Friday, January 23, 2009

Extra, extra

Too many quahogs, not enough time (or wampum, but that’s another story). Just wanted to pass along a few Rhody-centric tidbits before resuming with our traditional Monday blog. The first comes from today’s sports pages in The New York Times. It’s an eccentric piece comparing former free agent Mark Texeira, who spurned the Red Sox to don the dreaded Pinstripes, with lifelong Red Sox fan Mark Texeira, a respected jazz and blues drummer from Pawtucket, who has been taking grief ever since his namesake went all Yankee on us. The story touches on Rhode Island culture, especially the local fascination with baseball and the Sox-Yankees rivalry and the state’s intimate connection to Portugal (noting that up to 10 percent of Rhode Islanders claim Portuguese heritage). The good Texeira even attended the world’s longest professional baseball game as a kid. The bad Texeira has no comment on the story.

Congratulations to Rhode Island actors Richard Jenkins and Viola Davis for being nominated for Academy Awards. Jenkins, the longtime Trinity Repertory Theater actor and director who still lives in Cumberland, received a best actor nomination for his performance as a lonely widower in “The Visitor.” Davis, who grew up in Central Falls and graduated from Rhode Island College, earned a best supporting actress nomination for her role as a mother who learns some hard news about her son in “Doubt.”
The R.I. International Film Festival also had a good day. Three short films that premiered at RIIFF were nominated for Oscars. They include “This Way Up,” from the United Kingdom, nominated for best animated short and two films nominated for best live action short – “New Boy” from Ireland and “Spielzeugland” (Toyland) from Germany.

Rhody Universe: Good ink?
Tuesday’s Presidential Inauguration was marked in Rhode Island by the news that Rhody’s own A.T. Cross Company made the pen that President Obama used to sign a series of inauguration documents and executive orders. With just a week’s notice, the Lincoln-based business (founded in Providence in 1846) was selected by the Obama-Biden transition team to provide the presidential pens. The Cross Townsend black lacquer rolling-ball pens feature the presidential coat of arms and are engraved with Obama’s signature on the barrel. The company’s Web site already has a replica pen available for $135, along with a version in 10-karat gold.
But like most things in Rhody, beware of the fine print: The pens were engraved in the home office at Lincoln but they were made in China.

Today’s ‘Only in Rhode Island’ moment
While driving the two-lane Wampanoag Trail into Providence, morning commuters came upon two orange Road Work Ahead signs. The one in the left lane read: Right Lane Closed. The one in the right lane read: Left Lane Closed. Thankfully, the drunken conga line of cars swerving and braking resulted in no accidents as drivers tried to figure out which of the signs was wrong. (For the record: It was the left sign.)

Monday, January 19, 2009

Obama the President Has a Posse

If you walked around the East Side of Providence in the late 1980s and early ’90s, you probably remember the sticker-face of wrestler Andre the Giant staring back at you from stop signs, telephone poles, Dumpsters and kiosks. Mysterious messages – “Andre the Giant Has a Posse” and “OBEY” – often accompanied the mugs, which were the work of Rhode Island School of Design student Shepard Fairey, who turned guerilla street art into a career. Fairey, now living in Los Angeles, is the artist who created the most indelible image of the Obama campaign, the red-white-and-blue screened portrait paired with the word “HOPE” (coincidentally, Rhode Island’s motto).

A proponent of Heidegger’s theory of phenomenology, Fairey has already played a role in the Obama phenomenon. But even he couldn’t have predicted the boom in all things Barack, when every other economic indicator has gone bust.

On the eve of tomorrow’s Inauguration Day, everybody wants a piece of Obama. The Washington Post and The New York Times have reported at length on the numbers of official and unofficial souvenir stores and sidewalk stands popping up in D.C., mostly in the Penn Quarter area, selling Obama swag.

Along with the traditional President Obama pens, pins, posters, T-shirts, toques, bumper stickers, can openers, paperweights, pint glasses, commemorative plates, commemorative coins, stamps, lighters, license plates, wristbands and wristwatches, there are Obama guitars (and straps), signature baseballs, dog tags, retro mousepads, coloring books and glow-in-the-dark refrigerator magnets. You can get an “Obama ’08” glowing neon sign, a “Barack on Broadway” playbill, an Obama bobblehead, Obama/Biden cookies, Obama keychain (with retractable knife, ruler, bottle opener and fingernail file) and even an Obama Advent calendar. There are also Obama Metro fare cards for the D.C. area, candy bars, wine, yo-yos, piggy banks, designer tote bags, “Hope on a Rope” soap, Obama Inauguration Hot Sauce, “Hope and Change” necklaces and Obama toilet paper (just for show; the ink is toxic).

There are buttons galore, including a stumping Homer Simpson (“Homer for Obama”) and a troll doll constituent (“Trollin’ for Obama”). Obama trading cards, cigar box cases, a magnet series, playing cards (with George W. Bush and John McCain as the jokers), “I Kiss Barack” lipstick and chapstick, and Obama Post-It note holders (for good ideas). Hallmark has put out a “Yes You Can” greeting card. Instead of Teddy Bears (a classic child’s toy inspired by former President Teddy Roosevelt), we now have Obama Bears. A toy also prompted the invention of Barack-in-the-box. (Although wasn’t Jack-in-the-box intended to give kids a fright? And, if so, wouldn’t Cheney-in-the-bunker be more appropriate?)

Among the weirdest: A “Live Long and Prosper” Obama Vulcan T-shirt with Barack flashing the Vulcan greeting, appealing to the “Trek” geek demographic. And a mock debate figure set, complete with lecterns, flags and the trappings of a TV studio. The strange part? Obama and Hillary Clinton are depicted debating one another – as skeletons.

The New York Times reports that Obama sex toys are flying off the shelves. We’ll leave those to the imagination, but even though the novelty of the McCain condom has worn off, the Obama condom (“Use with Good Judgment”) is still going strong. On a related note, one of the oddest top-selling items is the Inauguration Obama thong.

The Ikea store has created a replica of the Oval Office in Washington’s Union Station under the banner “Change Begins at Home.” Inside the train station, the words “HOPE” and “OPTIMISM” are on display, with the Os replaced by Pepsi logos.

Every successful revolution eventually ends up a commodity. Some small hope then, as we try to Obama our way out of our economic morass.

This week’s question (now that the Obama administration is using “Hope” as its working mantra): If Rhode Island had to come up with a new motto, what would it be?

Quickie for Size
My father passed along this e-mail making note of another “size of Rhode Island” reference, after watching “Bill Moyers Journal” on PBS. Moyers was interviewing historian Simon Schama, whose four-part mini-series “The American Future: A History” airs on the BBC.

Schama was commenting on the American Dream and its derailment during this critical time and he said: "You can’t have Hummers the size of Rhode Island."