Thursday, September 30, 2010

Unexplained Carousel



A strange and foreign place lost in a reverie and you walk nowhere or anywhere and think nothing.

You're prepared to see any sort of wonder or gape like an imbecile at the most mundane thing because it's news to you.

Wogs or supermen or ghosts or something live here. The stone is not just stone but hard stone and your foot wears it away like Caesar and Michelangelo and Savonarola and all the nobodies did.

You look like you belong here but you don't. You walk and you look at everyone and everything and here you're the child who can't even ask for what you want and don't know what anything is for and everyone is your friend and a stranger all at once and you are in in their thrall.

Then there's this carousel in the middle of nowhere if this is nowhere how would I know with no one on it and it's just there with no hint of a reason for it there are no children. There it is a world spinning empty.

It doesn't belong there and you don't belong there and you stand there accusing one another of nothing. It serves only to remind you that your children are out of sight across an ocean and you weep for yourself and you weep for a whole goddamn continent that sent its children across an ocean never to return.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Little Known Fact: In 1975, Otis Day And The Knights And Sly Stone Accidentally Got Into A Teleportation Machine At The Same Time. Result? Super. Fly.

Incongruity Alert! Introduction by Helen Reddy.

Dude on the black Les Paul can wail.



O! H! I! O!

Another little known fact. Robert Cray was in Otis Day and the Knights in Animal House. I did not know that. Sounds like one of those "Internet facts."

Monday, September 27, 2010

I Want (From 2008)

[Editor's Note: The magnificent mundane pictures are from Square America.]
I want to participate unreservedly in American life.

I want to say hello to my neighbors. I want to send my children to school on a bus with their brethren to read of George Washington and Abe Lincoln. I want them to eat a peanut butter sandwich from a paper sack with a waxy box of whole milk to wash it down.

I want to watch the news and not think it's an assault on my worldview. I want to watch the news and not think it's an assault on the worldview of people with whom I disagree.

I want to read a newspaper. I want to listen to the radio. I wouldn't mind constructing my own radio with a soldering iron and a few parts that came mail order, but I'd rather not construct the playlist of songs. How would I know what I liked if I had never heard it?

I want to order a drink from the well. I want to sit on naugahyde. I want someone to smoke. I don't want to smoke. I want people to make music right there in front of me. I want everybody to know the words.

I want everyone to dress as well as they can for a social occasion and still be dressed badly. I want to see dress shoes and white socks.
I want to see old people. I want to see babies. I want to tell people their ugly children are beautiful. I want the ballgame to be on TV. I want the TV to be on a shelf over a bar.

I want to go to church on Sunday. I want to go to a bar on Friday night. I want to go dancing with my wife of many years on Saturday. I want to be buried in the same suit I was married in. I want people to stand there and look at my cold face and say I was no great shakes but I was alright.
I want someone to put flowers on my grave after everyone else has forgotten I was alive.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

By Popular Demand... The Cubicle Drinking Song!

But you won't stay popular very long requesting songs like this.

Anyway, the Edjamikated Redneck wanted the boys to sing Charlie and the CLM, and he's pleasant so we hauled out the Flip camera and Got 'er Dun.

* While it may sound like it, no animals were harmed in the making of this video.



Here are the words if you want to sing along. We sound better if you do. And have a few stiff drinks.

Charlie And His CLM

Let me tell you all the story
Of the PC LOAD LETTER
And poor Charlie's dyspeptic day
He'd eaten Kung Pao in Woonsocket,
Walked the aisle to the printer
And cropdusted the entire way

Chorus:
Did he ever return,
No he never returned
But his smell is still discerned
Prairie Dog coworkers
wonder who was passing
He cropdusted, and never returned.

Charlie lingered at the printer
As the gas cloud settled
Shoved in two reams of foolscap plain
Then the LaserJet was blinking, saying
LOW ON TONER
Charlie rumbled, and started to strain

Chorus:
Did he ever return,
No he never returned
But his smell is still discerned
Prairie Dog coworkers
wonder who was passing
He cropdusted, and never returned.

Now all day long
Charlie stands at the Canon
Thinking, "What will become of me?"
Crying
There's never any paper
In the Men's Room holders
And he was going to need a whole Dead Tree

Chorus:
Did he ever return,
No he never returned
But his smell is still discerned
Prairie Dog coworkers
wonder who was passing
He cropdusted, and never returned.

Charlie's boss goes down
To the handicapped bathrooms
Every day at a quarter past two
And Charlie knew the danger
If he toilet bombed his bosses
When the szechuan came rumblin' through.

Chorus:
Did he ever return,
No he never returned
But his smell is still discerned
Prairie Dog coworkers
wonder who was passing
He cropdusted, and never returned.

As his lunch rolled on
underneath his spattered tieclip
Charlie looked around and then he sighed:
"Well, I'm sore and disgusted
And my bowels can't be trusted,"
And he lay down by the fax and died.

Chorus:
Did he ever return,
No he never returned
But his smell is still discerned
Prairie Dog coworkers
wonder who was passing
He cropdusted, and never returned.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

A Life (Still) Filled With Nothing

This is all there is of him now.

Oh how he railed at the bankers. Mother would remind him, occasionally, that he was a banker. He'd splutter and rage and Mother would leave to see what the cook was doing and return and neither of them ever missed a beat. I'd watch the dirty urban raindrops make their way down the panes, backlit by the milky sunshine that was our ration at the end of the brownstone canyons, and wait for it all to end. The rain, the impotent rage, all of it. Now it was done.

I wander through the rooms, and they are full of nothing. I never heard it put better than that. A life full of nothing. There was always someplace to be, something that required immediate attention, something that would bring on the stemwinding peroration, to no one in particular, about the hard, cold heart of everyone who came into his line of sight when he was trying to make the column on the left and the column on the right match up. A life devoted to those damn dots.

I never could muster any awe or fear of the old man. He was volcanic, and yet the rumblings signified nothing. The threat of the eruption is daily, but the actual item never comes, and so one develops a certain ambivalence about it. It was always like waiting for the last dull minutes of a boring sermon to end. There was no sin in it, and none in ignoring it. You endured it only, but did not suffer, really.

Father had that Irishman that worked for him. The only one. He was as full of life as Father was full of worms. Father mocked him when he was not here. There was a touch of the obsequious about the guy that my Father loved. "Oh, that Hibernian tugs his forelock and backs out of here like a serf, but you know he's in the tavern right now in his cups and laughing at me, and all his cronies with him. He'll never amount to anything."

Now the old man was done. Mother was gone two decades ago. It fell to me. I'll have nothing to do with this place. It had the smell of the grave in it all along. The lawyers pushed the papers under my nose, with the same dull mechanical mannerisms and basilisk expressions on their faces as their customer, laid out like a Pharoah in the funeral parlor. I suppose they laughed later, too, when they offered me a third of the value of the place, and I took it. I would have paid them to take it.

I'm going to the tavern, to look for a man.

Friday, September 24, 2010

The World Is Being Pulled Through The Heavens By A Soul Train, And This Guy Was The Locomotive AND The Conductor

There was a time.

Tickets, please.




Hello, and welcome aboard. Please note important safety features for this vehicle, the James Brown Pan-Galactic Low-rider VistaCruiser.

There are no exits aboard this conveyance but one. None towards the front on either side, none before the wings on either side, none over the wings on either side, none behind the wings on either side, none at the rear of the freight train on either side and even fewer in the center of the upper deck on either side. We have done away with these exits because there is no salvation but one, which is directly through the middle of the stage. Please pay close attention to the guardian of this exit, as he's so high, you can't get over him; so low, you can't get under him; and so wide, you can't get around him. Don't worry; each of the other performers has a safety slide dance step that will automatically deploy when The GFOS lamp is lit, and begins to smoke.

We recommend that you count how many seats you are away from this exit, as it will help you to determine just how cool you are. The first four rows should don your radiation suits and put on your sunglasses. In the rare case of an emergency there are lights on the outsides of the aisles to help you find a place to dance; also there are flashing lights and horn flourishes to signal the danger of an upcoming blast of turbulence. In the rare event of a loss of cabin pressure James Brown will drop down from the overhead compartment. Cup your hands over your mouth area like the flight attendant is doing now and yell please, please, please if you feel breathless.

Please ensure your high heel sneakers are secured and Sippican Cottage recommends that you have your seat in your pants and your feet on the floor throughout the flight. There are also single-breasted double-vented sharkskin life jackets and spanish heeled shoes under your seats in case of an emcee emergency.

We thank you for flying James Brown today. We hope you enjoy your flight. Now get up offa that thing, and dance 'til you feel betta.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Cubicle Farmers Of The World: Unite!


Reader and commenter Cameron, of Cultural Rumbles, wondered aloud in my little essay about the Punch Brothers if I wasn't being too hasty when I remarked:

Oh, well; 2.3 children, a dog to kick and a cubicle makes for a dashed poor drinking song.

My favorite kind of people don't take challenges lying down. No! They get drunk first, then lie down. Then they get up and write a Cubicle Protest/Drinking song!

Ohhhhhhhhhh,

Box me in, ya bloody bastards!
Pile them spreadsheets mountain high!
Ye won’t break me, you AP dastards!
Reconcile, then bloody die!
Reconcile, then bloody die!

A fine effort, no doubt, and long overdue, but son, stand back, 'cause I'm a pro.

First, we need a tune. Why not the greatest drinking song ever? If you're from Boston and can't recite (or more precisely: haven't already recited) this grand tone poem while standing on one foot and touching your nose over and over by the side of the road, while a bemused Statie looks on, you're no true Bostonian!



OK, all you Dilberts, sing along!

* If you don't speak "Cubicle," which is like Klingon but less mellifluous, go here.

Charlie And His CLM

Let me tell you all the story
Of the PC LOAD LETTER
And poor Charlie's dyspeptic day
He'd eaten Kung Pao in Woonsocket,
Walked the aisle to the printer
And cropdusted the entire way

Chorus:
Did he ever return,
No he never returned
But his smell is still discerned
Prairie Dog coworkers
wonder who was passing
He cropdusted, and never returned.

Charlie lingered at the printer
As the gas cloud settled
Shoved in two reams of foolscap plain
Then the LaserJet was blinking, saying
LOW ON TONER
Charlie rumbled, and started to strain

Chorus:
Did he ever return,
No he never returned
But his smell is still discerned
Prairie Dog coworkers
wonder who was passing
He cropdusted, and never returned.

Now all day long
Charlie stands at the Canon
Thinking, "What will become of me?"
Crying
There's never any paper
In the Men's Room holders
And he was going to need a whole Dead Tree

Chorus:
Did he ever return,
No he never returned
But his smell is still discerned
Prairie Dog coworkers
wonder who was passing
He cropdusted, and never returned.

Charlie's boss goes down
To the handicapped bathrooms
Every day at a quarter past two
And Charlie knew the danger
If he toilet bombed his bosses
When the szechuan came rumblin' through.

Chorus:
Did he ever return,
No he never returned
But his smell is still discerned
Prairie Dog coworkers
wonder who was passing
He cropdusted, and never returned.

As his lunch rolled on
underneath his spattered tieclip
Charlie looked around and then he sighed:
"Well, I'm sore and disgusted
And my bowels can't be trusted,"
And he lay down by the fax and died.

Chorus:
Did he ever return,
No he never returned
But his smell is still discerned
Prairie Dog coworkers
wonder who was passing
He cropdusted, and never returned.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Unlike George Harrison, The Spiders' Guitarist Can Actually Play A Little. Other Than That, It's A Tie For Best Performance Of Day Tripper



When I was younger and lived in LA, there were always ads in the indie papers looking for bands that would be willing to go and work in Japan. It really didn't matter if you were any good, if you were willing to go, and could play rock music, they'd take you. It was considered a last resort, and paid that way, too.

This is the legacy of sending only desperate --and desperately bad -- rock bands to Japan.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Hombre Respetable

It's oh so good, it's oh so fine. Los Hitters!



The original, obviously inferior version:

Monday, September 20, 2010

Rye Love Isn't Good Love, Boys

Punch Brothers!



That's such a mature, fully-formed sound for people so young. The bandleader's home-schooled? Ah, yes; so was Mozart. Band's named after a Twain story, too. That makes them a seven-dollar, kid-skin, hand-tooled, gilt-edged, Friendship's Offering of a band, consisting of ten parts whoop-de-doo with five morsels of remorse.

Rye whiskey makes the band sound better,
Makes your baby cuter,
Makes itself taste sweeter.
Oh, boy!

Rye whiskey makes your heart beat louder,
Makes your voice seem softer,
Makes the back room hotter, oh, but

Rye thoughts aren't good thoughts, boys,
Have I ever told you about the time I...

Rye whiskey wraps your troubles up
Into a bright blue package,
Ties a bow around it.
Oh, boy!

Just throw it on the pile in the corner, see,
You're not alone in not being alone tonight, but

Rye love isn't good love, boys,
Have I ever told you about the time I...

I used to wake up bright and early,
Got my work done quickly, held my baby tightly.
Oh, boy!
Rye whiskey makes the sun set faster,
Makes the spirit more willing
But the body weaker because

Rye sleep isn't good sleep, Boys,
Have I ever told you about the time I
Took it and took her for granted?
How I took it and took her for granted?
Well, let's take some
And take them all for granted.
Oh, boy!


I'm an older feller and wise in the ways of bills-of-fare and petticoats, and could have warned them not to chase pleasure so enthusiastically that you actually catch up to it. Oh, well; 2.3 children, a dog to kick and a cubicle makes for a dashed poor drinking song.

Punch Brothers!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Unleash The Tiger (From 2008)

If you gave the average music exec a gold brick, they'd have it bronzed and sell it with an infomercial. The music business is the ultimate manifestation of throw it at the wall and see if it sticks. In a way, there is no explaining what catches people's fancy about one song or movie or another. The greedy, grasping, grabby people that infest the business have learned how to make the wall they're throwing things at slightly more sticky by applying a thick coat of cocaine and bagman money to it before they throw things at it, but it's far from a science, even with all the experience they have now.

If it worked once, they try it again in the same way. They think it was the process that worked. I have my doubts. Here's an example. They were presented with Aretha Franklin once. They said to themselves: I know, let's make her a Shirelle -- or whatever the hell you call the sleeveless tunic dress bouffant haired gogo dancers with the black Betty Boop voices. Boop, Shoop Shoop; whatever...



Why not have her paint your house? It would make about as much use of her talent. Eventually you've got to unleash the tiger. If you're smart enough to know you have one in the first place.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

(Gagdad Bob Has Got Me Thinking Of) Bog Hockey





This picture is a lot older than I am. Probably thirty years older. But it is an exact rendering of my winter life in our little suburb -- check that-- exurb --- check that -- that word didn't exist then-- out in the sticks where we lived in the sixties.


I was born in Boston. When I was but small, we moved into the country. And my life was amazingly different from my cousins who remained in the city.

We didn't have any money, really, but not so's you'd notice. We lived in a little house on a little plot in a little neighborhood, and had little, salubrious lives. Our mother would turn us out of doors, no matter the season, and we'd take our battered belongings, pool them, and play self -organized sports. We'd sort out the teams, and the rules, and the size and shape of the playing surface, and rarely quarrelled, unless it seemed like more fun than playing any more. And we could have sorted out the Mideast thing, if they'd let us. Maybe their quarrelling is more fun than they let on.

In the summer, we'd play baseball, and have to mow the field before playing. Right field's an out! In the winter, we'd play basketball in the elementary school gym. Shirts and skins. Onlookers were no doubt sorely tempted to play xylophone on many of the skins team's ribs. Weight training was still far in the future. In the fall, we'd play tackle football in a cow pasture with no equipment. There were no hash marks or goal lines demarcated, of course, but in a field recently used by ruminant animals, those weren't the things on the ground you would have been keeping an eye out for anyway. And in the winter, we'd dress in wool, gather our rusting hand-me-down skates that lacked steel toes, grab the sticks that were generally broken and discarded and then repaired with electrical tape, and we'd shamble on down to LaFleur's Pond, and get up a game. The idea of actually owning and wearing a replica of the sweater worn by our local professional hockey team was as remote and mystical as a strawberry on the kitchen table in the winter.

We were always half frozen with the cold. We had no protective gear of any kind. Hell, at the time, there was only one professional hockey player who wore a helmet -- Terrible Teddy Green-- and he only wore it because he'd already had his head staved in from a stick fight, and needed to protect the steel plate in his head from any further persuasion. When we first started going to Boston Garden to see Bobby Orr's mighty Bruins play, some of the goalies weren't wearing masks yet.

The ice was never really frozen properly, one way or the other. If it was thick enough to be safe, it was so corrugated it would rattle your teeth out of your head. If it was fresh enough to offer a smooth surface, it was thin enough to drown you. We always skated anyway. If you got checked, you'd occasionally slide to the margins of the pond, get caught in the brambles reaching up through the ice, get tangled up, and fall in up to your waist, and you'd spend the rest of the day skating with your pants frozen to your legs. You wouldn't stop.

"NO LIFTING!" you'd shout every time the more adept stickhandlers would get the puck up off the ice and crack your shins. We'd all readily and solemnly agree that there'd be no lifting, before we began each game, of course; some of us because we knew we were incapable of lifting it, and the others because they were incapable of not lifting it, so no one was much put out by the bargain.

We'd put two sticks five feet apart on the ice to mark out the goal, and get to it. Guys who never passed at basketball never passed at hockey either, we noticed. And they'd forever be taking shots from fifty yards from the goal, missing by fifty yards, and requiring a ticklish trip to the brambles to fetch the errant puck without swimming amongst the prickers.

When we got older, we'd fashion real nets out of scavenged lumber and chicken wire, and without fail we'd forget to fetch them off the ice in time for spring thaw, and we'd see them, on the bottom like scuttled privateers, winking at us beneath the new year's ice.

I wanted to be a goalie, but had no equipment. My father drove an old Rambler Station Wagon. Underneath the carpet in the back, there was -- check that -- there originally was a layer of foam rubber.
My brother and I spent many a miserable car ride rolling around in the back of the car with only the thin carpet between us and the rivets and bolt heads because I cut the pad up into rectangles, wove olive drab straps from army surplus utility belts through slits in the foam, tied them to my legs, and played the net like that.

At the time, the Bruins had a goalie named Gerry Cheevers. He was cool. He wore a white plastic mask, and he'd draw the stitches he would have received had he not worn the mask right on it, in magic marker, adding one every time he got hit in the face. He looked fierce like that. Young boys like fierce. So I tried to fashion one for myself out of the plastic scavenged from a Clorox bottle, held on my head with an elastic band, and burned my face with the residue of the bleach. The plastic was as thin as a negligee, and wouldn't protect me in any case; I didn't care, I wore it anyway.

And some of the kids were real good. A few played college hockey. One played on the Olympic Team and the Bruins and is now an NHL coach. But by the time he had started coming around, there was a real rink next to the high school to play in. Real equipment started to show up. Right handed goalies didn't use their brother's left handed hand-me-down baseball glove and bleach bottle mask and Rambler foam as equipment. Time marched on, and the younger kid's parents started getting up at 3:00 AM to make it to the rink for their allotted ice time, supplanting the older kid's ritual: mothers sticking their heads out the back door when the light got weak and the sun skimmed the horizon, painting at the last only the very tops of the dormant oaks that ringed the pond with the winter dusk's fire, shouting your name to call you to dinner.

My son played hockey on the Playstation once. Didn't care for it.

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Gahden (A Melancholy Tale)



Pop knew everybody. Didn't have a dime and took me everywhere. We'd pull up to the Garden parking lot in our old beater. No hope. It was full when I was born, and now I'm in grammar school. I cringed until the face leans out of the booth and it's his nephew in there. Right over there, Uncle Buddy. Where the players park.

You couldn't buy a ticket with money. The Garden would thrum with excitement and no one would miss it for filthy lucre. Pop had four. Conjured them like a wizard at work because the boss was already wearing white shoes for the season and wouldn't sweat in a seat in that hellhole when he could be on the Vineyard. Pop says he'll sit behind the pole and stare at the big rusty rivets but I'd always end up there because I fit.

Uncle Smokey would come and puff his tiparillos and jape with Dad and I was in the company of men and stood in awe like at the foot of marble Lincolns.

There was weather inside there. Cumulus clouds of smoke would meet the smog from the drunken exhalations and clash with the cold front coming up from Bobby Orr's ice under the rickety parquet wood floor.

Then we'd stand and the floor was lost to me, nothing but the boles of men in an endless forest swaying in the breeze of excitement.

I'd kill ten innocent men to go back there for ten minutes.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Walk On By


What are you going to walk on by today?



There's all sorts of stuff all around you. Wonderful things. Beautiful things. Interesting things. Why don't you look at them? What are you paying attention to instead?

What candles are you hiding under your bushel? What face could you show to the world that you're hiding? Is there some better you, afraid to be thought a square, erecting a mildewed facade to please the worst of the passersby?

Walk on by. Get off my lawn! No reason to be there. Come up on my porch instead.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Unfortunate Rake

Van Morrison doesn't have much of a voice anymore. Never really did. There's a strong possibility that he's the greatest songwriter of the last fifty years. Yes, I know all about Bob Dylan and Lieber and Stoller and King and Goffin and Bacharach and David and Holland-Dozier-Holland and the Liverpool fellows. Not one of Van's songs suffered because he was singing them --just the opposite-- because he knows how to sing.

You have to be a scholar first. Then you have to set the library you've built in your head on fire. Van's poking the embers right here, doing the best version of St. James Infirmary Blues I've ever heard. And yes, I've heard of Louis Armstrong and Cab Calloway and Billie Holiday and Bobby Blue Bland, and King Oliver...

Friday, September 10, 2010

Once I Built A Tower, Up To The Sun; Brick And Rivet And Lime

Imagine Dragons - "America"




It's not often you find anything unironic in popular culture now. I can be as snarky as the next guy, but sometimes you yearn for something genuine - some sentiment that doesn't resemble Lucy holding the football. It takes a kind of courage I admire to say things that are not equivocal.

Imagine Dragons suits the day for me. Genuine, inclusive, respectful, fun. They explained themselves with the following, though I'm not sure they needed to. Like America, it's all right there lying around, if you'll just pick it up.

We wrote this song as a reflection of our love and gratitude for this great country and those who keep it free. At a time when there is fear and economic turmoil both here and abroad, we felt as though the best way to honor the fallen and injured who put their lives on the line is to create something positive and uplifting (a rarity in today's media). The song and music video "America" is dedicated particularly to the Wounded Warrior Project, which provides support for injured vets - please consider donating to this great cause at http://wwpproudsupporter.kintera.org/imaginedragonsband.

Imagine Dragons

Wounded Warrior Project

Do You Know About Roy Buchanan? 'xpect Not. 'xpect You Wish You Did

The Best Unknown Guitarist In The World

Thursday, September 09, 2010

The Government Got Big; The People Got Small (From 2007)

[Editor's Note: This one still has at least a few people reading it every day, so I'll go ahead and run it again.]
(Author's Note: Beats workin'. And there is no editor)


These are the same building. Let me explain.

The first is the old Boston City Hall. It's still standing, on School Street in Boston. It's in a pleasant little courtyard, across from the venerable Parker House Hotel. It doesn't have any civic function any more. It's filled with restaurants and offices now. It's a handsome building.

The second picture is what's called by real locals as the "New City Hall." It's almost forty years old, but Boston is a provincial place. They'll call it that forever. I'm from Boston. Let me assure you all: The New City Hall and environs is the ugliest place in our solar system. They should read Vogon poetry from a balcony there every day, all day.

I've been in the New City Hall. I've talked to lots of people that have been in it, and plenty more that have worked in it. And it's been unanimous. It's the most hateful, anti-human, drafty, cold, forbidding dungeon in the world.

They should demolish it. But that's not enough. They should exhume the corpses of the architects, and the politicians that hired them, and shoot them into the sun. If they're not dead, all the better. They constructed the worst place on earth. Expiation of that kind of guilt requires a substantial gesture. Not the sun though, now that I think of it. It's too warm there. The sun never shines in that building. Pluto.

Let's say you'd never seen that building before. The monstrosity, not the pleasant one. I could tell you it was a prison, and you'd not only believe me, you'd write your congressman to complain about how poorly treated prison inmates must be to be housed in such a place. If I told you secret police in East Germany tortured people in there, what visual clue could you glean from the photo that would give away the misattribution? No one would enter an upside-down abattoir looking place like that unless they were handcuffed and screaming, would they? If it said Arbeit Macht Frei over the door, would it surprise you?

The first one is a Second Empire dustcatcher. In America, they called Second Empire style General Grant style. It's visually very dense and interesting to look at. It's elegant inside too. And the sober, serious nature of the place still reflects a profound respect for civic government. It just doesn't visually scream: Submit or Die... and pay your Water Bill Here like the second one does.
People elsewhere call Boston Beantown. Locals never do. Some call it The Hub. But when this building was built, Boston was called "The Athens of America." Boston's rich tradition of civic virtue, education, culture made it an accurate description. But the basis of all culture and sophistication is an appreciation for mankind.

When you are designing and building a building, the human being is the template. All that stuff applied, and the forms of the spaces themselves, trace their proportions and rhythms and coloring back to the human form, and the world he inhabits. It's the reason why the Parthenon doesn't look goofy to anybody. It's based on all humanity.

What is that miserable pile of brick and brutal concrete in the second picture representing? The worst instincts of men; no less. You are made to submit your humanity at the door -- my mistake, the curb... hell two blocks away this thing sucks the life out of a passerby. At any rate, it's the perfect example of the late sixties intellectual and architectural zeitgeist, that buildings are a machine that answers only to themselves and the crabby fools that design them, and their users are just fodder to be fed into the front door- if you can find it.

The current Mayor of Boston might be the least attractive example of a public official I can imagine. If he didn't exude a sort of lumpen aura of venality and corruption, like a dim plumber who cheats on his bills, he'd have no interesting attributes at all. Even he's got enough sense to want to tear the place down and start over. But the same sort of insane fans of Brutalist anti-human architecture that built the thing are trying to declare the building a Boston Landmark, so no one will ever be able to touch it. They understand that it would be a repudiation of their worldview, not just the building itself, and they're going to be wrong, wrong, wrong right to the grave. They'll fight tooth and nail for the Brezhnevian thing to the bitter end.

They built the new city hall because the old one was too small. The population of Boston is about 600,000 now. When they built the new one, it was about 600,000. When they built the old one, it was about 500,000. The government got big. It was the people that got small.

Monday, September 06, 2010

(How I Came To) Disregard The Man Behind The Curtain

First, my bona fides:

Unions are not an abstraction to me. I was a member of the second largest union in the United States. My brother is a Teamster. My next door neighbor, who is not a bad sort of guy, is a retired union delegate for the Teamsters. I guess I should mention my brother is not a bad sort of guy, too.

When I was a manager, part of the company I worked for was unionized. Part was not. I hired many companies as construction subcontractors over a large part of the United States that were unionized. I hired many more that were not.

I am not wealthy. I was not born wealthy, and will likely not die wealthy. I have worked at hard, physical labor for a great portion of my life. My parents and grandparents almost all worked at least for a portion of their lives in those mills you see in grainy photos, where an untimely lapse in concentration could cost you a finger, or worse. Before them, it was all Europe and lord only knows how bad it was to send us all here.

While it's true that I've been treated pretty badly by many employers -- and imagined I was being treated badly by some employers who weren't treating me very badly at all -- I have also been threatened with the destruction of the only valuable thing I owned at the time -- my car--and serious bodily harm if that didn't convince me never again to exceed the quota of work deemed appropriate by my "brothers" in the union. In a parking lot at midnight. I know what I did, but I'm not sayin'. Tell me; what would you do?

When I worked for others, I've negotiated such things as trash hauling contracts in New York supplied by perfect gentlemen who are very much in a union. Conversely, I've been shown a chrome plated .45 as a means of collecting Accounts Payable by a decidedly non-union fellow. Life is not as simple as they portray it in the movies. In the movies, any evil fellow in a suit always has a picture of a Republican president prominently displayed in their office, usually where any normal person has a picture of their family. In my life, the only really crooked executives I ever met all had pictures of JFK in their offices. I don't know what any of that represents, really.

I have always had a predilection for reading, especially history, so I know all about the Ludlow Massacre and I know what a Wobbly is. I've read Ida Tarbell articles from McClure's. I've got a picture of Mother Jones with Calvin Coolidge around here somewhere. I know what a Pinkerton man was for. I've read Howard Zinn's People's History of the United States and John D. Rockefeller's biography alike. When I read Studs Terkel's Working, I didn't run around yelling "Something must be done!" ; I played a sort of game to compare how many of my own jobs had been worse. I'm old enough to recall a rather thrilling union tableau in a shipyard in Gdansk. And I know all about Sacco and Vanzetti.

That's a long list of things to explain one thing: People enter into all sorts of organized things-- corporations and unions; rock bands and time-share condo deals; bowling leagues and the Cosa Nostra. I wish you all well. But me? I never wanted to be equivalent of the child in that picture, who doesn't even know what the sign says; and as long as there's breath in my body I'll never again put myself in the thrall of that hand you see, if you look closely, reaching in from the top right corner of the picture.

Happy Labor Day everybody.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Ah! Los Angeles In The Eighties

I moved to Los Angeles from Massachusetts in the early eighties. My brother and I drove there with everything we owned -- which wasn't much -- in a Toyota Tercel. We convinced ourselves, for all sorts of reasons, that we'd like California; but truth be told, we were just poor and cold all the time. My brother stuck, and sticks there still. I got a job as a welder in the desert and commuted, 60 miles one way, in a car with no air conditioning from an apartment in Culver City --also with no air conditioning -- and I thought I'd never be cool again, and I left after a little while.

We both played music. My brother was, and is, really good, and I did, and do, suck at it. My brother would play with really good musicians for no money and I'd play with amusing fellows that weren't very good for no money.

No harm. Los Angeles was a very fertile music scene just then, even though I couldn't find a way to be fertilizer. I met lots of people and saw lots of them around town, and a lot of it still gives me a grin to think about. It really was like a small town then, compared to now, and I still have a certain affection for the memory of the place.

There was this guy kicking around named John Trubee. He had a loose organization of people he "performed" with that he deemed John Trubee and the Geeks; or maybe it was the Ugly Janitors of America, I can't remember, and I wonder if he could. Anyway, I have a single by Trubee kicking around my house somewhere; but I can't find important things right now, so I'm not looking for it. It has always been the perfect encapsulation of my memories of Los Angeles.

Back before you could get your own four-track recorder at the music store for the price of a long lunch, getting to record stuff in a music studio was a big, expensive undertaking. There were all these scam artists that would put ads in the indy papers, promising to record your song professionally if you sent them the lyrics. They'd get you coming and going, usually; charging you quite a bit to record it in a desultory fashion, a small fortune to press a few into 45s, and in a bunch of cases took part or all of the copyright on the thing you sent them in the small print, on the very off, off chance someone sent them something good that eventually got picked up by a real label.

Trubee wrote the weirdest shite he could think of, got a few bucks together, and sent it in, figuring they'd reject it. That was the zeitgeist just then, that the Intertunnel now takes care of: So bad it's fantastic. They changed the title, which originally incorporated "Stevie Wonder," not "A Blind Man," but other than that, they gave it a go. The result is, without question, the funniest thing I ever heard.

Some day, I'll write a book loosely based on my time in LA, but in the meantime, we're all going to have to settle for A Blind Man's Penis.

I suppose I'm obligated to point out that a song entitled "A Blind Man's Penis" is not safe for work, unless you work in the pornography department of a satanic cult's rendering plant. Maybe it's like the sign in English telling illegal immigrant busboys that don't speak English to wash their hands after crapping, but sometimes you gotta go through the motions.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Cave Paintings



Every bolt is rusty. The lead flakes from every span. The drifts of grit idle along the curb. Newspaper jellyfish float on the exhaust breeze. A block of ice is Seven Cities of Cibola. Ninety-nine people close the window. But one raises it and sits on the sill. It's enough.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Hey, It's Time For Pointless Lists Of Tools Compiled By People That Think Defragging Hard Drives Is Heavy Construction


It's a shameful pleasure of mine, I admit it. I love to read lists of tools randomly drawn from a Home Depot flyer, written by people that can't write, aimed at people that don't make anything but reservations. Popular Mechanics doesn't disappoint with their: Tools Everyone Should Own. It's a terrific, haphazard mess of twenty arbitrary thingamabobs, written in the breathless prose usually reserved for paperbacks with pictures of Fabio on their cover and the tears of countless overweight data entry clerks dappling the pages.

OK, first, let's take care of the easy stuff:
  • Sledgehammer - You don't need that
  • Center Punch - You don't need that
  • Combination wrench - Singular? Never mind. The item just before it is a socket wrench set. You don't need both. And they put an adjustable wrench on the list, too. How many nuts you got, Willis? Are they all loose?
  • Jigsaw - You don't need that. And Jig Saw is two words. 
  • Tin Snips -You don't need those
  • Machinist Vise - You don't need one of those
Down to fourteen.
  • Safety Glasses - Not a tool. And if we're talking safety, long pants and enclosed shoes are nearly as important and more likely to be missing on the job. BTW, endlessly channeling Ralphie's mom in A Christmas Story is no way for a person with gentlemen vegetables in his pants to go through life, son.
  • Extension Cord - Not a tool. 
Only twelve to chortle over now.
  • Putty Knife- "The putty knife is more than a single implement. Rather, it's a group of tools.." Make up your mind. "... disposable ones are perfect for the no-scuff application of putty on painted surfaces." No they aren't. And you fill the nail holes before you paint.
  • Crosscut saw - Finally, something good. My favorite Albert King song. Oh? For a toolbox? "...It may not make the finest cut, but it's the perfect jack-of-all-trades saw for small jobs..." Wrong. It sucks at ripping, but the author has never used a handsaw and doesn't know this. He just wants to use the term "jack-of-all-trades" come hell or high water. Buy a combination saw, which will rip as well as crosscut, and do a credible job on plastic pipe, too.
  • Circular Saw - "Nothing beats a circular saw for speed and convenience when it comes to making straight cuts on a variety of materials." Well, a table saw does. By a large margin, actually. And if you have a circular saw, that crosscut saw you told everyone to buy is going to end up on eBay some day, covered with rust but with the teeth still razor sharp. But soldier on, skinny glasses dude, I'm warming to your delirium tremens approach to prose and pounding on things. "But with a nail-cutting blade, a circular saw can also do demolition work; with an abrasive blade, it can saw through masonry and metal." Why is there a "but" in that sentence? Beats me. Everything about this beats me, now that you mention it. You need a reciprocating saw (a "Sawzall" to most people) for demo, and if you cut masonry with your circular saw, you're going to need a new one every two weeks, so buy them three at a time.
  • Hammer - "After all these millennia, the hammer's wood handle remains, ..." he writes next to a picture of a framing hammer with a fiberglass shaft. BTW, "millenniums" is the preferred word if you ask me. I bet the author thinks virii is a word. But I carp about details, when the gist is so filled with weirdness: "...preferred by craftsmen for its light weight, shock absorbency and balance...". Framers aren't craftsmen. It's called "rough carpentry" for a reason. And framing hammers are heavy. That's the point of them.  "It was the post-World War II housing boom that finally transformed the profile of the modern hammer." Well, that's sorta true. Kinda. Unless you write this next: "Can't-frame-'em-fast-enough carpenters on the West Coast needed still more speed, so they grafted elements of heavy-rigging hatchets onto claw hammers. The result is the beefy, all-business, California-style framer, a swift, long-handled striking tool with a vicious claw." Hilarious. All the framers I know (I know  many, many framers) just use a waffle-faced Estwing, which is just one big piece of steel with a rubbery handle. It's an entirely useless tool for 99% of chores that require a hammer, and the  ***snicker*** "vicious" claw on a framing hammer doesn't pull nails very well. Smaller hammers have a more pronounced curve to the claw, so you can rock the tool in an arc and lever out the nail. "A nail gun might be fast, but nothing beats the feeling of sinking a nail in two or three clean hits." How very zen that sounds, I guess, to someone that goes to Pilates and has never lifted a framing hammer. No one bangs framing nails by hand anymore, except maybe Jimmy Carter if there's a camera pointed at him. Get a nail gun and a Strunk and White. And get a small carpenter's hammer and hang your pictures with it. 
Oh, never mind. The list is by and for people for whom it won't do any harm. Buy two of everything, including  an issue of Popular Mechanics. Think of all the fun you'll have arranging all this stuff on your pegboard. It's like Playboy; you buy it and look at it without any hope of banging on anything in there, too.



You might also be interested in: Ten Of The Eleven Of My Top Ten Tools

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

The Tell-Tale Lie (From 2008)

I need to be a little bit tedious here for a moment.

No, really; more than usual. It's because you have to grasp the enormity of this foolishness first. So here goes:

I've worked every kind of construction there is. Commercial construction, residential construction. I've painted the inside of a doghouse, and I've built football stadiums. Rough arts? Check. I've painted murals and wallpapered, too, so it's not just the barbarian arts I'm talking about. I've worked alongside many a homeowner, and at their direction in their occupied homes, as well as out in the field where no end user comes.

I've worked on single family homes a lot. Duplexes? Sure. Multi-family? Check. Condos? Absolutely. Big ol' apartment buildings? Of course. Call them what you like --whip out your PUD. I've already seen it.

I've cleared the land. Dug the hole. Stacked the blocks. Poured the chowder. I've stuck a spud into the steel. Welded? Name your metal. Hell, I've paved the street. Put in the sewer and the drainage.

Office buildings? Yeah. Hotels? Yeah. Getaway cabins? Sure. Mansions? Absolutely. McMansions? I guess.

Exurb, suburb, city, village, town, township, outpost. Atlantic? Pacific? Great Lakes? Pah. Done.

I've screamed into the phone and the ear and the air alike. Worked alone. Directed hundreds.

I've drawn the plans. Applied for the permits. Put in Environmental Remediation. Sat in interminable meeting for the privilege of being yelled at before being denied and approved alike.

I've worked on houses where the owners showed me where their ancestors hid during King Phillip's War. I've worked on houses that had graywater recovery and passive solar.

Railroad, Colonial, Adam, Georgian, Second Empire, Stick, Eastlake, Colonial Revival, Tudor, Queen Anne, Ranch, Prairie... this is getting tedious. If I can think of a kind of house I've had nothing to do with I'll mention it. Ummm......

People? Black, white, brown -- all the hues of the rainbow and the UN combined. Disfigured or whole, ancient or young, from every continent. Well, maybe not Antarctica. I've worked with every race, color, and creed. Gay, straight, and just plain strange. Men, women, boys, girls. Disabled people I couldn't keep up with, and able-bodied lazy people. Everybody.

I've worked for customers so imperious that they wouldn't allow us to drink from their garden hose while we were working. Outside. In August. In Massachusetts. Some people, conversely, would set a place for us at their table if we were in their house at dinnertime.

In short, I've done every single thing I can think of in construction at one time or another, by and for every sort of person-- short of scouring other galaxies for odditities -- in every sort of setting you could conjure up, and for every sort of customer you can imagine.

I've seen most all the Do It Yourself/Construction/Remodeling/Shelter kinds of shows now. I've noticed something about them. A clue. And I can tell you, without fear of contradiction, that in the hundreds of thousands of hours I've worked, and during the gazillion man-hours of other people's work I have observed, not one, single, solitary human being in the real construction world has every given any other person a "high-five" before, during, or after the job. It has literally never happened in my presence.

I don't know what you people are watching, but it ain't work.