopethanks” and move my body in one smooth motion toward the exit. When for a moment…I experience what is at first a mere flutter, then a murmur of self-doubt, followed by a feral, maniacal, gravitational pull toward that vortex of “SaveMoneyLiveBetter” material euphoria. “Should I get a few more things since I’m already here and everything is soooooo cheap?” I suddenly realize I’m the grip of a power greater than myself, namely Sam Walton and the planet Mercury, together in an unholy alliance.

I dodge the gaze of the elderly Greeter on the way out the double doors as he utters a mechanical, “Thank you for shopping at Walmart”, on cue, like a tripped garage door sensor.

I retrace my steps, get in my car, cracked windshield refracting parking lot lights, and re-focus on the task ahead. “First, install new dish rack, then re-fill dish soap squirt thingy, replace sink stopper, wash fetid pile of disgusting dishes, make salmon if still edible (stop, reverse those…cook salmon then clean fetid dishes), watch “feel food” movie, call dishwasher repair person on Monday, mobile windshield repair person right after that. First-world problems.” All that matters now is that I had once again barely escaped a death of a different kind, sidestepped another species of venomous serpent and eluded the gravitational pull of Mercury…and Walmart, at least for now. Or until around February 11. 

Update on Mercury in Retrograde – Day 7

Here’s the thing about Mercury in retrograde that isn’t often discussed and I often neglect to mention. It’s now been a week since my dishwasher broke and I haven’t called a repair person. My wife and I now have a little ritual whereby we finish watching TV, I give the cats a massage  and a salmon treat on the little carpet by the front door (I know…I’ll explain the cat thing in another post), and we both go into the kitchen, sometimes without a word, start filling up the sink with hot water, she washes, I dry. We’re side by side, we talk about the day. It’s kinda freakin’ lovely.

Warning: Political Art Object Ahead.

When I launched FF back in 2007 I envisioned it as a personal playground, a sketchbook, a sandbox and a refuge from my daily graphic design job, which can become more “production” than “creativity” on any given day. Not complaining—I’m lucky to be paid for what I love to do—but every job has it’s drudgery. So FF was created as a place devoid of clients, art directors or deadlines. And as my little no-stress corner of the blogosphere, where I rarely post “troll bait” subject matter, I’ve been able to make it pretty “flame proof”, or at least “flame retardant” (I do occasionally get a critical comment but more about technique than subject matter).

So it isn’t often that I post politically sensitive content in this space. Instead, I try to adhere to the original mission for Foolish Fire which simply put is to make it more “Foolish” than “Fire”. But news events of late, namely the situation in Ferguson, MO and elsewhere, have awakened my inner rabble-rouser, so I’ve used words and pictures (besides voting…my favorite tools) to make a statement here, in the form of the graphic below, titled “Dear White People”.

If you’re a subscriber to Foolish Fire, first, thank you—I appreciate that you’ve seen something on FF you like well enough to open up your inbox to the occasional email. You may want to close it after this piece, or after future pieces that aren’t just about hand lettering and inspirational quotes. And that’s fine. I get it. I’m always editing my newsletter list.

I still intend to keep this space more playground than political forum, but as I get older and gain the perspective (and orneriness) that brings, I’ll be honest, I’m not sure I can remain silent, even here. Especially here. There are simply too many issues in this world that demand my participation and I recognize that as an artist I don’t just have a calling but a responsibility, so sometimes that requires a brief foray into the political realm. Don’t mean to wax all lofty but there you go.

So as always, take what you like and leave the rest…and have a nice day.