Sunday, March 15, 2009

Jonathan E. Quist - A Stitch in Time

Jonathan E. Quist is a lifelong resident of Illinois, where he learned everything he knows about government ethics. A graduate of Northwestern University, he has spent the past twenty years failing to escape Information Technology for a less lucrative field.

He wrote his first mystery nearly forty years ago, to critical acclaim, but similarity to another story prevented publication. Similarity. That's a laugh. It was lifted outright from "The Ghost and Mr. Chicken", is what it was. But "plagiarism" wasn't in his fourth-grade vocabulary list, until Mrs. Christensen explained it.

Mr. Quist's turn-ons include sunny days and playful kittens. His turn-offs are mean people and wiggly seats on public toilets.

He currently lives 31.3 miles from the hospital in which he was born, where by day he works for a telecommunications equipment manufacturer, and by night is writing the first novel in a humorous historical traditional mystery series, set in the world of small-time Vaudeville.

A Stitch in Time

Last week, my daughter brought home "Batman Returns" on DVD. This was the only Tim Burton-directed film of the franchise that I had not seen. So, with some busy work at hand, I put it on. I was looking forward to Danny DeVito's performance as The Penguin. And I vaguely remembered something about a stalker who was after one of the producers, something about wanting the role of Catwoman, which eventually went to Michelle Pfeifer.

I grew up on the 1960's Batman TV series. Yes, the many weekly guest villains included Catwoman. (And yes, I was a big Julie Newmar fan, even before I was old enough to understand why.) But the old series was very unapologetically two-dimensional. Characters were simply good or evil, in black and white. The only time grey appeared on the palette were those occasions when Batman found himself attracted to Catwoman. (And to an 8-year-old, those moments were comic relief, nothing more.)

The Batman feature films have corrected this - most characters have quite a bit more depth and complexity, and in many cases, we know their back story. In "Batman Returns", Pfeifer's Selina Kyle discovers some information she's not supposed to know. A man she previously trusted pushes her out a window for it; she miraculously survives, to find herself set upon by a pride of stray cats. As she rises from the pavement, her face reflects the fact that a few of her screws were loosened, and tightened again, but they're not set quite the same as they were before.

In the next scene, she returns to her apartment, in a craze, and proceeds to do the only logical thing to meet her forming persona as Catwoman - she sews herself a costume:

This scene reminded me that quite a few heroes have created and sewn their own costumes. Catwoman did it. Dr. Horrible did it.
Okay, both are technically villains, but both have heroic qualities.

Spiderman did it.

The Hulk did it. He took a more holistic approach.
Iron Man did it. His approach is not so much a costume as a Segway on steroids.

Batman did it, though I suspect Alfred performed the actual tailoring. There are many things Batman did not do alone.

And there are many others - Daredevil,

Green Arrow,

and The Lone Ranger, to name but a few.

In other words, among all the many super powers, skills, and codes of conduct among our most cherished heroes, one characteristic stands head and shoulders above the rest as the most prevalent, most useful, and most unilaterally heroic: the ability to wield a needle and thread with ingenuity, dexterity, and imagination. A blind stitch may be as important as blinding speed, and a back stitch as helpful as a sidekick.

Is there someone in your life who is a super seamstress? A master milliner? A consummate couturier? A talented tailor?

If so, then ask yourself a question. Has this loved one ever appeared in public with Batman? Stood side to side with the Mayor and Wonder Woman? Recoiled in horror from The Toxic Avenger? If you cannot answer "yes" to these questions, then there is a good chance you are in the company of an honest-to-goodness hero. Quite possibly one with super powers.

I can hear some of you asking, "What makes you so sure?"

I have first hand experience.

My daughter Leona was recently cast as Amneris in her high school's production of Aida. A role with seven costume changes. And while the school has enlisted the aid of both the X-Women and the Justice League to costume the show, she was not ready to trust her appearance to just anybody. So she teamed up with my personal Wonder Woman, my wife of twenty years, Karin. Over the years, my wife has wielded her super powers numerous times, crafting such Instruments for Good as:

A pea-in-a-pod costume for our then-two-week-old Faith.
A Henry VIII costume and a tuxedo jacket for me.
Formal gowns for the girls.
Cross-stitched seat cushions for antique chairs.
Countless draperies.
Complete reupholster of a Cessna airplane.
Hand-woven tapestry commemorating her parent's 50th anniversary.

The girls have inherited some of these powers. Faith, admittedly, does not sew so much, but she does knit, and she knows how to wield a fencing foil, which makes up much of the difference. A few years back, Leona decided she wanted a Scarlet O'Hara dress for Halloween. There was never any question that she was not making a costume, but an authentic antebellum ball gown.
All seven layers of it. But without the curtain rod.

So now, faced with the task of costuming Aida's Amneris, Leona and Karin have joined forces to battle the dark forces of fashion. To mere mortals like me, this is unthinkable. Selecting pants and a shirt for the office is a challenge. But with Leona's designs and Karin's super sewing powers in full swing, they are up to the task.

They are my heroes.

Of course, their ability to make needles dance is not the only reason I hold them in such high regard.

After all, in twenty years, I have never seen any of them together with Wonder Woman or Elastigirl.


Wendy said...

I never thought of it, but you're right!! that little Russian lady on the corner who alters my stuff is really a superhero, eh?? LOVED the picture of "Scarlett" !!!

Unknown said...

Loved this, Jonathan. Makes me think of my great aunt. I understand she could cut fabric with shears as fast as a mere mortal could with electric scissors. She made the uniforms for an entire school band in the 1920s.

Anonymous said...

Great fun, Jonathan, you handsome devil you! Loved both "Scarlett O'Hara" photos, too.

I envy anyone who can use a needle and thread. Not one of my talents, alas and alack.

But I can cut out paper dolls with the best of them.

Pat Browning browning

Anonymous said...

I just wish I could learn how to sew on a button right. Every year when I go hunting I inevitably pop a button or two off my camo pants and last deer season was no exception. If I'm lucky I see the button working its way loose and catch it in time, but putting it back in its rightful place for good is another matter. Last October when I was staying at The Hindu Inn in Lakeview, Organ for two weeks I busted a button off a pair of my best desert pattern camos, and it was the top "fly" button, too. A really bad one to lose. I spent an hour talking to the night clerk at the front desk who didn't speak English, trying to tell him that I needed to borrow a needle and thread. And all the while with my eyes watering severely from the curry fumes from his wife cooking dinner down the hall drifting into the motel lobby like a cloud of tear gas. I think he thought I was crying because I hadn't got a deer yet, or something. Anyhow, I eventually got my needle and thread from him. But when I went back to my room to sew the button on, things went from bad to worse. I didn't know what the hell else to do but keep pushing the needle and thread in and out, up and over and through the four little holes in the face of the button. How in the hell do you STOP sewing on something once you think you are done? I ended up securing the button to the pants all right, but I had a snarled thread knot projecting from the face of that button the size of a walnut when I was through. Fortunately, the buckle of my belt covered it up for the duration of the hunting trip, thereby saving me untold humiliation and embarrassment when I was out in public. My wife cracked up laughing though, the minute she got a look at it when she dropped the pants into the washing machine the day after I returned home. And no, I didn't get a deer. I NEVER get a deer!

Bill Cameron said...

I'm impressed you're able to select a pants and shirt for the office. It's a small miracle if I even find my robe.

As it happens, my word verification is butleri, which without the i is both what I need and what Batman has. Sadly, if I had a butler he probably wouldn't be able to find my pants either.

Earl Staggs said...

A fun gem from the always entertaining JEQ. Thoughty, too. Superheroes with great powers come and go, but it's real people with the essential basic skills who are the real heroes.

Jonathan E. Quist said...

You are so right, Earl.

I think
Monty Python may have said it best...

Carol Murdock said...

Kaye......I made all my maternity
clothes and made matching outfits for me and my first born then quit sewing altogether and I don't recall why. I have been thinking of taking it up aain but where would I find the time? Enjoyed the Scarlett gown!
ps....did you get my e-mail to you?

Eleanor said...

I enjoyed seeing the photo of The Green Hulk. It brought back many memories of watching this series on TV with my husband and children. The girls particularly liked it when Dad transformed in to the Hulk and chased them off to bed amidst screams and squeals!

Jonathan E. Quist said...

Yes, Eleanor, Lou Ferrigno will always be The Hulk in my mind. I was a nerdy teen with few real friends when the series first aired, and it quickly became my favorite. The notion of being able to unleash my anger and defeat oppressors was attractive, indeed.

But then I would think, "What if my pants aren't as durable as David Banner's?"

Jen Forbus said...

Oh, I'm so envious, Jonathan! I love the gown - it's stunning. And I love that your family appreciates your wife's super powers. This post was great; can't wait for that book to make it to print!

Kaye Wilkinson Barley - Meanderings and Muses said...

Jonathan, this was every bit as terrific as I had imagined!!

thank you, and I hope you'll come back often. Always enjoy your humor, and always enjoy hearing stories about your beautiful, smart, talented daughters.

See you in Indy!

Thanks, everyone for stopping by. Those of you who are talented with a needle and thread have my deepest admiration. My skills at sewing are pitiful, at best. I remember making a pair of flannel jammies in high school Home Ec. Wore them to bed one night and woke up the next morning with most of the seams undone. pitiful.