Friday, May 22, 2020

"Thoughts About Baseball in 2020"...

I miss all the sportstalk radio stations I used to listen to in Los Angeles when I lived there twenty years ago, or so. But, there was a segment on NPR about the prospects of there ever being a season in 2020.

Being a big Dodger fan and not having a Major League team here in Louisiana... we actually lost our affiliate AAA minor league team with the Miami Marlins a year ago, I was curious about a few adjustments that would have to be made for the game to survive the Corona virus.

My first thought was about the handling of the baseballs throughout the contest.  It's bad enough that even before the virus, balls were discarded even if the ball was considered scuffed having grazed the dirt or the plate from the pitcher's hand. I can't even imagine a ball leaving one hand and then, going on to another's hand and then, another's hand as would be in the case of a double play.

How simple minded of me to just consider what is generally known as being one third of the game. That is, the ball, the glove and the bat!

I subsequently learned that MLB, in their infinite wisdom, has created a 67 page diatribe on the new rules of the game. Consider, because I didn't, no spitting, no sunflower seeds, no high fives, or head first slides, keeping one's distance in the dugout, in batting cages, on the bases... during the National Anthem! Then, of course, consider team buffets, club house showers and hot tubs not to mention after hour dinners, night clubs, airline flights from one city to another and staying in your hotel quarantine till game time.

Of course, non of this matters, really.

As usual, in big time sports, especially in baseball where there is no salary cap, the season will but an asterisk in the annals of baseball lore because of the almighty dollar.

"Root, root, root for the team,
If they don't win, it's a shame...
For it's One, Two, Three Billion dollars,

In the ole ball game!"

Copyright 2020/ Ben BensenIII

Sunday, February 16, 2020

"From The Walls To The Pentagon"...

In May, 2018, through the Air Force Art Program, three long time participants who are also members with the American Society of Aviation Artists (ASAA) were invited to document Air Force life at Edwards, AFB in Rosamond, California. Scott Gandell, Doug Castleman and myself were to meet fellow artist and retired NASA test pilot, Colonel Mark Pestana at the West Gate Visitor's Center bright and early Monday, the fourteenth of May, to receive our orders.

A little bit about the Air Force Art Program, which officially was started in 1953. At that time, the Air Force turned to the Society of Illustrators with it’s headquarters and museum located in New York for assistance in organizing the program. SI/NY had long been recognized as the focal point of illustration since its’ founding in 1901.

Creating a Chair position on the Board of Directors, it quickly organized some of the nation’s most prominent artist/illustrator members for missions around the world, including our nations’ conflicts. Today, there are nearly 10,000 works in the Air Force Art Program and the Society of Illustrators has been joined by other organizations and independent artists to continue documenting Air Force personnel, equipment, locations and activities. 

I've been a member of the program since 1978 and was appointed Chairperson for the Society of Illustrators/ Los Angeles in 2002 and remain the Chairperson today even though I now currently live in Louisiana. 

Earlier that month of May, my wife and I flew into Los Angeles to visit with friends, throw an alumni party, and attend an ASAA seminar where, in Palm Springs, I spent a week learning the finer points of aviation art and where I connected with Mark and Doug. Ten days later, with all that seminar taught us, we were primed and ready to tour all that Edwards had to offer. With sketch books and cameras in hand, we visited flight lines, dry lake beds, F-18 simulators, control tower, museums, a complete tour of the advanced multirole fighter, the F-35, the officer's club, NASA hangars, and test facilities. It was a full tour of the base and its operations.

In our spare time, Mark drove us out to the desert in search of the many crash sites from days when test pilots flew and died by the seat of their pants. We found the crash site and memorial to the four crew members that died testing of one of the two early flying wings, YB-49. The YB-49 was a turbojet-powered flying wing design further developed at Northrop, and the progenitor of today's, B-2 Stealth bomber  The two YB-49s actually were both built after World War II when jet power was still at its infancy. The second of the experimental aircraft stalled during a test flight, went into a high speed nose dive and crashed in the desert on July 5, 1949. Walking the site in silence, there was a slight breeze that created, for me, an eerie feeling. 

In another desert drive, this time with a NASA museum historian, we visited the burned down ruins of Pancho Barnes "watering hole" ranch site. Pancho Barnes was a famous 1930's female aviator who loved being around and entertaining aviators. The mysterious cause of the ranch's destruction is still under investigation and the makeshift "ranch" was a major highlight in the beginning of the movie,  "The Right Stuff."


But with all the tours, static aircraft displays, literature, history and talks, I still hadn't found a reason to paint. I needed a real reason that would justify these great four days. To be honest, here is so much excitement in each department at the Armstrong Research Center we visited that it just made my life seem so dull and almost impossible to decide which subject to paint. 

For instance, the research, design and testing of a manned supersonic X-plane designed to fly quietly over the continent with minimal or no sonic booms seemed a great idea, as was the robotic designs for future use in space. Research for the feasibility of growing plants in space at the International Space Station provided me with some interesting ideas. Also, there was the advancement of infrared technology in astronomy, drone and UAV's technology. Mapping the globe, investigating wind and ocean currents at the surface and how it effects the weather, global climate, ocean fisheries, oil spills, and forest fires also brought some cool images to pursue. 

So much going on that it was too much to digest to put into one or maybe two paintings.

Over my "career" as an Air Force artist, I've entered, with or without an liaison, many an air base gate. The guards there are a courteous, smartly dressed, but rather intimidating maitre'd's, so to speak. Usually dressed in camo fatigues, they are bristling with gear strapped to their person. Flak jacket, intercom, holster and pistol, "go to hell" sunglasses, billy clubs, ammo belts, and all kinds of intimidating equipment and topped smartly to the right side of the head a security forces beret... All to welcome you.
And, rightly so!
But, on our last day of the tour, we stopped to show our identification cards and was greeted by a female guard dressed in the standard security forces outfit.
Now, maybe the other guys did or didn't notice, but I sure did.
As the the guard returned our I.D.'s to Colonel Pestana, and crisply shared salutes, I noticed this guard was wearing a bit more makeup. Certainly understated, but noticeable to someone like me who kinda overdoses on all the testosterone that exists among the sights, sounds and smells of airplanes.
I even had to voice my observation to the guys.
"Gee, I guess I should've awakened a bit earlier this morning to apply my face before breakfast," I said with no response!

It all came to light when our schedule was a bit adjusted. Greeted by museum curator, Tony Moore, and apologizing for the crazies and being late, Tony mentioned, as two F-15's and one F-16 screamed across the sky, that today, the base was being invaded by a Hollywood film crew shooting scenes for the new film,"Captain Marvel."

It suddenly appeared to me why the front gate security guard was so, so... so feminine!

But the best was the "shakeup" at the base Burger King when two F-16 exploded pass our window and across the runway with their sonic booms. It was all for show, Hollywood style, but having experienced, on our stay in Palm Springs just two weeks earlier, a rather potent earthquake just down the block in Ridgecrest, CA, breaking the sound barrier pretty much broke up our lunch.

Colonel Mark Pestana was barely moved!
Returning home, a bit dejected, I started surfing through my imagery. I stopped at the photo of four folding chairs, some water bottles and clipboards parked out in the shade under a vintage aircraft. The aircraft was historic as I was about to find out in my later research, but so were all the varied aircraft baking in the desert sun. Exiting the NACA hanger after a tour and a presentation of the many tasks UAV's perform, I notice four soldiers now having lunch in those chairs and flying their drones up and down the tarmac. I remember asking if it was okay to snap a few photos of their luncheon activities. I was concerned that there might be some "classified" considerations they might have that they may not want recorded.

It was at that point that I knew what I was gonna paint and how I was gonna present the idea. I just wish my brainchild had occurred when I was out there in the desert instead of at my studio. I certainly would have taken more reference photos, then. The title of the painting evolved as I was researching the plane in between my storyboard business. Though I returned to Louisiana, after thirty years of living and working in California, I continued my freelance art business at my studio in Folsom, LA. But the more I looked into the old bird, the more settled I was with the title and the concept.

I had done this scene once or twice before discovering that certain planes in museums are there for their historic accomplishments and not just a generic display of that design. Sometimes, the Sherlock Holmes type research is as much fun as creating the painting.

On a return trip, years ago, from a USAF gala reception at Andrews, AFB, the military aircraft stopped at Wight-Patterson, AFB in Dayton Ohio for an impromptu overnight stay. To entertain the AFAPO artists before dinner, we were taken to a hangar where aircraft scheduled for reconstruction or refurbishment were stored. I was like a kid in a candy store because the hangar had many aircraft I read about and built models of as a kid.

I spotted, in a dimly lite area, this old fighter with rust spots, weathered metal panels and faded Air Force insignia. I was shooting with film that was being pushed to accommodate the lighting. I was so excited to see this F-84F Thunderstreak because I remember the Revell model that I built and the boxtop art from my then, art hero, Jack Leynnwood. By strange coincidence, I had just about every model boxtop I bought as a kid and later found that Leynnwood taught at the prestigious art school, Art Center College of Design. As a student there, I took every painting class I could get with him.

In my effort to paint perfection from three dark slides, I bought a "walk around" pamphlet on the aircraft. In that book was the details of the jet I planned to paint. Depicted, in one of the chapters, was the very aircraft being dropped from a bomber's bomb bay. This was that exact same aircraft that was being restored for this moment in aviation history. 

Here's the studio painting of the famed FiCon fighter F-84F housed at the Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio. Property of the Pentagon. 

Investigating my new project, I found that this bird baking in the sun, was the second prototype, serial number 46-0066 of the B-47 Stratojet. It was designed in 1943 and was the second bomber, designated XB-47 to roll of the production line in 1947. It was the only prototype left that included a plexiglass nose and side windows for the navigator/bombardier. All other models deleted this option.

Before painting the work in color, I created seven or eight pencil drawings to decide how I wanted to tell the story. At lunch with a friend, I discussed my frustration with the angles I had in my head to best tell the story. Here's some of my napkin scribbles:

One of my main concerns was that the most effective approaches involved the twin starboard engine nacelle. A frontal shot showed the engine with a face that resembled Edvard Munch's, "The Scream!"

Once I saw it, I could not stop seeing it...

Realizing that my best view of the aircraft was the frontal from the port side, I redrew the seated soldiers and inserted them under the wing.

I then, enlarged the sketch and the transferred it over to canvas adding the many pieces that needed to be added to complete the story. I decided to paint the scene in grays to solidify the entire work. I wanted to make sure in adding color that I maintained that hot, desert, noon time light.

The finished piece, entitled "Taking Them Under Her Wings" was painted in oils on a 24"x48" linen canvas. The painting, which will be on display with six other paintings of mine at the Christwood Atrium Gallery in Covington through February, depicts what I consider under the watchful eye of the old bird, its approval of the new style of flight as the soldiers take a bite of their sandwiches and fly off with their remote control freedom. 

Copyright 2020/ Ben Bensen III

Saturday, February 15, 2020

"It's That Time Of Year... "Gnaturally"...

Good "Gnaturally" Sunday Morning, all bodies.

Ah, nature's cycle of life. It's time for clover and dandelions and what is known as Carolina Geranium. Actually, the thistle plants and the "Geranium" are a bit early, but what the hell, the bluebird family is already setting up house and our silver maple tree is beginning to sprout stuff at the ends of each branch.

Everyone and everything is confused!

But, the purveyor of all flying aggravations to later arrive, is naturally on time. It is the "crane fly" or as we all called it as kids... GNATS!

They look like large mosquitoes with very long, spindly legs.

In the evening, just after sundown, they hang around doors just waiting to get uninvited in. Even if you don't turn on any outdoor lights, or make any announcements, they are there, attracted to all social events, crashing the party through the doors before you even notice.

Then, they proceed to crash and bounce into everything including your cheese dip, salsa, punch bowls and filled wine glasses. They don't have to get drunk to act like they are bumping indiscriminately into every body and everything. Of course, they later go incognito into your blinds and window drapes to sleep it all off.

If you are lucky, you might find one still hungover the morning after unless, of course, they've decided to dance, cheek to cheek, with a spider or two.

Come a month later, when you try to open the windows or adjust the blinds, hundreds of skeletal 'gnats, lovingly wrapped in a silken goo, will make it almost impossible for you to accomplish such a simple task...

Ah... nature!

First cup!

Copyright 2020/ Ben Bensen III

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

"Pitching A Lemon!"

So funny. I was picking up some lemons that had fallen from three lemon trees during a wind storm. I decided to throw a few into the tree line instead of picking them up and putting them in the trash. The first one I threw was from my knees and was so pitiful that it bounced and landed just in front of that row of trees. I then, threw another one sidearm only to find I had no idea where it was gonna go.

The third pitch, so disgusted with the first two performances, I decided to stand up and tried to throw the moldy lemon from the stretch. It was a "comebacker". It hit a tree from the tree line and bounced back just a few feet from me. 

So, I tried again.

But, this time, I'd hurl the bitter fruit from a windup! The pitch I made went into the trees, but my right shoulder showed its disapproval. Too bad, I thought... it will just have to toughen up. So, I picked up another half dozen and figuring out, that by now, my arm had loosened up, and warmed up enough to go the distance, I continued to pummel the tree line. I was in the groove now, even though my left oblique, attempting to balance out the force of the pitch, was having a hard time, it didn't matter. I was on target using a small bush in the tree line as my catcher who I had to consistently shake off each time he suggested a different pitch.

None of that fancy stuff... JUST HEAT!

The next day, the only heat I wanted was in the tub with some Epson salt. Who was it that said," You can't make the club in the tub!"

He was so right!

Copyright 2019/ Ben Bensen III

Saturday, June 15, 2019


From a high school yearbook... years ago!
Good "reunion" Throwback Thursday, y'all.
Later today, my two sisters will fly in for a get together for the weekend. Looking forward to it. Although my little sister returns every year or so, I haven't seen my middle sister in about four or five years.
I sometimes think all this misogyny in the world would be lessened if more men had sisters in their lives. It's a rather naive thing to embrace, but I'm sticking to it.
I grew up with three sisters and feel very fortunate to have two of them still around. In a round about way, they give me balance.
My older sister, Adele, (better known as Mickey!) was almost three years older than me. She was the feminine one who loved to practice her feminine ways on her little brother. At the time, I guess I was about ten or so, I didn't know how to handle her "come ons!"
My best memories as a kid were of her dancing with the door knob when I didn't want to play along. She was a big Elvis, Sam Cooke and Irma Thomas fan. She locked herself in her room for days when she heard that Sam Cooke was killed. She was the emotional one.
My little sister, Betsy, who is about twelve years younger than me was my little Ramette. After each football game, I return home to have her get a running start to jump into my exhausted arms to celebrate our win... or loss. I don't think, at the time, it mattered.
Betsy made me her hero and I made sure that I kept it that way for her. She cried when we left home for Southern California. I guess she understood the ramifications of that move better than I did.
But, for many years, my middle sister and I were the closest if only because we were just two years apart. We did everything together. Ride bikes, climb trees, go to "the Beach" and spend the day in the pool. She was a tomboy's tomboy.
Becky was the first to take music lessons and beg mom for a guitar. In high school, she was one of the band's first clarinetist even though every one thought she should perform as a "Ramette!" Although the band director understood the situation, he needed her as a musician and not a drum majorette. I think Becky was glad a decision was made for her.
She was a pretty good jock as tomboys go. I don't believe I ever spent the time to show her how to throw a baseball. She did not throw like a girl. She loved playing football too.
Although I'm proud of all of my sister's accomplishments, I'm posting this photo of Rebecca, as she now wants to be called, as a sophomore sweetheart to illustrate a point. It's about watching a girl go through the many changes that slowly and sometimes abruptly happen in the "wonder years!"
After a few good tackles one year, Becky came to me teary eyed to tell me she could no longer play with us because it hurt too much to get hit in the chest. I knew it was a tough decision to make because a year or so earlier, I had to grow up and decide to stop playing army with my friends when I made the high school varsity team.
The thought of being found out would be just too embarrassing, though I really did not want to let go of those good times saving the world from oppression and fascism in the form of 'dem Japs and Krauts.
I wish that I could find a photograph I took of Becky in jeans and a sweatshirt with one of those plastic football helmets that was really more decoration than protection. In the photo, with the football neatly tucked under her arm, she jumped over my cousin, the would be tackler, to gain a few more extra yards for a touchdown.
Gotta love that!
One year later, she is voted as the Sophomore Sweetheart for 1968. I just know she did not know how to handle all the attention that she received as a "woman" or how to deal with all the male suitors that soon wanted her attention.
I learned a lot being the little brother as well as the big brother with my sisters. It made me a better person. A better lover. A better father. A better husband and a better son.
The world would be a better place, I think, with a healthier understanding of the human condition, if every brother had a sister... or two!
First early morning cup!

Sunday, March 31, 2019

"What'dya Mean!"

No Donuts...

Good "Sorry, We're Closed" TGF Friday Day, all bodies!

So funny. As a continuation of my last donut story, you know the one about styrofoam and cinnamon rolls, I got a twitch to have an apple fritter last Sunday.

I was feeling unappreciated, put upon, and uninspired. I blame it all on my mother who probably felt the same way while I was in her womb and did something about it.

She ate donuts.

Now, every now and then, when I'm in a funk, my fat cells cry out for a donut. Donuts and me go way back. I've got lots of stories of my donut dalliances. But those are stories for another time.

Taking a small apple with me before I headed out to run errands that I didn't want any part of, I decided to stop by Folsom's one and only donut shoppe. An apple fritter would be a nice addition to help me get on with life. But, it was not to be.

As I drove up to the bakery, though the "Open" sign was blinking on and off enticing down and out folks like me to imbibe, the store looked dark. Upon further "007" investigation, I noticed a letter size sign taped to the door. On it in quickly scribbled letters read, "We are closed. We ran out of donuts!"


How can a donut store run out of the very thing they are in business to provide? I mean, what? You ran out of pink icing? You ran out of silly colored sprinkles? Your bag of dough done stopped doughing? The donut machine bellied up? What?

How could a donut shoppe run out of donuts and not know it until it was too late?

Oh, I could gone on for days going Sherlock Holmes on this caper. Now what... Little Debbies? Fake Hubig pies?

I can tell you that Sunday was not a pretty sight trying to calm down and explain to my whiny ass fat cells what was going on.

"Shutup," I said..."Here, have an apple!"

First cup!
Copyright 2019/ Ben Bensen III

Saturday, January 19, 2019

"The Brown Thrasher Debacle"

The infamous Brown Thrasher

"And, so, I told mom that I really wasn't planning on doing that today,"she said.

"And then, you know what she told me?"

"No, what?" I said, rather nonchalantly.

"She told me that..."

"Whoa, look at that," I said, " A brown thrasher!"

"What?" What's a brown thrasher?" she asked.

And, she asked in a rather aggravated and kinda hurt way...

It's one of those things we learn in our dating days. At that time in our relationship, we were pretty much checking each other out. But, having grown up with three sisters, I should've known better. It could be said that her indignant reaction and annoyance at what is perceived as unfair treatment is just a female thing, but at parties I certainly have had quite a few conversations ripped right out of my heart and soul by callous, uninterested friends.

Changing the subject in the middle of one's story is not an endearing way to impress your girl friend. Of course, I had a very good reason for interrupting. When you have an intimate relationship with something you've never really seen in real life, well it is exciting.

The first time I actually saw a WWII bomber parked at a Long Beach airport, I was so impressed that I had to get off the 405 freeway and drive to the airport to get a closer look. I had read so many books and made so many plastic models of that bomber for myself and for friends who never had to patience or the courage to build the model themselves, that actually seeing the real thing in the "flesh" was mind blowing.

Unfortunately, it was the same scene with my then girlfriend. As a kid, my mom suggested that I draw and paint birds instead of always illustrating war scenes with airplanes bombing everything I could put on an 8 and 1/2 by 11 inch piece of paper. Mockingbirds. sparrows, blue jays and maybe an occasional woodpecker was all I could see to draw from in life. All other birds I drew were birds I saw in a trail guide or birding book.

Having a romantic picnic under the oak trees at City Park presented all kinds of flying distractions. From that time on, even to this day, 46 years later, the event is recognized as "The Brown Thrasher Debacle!"

Copyright 2019/ Ben Bensen III