i am so dirty

Infinite Rider

On The Big Halo

Julia Tenney has 1,001

creative uses for a NIN fixation.

by kt

Valentine's Day sucks. Think about it. What once was the modest feast day of a minor saint has mutated, Hydra-like, into a synthetic celebration of mandatory pseudo-sentiment, a major catalyst of relationship trauma, and an enduring source of despair and shame for the lonely and tentative everywhere.

But in 1995, Julia Tenney (a.k.a. Cthulhia) got her own back from the Hallmark holiday: Her NIN-themed valentine, "Suck," made its debut last February 14. That card and the projects that followed it, collectively known as Infinite Halo, have earned her a small yet vocal fan club among connoisseurs of the unusual, the endearing, and the just plain silly.

Cthulhia, a native of upstate New York who holds a B.A. degree in history from Vassar, says she started designing themed cards out of a sense of duty more than anything else. "As one of those arty-farty types, people expect original holiday greeting cards from me," she says. In January 1995, to commemorate the Chinese Year of the Pig, Tenney sent out postcards that featured a photo of herself astride a bronze warthog in the Philadelphia Zoo. She had so much fun creating that card that she decided to do another -- this time for Valentine's Day, because "quite a few people have depressingly empty mailboxes around that holiday."

sweet words

A photographer friend, Michelle Smith-Lewis, helped Cthulhia take pictures of candy hearts spelling out various...um...alternative Valentine messages. "As we were sorting out the hearts to get the phrases we wanted, we started writing new stuff on them -- including 'suck,' which came out the best of the 60-plus photos we took," she says. She then offered "Suck" valentines to alt.music.nin readers who sent her their U.S. Mail addresses. The enthusiastic response motivated her to design other postcards.

"Hey, I remember being a student and checking my mail three times a day," she says. "So I offered to send postcards from Disneyworld and at least one other postcard before the end of the school year."

Trouble was, "I didn't have any idea what the other postcard would be," she says. Inspiration struck after a drive through Central New York's muddy late-winter streets. "All the sand and salt on the road turned my white van really dirty. And some time that day, on my car CD player, Trent said, 'i am so dirty....'" So Cthulhia scraped a NIN logo into her mud-encrusted vehicle and took her next postcard photo (see the picture at the start of this article).

The photo was "adequate, not great," she says. "I wondered what I could do to jazz it up. So I decided to mail the cards on April Fool's Day from Mercer, Pennsylvania (Trent Reznor's home town). Needless to say, the gang loved it." (She points out that she goes camping near Mercer every summer, "since before I ever heard of NIN. I don't think I could actually go to western Pennsylvania just for Trent's sake.")

Around this time, a friend gave Cthulhia a nine-inch nail -- actually, a 14-inch nail that had been cut down to size. The gift inspired another postcard. "I mentioned to Patrick that if he had 30 of those, I could do a postcard for Trent's 30th birthday (on May 17, 1995)," she says. "I could spell out the NIN logo with them...no, I could stab the shit out of a birthday cake with them.... I was sure he wouldn't have that many spikes, so I wouldn't actually have to do this." Patrick showed up the next day with a bag full of them. Still, she says, "I kept avoiding it, thinking to myself, 'This is beyond obsessive.'" But when Michelle Smith-Lewis, the "suck" photographer, offered to help out, Cthulhia finally relented.

cake and punditry

All told, 61 postcards were sent out postmarked May 17, 1995, Mercer, PA. Even so, the highest numbered card is #60/60: Cthulhia sent one card as #0 ("nothing") /60 to the Nothing Records offices in Cleveland, along with an 8x10 enlargement of one of her photos of the burning birthday cake. The back of the card features a recipe for the classic Rusty Nail cocktail, as well as a version substituting tequila for scotch -- a variation Cthulhia calls "a Rusty Nine Inch Nail." (A third recipe, for a "Live Nine Inch Nail," calls only for mineral water in a plastic bottle: "Pour some of it on a keyboard, throw the bottle when you're done.")

Every time Cthulhia sends out a new postcard, she gets more inquiries about the mailing list. Lately this has created a dilemma for her. "I don't have a permanent address at the moment," she says. "I'm in the process of finding a new place to live." Yet that didn't stop her from completing her 1995 holiday postcard, which was sent to all Infinite Halo correspondents who had updated their U.S. Mail addresses in time for the Christmas posting. The card features a traditional nativity scene with a very untraditional centerpiece: Ren Hoek, the world's most famous animated asthma-hound Chihuahua, lying in the manger. (The greeting on the back: "Have a Happy! Happy! Christmas and a New Year full of Joy! Joy!")

Cthulhia get ideas for new postcards regularly: "I've already figured out plenty of things to spell 'NIN' with," she says. One or two of them are already in the works -- including one to feature a photo taken at NINcon '95 in Cleveland, in which the NIN logo is spelled out with the bodies of con attendees. Before completing that project, however, she'd like to finish a Leap Day commemorative card to mail on February 29, 1996. The postcard already has been shot, but the artist is cryptic about its content. "Barbie doll legs figure big into it," is all she will say.

"Happiness is getting real mail in your mailbox," she adds. "You know, something other than a bill or a catalog or a letter from yet another charitable organization that desperately needs your support. NIN fans who write to Nothing Records can't expect even a postcard that says their mail was received. But at least they have me."

For more information on the Infinite Halo mailing list, e-mail Julia Tenney at tenney@borg.com.

further down front

hope and vaseline -- hnv@nin.net