Off the Top

“Read old books” they say. Well, I went ahead, dug into my closet looking for some light reading and found an astrology paperback I picked up about 7 years ago from Half Price Books. It’s from 1975 and titled Off the Top. The author was a famed astrologer named Sydney Omarr (note that despite the Arabic sounding name, he was actually born Sidney Kimmelman and was Jewish.) Anyway, as you might imagine, I’m not a huge believer in astrology but have always been intrigued by it and favored the aesthetic over other religions. I do in fact believe that forces in the cosmos probably do affect us to some degree but in ways we have not yet been able to pinpoint with specificity and perhaps never will. I went through a phase several years ago when I was looking for 1970’s-80s astrology books mostly for the illustrations and laid back writing style they often featured. I even had a sterling silver, crab pendant necklace in honor of my own zodiac sign, Cancer. Having worn the necklace for about a year, I eventually lost it and have been too lazy to buy another one since.

When reading Off the Top, I sometimes felt reminded of that scene from Leaving Las Vegas when Nicholas Cage is looking at the sign for “The Whole Year Inn” but instead sees it as saying “The Whole You’re In.” I mention this because the book is mostly Omarr’s casual thoughts and ruminations about astrological signs, taken “off the top” of his head (or the opening paragraphs of his syndicated newspaper forecasts.) Off the Top might just as well be a euphemism for Out the Ass, depending on your point of view.

Amusingly, even in a light hearted book like this it only takes Omarr one paragraph into the book before he brings up the nazis and the holocaust, within the context of the role of astrologers played in WWII. However, this quickly leads into one of the more interesting parts of the book, which is a lengthy introduction featuring a fast-paced hodgepodge of favorable quotes and anecdotes about astrology relating to various public figures and personalities. Often the endorsements seem a little out of context but are interesting tidbits nonetheless. Among the first are a couple of quotations from Carl Jung:

“We are born at a given moment, in a given place, and like vintage years of wine, we have the qualities of the year and of the season in which we are born.”

and

“Astrology represents the sum of all the psychological knowledge of antiquity”

The intro also has some rather ridiculous paragraphs from Omarr himself, noteworthy only for their chutzpah:

Becoming proficient in astrology demands knowledge of astronomy, history, mathematics,literature and psychology. Not all astrologers live up to the highest standards. Sadly, neither do all attorneys, physicians and educators. The key in this Space Age is to set aside preconceived notions, academic prejudice and aim toward progress. If astrology, among other subjects leads the way, so be it.

It also includes zillions of “factoids” which seem kind of far-fetched but which I don’t have the time or energy to research to verify their accuracy. Example:

Outbreaks of murder appear to be triggered by the moon tugging on “biological tides” within the human body, according to Dr. Arnold L. Lieber of the University of Miami medical school

You get the idea. The introductory portion actually goes on for over 30 pages, nearly 1/3 of the entire book.

Moving on to the actual signs, Omarr dedicates several pages to each one. They offer comprehensive and detailed overviews, written in a very entertaining, no-nonsense and matter of fact tone. Some statements are unintentionally, hilariously accurate, such as:

The United States is a Cancer nation and has been known to feed the world.

Being a Cancer myself, I got a kick out of how much time Omarr devotes to talking about how Cancer is a great cook and loves being in the kitchen. My own idea of “cooking” is to throw a brick of tofu in the microwave, add some cheese and grape seed oil vegenaise to it and presto! My home cooked meals for most of my 20’s to mid 30’s consisted almost exclusively of microwave popcorn and cheap wine. The late Sydney Omarr must have gotten the last laugh though when I realized he had me pegged after all:

The classical Cancer native has a tendency to repeat facts and deliver monologues. Members of this zodiacal sign savor childhood memories, even bitter ones.

I recommend this book, even though I’ve been somewhat critical of it and don’t take much of it seriously. It is written in a very entertaining style, and believe it or not I learned a few things I did not know (too many to mention actually.) It also does contain a few of the kind of 70s paperback illustrations and fonts which were the reason I purchased it, so I can’t really complain.

Brassless Balls

Several years ago I went through a phase of collecting brass (and sometimes bronze) statues from antique and thrift stores. Through working for a company that distributed electronic components, I learned that the price of copper had gone up quite a bit (brass contains both copper and zinc.) This was often a factor in the price increases of certain products. “Tell him we can’t honor that price anymore. The price of copper has gone up,” would be a typical explanation you’d have to give to a customer.

Anyways, occasionally I would have the inclination to go to contemporary outlet and department stores hoping to find similar statues and artifacts, with the hope that I could score something neat that might increase in value in the future. Well, I was sorely disappointed to discover that nearly everything was absolute junk. Worse than that though, was that these companies would try to pass off something that was meant to look like one of those nice brass statues or bookends, yet it would be merely come cheap metal or ceramic that was slathered with gold paint. To add insult to injury, they would sell it for the same price (even adjusted for inflation) as what one could get a quality brass knick knack back when you could still get them 20 years ago. The savings in manufacturing a cheaper, lower quality product is barely even passed on to the consumer. My guess is that if there are people still making legit brass and bronze statues, they are being sold as luxury items at exponentially higher prices. This might all seem trivial, but it’s a microcosm for what corporations do:

1. Manufacture something as cheaply as they can and provide the lowest quality product that people will accept.

2. Claim to be offering the product at a better price, even though they’re pocketing the bulk of the money they’re by saving using cheaper materials and labor, and the consumer is still paying almost the same as before.

3. Offer something as a luxury item that used to be a standard, inexpensive item or add-on. A good example of this is when hotels started tacking on “resort fees” for things that used to be free like using the pool or making a local phone call from your room.

4. Copy each other, so that all companies basically have the same policies, processes and products, leaving you with no choice (you decide to take your business to another department store and then another, only to find that none of them carry genuine brass statues, and the gold painted ceramic triceratops is your only option.)

Libertarians or republicans might read this and say, “Well that’s just the free market, bro.” Perhaps, but let’s not pretend that the free market innovation inherently results in better quality products being made. They are only “better” in the sense of being able to make a more efficient profit for someone, somewhere. Just as beautiful and intelligent creatures don’t always survive the evolution and natural selection process without a little help from their friends, often times, the unchecked free market often leads to one being surrounded by cheap junk.

Brandon Adamson is the author of Skytrain to Nowhere

5 Rad Christmas Jams

1. The Waitresses – Christmas Wrapping

I used to always hear this song in department stores and never realized who sang it, though I recognized the singer’s voice as being similar to the girl who sang the “I Know What Boys Like” song, (which I hated and would instantly flee the dance floor when it would be played at mid 00’s hipster DJ nights.) Well, turns out it is the same singer and band, and I just couldn’t compute that a band that played a song I despised so much could have created one that is an absolute masterpiece. Christmas Wrapping is an amazing song, maybe the best Christmas song ever. Patty Donahue unfortunately died at a young age (only 40.) RIP

2. Taylor Swift – Last Christmas

I know I know, but seriously I prefer this version to the Wham! version. This song is just better with a female voice and preferably one that doesn’t morph it into some kind of excessive adlib R&B monstrosity with all kinds of extra eeee’s and aaaaaah’s (like what is commonly done to the national anthem when singers get unnecessarily creative.) Anyway, the first time I really began to appreciate this song was in 2012. I was in Las Vegas alone and miserable on Christmas that year in what I look back on as my favorite vacation of my life, and there was a band on Fremont St called “Candy and the Canes” which was playing this song in the Taylor Swift style. Now whenever I hear it, it takes me back.

3. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – Christmas All Over Again

Admittedly, I have never been much of a Tom Petty fan. His songs typically remind me of a really horrible era in the early 90’s where kids in my class would randomly belt out lyrics to Free Fallin’ in phony southern accents. It was a dark time period. Christmas All Over Again on the other hand conjurs up an entirely different memory. In the winter of 1996, I was living on my own in Phoenix, coming into my (now long gone) prime as a young man. This song would play in a jam packed, Paradise Valley mall (now almost literally a shadow of its former self.) Melrose place reruns aired daily on the E! Channel, and most of the people in my family were still alive back then. What an exciting time it was. Also, RIP Tom Petty.

4. Captain Sensible – One Christmas Catalogue

Not much to say about this one. Another department store classic. I don’t have any personal anecdote that colors my perception of this song. It is just a really great song, and just has that “1980’s lost in thought on a drive in the middle of the night through the city” feel to it. If you know, then you know.

5. Bing Crosby and The Andrews Sisters – Mele Kalikimaka

Of course, this song always reminds me of the diving board scene in Christmas Vacation. That is reason to like it in and of itself. It’s also one of those songs where everyone butchers the lyrics and just mumbles something random at the “mele kalikimaka” part. What most people don’t realize though, is that this is a great tune to repeatedly sing when you want to annoy your girlfriend (perhaps second only to pretty much any song by Edd “Kookie” Byrnes.) I only say the main part correctly about 3% of the time, but she rolls her eyes, and pleads for me to stop (in an exasperated tone) no matter what kind of gibberish I try to pass off as the chorus.

Brandon Adamson is the author of Skytrain to Nowhere

The Card In the Coin Return

The Card in the Coin Return

Hey silly rabbit in
the bottomless top hat.
Caught in the rat race?

Do you ever feel like a
pasty pale mouse trapped
dead center square
tic-tac-dough
in a cat’s game
stalemate?

just mod-mod-modular cube maze bait
right smack-dab in
the middle of your cell pad
wanna run, make tracks, have a look around the place for
random artifacts but
color coded cops on your case
one door away like
Lock ‘n’ Chase
an unsolved Rubik’s snake
what a puzzlecade
levels, lives, points…but
no little brass key to jimmy open the briefcase
no solution in plain sight
no clear escape
no veering from the paperwork trail surveilled on
Memorex VHS tape
Don’t cry
Just try love, try hate, try again
when they rewind
push play
another coffee break
meditate
dreamlike stateless
curious expression
unibrow bridge across an
energy depleted face
evolves to form
the watchful cyclops’ eye
with laserlike focus
to materialize
the holographic breadcrumbs that
trace a corridor
squeeze through

neon
exit
sign

dividing line
flip side
open space!

Brandon Adamson is the author of Skytrain to Nowhere

The Other Mayans

One of my favorite things about the 1970s is the bizarre architectural projects that were conceived and somehow greenlighted during the period. Many people now living in the “ruins” of these communities and surrounding neighborhoods are often completely oblivious to the cultural relevance of these structures and fail to muster any appreciation for the aesthetic uniqueness of the community.

Often times visiting these areas is a depressing expedition, because you might consider living there, but the property owners, tenants have no idea how chic the place could be and have never considered the idea that they are living anywhere but a mediocre dump just waiting to be torn down and replaced with some cheaply built McMansions (with brand new granite counter tops!) Another example of this would be the older Vegas casinos, like Circus Circus. To me, these are the destinations of wonder, excitement and magic…but to most people, they’re just dreary.

Anyway, there’s this interesting 1970s Condominium complex in Scottsdale, AZ called “Maya,” that I’ve always found fascinating. Built in 1971, it’s a large condo community with Mayan themed buildings and aesthetics. While these “themes” are typically only superficially incorporated into the actual edifices, Maya developers actually went through the trouble of installing some detailed statues, pillars and miscellaneous decor, giving the grounds some minor semblance of an authentically exotic ambiance.

As a side note, acting legend Cesar Romero (who played The Joker in the original 60’s Batman TV series) actually lived in these condos for a period of time.

10-15 years ago this community had degenerated into a pretty seedy place. Despite being in a prime location, like many older complexes it attracted a lot of sketchy people (and still does.) However, I was pleased to see when I revisited it the other day, that the community looks to have been revived, and the buildings and grounds appear to be well maintained. Clearly some residents and owners at least see the value here and are interested in preserving this unrecognized historical “landmark.” This is the sort of cultural appropriation I can appreciate.