Oct 282009

I was born in 1962, seven years after my brother Paul Evan Crowley. I have no other siblings. I could never relate to my brother while I was growing up, in any sort of way. I assumed this was simply due to the big age difference. As I got older, I came to believe there was far more going on with my brother to account for his coldness to me. When I was a child, my mother claimed that when my brother and I were both adults we would become the best of friends. That never happened. Why not?

Unfortunately one of the defining characteristics for both my brother and me was that we were “uptight”. My brother had it much worse than I did, and I’ve spent a lifetime trying to reverse the bad programming that makes me “uptight”. I see the same pattern in a lot of clever people; the same mental talents that are expressed in strong verbal skills are tied in with anxiety. If you begin to define yourself as different from, or superior to, other human beings due to verbal skills, then your life becomes a constant struggle to maintain this self-imagined superiority. I think this struggle was at the root of the anxiety that infected my brother and me.

My brother had other demons. He was most likely a heavily closeted homosexual. This is understandably a strong claim, and one I don’t make lightly. He never married, nor ever had any girlfriends or female dates, as far as I know. As clearly as I can remember, only three friends of his ever come over to our house. I know for a fact that two of them were gay. One of them, Tracy, became wealthy through ownership of Missoula and Portland porn stores.

I always liked Tracy, and ran into him in Seattle some years back. I even visited him in Portland somewhere in the late 1980’s. I asked Tracy if he ever had any sexual contact with my brother and he told me he did not. I believe him. This suggested to me that my brother was attracted to gay men, but was unwilling to follow through.

My brother never developed any of the stereotypical Montana hobbies such as hunting, fishing, hiking, or skiing. His aesthetic tastes ran to the French language and gourmet cooking. He would speak privately to my mother in the stereotypically “gay male” manner, yet with everyone else it was rigid, clipped, and over-enunciated.

Now at this juncture, lest I be accused of being insensitive to gays, let me state flat out that I have no problem with anyone being gay, my brother included. I suspect that if my brother could have come to terms with his own sexuality, he would have been a much happier person. Why was he unable to come out?

Probably because he was a hard-core Christian.

When one thinks of hard-core Christians, one usually thinks of fundamentalists. Strangely my brother was actually a Lutheran… As well as his religion, most of his social life revolved around his church activities.

I started out as a Lutheran myself, but I was always lukewarm. I attended Sunday school, but never studied the Bible. By the time I was confirmed, I had become more cynical about attending church services, and found them deathly boring.

I eventually became an atheist when I was about a junior in high school. This caused a major rift between me and my mother, who was also a Lutheran. Atheism was also the final cleft between my brother and me. Whereas before he was simply cold to me, now he decided to exhibit “good Christian love” by completely shunning me.

I moved to Seattle when I graduated from college in 1987. When I would return to Missoula to visit I would usually receive just a perfunctory “hello” from my brother, and that was it.

My brother was totally consumed with academic success. I think he made it through Hellgate High school with more or less a straight “A” average. He graduated with high honors in three majors from the University of Montana in fours years! He went on to get his Masters degree from Georgetown University. He then started working on his PhD. At this point his history becomes unclear to me.

He taught high school French in either Helena or Bozeman or both. This puzzled me, as I thought getting a PhD pretty much excluded having a simultaneous full time job. Between 1987 and 1997 I would ask my mother how Paul’s PhD was coming along, and I would get vague, dissembling answers.

Then things got strange. At one point my mother shared an odd anecdote with me. She said that Paul had befriended a cop in Bozeman who had taken Paul out for some recreational handgun target shooting. Sounds like healthy fun to me but knowing my brother, this was grossly atypical! The strange upshot of the story was that my mother included the detail that my brother had experienced a “falling out” with the police officer…

I imagine it goes without saying, but my parents were of the old school persuasion whereby any sort of discussion of human sexuality was utterly anathema. Montana at the time had sodomy laws on the books, the penalty being 10 years, a 10,000 dollar fine, or both. To this day I can’t bring myself to broach the subject of Paul’s lifestyle to my father…

Missoula, Montana is a divided place; being a liberal arts college town, it became a left wing Mecca within a right-wing redneck state. Attitudes toward gays are still in the dark ages for a large part of the populace. Virtually every night that I would walk across the Higgins Avenue Bridge in Missoula rednecks would yell “hey faggot” out the windows of their cars or trucks. No, I’m not exaggerating; this didn’t happen just once or twice, this was ALL THE TIME.

So I have sympathy for my brother in this way; he grew up in a sex-negative family environment, in a homophobic state where gay sex was a crime, with a hard-core religious mindset.

There is a particular attitude seen in a lot of gay men; a sort of free-wheeling haughtiness and superiority, especially toward straight men. I’ve had gay men tell me TO MY FACE that gays are “vastly cooler” than straight men. You see this when gay men accuse other gay men of being “bitchy queens”. The problem is that they can’t perceive the same haughtiness in themselves.

My brother had this in spades. An absolutely pathological, haughty self-righteousness. Couple this with a world class anal retentive personality and you have an unsympathetic character, to say the least.

When I visited my parents in 1997, I was told that my brother had fucked up his back, and was unable to work. He had moved back in with my parents, and was living in my old bedroom in the basement. This situation didn’t seem too outrageous, as he had gained a great deal of weight, which I assumed factored into back problems.

One day in late January 2006, I got a message from my father on my phone answering machine. My brother had died.

As soon as I spoke to my father, I asked him what Paul had died of. Shockingly, I was told he had died of liver failure, secondary to chronic alcohol abuse! Furthermore, I was advised that Paul had actually lost his job due to alcoholism, thus necessitating the move back to my parent’s house.

My parents were total alcohol abstainers. There was never any alcohol use in the house except for one party thrown for a bunch of my father’s legal associates. But I started drinking when I got to college, and stopped in early 1998. I totally understand the attraction alcohol has to someone afflicted with anxiety. I still struggle with anxiety, and I have absolutely no doubt my brother did too, and undoubtedly his struggle was far worse than mine. I keep a copy of my brother’s death certificate on the bulletin board beside me. Morbid? Perhaps, but it helps remind me to be healthy and happy in the here and now.

My point in all this retrospective rambling is simple: human sexuality cannot be bottled up, it must be allowed to express itself in healthy ways or really fucked-up, pathological things happen to people. Being a “closet case” is not a trivial matter. Religious fervor is no substitute for coming out.

 Posted by on 10/28/2009 Growing Up In Montana Comments Off on My Brother
Oct 212009

My first rock and roll record was Waterloo, by Abba. A 45, of course, and inexpensive enough that my mother was willing to buy it for me. This must have been about 1974, and I would have been about 12 at the time. I never had summer jobs as a child, and not much of an allowance, so I depended on the good graces of my mother for little luxuries. She had grown up in the Great Depression, and she often reminded me of the deprivations she experienced. Later on I was allowed to buy Cher’s Gypsys, Tramps & Thieves, and I think Ringo Starr’s Photograph. Terry Jack’s Seasons in the Sun was in my collection. So far, so good. But then a subtle shift occurred when I got The Night Chicago Died by Paper Lace. This time my mother expressed to me that she found the music a little bit “hard” or perhaps “coarse”.

My mother was a Lutheran, though she didn’t talk too much about religion back in those days. She was not one of those stereotypical Christians who thought rock music was the music of the Devil. Rather she was more of the elitist snob, who felt that The One True Music was classical. But she had a weakness for schlock, and owned records by the Tijuana Brass and Bert Kaempfert. We even had Whipped Cream and Other Delights in our house! She watched Lawrence Welk with some degree of reverence.

Young people today may not appreciate the intensity of the “generation gap” that many people my age experienced growing up. Long hair and rock music were not just part of the maelstrom of popular culture like they are today. For many people back then they were extremely potent and divisive symbols.

A strange and sadly comedic episode occurred at the Crowley house one day, as my mother complained that rock music was intrinsically inferior because “you couldn’t understand the words”. True enough for some songs, but the lyrics she couldn’t understand were those to The Night Chicago Died. The specific line was “and I asked someone who said, ‘bout a hundred cops are dead”. I heard the word “cops” fairly clearly, but my mother couldn’t. She enlisted my brother, whom she claimed had very acute hearing. My brother listened carefully, and pronounced that Paper Lace was singing “cubs”.

Yes, the word “cubs” made absolutely no sense at all. But bigger conflicts and stranger interpretations were to come. Not surprisingly this began for me with puberty and high school. I remember reading in Skateboarder magazine in about 1977 or 78 that some particularly cool skateboarder liked “Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin, and Hendrix”. By this time, I had been given a hand-me-down 8-track player. I scraped up enough money to buy Led Zeppelin’s Presence. It was immediately obvious that this was something vastly cooler and more profound than Cher, Abba, or Paper Lace. I became a life-long fan of hard rock.

Unfortunately my new-found appreciation of hard rock deeply conflicted with my mother’s growing disdain for it. I was allowed to own the records and listen to them, but was subjected to her constant and irrational arguments.

Somewhere around 1980, I discovered the book Subliminal Seduction by Wilson Bryan Key. It made quite an impact on me. Unfortunately though, my critical thinking skills at the time were in a nascent stage. Certain concepts struck me as plausible, but Key’s analysis of rock music seemed farfetched, even then. I seem to remember reading about George Harrison’s song My Sweet Lord, as the background vocals clearly say “Hare Krishna”, “Krishna, Krishna” and related lines.

I remembered that my mother had this song on a 45 disk; she bought it because it was a Good Christian Song. To tell the truth, I don’t think I had listened to the song very critically until I read Key’s analysis. I put the record on, and sure enough, the Krishna stuff was there, plain as day!

My mother had a bad habit of promoting a particular logical fallacy, namely that superior perceptual capacity is equivalent to superior ability to discern value. The problem is that “value” is a metaphysical concept, an arbitrary human invention, not the subject of science or mathematics. In fact this is the core conundrum of all aesthetic thinking; at best one can argue meaningfully about whether concepts are logically consistent, but you can’t point to a “good” in the universe like you can point to a chunk of aluminium.

My mother claimed that she had once taken something called the “Seashore Test” and had done particularly well. It was an audiology test. Now I have no doubt that audiology is a genuine science, and that meaningful data can be gathered. There are plenty of perceptual tests in psychology that are grounded in good science. I didn’t doubt my mother’s claim. So I was curious how she would react when I told her that My Sweet Lord was really about Krishna. Payback time!

At first I just told her. Understandably she didn’t believe me, so we went into the living room and put on the record. At first I couldn’t believe my mother couldn’t hear (or perceive) the background vocals. I think I put the record on again, this time lip-syncing along with the “Krishna, Krishna” vocals.

Unbelievably, my mother still couldn’t hear it! At this point I had one of the first epiphanies of my life. I realized there were only three logical possibilities. The first was that she genuinely couldn’t hear it. I don’t think this was the case; she was not hard of hearing. It wasn’t as if the sounds were at 16,000 Hz and too high to hear, or super-faint. The background vocals are clear and obvious.

The second possibility was that she was lying to me. I don’t believe this either, though I must accept it as a possibility. My parents were both profoundly moral people. Our family never “joshed” each other, never “told stories” even if they were revealed as such later, and absolutely never bullshitted each other. It was a very rigid upbringing emotionally, and very much out of step with the rest of the world.

No, what I think was really going on with my mother was that she was in denial. Clearly the situation was too much for her; for the first time in our series of never-ending musical arguments I was absolutely and unequivocally correct. Her vaunted perceptual skills had failed her, and rather spectacularly so. And I’m sure it shocked her that what she thought was Christian was really Krishna!

Of course she had to come up with some kind of rationalization; “There’s too much noise” or “You can’t understand what they are saying”. Frankly I don’t remember what it was…

This was the first time I had seen a human behave like this, and it happened to be my mother. It came as a shock to me, and I began to feel bad that I had hurt or confused my mother in some deep, dark, and strange way.

As I grew older, I became much more of a skeptic about all sorts of things. Skeptics see the kind of denial that my mother exhibited all the time. Evidence for extraordinary claims is scrutinized, and sometimes it’s clearly shown to have a prosaic explanation. For most people it becomes like that old V8 Juice slogan; “I could have had a V8”. When you see the prosaic explanation, you think, “Oh my goodness, that’s so simple, how could we have possibly believed it was evidence for Bigfoot/Orbs/Ghosts/ESP, etc”. Yet there will ALWAYS be true believers who madly cling to the original belief.

The hardest lesson that I take away from the My Sweet Lord episode is that intelligence does not guarantee good judgment. I could see that early on with my mother, and as the years go by, I see it in myself.

 Posted by on 10/21/2009 Growing Up In Montana Comments Off on My Sweet Lord
Oct 212009

Use this page to navigate through all the Bigfoot Links:

  1. Wallace’s Wooden Feet
  2. Fake Feet and Monolithic Margins
  3. Pressure Releases and Scalloped Margins
  4. Ridges and Furrows
  5. Arched Furrows
  6. Fixatives
  7. Flat Ridge Peaks
  8. Ridge Flow Pattern
  9. Testing Silica
  10. The Holy Grail; The Original Cast
  11. More CA-19 photos
  12. CA-6
  13. CA-20
  14. Conclusion
  15. Sex, Lies, and Pseudoscience
  16. What’s All This About Volcanic Ash?
  17. The Solid Science of Sam Rich
  18. The Testimony of Perry Tuttle of US Gypsum
  19. An Experimentally Produced Desiccation Ridge That Mimics an Arch

 Posted by on 10/21/2009 Bigfoot, Hoaxes Comments Off on Bigfoot Compendium
Oct 192009

Many Americans visit Amsterdam for the debauchery. I visited Amsterdam as a sideshow performer. I was one of the founding members of the Jim Rose sideshow. Our story was well chronicled by our road manager Jan Gregor in his book Circus of the Scars. Since most performers only “perform” for a few hours in the evening, there is a huge amount of time available just to wander around and explore when one is in a new city. Lots of Americans go ga-ga over the cannabis in the Amsterdam coffee shops, but that was not my thing. I was also too chicken to even think about “visiting” a prostitute, and couldn’t get the STD issue out of my mind either. But I did enjoy simply browsing through the “red light” district, and I liked all the porn, too.

One fine summer afternoon in 1993, Jan Gregor, Tim “Zamora” Cridland, and I were walking thorough the red light district of Amsterdam. We notice explicit posters on walls offering a “Live Sex Act”. As we walk, well dressed men in doorways pitch us offers; “Live Sex Act 100 guilders”. While this made us curious, the price was too expensive. The Netherlands switched over to the Euro as its currency in 2002, and so I’m having trouble working out and remembering exactly how much they really wanted for the “Live Sex Act”. I seem to remember the first pitches we heard would have set us back about 50 dollars. We kept on walking. The talented talkers clearly could tell we were American, as they instinctively addressed us in English. More men in doorways made additional pitches. The prices were going down. Eventually one man’s pitch came down to what would be about 15 dollars in American money. We agreed. Now it got weird. The man took our money, and we assumed we would be admitted into the theater that was right behind him. Instead he started walking away, as if to lead us somewhere else. Now I felt like a “mark” and figured this guy was simply going to slip away with our money at the time of his choosing.

But circumstances favored us, and he led us to a theater where we were let in. The theater had its poster on display; a skinny black man copulating with a chubby white woman in at least a dozen poses straight out of the Kama Sutra. We went inside and sat down. The seats were really cramped, and I remember having to pull my legs almost to my chest to simply sit down. A few other men were seated inside the small theater, which held perhaps 100. We caught the end of a typical vintage porno movie projected onto the screen above the stage.

Now the show began. The chubby white woman pictured on the poster came on stage. She began to dance, while clothed. The music that accompanied her “show” was coming from two very small speakers mounted high on the wall. The music was vastly too loud and distorted, and was almost hurting my ears. The cramped seating, the excessive music, and the frumpy woman did not yet provoke an erotic response in me.

After a few songs and more dancing, she had stripped naked. She placed a small throw rug on the stage, and her partner came out. This was the skinny black man from the poster. At this point, the “free form” vibe of the previous strip show gave way to a tightly choreographed suck-n-fuck in time to the music. The couple indeed demonstrated all the various yoga-esque penetrations, as seen on the poster. When it was over, which took perhaps 2 minutes, I believe the guy still had an erection. The show was over.

Now as a debauched “war story” of a performer’s life on the road, this one’s not too bad. But as something actually arousing, I would have to place it significantly lower than trying to spank to a National Geographic magazine. The value of the experience is the story you get to tell your buddies back home, not any kind of enhanced arousal. But as a lure to get customers into a theater, it worked like a charm!

 Posted by on 10/19/2009 Personal History Comments Off on Live Sex Act
Oct 192009

The following is a modification of a post I submitted to my favorite website, Metafilter. I put a bunch of effort into photographing things I had made some time ago, and obviously I had put in a great deal of effort to create the items in the first place. Frankly I haven’t investigated whether or not other people have experimented with firehose for arts and crafts, or functional artifacts. I feel that more can be done with this unique material, but my interests have shifted as of late. But it’s worthwhile to document things, so I thought I would create this page.

When I was in high school, I used a conventional sewing awl to repair a leather belt I owned:

Sewing Awl by you.

This was a scan of an old ad from Popular Mechanics magazine. This tool has been around for a long time.

I stitched the entire perimeter of the belt, as it was composed of two pieces of leather that had been sewn together in the first place. As I recall, the initial stitching had failed, and so this was a repair.

The amount of labor that went into this project was enormous, and made an impression on me. You still see numerous leather items that are composed of two slats of leather that are stitched together, like this folding knife scabbard for a belt:

Traditional Leather Knife Belt Pouch by you.

Notice how the ends of the two belt loop slits terminate in round holes. This helps reduce the chances that the tear will propagate.

Stitching is not the most robust means of attachment, and so myself and others have sought ways around this design weakness. The venerable Leatherman tool scabbard is one superb example:

Leatherman "Supertool" Belt Pouch by you.

It has no stitching at all, and uses only four rivets:

Riveted Leather Leatherman Belt Pouch by you.

Despite the obvious advantage of rivets, only two kinds of rivets are commonly available to the average consumer; “pop” rivets, and “cutler” rivets. Pop rivets leave a large bump on one side, and are unsightly for an aesthetic craft project. Cutler rivets are nicely flat on both sides, yet are available only in thicknesses appropriate for knife handles, as far as I know. The rivets you see on the Leatherman pouch are obviously a proprietary design. Thus one needs to make peace with the venerable sewing awl, as it’s very hard not to need stitching at least somewhere…

Fast forward many years. In about 2003 I decided to modify the standard sewing awl to become a more functional tool. I  flattened and colored one side of the sewing awl to provide visual and tactile cues. When withdrawing the needle from the work, I place my thumb on the wound thimble which enables good control of thread tension. Since the tool is now asymmetrical or “two sided”, I placed the spindle in an “overshot” configuration.

I replaced the flimsy thimble axle with a #10 fine hex-head machine screw. Existing holes were re-tapped for #10 fine threads. A much more robust design, with much less “play” on the thimble:

Modified Sewing Awl by you.

A short section of 3/8″ fuel line formed an effective scabbard for the sharp needle. It fit over the needle chuck nicely:

3/8" Fuel Line Needle Protector by you.

I use 130 pound test Spectra fishing line for “thread”. It must be admitted that the enormous tensile strength of such a product is probably overkill, as the stitching is more likely to fail due to abrasion rather than stress and strain. Yet the relatively large diameter of the line has the counterintuitive advantage of being less likely to cut into the base material. Since Spectra is polyethylene, it can be literally welded, which is a much better way to terminate the line of stitching than with just a knot. But to ensure a proper sewn termination, tie the ends off with a knot, then weld the knot. If you do it right, you can flatten the heated polymer to a more aesthetic “button” shape before it cools and hardens. The spool of line seen here is for me most likely a lifetime supply:

130 Pound Test Spectra Fishing Line by you.

Having worn various tools in belt pouches for a number of years, It occurred to me sometime in the early 2000’s that if one started with a material that was tubular to begin with, that no side stitching would be required. Luckily for me, I was able to obtain sections of used firehose at an industrial supplier here in Seattle. Here is a flashlight belt scabbard that I made out of small diameter firehose. Note the inclusion of enlarged holes at the ends of the belt loop incision:

Firehose Flashlight Belt Pouch Side View by you.

Note that only one end of the scabbard required stitching:

Lock Stitch Sewn Edge of Belt Pouch by you.

Being that firehose is a composite, with rubber on the inside bonded to a synthetic overbraid, the material’s edges can be heat sealed. Ultimately my flashlight scabbard was a mixed success; despite the heat sealing, the main flap began to pucker and fray:

Firehose Flashlight Belt Holster by you.

And one of the belt loop cut-outs began to tear.

Belt Loop Tear Extension by you.

Perhaps the material I chose was too intrinsically flimsy.  I had better luck with a key pouch made out of firehose:

Firehose Key Pouch by you.

I’ve used it for several years now, and am happy with the results. Again, note that only one edge of the pouch needs stitching, due to its tubular morphology. Unlike the flashlight pouch, I forgot to truncate the corners! Nevertheless, I’ve never been poked by the stiff corners, and I haven’t had any pockets wear out because of it. Were I to do it again, I hope I’d remember to include that simple feature:

Firehose Key Pouch Lock Stich by you.

It’s possible to get tubular synthetic firehose overbraid that has no rubber bonded to it:

Circular Braided Firehose Overwrap by you.

Being tubular, the ends of a segment can be everted, then sewn shut. This can provide a particularly aesthetic way to terminate an end.

I obtained a long section of some synthetic tubing in 4cm width. I don’t think it’s firehose overbraid though; I suspect it’s used for overhead crane straps:

Large Roll of 4cm Width Tubular Strap by you.

4cm Synthetic Tubular Strapping Width by you.

This width I found very useful, as I’ve made knife scabbards and belts out of it:

Knife and Scabbard by you.

Tubular Synthetic Strap Knife Scabbard by you.

As an aside, the yellow material on the knife handle is heat shrink tubing, a unique and valuable material in its own right.

Creating the knife scabbard was simple as pie, and being that the closed end experienced no mechanical stress, I didn’t even stitch it closed, I just heat sealed it:

Quick and Easy Heat Seal by you.

The belt buckle I welded myself:

Hand Made Belt Buckle  by you.

The bifurcation you see on the revolute joint is due to it being two steel washers welded to a segment of steel rod. Part of the main body I bent, and part I welded, thus accounting for the differences in the corners. Were I to do it again, I’d probably weld all joints.

Being tubular, the only stitching required on the strapping is what you see just below the buckle. A “tongue” was cut out of the tube, wrapped around the steel buckle, tucked back into the tube, then sewn shut.

The belt buckle holes were formed with a red hot poker (a sharpened machine screw). One could use a needle nosed soldering iron, but that would leave plastic residue on your iron. Over time mechanical stresses will distort the base material, so this is not an ideal, long term solution. But I’ve had this belt buckle for several years now, with no major malfunctions:

Belt Holes Formed With Red Hot Poker by you.

The most recent hole is to the far left, as I’ve lost weight recently. As you can see the middle holes have become distorted over time.

I have a strong intuition that firehose and tubular strapping are useful and robust materials for crafts projects, and I simply haven’t been able to think of further applications for it. Perhaps this webpage will act as a useful starting point for others who can see what I can’t. Good luck!

 Posted by on 10/19/2009 Art Comments Off on Adventures With Firehose