Blog o’ the Humours

In which one modern American man, semi-permeable in both mind and body, through rarefied feats of biochemical introspection (powered by an impeccably cursory knowledge of contemporary biochemistry in admixture with an equally negligible grounding in thoroughly discredited medical theories of antiquity), (a) pinpoints the one internalized substance that has bested all others to govern his thought, temperament, behavior, and overall mojo on a given day, and (b) offers random ruminations on same.

Sunday, May 21, 2006


[The actual humour of the past month has been “Work,” trailed in a photo-finish by “Fatigue.” Hence, the long hiatus between postings, and the fact that I’m just now, on May 21, getting around to keying in and posting the blog entry below, originally scribbled in a notebook on April 25.]

Today, I blew on Calders. It’s my 40th birthday, and it occurred to me while ambling through the “Surreal Calder” exhibit at the SFMOMA that there’d be no better way to celebrate four now-complete decades of drawing breath than to put said breath to some good, honest work.

Not that my usual on-the-job use of breath isn’t honest…. The words I expel on the breath might be deceptive from time to time, in service either to the greater good or the greater convenience, but the breath itself?… Irreproachable.

Which, come to think of it, can’t necessarily be said of the breath I used to blow on the Calders. In fact, I more or less expected to be reproached by the museum guards for anything other than visual interaction with the objets. Which is why I turned my Calder-blowing activity into something of a game, with the guards as my unknowing opponents.

When you blow on a Calder mobile, it doesn’t behave terribly like a tree, despite the wall-cards’ assertion that we should all be intoning “Tree… Tree…” to ourselves while observing the works, as a sort of realistic counterbalance to Calder’s wiry extensions into the unconscious. The Calder reveals its component parts—e.g., black metal rods fastened to colored metal plates—one set at a time when touched by the breath, one unbalanced fulcrum joggling the next, and the next, etc., so that the effect, once your original breath has fully dispersed, is of various independent hands gradually becoming aware of your presence, then waving a friendly “howdy” your way. Your average tree limb, blown upon, is a much more jittery customer, seemingly annoyed at having to deal with a localized humanoid gust in lieu of a proper leaf-shaker from Mother Nature. The tree couldn’t care less about you, in short, but you can rest assured that the Calder is your pal, an ally in harmless mischief.

The same claim, of course, can’t be made of the SFMOMA guards, who, despite their benevolent smiles and nods, their unassuming stature (nary a six-footer among them), their comfily rubber-soled, equanimity-inducing footwear, and their softly bubbling, lulling small-talk among themselves in one or more of the many Philippine dialects, have proven themselves fearsome pen-pouncer-on-ers the moment they hear the tiny plik of a Uni-Ball pen-cap’s removal. (“No pens!” they assert, advancing on you with pencil nubbin extended toward your sternum—whether to offer to you for your sanctioned, graphite-fueled note-taking desires, or with which to run you through, you can never be entirely sure.)

So it was with a rare damn-the-consequences brio, which I can only chalk up to mid-life crisis, that I dared not only to blow on the Calders to my heart’s content (and eyes’ delight), but to do so in as close proximity to one or more SFMOMA guards as possible, even going so far as to engage them in conversation as a subterfuge…

MJC: Good afternoon.
Guard 1: Good afternoon, sir. [Turns to resume conversation with fellow guard.]
MJC: [Whips head toward Calder mobile: Puff…. Puff….]
Calder: Weeee!
MJC: Excuse me.
Guards 1&2: Yes, sir?
MJC: Do you happen to have a pencil I could borrow?
[Guards 1&2 draw sharpened pencil nubbins from the recesses of their blazers.]
MJC: [Aside] Aha, armed to the teeth, just as I suspected! [Accepting Guard 2’s pencil] Thank you very much! [Aside] Well, at least now it’ll be a fair fight… if it comes to that.
[Guards 1&2 resume private conversation]
MJC: [Blow…. Wheeze….]
Calder: Again! Again! Again!
MJC: Here’s your pencil back. Thanks.
Guard 2: [Seeming to notice that MJC has no paper in hand, and perhaps wondering whether MJC has just used the pencil to scratch some untoward place on his person] You’re welcome, sir.
MJC: This sculpture looks a bit like a tree, don't you think?
[Guards 1&2 smile benevolently—not at me, I realize in a moment, but at the two small children across the room who, no doubt following my own bad behavioral example, are attempting (so far ineffectually) to blow on and thereby stir a Calder mobile hanging far above their heads.]

Postscript: I backtracked through the exhibit and looked once again at a figurative wire sculpture of two acrobats, and thought, “It’s like a pen-and-ink drawing on air,” and, after duly chastising myself for taking pride in an aesthetic observation that probably dates back to five seconds after the piece’s initial public unveiling, I mentally congratulated Mr. Calder on both his creative whimsy and his transgressive spirit—the latter because, of course, pen and ink are absolutely, sternly, irrevocably forbidden within the SFMOMA galleries.