From the Archives

Inclement weather has precluded much flaneuring recently so here are some shots of rows of things in the Fremont district of Seattle, from 2005...

The arrested idols

The Frigidaire graveyard

The ghost door parade

The hits of Spring


Sepia Saturday: My Father Reminisces

My college-age father, George Nelson Bentley, Jr., and his father, George Nelson Bentley

I discovered "Uncle Clyde: A Comedy" while going through my father's innumerable papers and old manuscripts after his death.

Nelson (no one called him George) was a prolific journalist in his youth, keeping diaries all through his teens; additional notes on his day-to-day life, particularly sports scores, appeared in The Daily Blah, the one-page newspaper he produced by hand for several years. Although diary entries for 1933 don't mention a late-April blizzard (some did occur in earlier months), they do show that he began regularly, if somewhat reluctantly, going to the Old Dutch Mill in May during his fourteenth year. (Prior to that, he had often worked at the Elm General Store, which his father, George, had operated with his brother Clyde.)

A younger George Bentley Sr. and his diminutive brother Clyde

"Uncle Clyde: A Comedy" was to be part of a longer work. The manuscript is marked Chapter 1, and is followed by a fragment of a second chapter. It probably dates from no later than the early Fifties, before Nelson stopped writing prose altogether (he'd produced many stories, essays, critical pieces, and prose poems while in college, and a full-length novel by 1945, in addition to many poems).

The story was written, in Nelson's accustomed pencil, in a spiral notebook evidently dating from the Forties; however, the handwriting and the signature on the cover appear to be more recent: his angular and cramped hand, familiar to his students, is barely decipherable at times.

Clyde's "Old Dutch Mill"

Uncle Clyde: A Comedy - by Nelson Bentley

It was during a somewhat violent blizzard in late April, 1933, that my weird period as an employee of Uncle Clyde actually began. My sister Margaret and I, at 4:30 in the afternoon, were having a blissful game of tiddlywinks in the Breakfast Nook; between casual snaps we gazed out across fields 18 inches deep in snow, over which fell swirling multitudes of large, soft flakes the width of agates. Lying 25 feet outside the window was Chingo, our cylindrical chow, the top of her woolly back and her paradoxically gentle countenance sticking sphinxily from a snowbank.

I was 14 and Margaret 12; the days were still ringed by make-believe quite undisturbed by facts such as my shoes being worn to the point where each resembled a hungry crocodile. The drifting pace of the days was calm and nearly pure with timelessness. As I snapped an adhesive-patched and wildly warped red tiddlywink into the air, watched it clink on the rim of the glass jar and fall back to the cotton mat, and then, while Margaret as Lady Bluntboots of Houndsditch uttered a derogatory "Ha!", gazed placidly into the blizzard, I was only one minute away from the indirect inauguration of my career and the transition from a land of pretend to that of stark reality.




Uncommonly blizzardish this week, and I ventured out for a neighborhood recon.




The fence


Apropos of Nothing

The joy of shape.

This is a picture of me capturing a rare example of a curvilinear triangle.
Its habitat is the elevator lobby of the Univ. of Washington parking garage.


The Daily Blah

My father was addicted to writing from an early age. Furthermore he never threw anything out. I have inherited that foible. So my basement houses a great collection of his juvenilia, including letters, class notes, doggerel, novels and stories, and "prose poems" from grade school through the University of Michigan, where he finally graduated in the late 1940s with an English Masters.

For many years, at his small school he had posted on the bulletin board issues of his hand-produced newspaper, The Daily Blah. After high school he collected the issues and glued them into scrapbooks, which were at last handed down to me at his death in 1990. I had heard of them for decades and only now saw the actual product. Here are a few choice issues. I recommend clicking for full details!

Most of the issues concentrated on sports scores, either of his animal baseball team or, in highschool, the Redford Union teams and their local adversaries.

He also included cartoons under the name "Lew Kneas" (Loonies), cartoon strips (including Bill Libb the Detective), and caricatures of his school mates and faculty.

Occasionally if the news was exciting enough, such as the death of Will Rogers, he'd issue a special edition.

My favorite pieces are the long, amusing stories of local goings-on. The Sept. 10, 1934 issue gives us a great insight into life in the Detroit area during Prohibition.

His prose fairly roils when describing the Reford Union games. At the time (his mid-teens) he envisioned pursuing a career as a sports writer.

Here his family's fabled hunk of junk, the Marmon, is immortalized, as well as the practical jokers he grew up with.

In his adult years he wrote voluminously about his rural childhood, with very funny and colorful descriptions of the bizarre characters (not excluding his family) in the hamlet of Elm -- now incorporated into Livonia, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit. This thrilling Feb. 17, 1936 issue foreshadows those writings, featuring his father George as well as a couple of uncles in an episode reminiscent of a W.C. Fields comedy.


After Veterans Day

Castiglione di Fiorentino, 2007

Our men called them “crunchies” for the sound they made
when our tanks caught up with them in the desert. Snug
in tanks, we buried their retreat alive, under dazzling,
smoky sky, as boys will stamp remorselessly on bugs.
Stateside, in darkened rumpus rooms shot through
with pale TV light, we rooted or cursed, prayed,
puked. They once were allies, if dubious ones.

Shoulder to shoulder, the evening crush waited
for the Paris underground to carry them back home.
Tunnels converged and disappeared in all directions,
transepts in an endless cathedral of withdrawal.
We heard the glossolalia of wheels, and deep
down a serpentine throat, light sprang, like a votive
someone’s lit in hope; grew, stopped for us, delivered

us to Notre Dame. Beside chestnut vendors, the penniless.
Inside those stone lobes clustered nebulae of saints
and angels, faceless in the dark heights, their abstract
architectural heaven. Earthly penitents lit creamy
candles, tiny suns in all that space, for their dead,
their dying. The vast, close darkness a mind
agleam with synaptic sparks, with cares.
    We jolt gently awake on the night train to Pisa.
    The dim lamps in the car cut wholly out. Stopped
    dead on the tracks. An hour we watch the window,
    thinking terrorists, coups, trainloads of refugees,
    boxcars detoured to Auschwitz. We see nothing.
    Except far star-like lights, pinpricks coolly
    tattooing the night’s flesh. We wait for news.

We’d descended to the dim white apse of the Holocaust
Memorial. Impressionistic doorless cells, off a room
without a window—ironic antiseptic underworld.
Through slits in the roof, bayonets of day punched
in. Like memories. Shrapnel. Outside, the Seine
this steadfast island pushes against, saint
fretting at the changeless flood of temptation.

And through tight Tuscan streets, villagers carried
into moonblue hills candles and torches, muttering
prayers and cursing the Centurions. Ageless
Good Friday. At the lead, the man with a cross
whom we never saw. In the pharmacy, girlie mags
shone out, breasts like headlamps, bright incisors,
while outside, the righteous, shoulder to shoulder

wove their way into the shroud of the night.
On the train, students on holiday with guitars
unevenly had sung “imagine there’s no heaven….”
Even as they sang, Kurds were fleeing the angels
of death into mountains bordering Iraq,
America slunk to a murky nave of alibi, petty
gods quibbling in their whitewashed clubhouse.
    An hour the maps pulse on and off, like a last systole,
    diastole of a dying country. At length the engine
    starts, backs sullenly a mile up the tracks, stops
    beside a station house. We see, before we finally go,
    a doctor return to the depot, his bag black as the dead
    of night he rejoins. Our recessional continues on
    toward dawn less one acolyte. We wait for news.

--"After the Gulf War," from my collection Grace & Desolation, available from Cune Press.

Food Mobility

It's Theme Thursday once again! Here are a few shots from my last trip to England, and a rimshot at the end.




Maltby, Washington


Sepia Saturday: Finding Lost Treasure, Pt. 10

Calumet-Hecla Mine, Michigan

Continuing with excerpts from my great-grandfather David Blumenfeld's diary, which I discovered two years ago.

Travelling salesman

While working in St. Paul, Minnesota, David meets a travelling salesman, who tells him that the “Copper Country” is “a real paradise for tailoring trade to a willing worker.” David decides to rent an upstairs apartment in Calumet, in the Upper Michigan Peninsula, where the Calumet, Hecla, and Tomrak copper mines were then located.


But he found [it hard] to make ends meet, as the inhabitants were mostly Italians and Finnish people and very clannish. He found the country overrun with solicitors [peddlers] from the larger cities in every kind of work, soliciting from house to house for the little that was there. Food was very costly, for nothing grew there. Everything had to be shipped in from the Twin Cities [Minneapolis/St. Paul].

Saloon in the mining community of Red Jacket, Calumet

David became disillusioned. The house-to-house begging [for tailoring work] and delivering work, the heavy cold, deep snowdrifts –- all these had put a crimp in his ambition.

One day a medical student from Bombay appears at the door and asks for room and board. He is selling maps in the area to pay his way. The family takes him in for a few weeks to add to their meager income. Despite the disappointing results of the last advice David took from a stranger, he is desperate enough to be convinced by the man to

[take] up the map selling business and ...set aside his tailoring ways. The Hindu then taught David the game for a few days, showed him how it worked, and departed.

The first three months things were fairly good. ...But after four months David came up against stiff competition as newspapers began to give away maps as subscription premiums. The driving and jumping about among the farmers in the rural section, the irregular meals, loss of sleep, and the like soon began to tell on David’s health and he came home sick physically and despondent mentally over the entire Copper Country venture. He said it seemed that luck had deserted him, that if he tried to sell coffins people would stop dying!

David continues to keep “networking” and casting about for new possibilities.

One morning in July, 1902, Mr. Charleston, a friend of David’s, told him that he had located in Hopkins, Minnesota, and advised him to go and try in South St. Paul, as it was only 18 miles distance from Minneapolis. [As the name implies, this town is south of the city of St. Paul proper, where they had settled not long before.] He suggested that David start there from the bottom up and grow along with the community, as that town had a good future, being in the early stage of development as a meat-packing town.

Hopkins, Minnesota, 1898

Ever doggedly optimistic, David and Lena decide to check out South St. Paul...

To be continued…

And find more fascinating posts at Sepia Saturday blog

Some of these photos were borrowed from the following sites:






Oregon Windows

La Grande, Oregon

Troutdale, Oregon

Pendleton, Oregon

Warm Springs Reservation, Oregon


Door, Door, Door, Door

A few distant relatives of the doorish persuasion that I bagged in August... as per usual, click for full glory.

Fishing Lodge - Minam, Oregon

Lions' Club - Astotin, Washington

Double Your Luck - Winthrop, Washington

Crack - Winthrop, Washington


Sepia Saturday: Finding Lost Treasure, Pt. 9

Continuing with excerpts from my great-grandfather David Blumenfeld's diary, which I discovered two years ago.

While David gets rolling with his new family in Minneapolis, his father, who has abandoned Davd's mother and siblings in Michigan, continues to search for success.

In 1888, the United States government threw open western land for settlement, offering 120 acres of virgin soil free to anyone who would settle thereon. Ben-Zion Blumenfeld was attracted by the possibilities, went to Oregon, and took up a claim with the earnest intention of working it. He found it hard, however, to be alone in his struggle for a new start in life, and hard to adapt himself to the country. [His wife] Leah had no inclination for pioneering so late in life and no desire to be away from the children and civilization in the wild and woolly west.


Leah took her youngest boy, Joseph, with some of her belongings and went to Oregon to look things over. She was very much disappointed, finding Ben-Zion and his enterprise contrary to her liking. He had a two-room shack, one old horse and wagon, a cow, some chickens and barren soil. These constituted “the farm.” Leah lost heart at the sight of such an outfit and taking the boy she went on to San Francisco, to make her home with her daughter Rose who was working in a hospital.

Telegraph Hill, San Fancisco, 1890s

After Leah departed Ben-Zion was heartbroken and embittered, imagining that his wife lost courage and desire to be with him. He sold out his interest and left for an unknown destination.

Meanwhile, influenza sweeps across the Atlantic from Western Europe in 1891 and 1892.

Influenza "remedy"

David came home one day from his shop, complaining of a tremulous beating throughout his brain. He said it was as if a small engine were at work in his head and that the piston and boiler were banging, fizzing and vibrating amid his fevered senses. His senses seemed drugged and his mind dimmed. A doctor was called and he ordered David to bed. [David] was in a state of coma for five weeks, hovering between life and death. A trained nurse was engaged to watch over him.

During these critical weeks Lena [David's wife] gave birth to a girl. It lived only two weeks and was carried out of the house to its final resting place before David was able to see the child. This tragedy left its indelible mark on the young mother, and weakened by physical and mental suffering, she too became very ill.

Only after a confinement of ten weeks was David able to go out. Those weeks with doctors, nurses, medicines and other expenses had taken all the ready savings of the family. The business, in the meantime, had run to ruin and the shop had been pilfered by the dishonest employees who had been left in charge.

Soon, in 1893, the World's Fair opens in Chicago and brings with it the promise of easy money.

1893 Columbian Exposition

David determined to go to Chicago and moved his family, Lena and their little daughter Belle, then about five years old, and opened a little shop. He did fairly well for a man without capital. In November, Lena gave birth to a boy whom they named Albert.

...In 1894, after the Chicago World’s Fair had closed, there were thousands of stranded people from many parts of the world without means of subsistence. The Pullman Car Company strike, as well as many other strikes throughout the steel industry, caused great disturbance in American financial circles. Work of any kind was hard to get at a premium. This was [one] reason why David decided to move back to Minneapolis.

David had not saved any money for traveling expenses. No wonder, considering the amount of sickness. He sold his house furniture and left Chicago barehanded. Coming to Minneapolis, he rented one of the Carr houses on Seventh and Washington Avenue North.

Washington Ave. between 7th and 8th, 50 years later

...They moved to Second Avenue south, corner of 9th Street, where David opened a dressmaking parlor, but he was handicapped financially in pushing his new enterprise.

...But troubles and want had completely conquered David. They had washed him out and left him colorless for the time being. Nevertheless he stubbornly refused to deliver up his lively spirit, though he could not develop any philosophical humor himself and the hard times seemed to leave little humor in anything.

...David shortly after moved to St. Paul, where he found a job. He rented rooms on Chestnut Street. Work in those days was at a premium and only low wages were paid, hardly enough to hold the family’s soul and body together. And the expensive medicines for [Albert] added a strain to their meager income.

Dayton's Bluff, St. Paul 1880

The confusion in David’s mind was sometimes intense. Even when he sat quietly at the table he floundered within himself helplessly, with all the impotent strength of a harpooned whale. “You are a caution, David,” said his friend Abe Calmenson to him one day. “You have the pluck of a lion and the strength of a bull and the pride of the devil to fight misery that is more than I could ever withstand. Oh, you are not beaten yet.”

To be continued…

And find more fascinating posts at Sepia Saturday blog

Some of these photos were borrowed from the following sites:








Sand Triptych

A bit of Hokusai, a bit of Bosch, a bit of Mark Tobey...all from the beach in La Jolla, California.