3 Mules Update

We’ve posted before about filmmaker John McDonald’s ongoing effort to tell the remarkable story of the “3 Mules” man. John called me last week to tell me that he’s found an editor for his film and that he’s fundraising to complete the project. Contributions are tax deductible and can be made through 3mulesmovie.com.

Here’s what John had to say in a recent newsletter:

On December 23, 2012, I meet a one-of-kind human being traveling with three animal companions and take this photo.

My first photo of “The Mules” taken a block from our home.

A neighbor friend calls and tells me to run out of the house, down to the corner and look east. He won’t tell me what to look for, but just says, “It’s right up your alley, John!” Like so many other people, my first reaction is “Wow! I’ve never seen this before!” And then I’m thinking who is he and what is he doing? Is he lost in the wrong century? Is he homeless? Is he on a mission?

I’m intrigued and want to learn more, so I chase him down. We exchange a few words, but he is in a hurry to move on. He asks me if he is heading in the right direction to intersect the Arroyo Seco (south of the Rose Bowl), and that is enough to give me a clue as to where he might be spending the night.

The next morning is Christmas Eve. My whole family is together for the holidays and I’m reluctant to go off on a wild goose (or mule) chase. But I’m a documentary filmmaker. I sense a good story. The dog needs a walk anyway, so I head for the Arroyo in search of the guy with the mules. No luck at first, but then I finally discover him, already packing up to start on the next leg of his trip to who knows where. He accepts a cup of coffee that I have brought with me. He talks a bit, very softly.

With some reluctance he allows me to retrieve the video camera from my car. Surprisingly, with the camera running, he talks more. I learn that this 65-year-old man calls himself Mule, considering himself “just another one of the mules.” They have traveled for nearly three decades, through sixteen states and into Mexico. For the last ten years, they have lived outdoors every single day.

Mule tells me that throughout his travels he has noticed an ever-increasing urban sprawl. Much of the open land that once allowed them to move freely and spend the night in secluded spots is disappearing. More and more cars are filling up the roadways, and the expanding urban infrastructure seems to serve only one purpose: accommodate more automobiles.

His words resonate with me, and I realize then and there that I am about to embark on a filmmaking journey like none I have ever experienced.

Now, five years later, my journey is far from over.  In 200 days of filming over a 27-month period, I shot 300 hours of footage. A ten-minute short film called MULE: Living on the Outside was edited and has screened at a number of film festivals and fundraising events as I work to raise the money to complete the full-length feature documentary.

If you would like to help, tax-deductible donations can be made on my website 3MulesMovie.com.  Your support is greatly appreciated, and I look forward to sharing the completed film.

I sent a donation this morning because I think this is an important story about public space, the problems of modernity and environmental degradation. John is a talented filmmaker and I’m looking forward to seeing the finished film.

May Morris: Embroidery as Art

Before the great uglification that was the 20th century there was a brief period of aesthetic hope led by the prophetic John Ruskin and his followers, most notably William Morris. A 2017 exhibition and catalog brings some much needed recognition to his daughter May Morris.

May was probably the best embroiderer the world has ever known. Her work is more like painting than stitching and she raised the craft to levels not seen since the late medieval period.

May was a gifted designer and artist and worked in many mediums including fashion and jewelry.

You can read her embroidery manual Decorative Needlework online.

Are Root Simple readers also avid embroiderers? Leave a comment!

Whacked the President with a Single Stick

A forgotten and dangerous cousin to modern day fencing, single stick fighting involves a short and inflexible piece of wood. Ouch. Early 20th century notions of physical therapy were obviously different than today as evidenced by President Theodore Roosevelt using single stick fighting as a way to recover from a carriage accident. Here’s how the New York Times covered his unusual PT sessions:


Gen. Wood Raised a Lump on Mr. Roosevelt’s Forehead

Special to the New York Times.

WASHINGTON, Dec. 29–President Roosevelt has not been wounded in the forehead with a rapier wielded by Gen. Wood, nor has he been swinging a broad sword at that officer, as reported in New York today; but he has been whacking his military friend over the head with a single-stick, and Gen. Wood has been returning the compliment. As a result the President is wearing a bruise on his forehead just over the left eye.

For the last month the President and Gen. Wood have been accustomed to repair daily, or almost daily, to a room in the White House where they are free from interruption and have a bout at single-stick. This ancient English exercise used to have as its point the drawing of blood. Neither the ex-Colonel nor the ex-Lieutenant Colonel of the Rough Riders has aimed a making this point, but both havve confined themselves to developing their skill with the weapon and getting as much exercise and fun out of the game as possible.

Notwithstanding this, it is impossible to play with single-sticks without occasionally getting hurt, and both the President and his ex-superior officer have daily given and received some pretty severe raps. Lumps have appeared at frequent intervals on the head of each. The one which the President received the other day, however, was worse than usual and more visible to the casual observer. As a result the wildest kind of rumors were started, finally culminating in the broadsword and rapier story. This led to the discovery of the secret which the President and his friend have guarded so successfully for a month or more.

The PT must of worked since, ten years later, not letting an assassination attempt get in the way, Roosevelt was able to deliver a 90 minute speech after being shot in the chest.

There’s No Such Thing as a Free Watch

I have a love/hate relationship with computers and the internet. On the one hand I’m thankful for the platform of this blog and podcast as well as instant access to a whole world of useful how-to information and videos. But, the other day while doing an image search for William Blake’s Urizen, I landed on a hateful anti-Semitic website. Grossed out, I retreated to the computer-free early twentieth century technology of my garage workshop where the Butlerian Jihad backstory of Frank Herbert’s novel Dune remains in effect.

Jihad, Butlerian: (see also Great Revolt) — the crusade against computers, thinking machines, and conscious robots begun in 201 B.G. and concluded in 108 B.G. Its chief commandment remains in the O.C. Bible as “Thou shalt not make a machine in the likeness of a human mind.”

Alas, I often cheat with my liberal use of Sketchup.

Along the lines of “we need to rethink this internet thing,” artist Jenny Odell has written a fascinating piece about a phenomenon wherein poorly made objects incarnate via Instagram and other social media platforms. Her essay,  There’s No Such Thing as a Free Watch (pdf) traces the origin of watches pimped by social media “influencers.” These watches begin not as a practical way to tell time but, rather, as a physical manifestation of social media interactions.

Amidst the shifting winds of Alibaba sites, dropshipping networks, Shopify templates, Instagram accounts and someone somewhere concocting the details of “Our Story,” a watch was formed, like a sudden precipitate in an unstable cloud. And almost immediately after being produced, it is reviled, doomed to live out its stainless steel life, less a teller of time than an incarnation of petty deception. In that sense, it may be the best artifact of capitalism one could ask for.

You almost need to go back to Thomas Aquinas’ complex Aristotelian thoughtstylings about transubstantiation to wrap your head around the story Odell tells.

While we’re on the topic of transubstantiating things, the Church of England hopes to encourage folks to give up single use plastics for lent via a plastic-free lenten discipline (pdf). It’s a great list of suggestions to which we may need to add social media.

The Monkey Rope

If you haven’t gotten around to reading Herman Melville’s Moby Dick you should. I just finished reading it and, next to the Bible, no other book comes close to Moby Dick’s sprawling, hallucinatory weirdness. It reads like a long prose poem, a philosophical horror novel, a meditation on our relationship with the natural world and, well, who knows what else.

I’m haunted by one chapter in particular, “The Money Rope.” In this chapter Melville describes the narrator, Ishmael, tied by a line to Queequeg, who is assigned to the dangerous task of cutting up a whale over the side of the ship. Melville, as he does often in this book, moves from the gruesome particulars of whaling to a metaphor about the human condition.

So strongly and metaphysically did I conceive of my situation then, that while earnestly watching his motions, I seemed distinctly to perceive that my own individuality was now merged in a joint stock company of two; that my free will had received a mortal wound; and that another’s mistake or misfortune might plunge innocent me into unmerited disaster and death. Therefore, I saw that here was a sort of interregnum in Providence; for its even-handed equity never could have sanctioned so gross an injustice. And yet still further pondering–while I jerked him now and then from between the whale and the ship, which would threaten to jam him–still further pondering, I say, I saw that this situation of mine was the precise situation of every mortal that breathes; only, in most cases he, one way or other, has this Siamese connexion with a plurality of other mortals. If your banker breaks, you nap; if your apothecary by mistake sends you poison in your pills, you die. True, you may say that, by exceeding caution, you may possibly escape these and the multitudinous other evil chances of life. But handle Queequeg’s monkey-rope heedfully as I would, sometimes he jerked it so, that I came very near sliding overboard. Nor could I possibly forget that, do what I would I only had the management of it.

In our highly individualized, deracinated age we all can benefit from a reminder of the inescapable ties that bind us.

You can read Moby Dick online via Project Gutenberg and you can also listen to a free version read by an eclectic bunch of actors and artists and accompanied by a work of art for each chapter.