Saturday, December 31, 2011

Let the Countdown Begin, 5...4...3...2...One...

I Hope He Doesn't Age Too Soon!
I don't think I know anyone who will hate to see the year 2011 go.
Now that I live in rural Louisiana, I don't do much to ring in the new year, but when I lived in SoCal, my wife and I would visit the South Pasadena Rose Parade site where, each year, the city struggles to present it's entry on time. We would then spend the rest of the year, what's left of it, at a friend's home, the Villa Sabotella in South Pasadena, where wonderful Italian food and libations were enjoyed along with that crazy family's love of the good life. They were our "family"and our home away from home during the holidays. After a toast to bring in the new year, we would get a few hours of sleep and then walk the Rose Parade route with some other friends in the early morning hours as artists, musicians and float designers scramble to meet their personal deadlines before the parade starts.

Returning to our friend's home for a great breakfast complete with Ramos fizzes while watching the parade in the comfort and warmth of their hospitality, was always a treat. Because not many were as fanatical as I was about the bowl games, we seldom spent the afternoon together there, which was just as well, since all of us by game time, were pretty much spent.

It was always a great event to say goodbye to the old year and ring in the new with all our South Pass friends!

In the last few years, I have taken to quiet evenings with a glass of champagne and my Daily Reminder datebook where I sit and reflect on the old year complete with my disappointments and my successes. I like to focus on and write down all of the accomplishments of the past year even the silly ones like repairing the toilet or oiling the door hinges. Anything that makes me feel positive about leaving the old year behind, I write down onto the last few pages of the datebook.

Then, I say goodbye!

This holiday season I've been so incognito fighting a cold... for the last week. Disgusted with myself, I went in for a diagnosis yesterday, and found out that I've got the flu... Duh! Looks like orange juice, the Christmas tree, and football to ring in the New Year.

Maybe, that's not so bad... ha! Geaux Saints, Geaux Tigers!

And, Happy New Years, y'all!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Made In The USA...

Buzzed Off... This is the pic of the actual toothless blade!

What an idiot!

I haven't really used my circular saw in quite some time, so I don't remember when I did use it, how it performed. All I know is that the saw was smoking more and more with each cut. I could sympathize with a saw struggling to cut a large three by six piece of wood, but it seemed the more I used it, the worst the saw performed.

I've been a Milwaukee Tool fan ever since I can remember. The jigsaw is about twelve years old and was bought to replace my grandfather's all-metal Craftsman, which still works quite well, but is a bit rough and rather heavy when compared to the newer models. Heck, that Craftsman has to be over sixty years old.

I also own a Milwaukee 3/8 inch drill that I purchased to replace a Rockwell drill which Consumer Reports recommended as the best tool for the money, oh, way back in the late seventies. Since replacing it with the Milwaukee, the new drill has been everywhere, doing all sorts of duties and surviving all sorts of misuse, intentional and unintentional.

I've dropped it more than once off my roof unto the pavement. It's got more nicks and cuts and dents than Mean Joe Greene's helmet. I love that tool and I love Milwaukee Tool Company for making such great products... and to my knowledge are still made in the USA.

That's why it bothered me to see this circ-saw, not performing up to snuff. I was changing my garage into a artist's studio and to do so was incorporating the saw to cut framing 2x4's and sheathing for the new wall that was replacing the original garage door. But with each passing use, the animal would smoke and kick back worse than before. I have a penchant for using tools not designed to perform the task I demand of them, but it got to the point that the kick back was getting so violent, that I feared I'd have to go out and buy a new saw, which presented another problem I had no time for... researching another tool to purchase.

I could not believe Milwaukee would "do me like 'dat"! Now, what do I do?

I did what most do-it-yourselfers do. Find an easy solution. I took off the blade to find a replacement. It was the next best thing short of disassembling the entire tool, piece by piece. The blade seemed to be the biggest part to replace and probably the easiest. So, I looked in the tool case that houses the saw to search for a newer, or even older blade that might cut better and there was none to be found.

Begrudgingly, mumbling obscenities all the way, I took the saw and the unattached blade with me to the local hardware store about six miles into town. I only brought in the blade and plopped it on the counter. Steve, the store owner, picked up the blade, focused his bi-focals carefully on the part, combing every tooth, back and front, inside and out all along in a circular route. He then looked up, rather glumly, above his glasses, which were perched at the tip of his nose, and sighed before giving me the verdict.

"Please tell me, Steve, that there's something wrong with this blade because I don't want to have to research and buy another circular saw... ever!"

I, emphasized the word,"ever", insinuating that if it wasn't the blade, it must be the saw, and I didn't want to lose my faith in the great American Milwaukee Tool Company.

Steve put the blade back down and calmly, but sternly said, "There's nothing wrong with this blade if you got some big slabs of butter or cheese you want to cut!"

"Otherwise, this is no good to no one," he said.

Okay, so I'm an idiot. I bought a new blade for twice what I'd pay for at the home centers, but it was worth every inflated dime when I loaded that puppy onto the saw and began cutting two by fours like it was cutting into butter.

And, best of all, my faith in America was again restored, this time, by the great Milwaukee Tool Company... God Bless Made in the USA!

Copyright 2011-2012/Ben Bensen III

Friday, December 16, 2011

"Don't Touch That Dial... It's Pre-Programmed!"

This is not an endorsement, ha!
For the last couple of months or so, I've been renovating the garage, turning it into my art studio. Without going through all the horrible details of demolishing perfectly good walls to add fiberglass insulation, I have been having good and bad visions of how this project will look when finished. In the process of renovation, many large materials have to be incorporated and large materials like four by eight sheets of anything is impossible to jam into the trunk of a four door sedan.

 Nor can it be tied to the roof of a four door sedan. I know. I've tried. On many cars!

I thought about asking some friends at the local coffee shop if they could help me out. In Folsom, everybody's second car is a sedan. Their first vehicle is a big, honking four by truck with a trailer hitch, a tool box and some mud boots turned upside down between the tool box and the cab. I thought about asking them for assistance, but the return favor might be more than I bargained for, like gutting a deer, or scaling an ice chest full of speckled trout! Besides, I really don't have any close friends here in Folsom... acquaintances, yes, close friends willing to haul sheets of plywood, insulation, sheet rock and such... nah!

Although it says that you can rent this wonderful van for only $19.00, it actually cost $25.00 excluding gasoline refills. I know. I've driven this exact vehicle thirty-five miles to and from Folsom, LA hauling stuff I can't take in my car five times already. I will probably have to use it once or twice more before this project is complete.

But the really cool thing is that using the van as much as I have, I have all the buttons on the radio pre-programmed for the channels that I love. Not that I really love radio. To me, it is a vast wasteland, but when you are out and about doing things that are not the norm, it is always good to have something every sports talk radio channel available, NPR, The Think Tank, and the local college rock stations. Whenever there's a commercial on air, I just hit the old button and "BINGO'.

The first time I used the van, I programmed the buttons so I wouldn't have to be preached to, or screamed at, forced to cry in my beer or sold one political bag of nonsense or another, but I never expected the channels to stay the way I set them up.

Either this poor van is seldom used or someone out there has the same "musical tastes" I have. What a coincidence.

Monday, October 24, 2011

"It's Like Sittng at a Stop Light and Feeling Someone Else's Music!

Feel the Music...
Lately, I have been spending more time at coffee houses like Starbucks, PJ's and CC's here on the northshore for a variety of reasons. Sometimes, just to get away from the house... and myself. I understand that these shoppes are meeting places for people to converse about anything. Many times, it is used as a convenient, non-threatening venue for business. Heck, I've utilized these places for just such reasons, but it really bothers me when people sell their religious views, loud and clear, to everyone whether they care to hear it or not.

I'm not very good with zealots especially of the religious kind!

I realize how naive I have been most of my life about the things that motivate people. Being raised in a city where, as repugnant as it can sometimes be, "Laissez les bon temp roulet" ( French for "Let the Good Times Roll! ) is the main battle cry. I've seldom been exposed to such proselytizing. Being raised French and Catholic, I had to ask a Jewish friend what was that little beanie on his head was all about having moved from New Orleans to Los Angeles. As I recall, in the fifties and early sixties, we Catholics were threatened to burn in hell forever if we attended and participated in a Mass or services at any other church that wasn't Catholic,, so it is no wonder it took me leaving the comfort and protection of Catholicism in a provincial city like New Orleans, to learn about other cultures. And as a kid I never was really exposed to the "Bible Belt." But today, here on the northshore, it abounds.

 It is not my style to talk about the after life, religion or the various "end of the world" scenarios, at least, not without a tongue planted firmly in my cheek. It is equally hard for me to intelligently speak or listen, for that matter, on the subject of politics. I'd rather sit on the fence. Of course, having to listen to others speak loud enough for almost all booths to hear on any subject is rude, boring and preachy.

To me, it's kinda like sitting at a stop light and feeling someone else's music!

Copyright 2011/ Ben Bensen III

Friday, October 14, 2011

"Good Things Come In Small Packages"...Number Six!

Brian's First and Only Entry Into a Modeling Contest...
In a way, this was my son's coup de grace. After about three years of making planes under my "tutelage" I suggested he try entering one of his creations at a local hobby shop that was having a model making contest. He decided instead to completely build a model from beginning to end and the plane he chose for the competition was the P-40B Tiger Shark of the famous Flying Tigers.

I shot this photo of the model and sent it in with the aircraft for judging. We both were pretty happy with the effort and I can remember, looking back, that the only assistance I gave him was aligning the yellow stripe decal behind the number fourteen. I remember discussing whether or not to glue the pilot in the cockpit, but Brian was happy with his detailing of the pilot and wanted him in it.  Sometimes, in fact, most times, model makers are better off showing the interior of the cockpit without the pilot because they over render the features of the pilot and it makes the rest of the effort look unprofessional.

For what ever reason, even though, his entry was displayed in a glass case with other entries at the hobby shop in Pasadena, it didn't win anything. I can't say Brian was heart broken because he always was to cool to let anything like losing upset him, but I still felt bad for him. I told him that maybe it was something I did, like displaying the plane on top of the illustrated history book in the photo, that might have, somehow, disqualified him. But my kid had no opinion on that. I sensed he felt it was time to move on to other things and even though we made a few more memorable moments building models, I slowly backed away from participating and he slowly stopped being interested. It was kinda a sad day, but he gained so many unique experiences both mechanical and creative from that time that I could only see his participation as a positive force.

It's one of those gifts Dads can do... impart a love for the things that you loved as a child and see where your kids take it!

Monday, October 3, 2011

"Good Things Come In Small Packages"... Number Four!

Going Navy with 'Da Blues...

Well, try as I may, I cannot find the layout that this picture of Brian inspired. Years ago, I got a call to create visuals for eight spread ads for an art director, Tony Halstead, who was freelancing for McCann Erickson. The client was Hamilton Avnet and wouldn't you know it, I've found six of the eight color xeroxes of my work, but not the one of a kid making a model airplane. In the above photo composite I designed for Brian's college graduation diary, the background pic of him making a model is one I shot for the Hamilton Avnet comp. 

Anyway, my son had a great time building a series of naval aircraft complete with the early WWII tri-colored camouflage of dark sea blue, sky blue and white. By this time, he was fairly good at airbrushing this paint scheme though he never did get the concept of taping off the greenhouse canopies that were used at this time during the war. 

What I used to do as a kid in the early sixties, was to paint the greenhouse frames by hand carefully lining in between the pre-grooved frames on the clear plastic canopy with turpentine or Testor's Thinner and then immediately add a line of dark blue using capillary action to do the rest of the work. If I wasn't satisfied with the line I would carefully erase the line trying to not disturb the many other frames I had created. It was quite tedious, but then, I was a kid and had plenty of patience especially on a rainy day when I had nothing else to do and nowhere else to go. 

My first airbrush was a Paasche "V" I received as a graduation gift in college. Within months it had paid for itself painting airbrush illustrations for the oil trade industry, but I didn't incorporate the tool on any model building projects until I attempted to use it in Jack Leynnwood's illustration class. It was then that I learned to use clear cellophane tape to mask off the frames of the greenhouse canopy and then spray color on with the airbrush. It was a technique my son never acquired mainly because I didn't trust him with an X-acto knife... at any age!

His inspiration for the TBF Avenger, which was another Lindbergh reissue and built completely by Brian except the greenhouse canopy, was at an airshow at Burbank where he saw a tri-colored SBD Dauntless and a year or two later, the TBF, at the then, annual Confederate Air Force Show at Chino.

Copyright 2011/ Ben Bensen III

Friday, September 30, 2011

Gary Hoover... He Will Surely Be Missed!

I received some sad news. I received an email from Bill Robles, the talented court reporting illustrator for  CBS, telling me that an old friend and SILA member, Gary Hoover had died. Apparently, Gary had called Bill a little over a week ago, and had a long conversation about the good old days. He was, according to Bill, his usual very funny self.

Gary had a stroke last year, and was not the same guy after that. He had chosen not to speak to any of his friends for over a year, including Bill, who he was close friends with. I'm sure you all remember the great times we all had with that very talented Gary Hoover, especially, for me, at the many Air Force trips during the 1980's and '90's. I knew him when he was connected with the Group West Bunch and was doing a lot of paper sculpture like Leo Monahan, Jeff Nishakawa and Chris Butler.
He was a talented artist and a friend, and will surely be missed.

Copyright 2011/ Ben Bensen III

Thursday, September 29, 2011

"Thoughts About a Great Art Store That... "Aint 'Dere No More!"

Look what I found!
I found this tag on a sketchbook from long ago. It sent me back to a time that now seems so foreign in so many ways. To all my Los Angeles friends, this can bring back some incredible memories though people in LA are accustomed to change with buildings torn down, businesses bellying up, and cultures and traditions uprooted. It is, sort of, the price one pays for all that "upward mobility. 

No looking back!

But to me, 1850 miles away and ten years gone from my SoCal life, finding this sent me back to that other world, in another life, so far away, like it was all a dream. But living in Louisiana, I felt no guilt wasting time and ruminating the past in all its "sunny SoCal glory!" 

I also found, while attempting to clear a path in the attic for the electrician to rewire my garage, in a box of some hard as a rock Windsor Newton goauche tubes that I had purchased at Clinton Art Supply on LaBrea in Hollywood, and again, a flood of memories came bursting forth like the jazz music that mellowed out from the store radio. Though I don't remember his name, the mustachioed attendant behind the Letraset counter would ask if you needed any assistance. Can you imagine what a business press type was back then? Clinton devoted a whole wall to the product, at one time! Always hassled, and aggravated trying to find a parking spot on LaBrea, the store had a calming effect even though it was usually against my best interests to chill out there.

I also included in that "stash from the past" was a box of about a dozen or so of "Daily Reminders" that I am just dying to page through. But that's another subject from another time, for another time!

In retrospect, it was always "Daniels" where I spent a whole lotta hours and also, a whole lotta money.  The building seemed to beckon one like a great big invitation to explore. Besides having a knowledge- able and helpful staff, they had just about everything a professional artist could ask for including art and design books and magazines. I once asked one of the regular salesman if I could order the then out of print book,"Creative Illustration" by Andrew Loomis and he was kind enough to send me to the Hollywood Bookstore where I might find a used copy. I used to huddle back in the stacks sifting through CA's to steal an idea or just get inspired. I'd spend hour upon hour there sometimes meeting colleagues and artist friends that I hadn't seen in years. 

To me, it was like a great Parthenon of art where new things could be discussed or discovered and the "latest" seemed to appear only moments away, just around the corner! I loved it.

Many times, when working in the Mid Wilshire or MacAtthur Park agencies, one could phone in a order of supplies and get it delivered, or you could run in and purchase some markers and get out in time to have a burger and a large lemonade at Casey's on Sixth Street. In the seventies and early eighties, H.G. Daniels served not only the major ad agencies and design studios, but also Otis and Art Center schools.

I guess there are many reasons why a scene like Daniels ceased to exist. There was talk in the ad community that some people were being mugged late in the evening as they left work. I actually had my Honda Accord broken into after hours while working at Ketchum in the Mid Wilshire area. It didn't take long for trendy agencies to move further west towards the Miracle Mile, Santa Monica or even, Orange County. Vagrants, bums, and people of questionable integrity roamed the neighborhood surrounding Daniels. The parking lots now had to be lit and security guards escorted patrons in and out of the store. It got to be a little bit scary to go there late in the evening, but I suspect the big killer of Daniels was the coming of computers. Who needs to learn how to use a ruling pen, or paint a straight line, or draw with an ellipse guide, much less have to purchase these tools? I'm not sure exactly when H.G. Daniels closed its doors forever, but I am sure its closing negatively affected not only the art community of downtown LA, but entire neighborhood surrounding it.

 There's a song created and made even more popular here in New Orleans by a musician who lost everything except his bass guitar in Hurricane Katrina. The song is bittersweet tune entitled, "Aint Dere No More!" where the locals all lament the loss of stores, restaurants, businesses, neighborhoods and, to an extent, a culture that once was such a part of our lives as New Orleanians.

Accidentally seeing the price tag on an old sketchbook reminds me that the Daniels I knew and loved ain't 'dere no more! Like so many things in our lives, nothing more needs to be said.

Copyright 2011/ Ben Bensen III

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

"Good Things Come In Small Packages"... Nummer Fünf!

Some of Brian's German Models made over the years!
As you can tell from the picture, Brian and I started making models around the time he was eight years old or so. Over time, we built just about every German aircraft except the FW190 and as of today, we still have three or four models stored away in the attic... never opened. The Focke Wulf "Condor",  the He-111, the Dornier Do-215, JU-87, Me-109 in the many variants, the Me-110, the Me-210, the Me-163 Komet, the Dornier Do-335 (push/pull design), and even the Blohm-Voss "Sea Dragon were the many planes that built or bought and never finished. "All of these models, except the Me-262, pictured in the upper right hand corner, Me-163 Komet, and the Dornier Do-335 were built mostly, by me and then airbrushed to the little art director's wishes. He'd pull out a picture from my files or from one of my aviation art books and tell me how he wanted it to look.

The Me-262, a reissued kit from Lindberg, was built and painted completely by Brian about four or five years later.

A Cub Scout friend of his was really enamored with all things German from bratwurst and sauerkraut to BMW's and warplanes of WWII. Tim and Brian would construct these outlandish, unaerodynamic aircraft out of Construx pieces where everything that wasn't the fuselage or wings was a bomb, a rocket or a machine gun.

I used to tease them both about their designs and both of them would beam that childish smirk of, "Yeh, we know, but it's still loads of fun" as they attacked and crashed into one another with Construx pieces flying apart.

After a fierce battle in the skies of South Pasadena, the plane that most resembled a plane, won!

Not wanting to have Brian get the wrong message about the Germans and the Nazis, I introduced him to some German culture and history through books and television in hopes that he, as an eight or nine year old, could understand the difference. Naturally, taking care to not present a thorough history lesson to a child, complete with all the horrors and atrocities, it didn't happen over night, but eventually, he did have better grasp of the war and its many complications. I probably was a bit too zealous, for after a while, it was like trying to speak to him about the birds and the bees. He'd listen to me preach and respond by giving me, with all the worldliness of a twelve year old, a roll of his eyes and a smirk, replying in exasperation...

"I know Dad, I know. I just like this airplane, that's all... And, the cool way we can make it look with those paint schemes and your airbrush !"

Ah yes, flattery will get you everywhere, kid!

Copyright 2011/ Ben Bensen III

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Bernie... You're the Best!

Sketches from pics of Bernie
If Bernie could play the horn, I am sure he'd still be reticent to toot it but...
"Today I am gifting..."
"Going to play musique for a friend of mines Momma.. She is way into her 80's.. She got married at 14 and stayed with the same man till he passed away... She used to come and listen to my musique in Folsom... I always asked for a 14 year old to stand up so people could realize how it was... She can't get out and so I am going to her house and play for her today. Her birthday."
I stole this post from a friend of mine I met a few years ago at Gus's. I hope he doesn't mind! His name is Bernie David (pronounced,"Da-veed"). Bernie's a retired oil man that lives on a large farm north of Folsom and has many stories to tell, but the best thing about Bernie is his musicianship. He plays accordion and sings, in Cajun French or English, all kinds of tunes... Maybe even, "Inna-Gadda-Da-Vida!" At the drop of a hat... spare change is greatly appreciated, but not necessary!
I suspect there are many people today that are retired and, like Bernie, want to be a contributing part of someone's life and make the world a better place. The deal is, Bern does it every time he pulls out that "squeezebox" and hollers a Cajun, "Ah-eeeeeeeee!" What a great gift God has bestowed on him... the power to make people, old and young, smile, and maybe, kick up their heels a bit...joints willin'.
Yes, Bernie... today, you are gifting!

Copyright 2011/Ben Bensen III

Thursday, August 25, 2011

"Good Things Come In Small Packages"... Number Three

Brian and "The Spirit of Atlantic City"...

Brian's interpretation!
This is my son's effort on his inspirational, brown Thunderbolt. At the time, the Monogram 1/48 scale Thunderbolt created a conversion kit that once was introduced by the Hawk company, I believe. You could choose whether to make the plane with a razorback fuselage or without the green house canopy and make the "D" version with the bubble canopy. Only a skilled modeler could, with patience and the right tools, make these "B" conversions without any seams showing. With detailing an aircraft, it was always fun to check out the real thing at an airshow, though these planes are the ultimate investment for those who own them and therefore, well protected, they show little signs of weathering or wear. Old photos and history books including aviation books for modelers were a great source. Sometimes, the research is the most interesting part of the process and like most children that age, Brian was always curious and inquisitive.

One those detailing tricks of the trade was to scape paint off with an x-acto knife or pocket knife on certain parts of the aircraft that were prone to wear and tear like the port side of the fuselage and wing where the pilot and his mechanic/flight engineer were always walking and climbing into the cockpit. Other spots that showed wear was the leading edges of any surface especially the wing. In the photo of Brian's P-47, you can plainly see the wing surfaces exposed. ( Brian got a little carried away with this wing, but you get the idea! ) Prop blades scraped on the leading edge also produced that well worn look.

Being a kid, Brian had a penchant for losing parts and pieces critical to the completion, so even though he wanted to be historically correct, having lost the razorback piece, Bri decided to make his "Spirit" a  "D" model. I am sure the pilot, Bud Mahurin, of Zemke's Wolfpack, with 21 kills, would have understood.

Sadly, for the photo opps, I couldn't spin the propeller on his "Spirit" because he applied too much of that Testors glue which clogged up the prop shaft and the engine. It did turn, but no amount of pressure through the airbrush would make it spin.

I'm sure Bud Mahurin and the rest of the "Wolfpack" would understand!

Copyright 2011/ Ben Bensen III

"Good Things Come In Small Packages"...Number Two

Just trying to "Keep It Real!"
Well, I searched all my files because I know I have seen this bottom pic somewhere in my Thunderbolt file. Seems I managed to make a mess of that file, but to all those aviation art freaks, you know which photo I speak of. The photo of the real "Bolt" is a "N" version and had five inch wing rockets attached.

Anyway, my son was only about ten or eleven when we built this silver "D" model, but I didn't photograph them till many years later. In the background, you see Brian's own "D" model, which he pretty much made himself. I thought he did a pretty good job on his especially after he witnessed my finished Thunderbolt. "The Turtle" was the first plane I introduced the airbrush and all it's capabilities to Brian. He got pretty good at airbrushing D-Day stripes on planes. He really seemed to enjoy that aspect of model making. He was perfectly willing to brush them on every plane he built including the German ones.

We were gonna make six versions of the WWII bird, Robert Johnson's, Hub Zemke's, Bud Mahurin's, Gabby Gabreski's, Glenn Eagleston's and a few other planes and pilots who's names escape me. We did purchase four more 1/48 scale models, investigated the many different paint schemes and appropriate decals to each aircraft, but, in time, I realized it might have been a little too ambitious for a twelve or thirteen year old kid and as the years went by, his enthusiasm diminished.

Of course, what's old again can easily become new. Those models, and a dozen others, are packed away carefully and stored in the attic... for just such an occasion.

Copyright 2011/Ben Bensen III

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Good Things Come In Small Packages! ( One in a Series! )

I love it when it almost looks "REAL."

A friend of mine, through the Air Force Art Group on Facebook, sent me and the rest of the gang there this wonderful site at: and I spent most of the afternoon there yesterday. Okay, it was raining and I wasn't gonna complete any of the yard work, but surely, I had many other indoor jobs to tackle that were more important than reliving my youth, for the umpteenth time. Still, I couldn't pull myself away from the miniature world of modeling. More specifically, modeling aircraft at scales of 1/72, 1/48, 1/32 and 1/25 of the original size. It is amazing how real and almost true to life some of these models and dioramas are... mini-sized!

This morning, while looking through my "morgue" for instructions on cleaning and maintaining my chainsaw, I ran across this misplaced photo of a P-47D, shown above, and remembered all the fun I had as a kid building models and how much fun I had building this plane with my son, Brian. Even though I knew that I would get distracted, once again, if I returned the photo to its rightful folder, I went into my Aircraft/WWII/Thunderbolt file and noticed all the other photos I took that day with my Nikon. 

"Wow, this is cool," I said to myself as I wandered and wondered about the whereabouts of a Monogram 1/48 scale P-51B model I also photographed with spinning propellers.

And so, I went digging and found all kinds of photos of planes that Brian and I assembled over a period of about five or six years. Some planes my son built with help from me and some, in later years, he built totally by himself. I suddenly decided it would be fun for me to share our model making story with some of those guys from the Air Force Art Group. I hope they don't mind...

So here we go, into the wild glue yonder of yesteryear!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Snakes Alive...A Story!

A Show of Strength!
Pierre le Pooch, our sassy, cocker spaniel with a Napoleonic complex, found a four foot cottonmouth coiled under a tree near our front pond. In the eleven years we have been on this property, I have never seen a venomous snake. Therese, my law abiding and always cautious wife, called animal control, but it was after hours when the dog located the snake. I thought animal control could capture the cantankerous creature and milk it to create anti-venom serum, but since they weren't going to show up until tomorrow, I decided to kill it with a shovel. Of course, Therese thought I should call the Sheriff and let them handle it, which I reluctantly did.

What a joke that was.

Two patrol cars and one local police car drove up. With their billie clubs and pistols, walkie talkies, stun guns and all, all three of them, once they confirmed that it was a cottonmouth water moccasin, kept their distance as they discussed for about ten minutes which "implement of destruction" should be used. No one wanted to shoot it with their pistols or with their shot guns. They asked me if I had a gun and when I told them that I didn't, they all looked at me in astonishment.

"You don't own a rifle or shot gun?" Not even a twenty-two?"

"No, I said... I'm from the city! I really don't have a need to own a gun!" They now looked at me even more confused than before. I later found out that it was not in the best interest of law enforcement to have one of their patrolman discharge a weapon on someone's property unless it was really necessary. Still, the scene seemed written for,"The Andy Griffith Show!"

"Well, what'cha need is a ten or twelve gauge shotgun... That would take care of this snake!"

"Yep, that's what'cha need!"

It was getting late as they continued to share"snake stories". Ten foot rattlers, dueling vipers, a fight to the finish, alligators attacked by pythons, deadly baby reptiles killing cattle, you name it, they discussed it. Tiring of all this, and coming to the realization that the heavy armament they brought with them was not going to be deployed, I asked them if a shovel might be the preferred implement for dispatching 'da critter. They agreed. So I quickly ran to the shed and picked out the perfect shovel for the job. Impatient with all of this talk and wanting some action before it got dark, I presented the shovel to the officers, who, I assumed, specialize in such work. Of course, not one of them wanted to do the ugly deed though they all had their suggestions as to how I should do it.

"Gotta get 'em with the first swing else it'll come out and attack you!" Rattlesnakes won't do that, no sir. Neither would a copperhead, but moccasins are mean sonofabitches, man... they'll chase you down!"

"Oh boy, I thought. I better choked up on this handle to be sure I make good contact!" Thoughts of coming up to bat with the game on the line and with men in scoring position just trying to make contact, suddenly came to mind. "Just a clean, quick, short stroke... no home run swing. Just a clean, quick, short stroke!"

"After you kill it, don't touch it!" "Cut off the head and it will still bite you, so be careful!"

I finally bashed it with the edge of the shovel head a couple of times, cut off its head and dropped it into a large black, garbage bag. The snake, even without its head, was heavier than I thought it would be! Tying up the bag, one of the local cops told me about an old wife's tale suggesting that one should, after killing it, completely douse the nasty creature with lighter fluid and set it ablaze. Somehow, it creates a hex which would keep all other snakes away from the property... for good! It must be one of those voodoo kind of snake phobias, I thought.

"They hate the smell of burnt scales... in the morning!"


Naturally, after making jokes about snakes tasting just like chicken, they drove off saying, "Be careful around the pond... you see one snake, you'll see more, especially if you ain't gonna take the advice and burn it."

Well, it has been over a year, and even though I have seen other snakes on the property, I haven't seen any more vipers. Still, I tread lightly whenever I go for walks with my trusty Pierre in the lead.

And I thought poison ivy was the only thing I needed to fear in my own back yard! C'est la vie!

Copyright 2011/ Ben Bensen III

Thursday, July 21, 2011

When a Cajun Recommends It...

My seafood platter didn't last long enough to photograph!
My accordion playing buddy knew we were gonna go visit our son in and around Lafayette, LA and suggested three or four restaurants owned and operated by local Cajuns. One of those was Soop's in the town of Maurice just north of the city of Abbeville near the Vermillion River. Bernie suggested a big bowl of gumbo. He didn't say which kind of gumbo, but said,"Dose folks sure know how to make 'dat gumbo... So, get 'da big bowl!"

We both knew mom and pop restaurants like Landry's and Don's Seafood and Piccadilly were excellent, authentic Cajun fare that was very affordable back when, even for someone like me and Bernie. But those venues became so popular that they had to lose something when something gained was so big. They all hit the corporate big time, which I applaud, but over time those restaurants changed.

I remember working for the university food service to pay my way through school basically washing dishes at lunch and dinner, five days a week. Because I worked there, I could eat all I wanted regardless of my meal ticket restrictions. Getting and eating great "coonass" food wasn't the problem. It was keeping my weight in check and my body physically fit.

I use to go to the local hospital and give blood at least once a month to have the bread needed to take out my girl friend or to eat out with the guys. One of those restaurants was "supposedly" the original Piccadilly in the Oil Center section of Lafayette which was within walking distance from the campus. Their crawfish etouffee was incredible. Roux based and patiently cooked to a rich, beautiful dark brown, it was not just mushroom gravy spiced with peppers. The portions were huge, the crawfish were plentiful... and the plates were very affordable. One of the black guys I worked with at the university restaurant was a cook, who also worked at the Piccadilly and turned me on to it, though he never gave me any culinary lagniappe.

I always found it interesting being from New Orleans, where everyone wrecks the English language, to hear African Americans speaking in Cajun French. Even when they spoke English, you could barely understand them because they seemed to accent all the wrong syllables! It was something to behold.

Occasionally, I would walked in the opposite direction of the campus, into downtown Lafayette and dine at "supposedly" the original Don's. When I did, I had trout or stuffed flounder with an etouffee crab or crawfish sauce.  The restaurant was a bit more "expensive" than Landry's or Piccadilly, so I didn't go often.

Many times, you can't tell a good restaurant from the looks of it on the outside. I used to tell my California friends, when they visited New Orleans, to look for the venues that had clam or oyster shell parking lots. It's a sure bet the food is authentically local. But, no more. Katrina pretty much put an end to that concept.

Anyway, Soop's a great find and we highly recommend it. And, not only the gumbo. Thanks Bernie!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Thoughts About Pies... Immoriarum.

Don't Miss Your Pies... Until...
When I was young, practically no one in our entire family made pies until the holiday season and then, my maternal grandmother would make wonderful pies. Her specialty was mince meat and meat pies. They were delicious. But if we had any fruit pies, it was probably store bought. I don't recall any one in the family making fruit or nut pies.

I really don't know why my wife started this trend, but, early in our marriage, she made two of the best pies I believe I ever ate. One was an apple pie and the other was a lemon pie. Oh, my goodness! Since then, those two pies are, in my mind, the pinnacle of how all pies must be judged... even the ones that Tee or I now make, during the holidays, can ever beat those two original. I could really expound on the concept of deserts and what our minds conjure up about them as time and taste buds fade away. For example, Therese's entire family could not live without "Mrs. Jo Lou's" cinnamon rolls and when she passed away, Mrs. Jo Lou created a legend by which all other cinnamon rolls are judged. On a scale of ten, according to my wife, no bakery or baker has even approached a "7."

So, when a friend or relative makes a claim about "pie stardom", well, every self-proclaimed pie lover has to travel to taste test and have their say.

Four years or so ago, my brother told us about a small town restaurant that made the best pies in the world. Going to school at LSU in Shreveport, every time he came home to visit, Bob would stop and have some pie at Lea's Restaurant, in LeCompte, LA , off Hwy#1. Every time we visited it, it was closed. But one day, we actually, almost serendipitously, moseyed off Interstate #49 to find Lea's getting ready to close for the day. Therese walked in with her check book and walked out with two whole pies... one for us and one for my brother, who seldom eats deserts, but makes an exception with Lea's.

He never received his pie!

It was so good that we just couldn't help ourselves. And, there was no guilt involved, whatsoever! We figured that what he and his family didn't know, wouldn't hurt them. Inside of a long weekend, both pies were obliterated! I think it was one apple and one cherry pie... I think!

Since that time we've passed by Lea's several times only to have arrived too late to have dinner or pie. No pie for desert and no pie to take home. And no pie for, hopefully, my dear brother and his pie starved family. But just a few days ago, all the gods came down to help us find our way to pie-dom! It was open and full with the after church services crowd of locals and a smattering of un-locals looking for pie rapture.

Sadly, it was not to be. All that anguish, the frustration of years of untimely closures, the miles and fuel spent in vain. The desperation in the hopes of, once again, reaching that pie in the sky high. It all, was not to be!

The meal was country fare and certainly edible. Therese had a turkey dinner that wasn't so filling to not have room for pie. The turkey stuffing was good and the turkey was real, not that pressed turkey product you get this time of year. The veggies were the frozen kind, but again, not unacceptable. I had fried chicken which was reminiscent of Knott's Berry Farm fare. The portion, for me, was rather skimpy, but it was all good as long as the pie was good.

Let me just take a moment to say that one of my pet peeves is service that's too damn efficient. Being from the south and, worse yet, a New Orleanian who likes to linger and chat after a meal, I hate it when the server rushes you and your meal under the guise of being efficient. It especially aggravates me when there are other tables available for customers to be served. Dining should be an event and not just a way to appease one's tummy grumbles.

But, this time, we applauded her speed.

Having not quite finished our meal, we happily ordered pie and coffee. Since it is blueberry season, as well as blackberry, we were disappointed to hear the waitress tell us both kinds were freshly made that day and were already sold out. So, Therese ordered  a slice of cherry pie and I had apple, but when the pie arrived we both could tell it wasn't what we had a few years back. The crust wasn't as brown and flaky as it should be and appeared rather soggy with no crumbly crust, per se! The fruit was hidden in between gelatin fill and Therese said she counted only four cherries in her entire slice.

Mine had more fruit than filler, and the apples did have a slight snap to them when you took a bite, but it didn't really have a taste to it. It was like any other product you'd get at any other restaurant or frozen food section... like blandsville! In fact, Mrs. Smith's Apple Pie, that you buy at the frozen food counter, is better than what I had. Sadly, we left with no pies to take home.

As we were walking out the door, a close friend of my sister, who now lives on the east coast, spotted me and Therese leaving and called out to us. They decided to go for a drive from their homes, south of Baton Rouge, to stop at Lea's... for pie! Dopey me would have walked right by her and her riding companion, had she not noticed us. Guess I was still wallowing in my pie-dom. They asked us our opinion and in hushed tones, we spoke of our disappointment.

"It's a long way to drive to have mediocre grub,"I said.

Later that night, having returned from their Sunday excursion, Audrey expressed her disillusionment in an email she sent to me. She said it this way," The pecan pie was bland! How do you make pecan pie bland?" She also mentioned in the email that the owner of Lea's, just a year ago or so, had passed away. What a shame! It's funny in a sad way, how one person can, solely, make such a difference in the world and... in the world of pies!

Obviously, like Mrs. Jo Lou, the recipe died with Mr. Lea and the memory of their gustatory delights is all we have left. It's what legends are all about, for sure, but maybe... just maybe...

We should have just held out for the blueberry pie!

Copyright 2011/Ben Bensen III

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Maybe Just Another Static Display To Most...

On returning from my Barksdale extravaganza for the Air Force Art Program in 2010, I passed through what used to be the home of the 23rd Tactical Fighter Command ( Flying Tigers) at England, AFB just outside of Alexandria, LA. Though he was born in Texas of French descent, Claire Chennault was the pride of Louisiana, an LSU graduate and leader of the original and volunteer force called the Flying Tigers, which is why this display stands at the entrance to what is now known as the England AirPark.
Included in the display, are jet aircraft used to protect air space around the south and most especially the SAC facility at Barksdale in Shreveport, LA especially in the sixties. The display is comprised of a F-7U Corsair II, an A-10 Warthog, and F-86 Sabre, which is painted in the colors of the namesake's aircraft, Major John England, an Vietnam era F-105 Thunderchief and this F-84F Thunderstreak.

The Thunderstreak originally caught my eye because I have never seen a static display with the undercarriage half retracted. I found it intriguing. At that time though, I couldn't take any pictures having used up my entire digicard at Barksdale. But, just this weekend, while visiting our son, I returned to shoot the entire static display.

The other reason this display caught my eye was because of an illustration I donated to the Air Force highlighting the "E" model of the fighter/bomber. Although the experimental XF-85 Goblin proved to be a failure, USAF believed that the bomber-borne fighter concept was still a good idea. But instead of escorting the big bomber, the focus shifted to a strike role with a Convair B-36 Peacemaker carrying a Republic F-84 Thunderjet. The plan was for the heavy bomber with superior range to arrive in the vicinity of the target and deploy a faster, more maneuverable F-84 to deliver the tactical nuclear bomb. The F-84 would then return to the ‘mother ship’ and be carried home.

Though quite primitive by today's technology, in the late fifties, it seemed a realistic possibility. A B-36 Peacemaker, designated GRB-36F carried a mechanism in its bomb bay, that would hold a production F-84E Thunderstreak (serial number 49-2115) fitted with a retractable hook in the nose in front of the cockpit. The hook would link the fighter to the trapeze mechanism which would hold the aircraft in the bomb bay during flight, lower it for deployment, and raise it back in after the mission. Due to the size of the fighter, only the cockpit, the fuselage spine, and the tail fin actually fit inside the bomber.

The illustration I painted of the  F-84E Thunderstreak (serial number 49-2115) can be seen at:

Copyright 2011/Ben Bensen III

Thursday, June 30, 2011

"When I Grow Up To Be A Man"...

"Will I dig the same things that turn me on as a kid?"
Anyone who knows me knows I am a Beach Boys fan. When you grow up in a musical town like New Orleans, you hear and are influenced by so many great sounds. Obviously, this gumbo was greatly influenced by Dixieland Jazz, NOR&B, Motown and Stax soul and later the Neville funk. At sock hops, until the British Invasion, we danced slowly to Smokey, and Otis and Bobby"Blue"Bland. Our fast sets were to the likes of James Brown, Sam and Dave and the "Wicked Pickett!"

As a eight year old, I remember my mom and dad dancing amongst the mosquitoes at company picnics till long after dark. They danced to Tommy Dorsey, Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman, but they also boogied to songs like "You Rascal You," "Caledonia," "Muskat Ramble," and local tunes by Fats, Little Richard, and Louie Prima. Boy, they sure were great dancers especially my dad, who had other ladies waiting in line to dance with him... whenever mom had to stop to catch her breath.

My father always had a song to sing. When we were real young, Adele was ten, I was seven and my little sister, Rebecca, was five, dad would sing us at least one tune before turning out the light. We all slept in one bed, so when he sang, he sang to we three. "Tennessee Waltz," "How Much Is That Doggy in the Window," "Peg of My Heart," "Sunny Side of the Street," "Bye Bye Blackbird," "I'm in Love With You, Honey!" "High Hopes" were all tunes he would mangled lyrically, but sing ever so sweetly, musically.

After my dad lost his job with the phone company, things went to hell pretty quickly, but we shared baseball and listening to popular tunes on the car radio from the radio station, WSMB. For some reason, I gravitated to the instrumentals like Stranger on the Shore, Alley Cat, That Happy Feeling, Honky Tonk, Yakety-Sax, Whipped Cream and many others. Lyrics were silly, mushy or incoherent, but the melodies always stuck with me. Doo Wop songs that mimicked instruments were also big and I loved the harmonies and the cross melodies. The Ink Spots, The Mills Brothers, The Ames Brothers, The Robins, The Crows, The Flamingoes, The Platters were mostly black and super smooth. But, when I heard the Four Freshman, the Four Aces, the Limelighters, and the early college folk music stuff, I heard a different kind of doo wop sound. And many of my favorite instrumentals were on that new fangled, twangy instrument played by the likes of Duane Eddy, Santo and Johnny, and Tom and Jerry. I was hooked and begged mom to purchase me a guitar... any kind of guitar, even pedal steel, which I knew nothing about!

Well, everyone knows the explosion that happened mid-fifties with Elvis, Fats, Little Richard and all those great rockers including Chuck Berry, who, one could argue did more for the guitar and rock 'n roll than anyone until Jimi Hendrix exploded on the scene. There's nothing here I can add to all the great essays and books out there on rock 'n roll, but for a kid at fourteen or so, looking to replace all that black and rockabilly music with something else and not having my dad around to sing with, I bumped into the perfect combination when I first heard Jan and Dean's,"Baby Talk", Dick Dale's, "Let's Go Trippin" and the Beach Boys,"Surfin' USA".

As our family grew, so did my responsibilities and so did the arguments between my mom and dad. With the anxieties, the tension and strife that, to this day, defines our family psyche,  I'd go to bed listening to those beautiful melodies, cross harmonies and hauntingly painful wails of my new hero, Brian Wilson and find solace.

To many, Brian's falsetto singing was considered too girlie or fake like Frankie Valli's helium highs, but what I heard was his expression of pain, a pain I felt I shared with him. I found some kind of release as I hit the high notes. It was so soothing and cleansing to do so, like a blues singer or chain gang prisoner sang to help ease their sorrow. It was something to me so primal, so mournful and yet soulful enough to stir the heart of every wolf to ever throw back their head and howl on a moon lit night. Within my room, whether it was a slow song or a fast one, his voice sent me away to the nearest faraway place I could find just as fast as I could find it. In so many ways, he helped me get through the night and in so many ways, he helped me survive the sixties and early seventies.

Thanks Brian, thanks Beach Boys!

P.S. Notice there's no mention of surf, sand, boobs and babes, polka-dot bikinis or beach blanket bingos. That never was the Beach Boys to me!

Copyright 2011/ Ben Bensen III

Monday, June 27, 2011

My Problem Always Has Been That I Can See Both Sides...

"We Win!" is a painting I did in school illustrating a story I read in a magazine.
The other day I found a gaggle of buzzards hanging around another armadillo carcass. It's the second time in about a month that an animal was decomposing in the culvert at that corner. One of my next door neighbors is almost never there at his home since his wife passed away about four years ago, so I know it doesn't really matter to him.

Armadillos are all over the countryside this time of year either narrowly escaping a collision or upside down with stiff little legs pointed skyward on the side of the road. Three or four months ago, I wouldn't have known how so many 'dillas were done in at that crossroad, but it was clear to me my other neighbor had taken out another of the armored criminals with his flashlight and "elephant gun".

Mr. Jordan, after once again, helping me extract my nine hundred pound lawn tractor out of the muddy culvert, told about his late night hunts to keep the varmints off his property. Armadillos tear up his front lawn. Possums are eying his two peach trees. Raccoons are eating his pond fish. "I used to hunt and fish, but now, I just fish. Hunting is getting too political", he says. Mr. Jordan and his wife moved from Baton Rouge, where they are originally from, to Folsom after the riff raff from New Orleans evacuated north post Katrina. I knew exactly what he meant by that statement, but also wondered why he moved to the country if what he wants is to make Merrywood just another urban subdivision. I always felt these animals gave the area a unique charm.

"I don't shoot no birds or squirrels and I don't need any more deer, 'cuz I got a 12 point buck on my wall... It don't get no better than that!" I nodded in affirmation.

With the three month drought we've been having here in Southeast Louisiana, animals are moving from their normal habitat to find water. Sighted within the last couple of weeks are predators like bobcat, coyotes and, within our own community, a cougar. The cougar seems to have put a scare in everyone and a dent in our ever burgeoning rabbit population, which I think is a good thing for both animals. How nature planned it!

Of course, in subdivisions of New Orleans like River Ridge, cats and small dogs have been reported missing. Someone caught a mutilated cat and the predators on video and aired it on You Tube, exhorting neighbors to get their guns and hunt down these roving band of coyotes before children get hurt. My first thought was that this sounded like that scene in the movie, "Jaws", when the mayor put a bounty on great white sharks to save the business community from losing their summertime revenue thus creating a shark killing frenzy amongst the local fisherman.

But this was different. People should know that they are cavorting in the shark's element and are at its mercy. To date, no fish has come out of the water to attack a human out on the street. But people have been attacked by cougars, wolves, coyotes, and in these parts, 'gators... though those cases are quite rare. Here in Louisiana, a beaver sized rodent called a nutria is doing great damage to our levees and our wetland vegetation and with no known predators to control their population, all we have as a defense is a gun enthusiast with a .22 rifle and a scope. Still, that doesn't seem to be working.

Something seems out of whack.

Of course, then you have those damn tree hugging liberals who don't believe in hunting or even eating meat! "How can anyone justify killing another one of God's creatures?"

"Well, animals kill other animals to survive," I say. "My cocker spaniel will kill and eat grasshoppers, roaches, spiders, crickets, lizards, frogs, squirrels, if he ever catches one, turtles, if he could ever bit through the shell and has also chased down a rabbit, I mean, an innocent bunny, and taken a chomp out of its right hind quarter."

"That's different! They're animals and can't reason as humans can! We should know better! Oh, look at those soft, brown eyes with those adorable eye lashes... Deer are so beautiful!"

"Yes, they are beautiful, but if we kill the predators 'cuz they have to prey on "Fifi" occasionally or a lamb or calf out west 'cuz they mistake it for deer or elk, then, someone's gonna have to "control" that population. Who or what's it gonna be?"

The strange irony of all of this is that the horrid hunter who stalks and kills his prey, I find, having lived in a rural community now for over ten years, is the most knowledgeable and the most respectful of nature's animals than the city folk. They understand the ways of the predator, accepting and respecting them, but never fearing them. They not only understand the delicate balance, but they contribute more to saving and conserving that balance than non hunters and those "fru-fru's" from LaLa Land or the Rotten Apple!

Although I do not own a firearm, I do find their stories intriguing whether it is tracking prey on foot or taking it down from a blind or a stand as well as stories about the ones that get away. Stories where a hunter has a clean shot on a legal buck only to put his rifle down saying the animal isn't old enough or not a prize animal to take down. This, after waiting all weekend for the right moment.

I see the argument about the human killing machine that we all have deep inside and indiscriminate, blood thirsty blasting for nothing more than the high one gets. I also understand the beauty of nature and of all of its creatures and yet, believe hunters have the right to experience nature in the way generations before them have done. For my sake, I have no problem hunting my prey with binoculars. And, that's always been my problem...

I can see both sides of every story.

Copyright 2011/ Ben Bensen III

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Courtroom Reporter Flies Right...

One of Bill's promo pieces...
I haven't seen this commercial, but it stars my good friend and SILA buddy, Bill Robles' courtroom art. Bill's a courtroom illustrator for CBS for years and who's portfolio includes all the high profile trials including, Patty Hearst, Robert Blake, OJ Simpson, Charlie Manson, Lee Marvin, The Menedez Brothers and just recently, Jared Loughner. Incredible! 
Now, he is on television in a commercial way. Check out this commercial at: Bill Robles Illustrates in Southwest Airlines Courtroom...

Thursday, June 9, 2011

"Well, That's A Heavy Price To Pay, I Said, For A Vinyl Cooler!"

Mr. Junior Martin talking that accordion talk...
At the Louisiana Folk Art Tent, I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Clarence"Junior" Martin, who for over thirty years has created accordions for all those who want to "play a harmonica with your fingers." I stood there incredulous listening to the man speak about Cajun music, accordion building and his wife's obsession with all things Coca-Cola.

The sketch I drew is a pretty good likeness of Junior and I am quite satisfied with the overall sketch except it doesn't begin to show all the many kinds of instruments he had available to purchase or just peruse. I wouldn't be a bit surprised if Lawrence Welk owned a few of these babies. While standing around looking at his instruments and listening to him speak, his lovely wife came over to me and asked me if I was interested in selling my red vinyl cooler that housed nothing but a six pack of Dasani water.

"Why would you want to buy this silly thing?", I asked.

"Because, she replied, I collect Coke memorabilia and I have never seen one like the one you have with you!" Would you be willing to sell it to me?"

She then proceeded to tell me how she lost all of her Coca-Cola memorabilia in a fire years ago and has, once again, started up a new collection. I jokingly told her that I'd offer Junior a trade of one of his squeeze boxes for this wonderful red Coke cooler with a picture of polar bears drinking Coke on an iceberg. She said that he might just take me up on that trade knowing how much it would mean to her. She said it, of course, with a wink of her eye.

I proceeded over to Junior's work bench where he went back to work on his next Cajun concoction, drilling, hot gluing and screwing pieces of wood that resembled a clarinet reed.

"So, Mister Martin, your lovely wife wants you to make a trade of one of your accordions for this Coke Six Pack vinyl cooler." For a moment there, I felt like some European trader trying to buy Wisconsin or Indiana from native Indians for some trinkets or beads.

"Oh yeh?" he said inquisitively. "And which accordion would you like to trade for?"

Before I could point to any one of the lovely instruments, he said with a smirk and in his Cajun accent," I tell you what... you can have any of 'deese you desire, but 'da wife comes with part of 'da deal, eh?

"Well, that's a heavy price to pay, I said, for a vinyl cooler!" Do you make any harmonicas?"

Copyright/Ben Bensen III/ 2011

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Just a Little Simple Twist of Fate...

Fujita Scale No. One through Five

The dog barked incessantly for over a minute. I had just put Pierre, our three year old cocker spaniel, in the garage to dry off after having taken a little swim in our back paddock. It was a warm, muggy, but breezy evening in late May and I was surfing the channels for some baseball on television. Pierre rarely barks at nothing, but when I got up to see who might be driving up for a visit, I didn't see anything. So, I walked around the house looking out every window available to give the dog the benefit of the doubt, but saw nothing. No visitors, no kids walking passed our property to visit our neighbor's pool, no mailman, or garbage men, no squirrels, herons, rabbits, turtles or toads could be seen to validate the barking.

"Pierre, I said in an aggravated tone as I walked outside to get a better look, "Shut up!"

I did a perfunctory perusal around the house and when I arrived at the garage door, I stopped to notice some clouds slowly billowing from the south that seemed possibly able to provide some relief from the forty-plus day drought we had been suffering. The weathermen on the tube said our chances of any precip was less than ten percent and they repeated it not more than a few minutes before Pierre starting barking. I stood out there for about five minutes watching as a "squall line" appeared. It had been windy all day, but it was a very humid breeze that now was becoming cooler. Off in the distance, I could hear what seemed to be rain hitting the trees and drenching the parched ground. Living out in the country in rural Louisiana is a treat for the senses in so many ways, but out here, you can hear things that you wouldn't hear in the city. I was amazed when I first encountered Canadian geese formation flying over our house. Not only could you hear their honking, you could actually hear the beating of their large wings as they cruised by. Amazing!

With this storm, there was no lightning or thunder, which is unusual this time of year, just the sound of the rain growing louder. A darker gray cloud came into view moving diagonally across the light gray squall line. Because the clouds bringing the rain was coming directly from the south toward me, it was hard to calculate its speed, but the clouds that came across from the southwest moving northeast was moving at a pretty good clip. Slowly, as big, wet raindrops hit me and the ground, I decided to quickly run over to the small metal shed that houses my lawn tractor and garden tools, to close the doors, but before I got there, I was intercepted by a large gust of wind growing ever more powerful. With the raindrops hitting me ever so fiercely, I decided to head for the safety and shelter of the back kitchen door.

Behind the now closed and locked door, I saw our colorful garden pin wheel turn white as it seem to struggle to stay earthbound. The tall pine trees swayed in all directions as the rains now came hard and heavy and for a brief ten seconds or so, small branches and leaves started flying in, what I'd calculate as easily, a sixty-plus mile per hour gust.

As quickly as it all came, it was gone. The rain lasted for another couple of minutes, but the wind was now non-existent. My staring out the kitchen windows that over looks our back paddock was shattered by a weather alert on the television.

"A tornado was sighted a few miles west of the town of Bush off of Highway 40 and Lee Road," said the reporter as a picture of a gray funnel was shown. Apparently, an eyewitness took a shot of the almost indistinguishable twister with his cellphone and sent it to the TV station.

"Geez, I told my wife, that can't be more than few miles from here!"

Later that evening, we saw the destruction and heard the frightening eyewitness accounts of the aerial attack. Just about everyone said that it happened so quickly, they had little time to react. Luckily, no one was seriously hurt, but the 150 yard wide funnel landed around Five Lakes Road, which is actually about twenty miles from where we live. It destroyed a trailer park, a Cub Scout campground and damaged about 30 or 40 homes within a ten or twelve mile radius.

Naturally, incredible stories abound. A seventy year old woman grabbed her husband and grandson and told them," Hold on, we're going for a ride" as they took shelter in the bathroom. "Thirty seconds, and it took everything," she said. A female Jack Russell/Chihuahua mix was returned to the happy owners after being found a few hundred yards from what was their home. The dog was found huddled in her carrying case where she retreated to at the height of the storm. The move probably saved her life.

My silly little story was, I had divulged a day earlier on Facebook in a lighthearted discussion about dreams, that ever since I was a child, I have had tornadoes in my dreams. In dreams, I am always running or hiding from them or trying to save someone from total destruction. A few caring friends helped me decipher my dreams or recommended a few websites for my night time affliction. It was all good natured fun, but...

The next day, investigators reported the twister to be an EF-3 with winds up to 140 mph. Whoa!

Copyright/Ben Bensen III/ 2011

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Dailey Series... Rosarita Beans and Enchilada Sauce!

Rosarita Beans and Enchilada Sauce! What was I thinking? Although the prints are over saturated with red, if you look closely you'll notice that just about every can of sauce and beans is rendered... even in the wide shots! I must have been crazy! The set was an old western general store which was fun to draw and render, but sadly somehow I've managed to misplace those scenes. Also, notice the tag line in the fourth frame was rendered by hand in reversed type. Whoa!

I remember working with an art director at Young and Rubicam/ Los Angeles, when it was located in Mid Wilshire. Her name was Nancy SomethingOrOther and she worked on the Gallo account with people like Bud Robbins, Len Freas, and comp artists like Doug Morris, Mike Barry, Mike Sell, Kathy Coutts and a host of other talented artists and creatives. But Nancy noticed I had a penchant for doing type and, as illustrated in this storyboard for beans, I could be pretty intense about getting it right! I guess she saw me as an asset to her and the myriad of labels we had to draw from the bottles of wine put before us. And, Gallo made a plethora of varietals, so there was always work to be done. Nancy, very patiently, taught me how to do reverse type with gouache and soap on acetate. Eventually, companies like Dr. Martin, produced white outs that were chemically mixed to stick to any surface, but that was after I learned to the art of mixing just the right amount of paint with soap and water to produce the right consistency for stroking it without it curdling or cracking.

Mixing the concoction was the easy part. Doing particular typefaces with minimum brush strokes was the difficult part. The art director had a mesmerizing effect on me every time I watched her brush twist and glide across the overlay so effortlessly. Nancy had a technique for painting serifs that I never did perfect and she could render sentences cleanly in no time at all. After a while, and lots of practice, I got good at it and could do a sentence pretty quickly... like twice the time it took her! I also learned a lot a more about type than I ever received in any school.

Unfortunately, all those skills were short lived. One doesn't lose skills attained from those long, hard lessons... ever, but I can't say that after PMT's arrived, I was ever asked to paint reverse type on acetate again.

It does make one wonder about the term, "Something's Gained When Something's Lost!"

Copyright Ben Bensen III / 2011

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Time to Gloat... My Nephew's the Best.

My nephew, Tony Fortier-Bensen batted .478 this season
I have one more post from my "Dailey Series," but this past weekend belongs to high school playoffs and my middle brother's son, Tony Fortier-Bensen, who has excelled in his senior year in baseball as well as academically. Tony batted .478 this season and actually went seven for seven and then, ten for ten during the regular season while anchoring the defense at shortstop.

Saturday afternoon, after winning their first playoff game against Barbe, H.S. by one run, Jesuit beat interstate rival Catholic High 3 to 2 and went on to beat the Lafayette Lions later that evening 5 to 4 to win the state 5AAA State Championship. It really was a thrilling series with a great team effort at the new Tulane stadium on a cool, breezy night. The Blue Jays won all their playoff games by only one run.

In my opinion, Tony Jr. should be voted Best High School Baseball Player in the New Orleans area, if not the entire state. Of course, having spent quite a few afternoons working with him on his skills and then, watching him play for over ten years, I guess I'm a touch bias.

Congrats, kid!

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Dailey Series...Hunt's Barbecue Sauce/The Coupon...

In my long career, I can honestly say that I was never "stiffed" for a job. I always got paid, but there are many other ways to screw illustrators besides not compensating them for a job well done... or a job poorly done. Here's one example...

My wife, the coupon expert, actually found the above coupon in the food section of the LA Times. My first reaction was, wow, I've got a nationally printed piece, but my elation lasted about all of a minute or two. I quickly realized I was taken advantage of. I was angry as well as disappointed that my comp work was doubling as illustration.

In the beginning, I naively rendered tight comps to impress art directors that would surely see my talent and offer me real live illustrative jobs. I was angry because they used one of my pieces without paying me another nickel for it, but I was also disheartened that the agency used a comp that was not only one of my lesser pieces, but that it was being used as an illustration. Although I didn't complain to anyone at that time, I was livid. At that time, I didn't understand why they couldn't see this was not my best work and why they would not give me the opportunity to redo the comp as an illustration. For the record, I probably would have done the illustration gratis just to say, proudly, that I created artwork for a national client. On the flip side of the coupon, there was an altered portrait of Dick Van Dyke that I did for the storyboard. It too was poorly illustrated to imitate my comp style. In a strange way, I was glad that the agency didn't use my signature for this or any other promo that I illustrated without my knowledge. The irony of it all was more than I could handle as a rookie!

It was a lesson well-learned...

Copyright Ben Bensen III / 2011

Friday, May 13, 2011

The Dailey Series...Hunt's Barbecue Sauce!

Back in the days when thicker was better, everyone seem to explore the standing knife trick. So, this concept had more than just four frames to prove this point and get the actor the most exposure possible.

The reproduction of these frames is pretty poor only because the original art was color xeroxed from prints.  This board was approved and a series of commercials was shot with Dick Van Dyke as the spokes person. Notice that type on the product and in the last frame was, at this time, still done by hand.

Copyright Ben Bensen III / 2011

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Dailey Series...Hunt's and Dick Van Dyke!

Key Frame Art that bled into the plastic protective sheet.
I don't remember who I did this work for but I did get to take home the product to draw from. At Dailey, the head man, who shall go unnamed, always had to approve the sketches for anything that was created and presented. It drove me crazy because I had to go to the agency, pick up the job, get briefed, and then go home and do a tight sketch for approval. Before I went to final coloring, I had to drive back to the agency, drop off the sketch and wait for the boss man to see it and approve. Sometimes, it sat on his desk  for hours before I got the go ahead and naturally, they would need the finish frames the very next day!

Copyright Ben Bensen III / 2011