July 5, 2008

Wet walnuts, that was the key. The cold, frosted stainless steel of the sundae dish provided the context, and the ice cream itself, either chocolate or vanilla (back then the most gourmet flavor was perhaps the plasticy *Rocky Road*, available only at Baskin Robbins), was the body.

But it was the wet walnuts, a goopy, drippy concoction of walnut chunks and syrup that was the crowning glory of a Gruning’s sundae. Asking for the wet walnuts on the sundae was always a fleetingly risque move, as if an entire lifetime’s abuse of junk food was concentrated into one dollop of nutty glucose. Even as a 10 year old ordering this manna, I knew it was straight-up decadence.

There were two Gruning’s restaurants nearby. One, in South Orange village, was the older, original establishment. I didn’t go there often, but I do remember it having a double wrap-around soda counter.

*My* Gruning’s was the one “on the hill”; a flattned outcropping off a steep curve of South Orange avenue. The building was an unremarkable one-story elongated box, but a gambrel roof gave it a homey touch. On the inside, a lunch counter ran its length. To the back was the dining room overlooking the edge of the steep ridge.

The peculiar orientation of Gruning’s meant it was easily accessible from my street. Woodhill Drive was a steep road below the ridge, ending in a dead-end at the base of the South Mountain Reservation.

The shortcut to Gruning’s was simple; walk to the top of Woodhill and cut behind the top house’s backyard. From there, you scaled a steep embankment, pulling on saplings and low-hanging branches for leverage. Surmounting this hill put you right into Gruning’s parking lot.

Since Gruning’s was a full-scale restaurant, we didn’t make this trip as often as you might think; certainly not as much as the Candy Store a few blocks away. But the occasional safari to Gruning’s was always a treat. I recall one time going there with a sack of pennies to buy a candy bar at the cash register. I can still see the face of the cashier, humorously incredulous having to count 50 or so pennies for this resourceful kid.

In high school, Gruning’s became more of a proper “hangout”. Not only would we go there for ice cream, but their menu of greasy burgers and fat, scalding fries were a staple. I always had a sense of the history, they had pictures on the walls of the place in the 50s and such. We liked to take booth seats by the big windows facing the ridge, and the heavy concrete foundation provided a deep, solid shelf for a favorite parlor trick of mine, the [balancing salt shaker](

My parents divorced in 1985. For years my brother had been collecting fallen road signs and hanging them up in his attic hangout. Stop signs, one way, yield, school crossings, you name it. When it came time to clean out the house, he came upon an interesting idea; he wanted to return all the signs to the town, but, for obvious reasons, anonymously. So he wrote up a note to the town, apologizing for the years of petty theft. We pulled down the signs, trudged them down three flights, and loaded them into the car (road signs are a *lot* bigger and heavier than you might imagine).

We drove up the hill around 11pm and pulled into Gruning’s lot. The restaurant itself had long been closed, it was a depressingly sad shell. We took out the signs and arranged them along a fence that edged the drop off we once climbed. It looked like a flea market. We taped the note to one of the signs and drove off, hoping for the best.

The very next morning we drove by, and the signs were gone. We never learned if the town got them back, or some other scavenger made off with the bounty.

Gruning’s came back into my life one last time. A few years after college, I had started a design business in South Orange village with a friend. I don’t recall how we got the gig, but somehow we managed to secure an meeting with the owner of Gruning’s in his office at the back of the village restaurant. He talked big about us getting a lot of work from him, he thought we were scrappy, talented kids.

Truth is, we were just starting out, so these empty platitudes made our eyes wide. We ended up doing exactly one project for him; a large stand-up sign for a trade show, where he was hawking Gruning’s hot fudge sauce. The design was taken from the label, showing a silhouette of people inside the windows of an old fashion ice cream parlor. I drew the image, and had it blown up huge at a local sign shop.

The sign must not have helped much; Gruning’s was soon sold off, and the one on the hill was torn down and turned into an ugly apartment building.

[1]: /wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2008/06/grunings.png

The Top 10 Pompous Arena Rock Songs

November 29, 2007

The criteria: 1) The song must be over four minutes long. Anything shorter is just a pop song. Pompous Arena Rock Songs require length for that epic quality, man. 2) The song must have been played in an actual arena by the original band. This is how we can disqualify songs like Hey Jude and All Along the Watchtower. 3) The song must generally follow the formula of a slow, preferably acoustic opening (lending to the artist’s cred as a virtuoso), leading to the the sudden machine-gunning on the distorted guitars. This is the ROCK OUT. 4) The artist must be absolutely sincere that the song is an Important Piece of Work. Any hint of irony disqualifies it (think Spiñal Tap).

But enough of my yakkin’— Let’s boogie!

**10. Don’t Stop Believing**, *Journey*
Journey sucks, no matter how hard so-called rock historians try to “re-assess” their works in a post-Sopranos world. This song brings its pomposity to the table right with the new-agey preaching title, and wraps it in a bow of Steve Perry wailing.

Lyric of Pomposity: *Some will win, some will lose / Some were born to sing the blues*

**9. Dream On**, *Aerosmith*
Opening with the literally self-reflective warble of Steven Tyler, Dream On dares the guy in the Loge to *not* start flailing his head when the screaming commences on the verse. This song was written in Aerosmith’s hard-core Hell’s Kitchen heroin days, but that doesn’t excuse its pretension.

Lyric of Pomposity: *Half my life is in books written pages / Live and learn from fools and from sages*

**8. Stairway to Heaven**, *Led Zeppelin*
Yes, it makes every list. Hell, it’s probably on the list of “Top 10 Tourist Destinations in Belgium”, but the standard-bearer of arena rock pomposity cannot be denied. Framed by the medieval fret-harmonics of the opening and wistful “oh by the way, remember it started slow?” ending, Stairway throws down the gauntlet to all who dare challenge its throne.

Lyric of Pomposity: *And a new day will dawn for those who stand long / And the forest will echo with laughter*

**7. Free Bird**, *Lynyrd Skynyrd*
Skynyrd, the Rolling Stones to the Allman Brothers’ Beatles, suffered from a career-long inferiority complex next to their long-haired Southern Rock bretheren. It’s no wonder then, that they turned up the amps in compensation. Many a shoulder-sitting concert going woman raised her shirt to this song, but that doesn’t excuse 20 minutes of guitar mashing to about three lines of actual lyric. For all its nouns and verbs, the lyrics of Free Bird are shockingly free of actual content.

Lyric of Pomposity: *Lord knows, I can’t change.*

**6. Hotel California**, *The Eagles*
We may never learn if Henley meant “colitas” or “coitus”, but it hardly matters. With *Hotel California*, the Eagles graduated from the hemp-hoodie wearing troupe who sang *Seven Bridges Road* to the coke-infused Arena pomp-peddlers in the fast lane. The closing guitar duel is so ingrained in our heads, we go into convulsions waiting to hear the “whoop”.

Lyric of Pomposity: *Her mind is Tiffany-twisted, she got the Mercedes bends / She got a lot of pretty, pretty boys, that she calls friends*

**5. More than a Feeling**, *Boston*
In 1978, you couldn’t take a dump without hearing the opening guitar riff of *More than A Feeling*. This signaled the dudes to do bad air guitar and the girls to sing it at each other. And yet for all its pomposity, *MTAF* is as cold and programmed as Tom Scholz’s Rockman. Boston fancied themselves the Stanley Kubricks of rock, releasing one meticulously-crafted album per decade, but the uniform, derivative blandness of their works makes them more like the Brian DePalma.

Lyric of Pomposity: *When Im tired and thinking cold / I hide in my music, forget the day*

**4. Thunder Road**, *Bruuuce*
With each passing year, as Springsteen morphs closer to his Woody Guthrie ideal, his earlier works stands out as all the more transparently phony. Was he really that Jersey kid of myth, hanging out on the hood of his Chevy, making out under the Asbury Park phosper glow? Not likely. *Thunder Road*’s pomposity comes not so much from the ROCK OUT, but for having a lyrical density surpassing that of a white dwarf star.

Lyric of Pomposity: *All the redemption I can offer, girl is beneath this dirty hood*

**3. November Rain**, *Guns n’ Roses*
Guns n’ Roses had it all: fame, fortune, hot and cold running groupies. That all came crashing to the ground with the release of *November Rain*, perhaps the most pompous of arena rock songs released in the 1990s. When Axl Rose first took seat behind that piano, the Whiskey wept.

**2. Bohemian Rhapsody**, *Queen*
Rocking out at the end doesn’t make up for the byzantine lyrics and operatic harmonizing, guys.

Lyric of Pomposity: *Galileo / Galileo / Galileo / Galileo*

**1. Come Sail Away**, *Styx*
It is rumored *Come Sail Away* was constructed in a lead-lined bunker deep within the bowels of NORAD as a Defense Department skunks-works project. It is mathematically impossible to turn on *CSA* without arriving in the middle of one of the endless opening piano stanzas, the net result being the listener is forced to brave their way through the entirety of this soppy mess just to get relief when the ROCK OUT finally appears.

Lyric of Pomposity: *”I thought that they were angels, but to my surprise / They climbed aboard their starship and headed for the skies.”*

The Bridges of Central Park

September 11, 2006

An old friend from high school, Paul Gaykowski, has co-authored a wonderful new book, [The Bridges of Central Park]( Nearly two-years in the making, it chronicles, in a “then and now” format, the popular, hidden, nifty or just plain ignored bridges that dot Central Park. The book is printed on a substantial coated stock, overflowing with rich duotone photographs, and is layed out in a format that invites you to jump around and discover the bridges in a manner not unlike a real walk through the park.

If you love bridges, the Park, or are just a plain old geek for vintage photography, this is a great read.

Annie Get Your Politically Incorrect Firearm

August 20, 2006

In 1977 or so, the South Mountain School 6th Graders staged a production of Annie Get Your Gun. At that time the idea of letting children enact gunplay or portray ethnic stereotypes (nevermind its sexual politics) was far from considered inappropriate. But fairness was in the rule-book, so students from the younger grades were drafted to be in the show as extras in the chorus, either as “townsfolk” or, inevitably, Indians. As a 3rd (or 4th?) grader, I was one of the lucky chosen to wear the honored feathers of an Indian. I was excited to play such an exotic character, and looked forward to the elaborate costume that being an Indian would afford.

Students were responsible for their own costumes, so my mother outfitted me in period-accurate attire; red and blue dyed feathers, a leatherette vest and belt, and of course stripes of war paint under my eyes. To round out the ensemble, we went to the Livingston Mall and bought a small toy drum at K-B Hobby. The drum, a colonial-style shiny red affair, didn’t have the correct “Indian-esque” look, so my mother purchased wood-grained contact paper and wrapped it around the drum. Now it was authentic!

The teachers planned a grand opening for the show; after the overture ended, the townsfolk would enter the auditorium through the rear doors chased by us Indians with tomahawks a-choppin’, drums beating and war cries hollering. As we ran them down the aisles, the townsfolk were to scream, “Indians, Indians!” in fear. The chase was to lead us all onto the stage, where everyone would break into song. The problem was, it was never actually rehearsed; we probably got the direction all of one time an hour before the show.

So with no clear idea of how this would proceed, we were herded into two lines behind the closed auditorium doors in the front hall of the school, townsfolk in front of Indians. We hopped in place anxious with excitement, knowing our parents inside were ready to see their darlings commit to a whooping entrance. The overture played out and the cue came; the auditorium doors swung open and we burst into the aisles. But with our pent-up enthusiasm and lack of rehearsal, not only did the townsfolk scream “Indians, Indians!”, but us Indians screamed “Indians, Indians!”, wholly forgetting to beat our drums and yell our war cries, completely misunderstanding the intent of the direction.

I’m sure the audience didn’t noticed this innocent gaff, nor the weird irony of Indians yelling at themselves (it was years before even I thought about it beyond the mechanics of the incident). Nevertheless we made it down the aisles, up the steps and onto the stage, and began singing songs about the old west and guns and businesses that are nothing like show business.

James Betelle, Where Are You?

August 9, 2006

James O. BetelleLast year on this site I wrote a little essay about The Pinewood Derby. Since writing it, nagging thoughts persisted; what had happened to my school since I was last there, nearly 30 years ago? Is it as I remembered? Is my grafitti still on the bathroom wall?* My foray into answering these questions led me down a tangential route; the intruiging and mysterious story of the architect of this, and most all the schools in my hometown of Maplewood, New Jersey, James Oscar Betelle.

My research is voluminous (and, I like to think, interesting) enough that it merited its own website to track my detective work. And thus, I present James Betelle, Where Are You? If you have even a passing interest in architecture, civic history, the machinations of suburban school politics or perhaps Russian royalty (??), the site is worth a look.

*I will address this eventually…

Raisins Don’t Belong in Cookies.

March 26, 2006

cookieI like raisins. Really I do: in cereal, on stuffed cabbage, even straight from the box if need be. But I loathe them in oatmeal cookies. They’re just *wrong* being there, It feels like I’m biting into chewy little insect parts or something. I always thought this was a peculiar quirk of mine, but apparently I’m [not alone](

>*”Contrary to what you’ve probably heard, a raisin is nothing more than a shriveled grape. And its inclusion here just oozes controversy. Like a concerted front against the oatmeal farmers (?) of the world. How do we ruin the oatmeal cookie? We’ll add dried, shriveled, rubbery fruit to it. Good. It’s settled then.”*
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I Was Always Scotty

July 20, 2005

scottyI am a Star Trek fan. And when I say “Star Trek”, I refer to the television series that ran from 1966 to 1969, not the various incarnations that followed (except some of the movies). As a kid growing up in the 70s, Star Trek was a Saturday evening ritual (6 o’clock on Channel 11, before Dance Fever!) I loved all the characters; Kirk was the cool one, Spock the smart one, Sulu the dependable one, Uhura the sassy one and Chekov, well, the stupid one. But when it came time to “play” Star Trek in the schoolyard, I was always Scotty.

My friends always argued over who would be Captain Kirk or Mr. Spock, but no one wanted to be Montogomery Scott, Chief Engineer, except for me. Sure, Kirk had the swagger, and Spock was the real brains behind the operation. But Scotty, as far as I was concerned, was really in charge of the *Enterprise*.

Scotty fixed the ship. He drove it. He made the engines work. He managed to jury-rig a [Romulan cloaking device]( into the dilithium chamber. Kirk gave the orders, but Scotty had the know-how to carry them out. How much cooler can you get? When I built [plastic model kits]( of the *Enterprise* and flew them around my bedroom, it was Scotty’s voice in my head making them go, not Kirk bellowing “Warp..factor 5…”

So, as we climbed over jungle gyms and other knee-scraping apparatuses squaring against surly Klingons and egotistical [Greek gods](, I was the one who got to bark the now-cliched lines like “she canna take n’more!” or “I’m givin’ ‘er all she’s got, cap’n!” Works for me.

[James Doohan, 1920-2005](

The Pinewood Derby

April 26, 2005

Elementary school in the 1970’s still had the vestigial patina of post-war civic high-mindendess, so along with the book fairs, assemblies (when it was still ok to sing Christmas carols) and field trips to the local police station (we were fingerprinted!), the Cub Scouts came calling. I was never much of a joiner, but somehow became one anyway; probably because it meant for two days a week, I didn’t have to go directly home and could eat junk food at our local *Den*, the basement of our scout master’s house. But aside from this and the [groovy]( blue and yellow para-military dress, the premier draw of being a Cub Scout was really The Pinewood Derby.

Will Code for Diapers!

March 30, 2005

The link in the Navigation bar formerly known as *Resume* is now called [*Professional*](/professional). This is the beginning of an expansion plan to include visual examples of my work, along with whatever else might be suitable for prospective clients. I’ve also added it to the main navigation in the masthead. It’s a work in progress, so check back occasionally.

Fargen Around the World

March 20, 2005

On my first trip to France, in the late winter of 2001, I had the supposedly clever idea of bringing along one of my little wooden Dala horses (they’re all named [*Fargen*](/re-dalahus)), and taking pictures of it at and about the various landmarks of Paris and vicinity. The result would be a cheeky travelogue from the point of view of a three-inch tall scrap of Swedish folk art.

Apparently this wasn’t a very novel concept. The film [*Amelie*](;fc=1;ft=125;fm=1), released the same year, has an entire subplot of the plucky heroine sending a small garden gnome around the globe for photo ops. had an [ad campaign]( featuring a traveling gnome (which of course instantly makes the idea *pass�*).

Perhaps the geekiest iteration of this is at [iPodLounge](, which has a section dedicated to [*iPods Around the World*]( When a trip to England included a stop at Stonehenge, I hatched a scheme to take a very specific picture, requiring precise timing, which I think [worked out]( quite well (considering the stinging rain and wind firing down on me).

In any case, I’ve uploaded a [small album]( of F�rgen posing in Paris, Chartres and Amsterdam. Hopefully his adventures will continue in the near future. Enjoy.

A Minor Rant on “Loonatics”

March 14, 2005

I’ve been giving this whole [Loonatics]( thing some thought (which is probably exactly what Warner Bros. [wants](, damn them). A lot has been written lately trashing this “re-imagining” of the Looney Tunes characters, but not much on what *should* be done. Well, I’m here to make a few suggestions. But first, some bile. (more…)

The Dead File Archives (pt. 2)

March 11, 2005

Pages: 1 2

In 1990 I was partner in a graphic design venture, *The Windedale Design Company.* Displaying an early penchant for absurdity that would lead to such diversions as [VäporOS](/the-graveyard/), I created a faux history of the business with a fictitious founder, one Jacobus Q. Winedale. The following is a biography I drafted intended (but thankfully never used) for promotional purposes. It is presented here completely unedited, as embarrassing as that is.


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The Dead File Archives (pt. 1)

March 5, 2005

Pages: 1 2 3

I was recently sifting through old file archives and came across a series of drawings I made during and after college. They were created in a variety of now-dead software applications, and it took some doing to read and convert them to a readable form (thanks, CB!). A lot of the images I found are junk, but some are interesting enough to merit comment.

The first batch I’ll share is a drawing of a Victorian house I made in 1988. What’s notable here is that I saved each state of the drawing as a separate file, allowing a look at the progression of the piece (I must have been quite forward thinking back then.)


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A Disclaimer…

March 3, 2005

>”Family photos do keep smiling faces. Births, weddings, holidays, childrens birthday parties–People take pictures of the happy moment in their lives. Someone looking through a photo album could conclude we had lead a joyous, leisurely existence. Free of tragedy. No one ever takes a picture of something they want to forget.”
– *Sy Parrish (Robin Williams), One Hour Photo (2002)*

New Gallery!

February 23, 2005

Dalahus has a new photo gallery. For those who care about such things, I moved from Menalto Gallery to Coppermine. I’ve been a Menalto user for a number of years, but the code is old and bloated and the UI a bit clunky. For Dalah�s I wanted to try something faster and a bit more “user-friendly”.

The new gallery looks more-or-less the same as the old one, but has a number of features I think you’ll like. The best part is the Last Additions at the bottom of the main page, which shows the last six photos added. So for those of you who are always wondering if there are new photos added, this is a quick way to check. I arranged the photos in the albums in reverse chronological order, so that the latest shots are on the first page (if this is confusing I can change it back to normal order).

You can also add photos to a My Favorites page, and download them all in one shot, making it handy for printing. The e-card function (the little mail envelope above the photo) allows you to email a postcard-style version of the photo to someone.

As always, the random photo to the left will take you directly to that photo in the gallery. You can also add your lovely comments below the photos (unfortunately, the comments from the old gallery didn’t make the transition).

I hope you like the new photo gallery. If you have any questions or complaints, please leave a comment or email.

Site Weirdness

February 22, 2005

I’m doing a bunch of site and Photo Gallery changes/fixes right now, so if you see weirdness the Management apologizes. When this is all over I should have a better gallery up, with some fun features (mainly being able to see exactly what new images have been added, something a number of you have asked for).

I hope to have it all nice and clean later today. Or tomorrow…

“Buzz Buggy”, maybe…

February 20, 2005

I fear my son growing up in a world where this is Looney Tunes.

Grey and Orange

February 16, 2005

Today marked the opening of Christo’s The Gates, Central Park, New York City, 1979-2005, an installation he had first conceived of in 1979.

gates gates
It was a cold, sunless day in the City, but that was perhaps the intent. The banners fluttered madly in the wind, yet were oddly silent.

gates gates
Despite the large crowds, it was very quiet. They looked like orange teeth poking up in the landscape.

More images may be see in the gallery
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Welcome to the fancy-pants new version of With this new format I’ll be in a better position to share random thoughts, the type that most people really don’t want to hear anyway. Technology!

And speaking of random thoughts, let me walk you through where everything is. On the sidebar to the left are a number of direct links. First up is my photo gallery, the same one you know and love. Next is AutomatorWorld, a site I launched this year in support of Mac OS X 10.4’s upcoming scripting environment (if you have to ask what this means, you won’t care anyway). Any others links should be self-explanatory.

Further down the sidebar you’ll see a random image from the gallery; reloading the page will bring up a new image. Clicking it will take you to the actual gallery page of that photo. Nifty, eh?

If you have any comments, questions, criticisms or cookie recipes, please feel free to share them.