poem about a (shark-shaped) pencil case

  • Disappointment on seeing a “shark-shaped” pencil case.
  • Not shaped much like a shark.
  • Not a very good pencil case.
  • I think I will buy the one
  • I saw on eBay.
  • My shark is swimming here from China.

I wrote this poem four weeks ago/then waited for its subject to arrive.  It turned out to be a very good pencil case, with two compartments (one in the mouth), and it really does look rather like a cartoon shark.

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omg! a wartburg!

Seriously. OMG!  A WARTBURG  just pulled into the parking lot at a Chinese buffet in Indiana.  Sorry for yelling, but seriously.  A Wartburg. (Actually, at the time, I did not yell. I just said “Hello!” on seeing it, and “excuse me” to the person I was with, as I headed across the asphalt with my phone camera to document a spot I never would have expected to make on a Sunday afternoon in the parking lot of the Chinese Buffet.  Or ever in my lifetime, really.)

For those who are not in the know, a Wartburg is a small, stinky, two stroke sedan made in East Germany in the days of the Soviet Union, where it was one step up the automotive ladder from the more famous Trabant.  Wartburgs were driven throughout the East Bloc, and the top of the line models were sold in Europe, where they were among the cheapest new cars available and brought in a fair amount of hard currency to the centrally controlled economies of the East.

One place they were never sold and are very seldom seen is in North America.  In fact, until yesterday I would have said “never seen in North America” except perhaps in a museum.  But here it is – a Wartburg 353W Deluxe, one of three owned by this family and at least local enough to carry an Indiana license plate.  Their Wartburgs all originated in Hungary, and were imported after the fall of the Soviet Union by a family member who had fallen in love with them while living in Budapest.

The owners very kindly opened the hood to show me the 3 cylinder 2 stroke engine. Yes, you have to mix oil in with the gas just like with a lawn mower.  (The state owned Minol service stations in East Germany had gas pumps that would do the mixing for you.)  It displaces just short of a liter and yields about 50 hp.   Oddly enough, this is very similar to the displacement and output of the  3 cylinder four stroke motor in our much loved 1987 Chevy Sprint, Mighty Buzz.

The front wheel drive Wartburg 353 was introduced in 1966, and was produced with the two stroke engine all the way until 1989.  The W (for “Weiterentwicklung”/”Advanced”) model was introduced in 1974 as revised version of the original car, with an updated dashboard and interior and improved brakes and electrics, although the body and drivetrain remained much the same.

This example is loaded with jazzy accessories from the fog lamps to the brand logo mudflaps.  Note in the first photograph and this one the roll of toilet paper displayed on the rear package shelf under a crocheted cover.  This is a nod to life in Eastern Europe under the Soviets where this necessity was scarce, and when found was of such poor quality, that anyone with access to the real thing carried their own supply with them everywhere they went.

Scoring the Wartburg is very difficult.  Frankly, as a car, it is not hugely interesting.  It’s small, it’s underpowered, it was cheap in its day, and while it is pretty enough and a good example of European automotive design trends of the mid 60s, it is not stunningly beautiful or exciting to look at.  But it is so, so, so rare– pretty much a once in a lifetime spot.*  So 9 points for a rare but not exciting car +1 not sold here +1 for an interesting older car being driven and used, plus an arbitrary second +1 for super rarity and “really not sold here”:  Wartburg 353 W Deluxe (1976?) =12 points.

*Or maybe not.  We saw the little Wartburg again at Meijer later that afternoon.  If this Wartburg has come to live here and become part of the local fleet (at least on sunny weekends), this is going to make me absurdly happy,

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shark in the park

There’s a shark in the park, but that’s no a problem when it’s a Pajama Shark.  My first thought on seeing these two little drawings of Thresher was that he had sort of a Goofus and Gallant thing going on: I seem to remember that standing up on a swing, while tons of fun, was against the grownup’s rules, while there was nothing wrong with sitting on a bench reading your library book in the sunshine and fresh air.

But nowadays, with all the pressure to be active on the playground, Reading Peacefully! Thresher is probably a bit of a Goofus too.  Sharks resist social pressure either way.

On the character design development front, these are important drawings because they are the first images of Thresher looking straight out at the audience that I am entirely happy with.  (Drawing sharks head on is hard!)  I will admit I had a bit of help here.  I recently brought a product from China* that came packed on a cardboard backer printed with a shark design that included these little guys.

The Enigmatic Chinese Packaging Shark was quite an inspiration.  Working with the idea of widespread, dotlike eyes and a straight line for the mouth, combined with Thresher’s friendly expression and shading, is definitely proving to be a step in the right direction.  I think his eyes need to be rounder and the length of the mouth line needs to be tweaked to balance friendliness and sharkishness.  Which is of course the central dialectic of designing a Friendly Shark.

*More on this interesting product coming soon.

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spider time again

Somehow, once again, the bulk of summer has passed without most of us noticing it.  (I had a better excuse than usual this year, with a corgi pup, the Martian, to raise and start to train.) The end of summer is here, yellow and crunchy, with dusks that seem early and the promise of autumn for those who love autumn.  And of course, with spiders.  It’s spider time.

I will admit it’s my favorite time of year.  There a story you can read that’s framed in it– click here.

(And the blog now returns to a real world schedule of twice a week we hope.)


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spam spam spam, etc.

No, not unwanted mass emails or phone calls.  Real actual SPAM.  Shiny foil wrapped SPAM, in fact.

But wait, you may ask– doesn’t SPAM come in a can?  In fact, isn’t SPAM famous for coming in a can?  Yes it is, and yes it does– a 12 ounce can, as a matter of fact, as is easily found in every grocery and megamart and convenience store in all the land, and probably throughout the world.

But then there is this:

The SPAM Single Classic: a 2.5 ounce package of SPAM packed in a foil pouch, like tuna or soft cat food. It is, as you might already be suspecting, one slice of SPAM, individually wrapped and ready to tear open.  Don’t believe me?

There it is.  One slice of SPAM.  In a shiny pouch.

More or less square. Put it right on a sandwich, I guess, or toss it in the frying pan for a single serving breakfast.  Tastes perfectly fine, just as you would expect: salty and hammy, exactly right for a slice of SPAM.  It’s probably a better shape for sandwich purposes than a slice off the 12 ounce piece you get out of the can, and of course you are spared the agony and inconvenience of opening the can, finding a sharp knife, and refrigerating the rest of the block for use later.  So if you want SPAM, and there is only you, and you are away from home …

But boy do you pay for it.  This single slice of SPAM cost our Food Testing Bureau $1.09 US on Saturday at the local Meijer megamart, and internet research found a best price of 99 cents at several outlets with $25 minimum orders.  (Note that these outlets list the SPAM Single Classic as a “3 ounce package” rather than the 2.5 ounce actual size.)

A 12 ounce can of SPAM costs less than 3 bucks– $2.64 every day at Wal Mart, just for example, about $2.30 a can if you buy a case of 8, and you can probably do better in bulk.  Unless you’re trapped in an airport or something (in which case you might be extremely glad to see this slice of tasty protein),  bring a knife and be prepared to share.  You want to share your SPAM, don’t you?  What about these guys?  These guys love SPAM.

(I did taste the SPAM Single Classic myself, but the rest of it went to our Food Testing Bureau Official Taste Testers.  They liked it very much, but not really any more than the kind in the can.)

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aretha franklin

It was a week ago today that Aretha Franklin died.  By now we’ve all read a lot, and heard a lot, and even though her own voice speaks for itself if anything does, it still seems right to make a bit of an offering of my own. I was in Detroit the day she died, and if you had to be somewhere that was the place.  As the day wore on more and more of the clubs, theaters and music venues we passed had replaced the usual notices on their marquees with tributes to the Queen, most often a simple R.E.S.P.E.C.T.

So with more than a little respect, this blog offers its usual tribute of two photographs.  I’ll remember Aretha Franklin most for these moments: her performance in one of my very favorite films, The Blues Brothers (1980), and her appearance, in the most wonderful hat, at the first Obama inauguration in 2009.

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pajama shark week! possum

And it’s a comic!  A Friendly Shark comic is about a friendly shark, but the shark needs somebody to talk to or there isn’t going to be anything in those speech balloons (if there are going to be speech balloons in the design, which is far from a sure thing).  Other friendly shark comics have seagoing supporting characters: other sharks, remoras, sea otters, orcas, so I wanted to do something different.  So I started thinking: who lives in here in Indiana, has a gaping maw filled with undifferentiated sharp teeth, is cool looking and fun to draw, and has a prehensile tail so he or she can hang off Thresher’s tail so they can talk face to face?  An opossum, of course.  Or rather, a possum.  So Thresher’s “second character”  is going to be a possum.  I can already feel a personality developing for the little guy/gal, but no actual dialog has yet been written.

There’s definitely more to come from Thresher the Pajama Shark, with his hoodie and his tail and his possum pal, and of course his pajamas with their brushwork stripes.  Now that we have a Friendly Shark in our midst, any week can be Shark Week.

(Maybe next time I will figure out just how to capitalize everything in a consistent yet entertaining way.)

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pajama shark week! watchman

Who watches the watchman?  You don’t have to worry so much as usual about the answer to that question when the watchman is a Friendly Shark.  Someone told me once that in Japan a character carrying a lantern on a pole is a watchman in a graveyard, so maybe this is Thresher is a spooky comic. (Maybe for Halloween, if I can come up with a story.)

Regardless, I seem to be getting better at drawing a pajama shark standing up.  The relationship between the fins and the tail is a delicate one.

The lanterns are simply two of the first three types that came up in a Google image search for “lantern”.

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pajama shark week! flying carpet

Thresher explores his mystical side while riding on a flying carpet and consulting his crystal orb.  None of this stuff is likely to end up in the finished comic (not that I know what form that is going to take), but a pajama shark has an imagination just like everybody else. I just sketched Thresher sitting down, and it looked like he was looking down at something he was holding in his “hands”.  As usual I blocked the undetermined object with a rough circle, and, well, the rest of it sort of happened.

I’m proud of the pose in this one.  Not only does he appear to be sitting down in a cartoon-realistic way, but you can see both his eyes in a three-quarters shot of his face.  Friendly sharks are so hard to draw.

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pajama shark week! balancing act

It’s not just Shark Week a few weeks late– it’s Pajama Shark Week, our own week dedicated to drawings of Thresher the Pajama Shark.  He’s, well, a shark that wears pajamas (and a hoodie), and he’s my own contribution to the small but delightful genre of Friendly Shark media.  He’s very much a work in progress, and I hope you’ll have fun seeing how his design is evolving.

In this drawing, the distinctive giant tail of the real world Thresher shark takes center stage– or maybe the space Above the Center ring.  One of the things I wanted to do with Thresher’s design is really embrace the tail.  Many humanoid Friendly Sharks, including some of the best ones, are drawn as shark headed humans.  I figured a way to make my own shark character stand out would be to give him not just a tail but a big, flashy tail.  That’s why he ended up being a Thresher shark.   The pointed nose, large eye forward on the head, short dorsal fin and long pectoral fins (Thresher’s “arms”) are all based on real world traits.

Real Thresher sharks use their tails to stun their prey.  Our friendly Thresher uses his for a variety of other purposes, which we will be seeing as the week progresses.  For today, have a bouquet of “brushwork flowers that are probably roses”.

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