A New Way to Waste Time

Susan Miura

As you walk through the aisles at the local hobby shop, leafing through their selection of model trains and paint-by-numbers kits, they seem too subdued, don’t they?. Where are the hobbies for the rebel, for those who are not satisfied with ham radio kits or seed art? Or will our entertainment time forever be consigned to endless repeats of Friends and making cats’ eyes?

We at The Lens say “No!” There is more to hobbying than whittling whistles out of bark. With that in mind, we would like to present you with a handful of suggestions for the aspiring hobbyist. These are not for everybodyñheck, some of them are for nobodyñbut for the daring we guarantee there will be one activity in the following list that will tickle your fancy. Embark on your new pastime with pleasure.


Art Cars:


What to do with that old car? It is an eyesore from a previous era, once a bland product of an increasingly similar American automotive industry, now rusted and belching foul fumes. You can’t sell itñwho would want it? You can’t drive it around town without blushing. You could tow it away for scrap, but that hardly seems worthwhile.

With a little inventiveness and a whole lot of buttons (or plastic figures, or Day-Glo paint, or papier-mâché), that monstrous old vehicle can be transformed into a source of envy. Because the hottest new automotive trend isn’t the new Volkswagen Beetle or the SUV, it’s the car art, and all it requires is an inventive mind and a tube of Silicone II Household Glue and Seal 100% Silicone Glue.

Spend a few hours in a thrift store and buy several hundred dolls. Now tear their heads off. Now glue those heads to your automobile. Voila! Art! Of course, it need not be doll heads. Think puzzles, or costume jewelry or even flora. One famed art car is an ancient VW Bug grown wild with actual grass. Art Car enthusiasts have been known to glue everything from pennies to animal bones to their vehicle. The wilder the better.

Or you could eschew glue altogether. With spray insulation foam you can rebuild your car into any shape you desire (a clever Japanese man turned his vehicle into Doraemon, the atomic powered blue cat of Japanese animation and comics). Or weld stuff to your car. Or take a rivet gun and attach old junk. A few rivets and it is junk no more! Now it is a fabulous act of creation, a mobile museum piece.

For those low on inspiration, we recommend taking a look at the documentary Wild Wheels Wild Wheels by Harrod Blank, available from Amazon.com. The varieties of car art are too many to mention, and nowadays it seems like festivals for art cars spring up every few weeks in a different city (art cars have been a staple of the Burning Man Festival in the Nevada desert since its inception). Turn to www.artcars.com on the Internet if you are still befuddled and spend a happy afternoon staring at digitized photographs of classic automobiles twisted and cemented into fish, spaceships and Hostess Twinkies. Then step outside and take a long look at your car. It will never be the same.


Grave Rubbing:


It is possible that the hobby of grave rubbing has only been mentioned once in the mass media: In Stephen King’s Sleepwalkers, villainous cat creature Brian Krause has a heated exchange about the subject with actress Cindy Pickett. Krause intends to take Pickett’s lovely daughter (played by Mädchen Amick) to the cemetery to do horrendous things to her. His cover story? The two will spend a happy day together, taping large pieces of paper over interesting gravestones and rubbing them with chalk to produce an image of the stone’s inscription. Unfortunately for Krause, Pickett happens to be a grave rubbing enthusiast herself, and grills him on his preferred chalk weights and paper thickness.

Strange as it may seem, these are important issues for hobbyists who are serious about this grave rubbing business. They join the Association for Gravestone Studies (30 Elm St., Worchester, MA 01609) and purchase TMC Tombstone Rubbing Paper and Rubbing Wax (available online). They study their cemetery of choice, looking for unusual or famous residents or hoping to uncover uniquely ornate and beautiful stones. They take their rubbings seriously, often having them professionally framed and hanging them in prominent places in their homes.

Morbid? Perhaps, but there is a stark and timeless beauty to many of these old stones, and cemeteries provide a unique intersection between the world of the living and that of the dead. Marilyn Monroe’s grave, tucked away in a tiny boneyard in Westwood, Calif., is one of Los Angeles’ most-visited sites. Many take rubbings of her chiseled name off of her mausoleum, a permanent memento of the star’s enduring popularity.

But beginners need not join any organization or purchase any special supplies. A simple grave rubbing can be done with construction paper, tape and a crayon. But call first, and don’t sneak into the cemeteries late at night. Grave rubbing is an unusual hobby with an unfortunate name (rubbing sounding dangerously close to robbing), and new hobbyists might have trouble explaining the semantic difference to the police.


Super-8 Filmmaking:


The Zapruder family has made its fortune: The Unites States government recently paid $16 million for a few seconds of grainy, badly colored film. The film stock was Super-8, developed by Kodak in 1965 as an inexpensive motion picture gauge for home movies. The image was of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas.

Super-8 was almost destroyed by the video camera explosion of the early 1980s, and now faces further risk of extinction from digital video enthusiasts, but aspiring Zapruders need not mourn. Videotape is a mediocre medium, producing plastic-seeming images with neither the depth of color nor the high contrasts so important for vividly capturing a gunshot to the head, so you are not bound to use it. And digital video is still in its infancy, and, existing simply as a collection of naughts and ones, offers so guarantee of permanence.

Yes, friends, Super-8 still exists. Spend an afternoon leafing around in a thrift shop; on a good day, you will turn up two or three hand-held movie cameras, each selling for a few dollars. Add some batteries and grin with pleasureñthey usually work. But pay careful attention that you are not purchasing an 8mm camera (an earlier technology), as it is near impossible to find film for it.

What else will you need? Just film, a projector and a screen. The last two items are easy to track down if you are a dedicated thrifter, and your total out-of-pocket expense should be no more than $10 for each. Film can be purchased locally at Film & Video Services at2620 Central Ave. N.E., Minneapolis, MN 55418, (612) 789-8622, or call Kodak directly at 1-800-621-3456. You can also have it developed at Film and Video, which will cost almost $15 for a few minutes of footage. Expensive? Yes, particularly for those who are accustomed to pointing their video cameras at anything moving and just letting it run for 20 minutes. But you will learn to take short, fast shots of truly arresting images in no time at all. And these short films may well qualify as art. The Internet lists 12 film festivals worldwide that allow Super-8 submissions. But art or not, nothing matches the pure historical verisimilitude of grainy, scratchy, blurry Super-8. Filmmaker Oliver Stone often uses Super-8 to help his films achieve a documentary-style realism, and hipster-saint Jim Jarmusch made extensive use of Super-8 to film a documentary called Year of the Horse about musician Neil Young and his band Crazy Horse.


Urban Exploration:


The frontiers of outer space still present humankind with a challenge, but the wilderness frontiers here on Earth are for the most part mapped out and sanitized. There is no place in the continental United States that is more than 26 miles from a road. So what’s a budding explorer to do?

Building hacking and tunnel exploration are easy remedies for civilization-induced boredom. Although building hackingñthe process of exploring buildings unofficiallyñcould get you into trouble, there are still opportunities to see the hidden side of structures that are perfectly legal.

University tunnels are a good place to start. Students, staff and members of the public are allowed, and even sometimes encouraged, to use steam tunnels as a shortcut or to avoid inclement weather. Most large campuses have a network of tunnels that connect the physical plant buildings to the offices and classrooms that they power and heat. Alternately, you can use a trick pioneered by archeologists: wait for snow and see if there are any pathways melted from the heat of tunnels below.

There are advanced tunneling cultures at many institutions across the country. At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, tunneling is part of the unofficial mission of the Technology Hackers Association, a student group. At our beloved University of Minnesota, where old hydro-electric tunnels are connected with the University’s current steam tunnels, thousands of students and staff use the tunnels every day to escape the harsh Minnesota winter and avoid surface delays like traffic lights and stairs. Exploring storm drains is a popular pastime for hundreds of Australians. The Aussies have an organization called The Cave Clan to coordinate their forays into the storm sewers of every major city Down Under. However, besides being illegal, exploring storm drains can be dangerous and smelly. Some cities have antiquated sewer systems that commingle waste water and storm runoff during particularly large storms. The leading journal of urban exploration is Infiltration, a quarterly magazine available from Infiltration, P.O. Box 66069, Pickering Town Centre PO, Pickering, Ontario, L1V 6P7, CANADA.