Halloween Spooktacular: Spiders and Ants

Antique pumpkin equals old and scary.

Antique pumpkin equals old and scary.

Initial notes for this post had me jotting down words like “spiders” and “ants.” Is that Halloween enough for the Portland Orbit? Probably not, unless they are giant, made of papier-mâché and set up in someone’s yard or radioactive. I can’t resist a forum for sounding off about insects, though. They have invaded our home. The spiders claim their territory in the backyard. Things were heading over the top when we saw a bird we could have sworn was going to get caught in a web on the roof of the garage. The bird didn’t snack on the spider and vice versa but the drama that unfolded for a minute and imagining what was going to happen became a fascinating live action nature show.

Less scary when they cuddle plants.

Less scary when they cuddle plants

All who wander aren't lost. Get lost!

All who wander aren’t lost. Get lost!

Ants are another story. My future comedy routine will feature material on ants but now all I can say is that they’re freeloading morons. I mean ants, really? You want to crawl around our bathroom sink and eat toothpaste? Ant flavored toothpaste is never going to be a thing.

But is Halloween really about insects? Ghosts and goblins are fine but ultimately I’m not in the mood. My pre-Halloween horrors include soggy socks and a long bus ride with a dripping nose and no Kleenex. Make a haunted house scenario about that!

Porch Attack

When porches attack.

When porches attack

Neighbors never fail year after year. This home has created something completely different from the year before. Would I have concerns about being eaten by a porch? This display has me considering that possibility.

Web Central

Web screen.

Web screen induces screams.

Scary scene, indeed.

Scary scene, indeed.

I don’t suffer from arachnophobia but walking through webs is an icky sensation followed closely by the thought of a spider heading for my face after I’ve invaded her turf. Cobwebs are a staple of Halloween decorating. Web walls conjure up thoughts of a thousand spiders. Throw in a skeleton and I’m keeping my distance.

Hot Corner

Zoombie crossing.

Zombie Crossing

Who benefits when next door neighbors throw it down with over the top Halloween decorations? The kids who have to brave these strange scenarios to get treats and onlooking neighbors, that’s who.

Probably not getting married.

Probably not getting married.

Ther are some zombies on one porch and a Beetlejuice looking Gent hanging with a woman holding her own head on the next. It has potential for at least a few scares this Halloween.

The Eyes Have It

Eyes see me.

Eyes see.

The thought of eyes staring out at passersby is certainly creepy, but when the eyes are Cookie Monster in nature they appear more comical than frightening.

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween!

The PRB Variety Hour Interview

I daydreamed about having a TV talk show in my basement, but I couldn’t escape the obvious creep factor in trying to lure guests to my basement for a “TV show.” Also, I could never get organized enough to make it happen. I have been able to experience hosting an in-home talk show vicariously through Jeff Dodge. He cobbled together his cameras and a rudimentary switcher to broadcast his own show live on his birthday. Ever since he’s been airing the show once a month.

Jeff is a man of many talents. He is a sound engineer, musician, movie director, video producer and now TV talk show host. Although he has yet to break out the solid move of playing the piano while interviewing a guest, pioneered by original Tonight Show host Steve Allen, the thing to know is he could. Jeff combines show host duties with those of band leader (double scale anyone?) for the show’s house band, The Peasant Revolution Band. Dodge plays guitar with them for a few numbers each show.

Push button directing!

Push button directing!

As someone who helps produce the show and directs the live broadcast, I get a front row seat to the action. My involvement with the show might explain how I got access to Jeff for an interview.

The Peasant Revolution Band perform on Septeber's grunge themed show.

The Peasant Revolution Band perform on September’s grunge themed show.

The Portland Orbit: My first question which is, I’m just asking, what is the PRB variety hour?

Jeff Dodge: The Peasant Revolution Band Variety Hour is…well first off it was a concept mostly because we were looking around for venues to get a regular gig booked at, after twenty, twenty-five years of being in this town and off and on playing music and finding that it’s still kind of the same old thing, what have you done for me lately, I decided why don’t we do a TV show as a regular gig. That’s one way to have it. We’ll just throw it in my office and shoot it and go live once a month and so far it’s been working great. A once a month gig, it’s the only time I’ve really had that on a consistent basis and it’s actually a lot more work than I was thinking it was. So I’m kind of glad we don’t have any other shows. (Laughs)

The Portland Orbit: What are some of your inspirations for the show?

Jeff Dodge: It’s shaped by a lot of what Zach Galafancous “Between Two Ferns” does. Recent inspiration has been Eric Andre. Our friend Jason Lamb turned me on to the Eric Andre Show, and I think he’s doing some amazing stuff. I think another part of the concept was kind of like the Sonny and Cher Variety Hour I got kind of more turned on to and Steve Allen. I sent a clip to you recently where he does this interview with Jack Kerouac where they’re kind of chatting, and (Steve Allen) is plinking along on the piano and all of a sudden (Kerouac) starts reading and they bust into this whole jazz thing. It’s just great. The band kicks in. I think Steve Allen used to do that a lot just sort of, (goes into Steve Allen impersonation) “okay, we’re having a casual conversation and okay you bore me I’m just going to start plinking along here.” You know it turns into a song. That’s a good idea that I’m trying to bring in with this show.

The Portland Orbit: Oh yeah, that’s, yeah, I mentioned that already in the blog post. (Laughs) That has to happen. So that kind of feeds into my next question. It’s really like what are the inspirations that you get from past talk show hosts and other performers?

Jeff Dodge: Well, I guess I have to say one of the big breakthroughs for me—the past couple of years really, I got into the Andy Kaufman story quite a bit when I realized he was a lot bigger than what Jim Carrey portrayed him as in that movie. I really didn’t like that movie. I had a bad taste for him. I started seeing what he did and what he did on talk shows and really actually at the height of his reign had wonderful relationships with people like Mike Douglas and even Dinah Shore and of course David Letterman and him were great friends. So I think that’s a lot of inspiration that’s been coming as I watch this guy sort of peek around the edges of these establishment shows that are historic, really, and sort of see the nuances for parody. Gary Shandling was another master of the kind of parody I really enjoy.

Monitoring the program monitor.

Monitoring the program monitor.

The Portland Orbit: And what do you like about being able to produce a talk show from your house?

Jeff Dodge: It also doubles as my work office. I’m in there doing video editing and doing all sorts of things of that nature anyway. It’s kind of great that it’s in my home office. I just have to switch gears and everything is not that far away. It gets me to try to semi-clean things up once a month so that’s good and yeah, it’s a short walk to the studio. It seems a pretty central place for the band and guests to meet. It’s just enough space. It’s a little cozy. Cozier makes it, you have to have a bit more focused because of that.

In football it would be a screen play.

In football it would be a screen play.

The Portland Orbit: I think the other aspect of that question that’s missing really is what do you like about the technical aspects that allow you to broadcast from your home?

Jeff Dodge: My inspirations for this are podcasting in general like what you’ve been doing. I was seeing all sorts of things happening in this election cycle where the Internet is full of basically pirated TV stations, people just kind of breaking loose and doing their own videocast whether it’s through Facebook or YouTube and multiple generations and multiple countries and groups and yeah, it’s just wonderful. It’s like TV is getting put in the hands of the people. There’s just a huge variety of it. I think the fact that all this software is coming through these media platforms is creating a lot of opportunity that wasn’t there even a couple of years ago. So I’m taking advantage of that and then the hardware aspect of it is I’m using standard def cameras, any camera, running everything through an analog processing thing it’s not much different from what the TV stations use, it’s all 720p for them anyway even though they get all this fancy HD stuff to work with. We’re still all watching low resolution so I’m taking it all and sending in down the pipeline, doing it all on the cheap and easy. It’s free and all the software platforms are allowing for that so it’s great. It’s a wonderful time to bring those two together.

The Portland Orbit: Very good, okay, I love that. That’s a good ending there. (Laughter.)

Jeff Dodge: I could go for hours.

*  * * * *

Jeff generally broadcasts on the last Tuesday of the month. He jokingly referred to the next show’s air date as October 32nd but he’s actually hitting the “internetwaves” on Tuesday, November 1st at 9pm PST. For more information see: http://trenchdigger.us/prb-variety-hour-show.html

UPDATE: The show now airs on the last Monday of every month.

P.S. Not to go unmentioned are the contributions of drummer Rich Reece and bassist Steve Cebula who make up the rhythm section of The Peasant Revolution Band. During the show they offer commentary and make quips. Reece plays more of an Ed McMahon role while Steve is more in the Tommie Newsome territory. To understand that reference you would probably need to have had parents who nodded off to the Johnny Carson show on many a night in the 70’s.

P.P.S. Right after I turned off the recorder, Jeff threw out a nod to SCTV (Second City TV) as an influence. The Canadian show starred the likes of John Candy, Rick Moranis, Eugene Levy and Andrea Martin among others. It also ran fake commercials, which I didn’t remember. Here’s one I created for the Peasant Revolution Band Variety Hour: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pub-zD0hR5U

Skateboard Decor


It’s always about what to do with stuff. There’s a reason we can’t part with the old skateboards in our garage. It could be a desperate attempt to hold on to our youth. They do make good floor dollies for those times it’s necessary to move junk up and down the driveway. My fascination with any subculture and my own “what to do with my skateboard” conundrum may be behind how impressed I was with examples of Skateboard Decor I’ve discovered.

Sure boards get beat up, nicked, banged, bruised, dented, damaged, cracked and broken and they need to be retired. Flinging skateboards around has to be tough on the gear. It’s nice to find out that they don’t have to end up on the scrap heap.

It makes sense that wheels and trucks get salvaged while the boards are put out to pasture, sometimes literally. I’ve seen fencing, plantings borders and benches. I’m not auditioning for writing for a Martha Stewart lifestyle publication here, but there is no end to how old boards can be used to spruce up a yard and to see actual examples of this kind of exterior decor is inspiring. These decorating materials have to bump up the coolness factor a notch. So consider what you might do with old gear from your skater days. Reuse, recycle and make your yard the envy of the skate punks in your neighborhood who still might find you a bit  crazy for discarding old boards in your yard in this manner.

St. Johns


Right next to George Middle School in St. Johns lies a yard brimming with the results of skateboard decorating ideas. Old boards outline a planting bed with a colorful mish mash of stickers and other designs while worn out decks find new life in a brilliant conception of a bench.


MLK near NE Dekum ST


After asking permission from the guys on the porch, it was mentioned, with great pride that these were all boards these guys had bashed up themselves. The house on MLK Blvd near Dekum had a small concrete ramp out front where some of the boards no doubt lost their mojo. It felt like an honor to see this gear lined up  as if it was somehow memorializing the service of the now out-of-service.




This less is more approach was found in the Kenton neighborhood. The skateboard border lines up behind the brick border. I’m here to cheer on the reuse of any piece of diminished skateboarding equipment. The flamingo, looking over the skateboards, is a nice and subtle touch because a flamingo glued to an old skateboard would have been way over the top.

See a slideshow presentation of this blog post by clicking here: https://youtu.be/I3hGgirNfp8



We Survive

The mural that inspired a blog post.

The mural that inspired a blog post.

A few feet away from a pay phone in the Kenton neighborhood, a small, faded, sidewalk mural proclaims: “We survive.” Seeing this I always reflect on the woes of that shabby, nearby pay phone, a relic of the past. As you’ll soon find out, not many pay phone booths are equipped with phones, while others house defunct receivers. But there remain a few operational public phones that could help you make that call. While I was in the throes of my sporadic research, the Portland Mercury beat me to the topic by offering up an editorial piece on public phones. I continued with my survey, possibly to prove I’m not ready for prime time in comparison, but also with the realization that I have a different take on such matters.

Anybody got a quarter, my beeper's going crazy?

Got a quarter? My beeper’s going crazy.

photo by Sandy Smith

Let’s consider the scorn public phones endure in the age of cell phone technology. In a facebook post, my old friend Dave Bjorkback combined a beeper joke with a photo of his encounter with a pay phone in an airport. My man may have been desperate for likes but he was also on target on two counts with his multi-layered joke about antiquated technologies in our increasingly digital world where everyone seems to have access phone technology in their pockets. Although the extinction rate, if such statistics are kept, is probably more staggering than we’d want to imagine, pay phones do survive.

Sad and empty despite sunshine.

Sad and empty despite sunshine.

It’s hard to understand why the phone company takes the phones but not the phone booths. Why not haul it away and call it a day? I’m exploring the theory that vandals and antique dealers nick the phones. It would be cool to have an old phone booth phone mounted on one of my walls, working or not. Like elephant ivory and rhino horns, there’s a market for everything. Then again, phone companies may be waiting for the day when cell phones fall out of fashion and it becomes necessary to reinstall phones in these derelict phone booths.

Twins in futility.

Twins in futility on Lombard St.

Who wouldn’t miss those times when it was possible to walk down Lombard St and access pay phone after pay phone to make calls or check  for spare change? How quaint it seems that hogging a public phone like Rupert Pupkin, from “The King of Comedy,” and attempting to use it as a business line, is joining the reliquary of antique antics punctuating film history.

The coolest broken phone booth around.

The coolest broken phone booth around.

So if you are in need of a public phone you have to hope that the phone booth you amble up to is equipped with a working unit. You’re going to need actual money too. The only dependable public phones may be those at Max train stops. Studying one of these phones revealed the current rate for a call is 50 cents for ten minutes. Don’t expect to pay less unless you’re willing to sacrifice reception quality.

Reliable like Trimet!

Reliable like Trimet!

Marring the streetscape!

Marring the streetscape!

Streetscapes seem to be in flux with bulky, boxy, boothy contraptions dotting them. It’s time to repurpose these outdated facilities, yet their use is limited. At this point, they are bait and switch machines for those needing to make a call and finding a broken phone or none at all. It’s a mirage in a communication desert.

Detail of a

Detail of a “hone” booth on Interstate.

If you are going to survive, do it in style. Flourish! Don’t crawl towards the finish line in the technology race. If only someone, somewhere, somehow, could make public phones and phone booths cool again.

See a video version of this blog post: https://youtu.be/nnWUDzmPfc8

The end of the line you find...

At the end of the line you find…

...no phone!

…no phone!

The Smiling Tree



There is little that can be said about the Smiling Tree. You could get indignant as I have in the past about how wrong it is to mix the unnatural components of spray paint with the natural elements of a living plant but the limb shorning of this tree left behind circular remnants outlining what had to be excellent potential for face portrayal. How could anyone resist the opportunity to give this tree some personality? These faces became fully realized by the addition of eyes and mouths in lines of spray paint.


In the past, I have been driven to the brink of a Euell Gibbon’s kind of colossal, aneuryistic freak out by people’s decisions to tag trees or vandalize them in other ways. Not that old Euell, known to me for his “Did you ever eat a pine tree?” quote in a Grape Nuts commercial from the 70’s, was know for his freak outs about anything but he did seem especially passionate about nature. For me to consider that kind of melt down. . . well, I must love trees too much.


Then there’s another nature lover to consider by the name of Joyce Kilmer who wrote in his greatest poem (pause here while I look it up).  Oh yeah.  He waxed poetic about seeing a tree as lovely as a poem before going off to war and leaving his five kids in the lurch. There is beauty in lovely trees but it’s all for naught when someone throws paint on them, unless they do it in a kind, subtle and fun way.


How can you not return a smile to the smiling tree? You’ll find it facing North Delaware Avenue beyond Kenton Park. I can live with the paint on that tree. A smiling tree seems like a friendlier tree. It’s welcoming and happy. So I look at the addition of these markings as a detail that brings an otherwise regular tree a dash of character.

Unsmiling Trees

Having contemplated tree vandalism lately, I thought I’d drum up two examples. I’m on the fence, I’d say.  After singing the praises of the Smiling Tree, I saw a tree with certain anomalies that might benefit from vandalism. I wish the 11th Commandment, preserved in stone for all humanity to obey for all time, read, “LEAVE TREES ALONE.” Then again, with that 11th commandment, this blog post might not exist.


A tree in my neighborhood has a hole in it that seems to be filled with cement or maybe it’s  a heart shaped bad spot that had been crying out for paint. I’m no arborist, that’s for sure. Initially I thought someone had taken the opportunity to immortalize their love for someone else. I could have sworn there had been a plus sign between the B and the D. Without having done the research (walking down the street), I was speculating the profession of love from B to D was also a side-armed tribute to Kilmer and his love of trees. Catching myself, I remembered no one gives two bleeps about Joyce and his tree poem these days. I had to spend a few years working at a middle school named for him to become interested enough to delve into his legacy. The tree was a place to broadcast affection or really, in this case, a place to immortalize a pair of initials. Kilmer told the world about his love of trees through poetry, and B told us about B and D or D told us of B or BD told of him or herself. Like poetry, it is open to interpretation. So let me get wishy-washy and not stand firm here (or there) by saying most tree vandalism is mostly wrong. Also, it may be better to write poems about trees than to write on, carve, or spray paint them.



Does a Bear Get Nailed to a Tree?


What do you do if you have the perfect piece of decorative bear art and no place to put it? There is no reason not to nail it to a tree. The bear is rugged and vibrant despite the nail in her underarm. I’m going to go out on a limb (there has to be a goddamned tree pun) and say that if people feel the need to decorate trees, I can’t see a nail hurting too much. Also, if someone considers decorating a tree, hanging an item featuring nature really does work as exterior decorating.