Monday, June 13, 2011

Smoking Punk

Someone posted a message in the Jean Shepherd listserv today about "smoking punks." I knew exactly what he was talking about. He wrote:

PUNKS, a primal odor that must be encoded into our DNA.

As kids, we'd light a punk and hold it between our teeth. It was supposed to repel mosquitoes but the real attraction was the curling tendrils of delicate smoke. I imagine Paleolithic campfires smelled like punks.

Years passed and the ancient folkways disappeared. DEET reigned supreme. It may be toxic but, by gum, it does the job.

But my take on "smoking punks" took a different bend. I responded:

Wow this brings a blast to some hidden recesses of my brain. Haven’t thought of “punks” – at least not this type – for a long time. Their official purpose was supposed to be for the lighting off of illicit fireworks which of course were illegal in NYC. Every summer for several years I would invest in a package and “smoke” them surreptitiously around the old Brooklyn neighborhood. I am not sure if the punks were the only attraction. I was a bit of a pyro in those days and the use of illicit matches was also an allure.

Apparently the circumstances were different in Connecticut where we traveled each summer for our annual two week vacation. There the use of punks as an insect repellant was totally acceptable and we were allowed to “smoke” them. There was even an old 8mm home movie of me circa 1963 sitting around a campfire with punk in mouth. Yes, yes, I was communing with my Paleolithic ancestors…

Thankfully, the film was lost, but I think I still have some scars on my hands and wrists from burns associated with the careless use of the dang things.

And if, after reading this, you need to go and invest in some punk to smoke. Here are some links where you can still buy the stuff.

Vermont Country Store

Sparklers, Smoke, etc.

Big fireworks

Monday, June 06, 2011

Old Pictures

I was cruising the web one night when I came upon a website devoted to a late 19th - early 20th Century French artist named Maurice Utrillo. I remembered that, as a child, we had "prints" of several of Utrillo's works hanging up in our Brooklyn apartment living room. I think they survived the move out to Queens in the early '70s and were hung in our "rumpus room" basement. I hadn't thought of the name for years and as a curiosity, sought out and found two images which I recall.

From reading Utrillo's bio on Wikipedia, he died in 1955 around the time my parents got married and set up the apartment. I suspect they were prints that someone either gave them as a present, or perhaps my mother liked them and purchased them for the new apartment. We'll never know. But here are the prints. I've including information below where these came from if you are interested in purchasing them. No copyright violations are intended. The bottom one I believe is entitled: Le Maison de Mimi (Mimi's house). Not sure about the top one. Anyone know?

Utrillo 2

Photos from two locations: All Experts; SuperStock