Sunday, March 31, 2013

You Pray In Your Church, I'll Pray In Mine

Do you have any deformities, infirmities, calamities, contagions or afflictions?
Do you suffer from any shortcomings or long goings? 
Place your hand on the Intertunnel and be saved. Save! Ed!

The man on the throne will put a thrill in your bones
He'll cure your ills and give you chills
Don't sit home alone with cold stacks of wax
Come down to the show if your warden gets lax
His dancing girls will wriggle and sway
Like politicians on judgment day

Don't you feel like cryin?


Saturday, March 30, 2013

If You Make Things, You Are My Brother; Chapter 11: Turning And Carving A Duncan Phyfe Bedpost

It's easy to be impressed with manual dexterity. Play a piano. Hit a curveball. Pick up dumplings with chopsticks. Whatever. When you see a practiced hand do what it's practiced a million times, fascination enters into it.

But there's more. The fellow in the video is a scholar. What you're doing is as important as how you do it. He's copying another's design -- Duncan Phyfe was scads more scholarly than someone that can reproduce his designs, of course, but it may very well be that old Duncan couldn't make the things he designed as well as the guy in this video can. Most all the big furniture design names people might recognize -- Hepplewhite,  Chippendale, Sheraton, Phyfe, Belter, Stickley -- they were designers and directors and businessmen. They decided. Approved or rejected. They would seek out helpers whose skill exceeded their own to produce objects whose design was beyond the hands-on people's ability to conjure.

Our hero in the video isn't designing anything. But I imagine he could shake his sleeve and out would pop a ball-and-claw Chippendale leg, or a fumed quartersawn white oak mission table, or maybe a veneered Sheraton card table. He is a juke box, not an orchestra. It's a different sort of skill, and a very important one. It's not design.

Everyone thinks they're qualified to design things. I hardly ever met an owner of a home that didn't think they were qualified by their pulse to design a home. They'd ask you to produce bizarre and unlivable surroundings, and then excoriate you for listening to them. "That's not what I wanted." No, but it's what your ordered. You went to McDonald's but sent your meal back because you wanted Chinese food.

But the average person is capable of understanding good design in homes and furniture and soft goods and clothes and so forth. The problem is there are rules. You need to understand the rules before you can produce variations on them. The approach of understanding the rules first, and then using your understanding to work within the framework they produce is an alien concept, mostly because of the public school systems' approach to learning. Drill in fundamentals followed by more sophisticated use of what you learned is verboten. You're just supposed to morph over time into a good speller dropping subjunctives subordinate clauses here and there like a Rockefeller handing out dimes. They treat you like you're a single-celled learning animal when you start, and the same when you end -- you're just bigger.

The idea that if they don't treat you like you're Shakespeare when you're in Pre-K, you'll never be able to become Shakespeare, is nonsensical to me. You need to learn to write properly first if you're ever going to be able to write at all, never mind transcendently. (It's useful to note here that the spell-checker for the utility I'm writing on doesn't recognize the word transcendently I just used, and importunes me to spell it some other way)

Duncan Phyfe was an extraordinary person. Furniture makers whose style is definable enough to carry their name long after their death are very rare. And Duncan didn't really invent anything. He was simply a very highly skilled syncretist (oops, confused the spellchecker again) of neoclassical forms. But there is no really new way to make furniture after a short while. If you're making entirely new designs, they're bad designs, because human beings have certain physical needs that vary very little. A square wheel is original, for instance; but it achieves its originality by being a bad wheel.

The turner and carver in the video isn't making any square wheels. Good for him. The world's chock full of square wheels just now. And they vote.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

If We Are Mark’d To Die, We Are Enow To Do Our Country Loss; And If To Live, The Fewer Men, The Greater Share Of Honour

(Thanks to reader and commenter BJM for slipping the video into my comments the other day)

Way to go, kid.

And mom and dad, too. There's the rub.  I see the hand of mom and dad in that video, and the cold, dead hands of legions of moms and dads that came before them. Teachers, too; although sometimes they're the same people. Some teachers still try under trying circumstances.

I was sick until this morning, and abed. That's rare. We do not send our children to the petri dish they call a school here in town, and are spared a lot of such things. But I laid there like a casualty and got my information about things in the house second-hand. I heard all sorts of things.

I was unable to make a fire, but they got made all the same, as I have a family and we do things together all the time. I could do what my wife does, and she managed to tend the furnace. The kids help out.

I got all my information like a submariner would. Shut up, away from everyone, but still hearing the sounds of familiar things. My wife would bring me ginger ale and crackers and updates. Life, boiled down to short messages, can be wonderful.

The kids were on tenterhooks because their mom told them I was ill. Kids raised properly are attuned to disruptions in routines. Kids raised in unsalubrious surroundings are inured to most everything. Everything's in an uproar all the time so they don't notice, or care.

My wife was teaching the little feller. There was some discussion about his older brother, who will finish high-school level homeschooling this year. He had questions about what that meant. "Your brother wants to be a musician when he is a man," my wife said to him; "What do you want to be when you grow up?"

"I want to be a musician, too," he said, though I wonder about that. He's sort of a wunderkind in a small area of musicianship -- he can do simple things almost effortlessly. But he has not shown the dogged determination that his older brother has shown at learning music. He is very young and might change his mind, and be one of those people I used to hate: people that could play music better than you could, but never had to try at it.

He wasn't done. "I want to be a husband. I want to be a father."

That is an astonishing thing to hear. Why should it be astonishing to hear a nine-year-old wants to grow up and be a husband and father? It shouldn't be, but it is. If he'd uttered that in a public school, I imagine he'd be in a re-education camp by nightfall. And on the flip side, I don't think the term "wife and mother" can be uttered in public school without a SWAT team of egalitarians being called.

My children don't want to be musicians because they dream of drug abuse and licentiousness and a vision of being carried around on a litter chair by flunkeys. My older son was old enough to have come to my music shows and seen the real work it was. He still wanted to do it, because work doesn't scare him. They both want to be productive citizens, useful to other productive citizens. They want to be husbands and fathers, with everything that means.

It is everything  we've wanted for them. When the little one shows flashes of genius, I dread it. You do not want to be wonderful in this world, son. Wonderful is a big millstone in the swimming pool of life. I wanted to be normal my whole life, and during my lifetime on earth, being "normal" has gotten so strange that your mother and I are living on the edge of civilization hanging on by our fingernails.
Obscurity and a competence—that is the life that is best worth living. -- Mark Twain
I want you to at least have a chance at being normal, if you want it. There are so few people committed to being useful, salubrious, and carrying on their traditions, and then having or supporting families that will rhyme down the centuries, that you'll be wonderful enough if you manage it.

The Intertunnel is like my submarine, too. I get pinged, literally and figuratively, all the time. I feel the water temperature by putting my hand on the hull. Leslie from out west is kind enough to read, and comment, and buy furniture, and send the boys some shekels for their music videos. She is one of the many people I call my Interfriends: People I don't know, and most likely will never meet, but they're my friends. They know about me and mine, and I know something about them and theirs. If everyone that corresponds with me here were my actual instead of virtual neighbors, I'd live in the most interesting and pleasant town on earth. Leslie sent me a picture of her now grown, formerly homeschooled daughter's work. She makes cakes. But saying she makes cakes is like saying Da Vinci was a housepainter. So I get to say something I've been dying to say since I was a little kid watching TV in the sixties: Ladies and gentlemen, tonight we have a really big shoe.

My little son especially thought this was the bee's knees. "It's a shoe with a big upheel!" He makes up more, and better words than Chaucer.

Leslie's daughter is grown up, and I'd tell you she's beautiful but I'm an old man and not supposed to notice such things, so I won't mention it; and her parents tried, and obviously succeeded in producing a fully actualized person, ready and willing to be a good and productive (and inventive) citizen, and maybe someday produce her version of the same thing all over again.

We are a merry band here at the Cottage, busy being normal. We know we're not alone, because we hear the thrumming on our bulkheads. We know you're out there. There are plenty of people still trying to be decent citizens, and produce some more, by hook or by crook. We need a secret handshake or something.

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers --and sisters.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

If You Make Things, I Am Your Brother, Chapter 103: Pitcha Frames

These people don't remind me of the stall in the mall with anodized aluminum frames surrounding all the prints of women dancing barefoot on the beach in an evening dress while a butler holds a brolly over her head and a violin and rose petals and ballet slippers slop around in the foam at the edge of the surf. Our trusty frame makers in the video are competing with the painters for attention.

The shape of the main part of the frame is, I'm not joking, a Lesbian cyma profile. That's usually called a bolection where I'm from. It has a back band along the outside edge, and the carving along the inside edge is sort of gadrooned water leaf design, which is gilded. I noticed they distressed the frame to make it fit in with the painting it adorns, like I do with furniture sometimes. Neato.

I'm fairly certain I'm going to go on some sort of law enforcement watch list for simply typing the words "gilded and distressed gadrooned water leaf Lesbian cyma with a backband" into the Intertunnel.  I'm not sure what sort of trouble you might get in for just reading it. 

Monday, March 25, 2013

The Chiri Chiri Sisters. Indeed

The Chiri Chiri sisters are my new second-favorite band.

Chie and Risa are from Yokohama, and the planet Gene Vincent, by the sound of it. Of course I have no idea what the hell's going on. That's a feature, not a bug these days. I don't want a peek behind the curtain. I want you to smile and sing and play your song like you're enjoying yourself, or at least reserve a serious mien for serious music. Their giapponese webpages are Greek to me, but their smiles and Country Gentleman twang are not.

Have a Chiri day. I know I will.

The Chiri Chiri sisters on Facebook.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Ancient Posts Currently Under Assault By Skeevy Spammers For Some Reason: This Old Cave

[Editor's Note: From 2009. Alice doesn't live there any more]

Back porch on cave broke. Again. Caveman broke again, too. But must fix. Cavewoman tired of ants massaging bottom of feets. Caveman fix once and for all.

Caveman fixed porch two years ago. Not caveman's fault porch not last. Porch made from leftover framing lumber scraps from house because caveman never have budget. Caveman not know what budget is. Some kind of bird, I think. Lasted fifteen years anyway.

Must make mark in life. My mark is upside down, like everything else in Caveman's life. Caveman is mystified by runes on unholy measuring tape. Only use if necessary.

Caveman have cave tan. Caveman asks reader to note that leg is moving too fast to be seen clearly. Caveman only has two afternoons and a few hundred bucks to finish. Make holes! Caveman qualified for that.

Caveman digs hole 30" deep, where frost not go. Caveman tamps. Caveman either bending down or lost lower right leg in horrible tamping accident. (Caveman checks) Leg OK. No worry.

Gravel, precast concrete mushroom footing, 4 x 4 Pressure treated post. No one tell friend Gerard 4 x 4 is only 3-1/2 by 3-1/2. Upsets him.

No measure if caveman can help it! Use stick for straightedge and plumb with level. When level is plumb, post is plumb level. Caveman know what desk jockey thinking. What with Caveman wearing gloves? Caveman is caveman, not barbarian.

Make mark, use lumber for straightedge now. Like Caveking coronation, make sure crown of lumber faces up. Caveman is swaybacked, caveporch is not. Caveporch will be two times bigger now. Cavelady will forgive everything now. Cavecubs will have place to expose themselves to sun god now, but not in the mud for a change.

Caveman use something called newmatic or some other sorcery to pound nails. Must hurry. Have tables to make after dark.

Caveman has all the barbarian tools. Sawzall great for de-boning large prey and tax assessors. Caveman just kidding. Tool is too dirty to use on large prey.

Pressure treated wood used to scare non-cavemoms with scary arsenate word. Laws passed. Lumber now treated with other harmless stuff. Of course new stuff rots nails. Caveman shrug and back up everything with galvanized plates and hangers and double hot-dipped galvy nails. Big Cavecub bang many nails in hangers. Little Cavecub only one who understands runes on tape, so he measure:

Only measure first and last decking board! Waste of time to measure and cut all one by one. Install all crooked anyway. I show you what to do. You think caveman smart, but caveman just lazy and in a hurry.

Cut first and last with circular saw older than caveman. I changed the blade when Reagan was President, so saw is ready for additional decades. Use Speedsquare as fence for straight cuts.

Caveman told you: do not measure with runetape. Use prop and line things up. No understand measure twice cut once. No measure at all, be drinking mead and eating roasted grill flesh while Norm is still trying to finish in dark while mosquitoes feast on his flesh.

I tell you one last time: No measure. Nail first board, last board. Flop other 2 x 6 PT boards down. Shove 3-1/2 inch dipped galvy ring-shank nails between boards for spacers. Pound rest of nasty nails into boards at joists. Use big nasty framing hammer or you have no shot, because wood is like wet iron. Caveman not use newmatic gun because nails would rot, and newmatic would set nail in, making many thousands of little holes filled with water. Pressure treat cheap and no rot, but water in holes freezes and pulls boards to pieces.

Caveman turning into harpy: Do not measure. First and last board right length. Stretch chalkline string between them, snap it and cut on the line. Caveman use hot pink chalk because caveman is in touch with his feminine side.

Caveman lay bricks left over from demolition of gas station ten years ago in running bond pattern in sand from little cavecub's old sandbox. Even caveman knows step should be very deep and wide outside, and land on transition to grass, not grass. Rake out soil, throw down seed and go make a table.

Caveman will paint entire thing when it dries out. Cavelady likes bigger porch. Maybe show Caveman her feminine side too.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

I Don’t Think Anyone Really Thought I Was Serious Because I Was Eleven Years Old At The Time

As is occasionally the case, I don't know whether to write about Ben's Tiny House here, or on The Borderline Sociopathic Blog For Boys. Ben belongs both places, I imagine.

Ben Norton was an ambitious eleven-year-old when he became captivated with the idea of building his own tiny house.

Now, adults have lost their minds, and have started talking about how they're going to live in a shed, or a phone booth, or an apartment it would be illegal to keep a death-row inmate in, because they're going to save the environment -- whatever that is -- but Ben is talking sense. He's got the urge. He wants to build shelter. That's what a normal boy does. He makes things, and maybe dreams about making bigger things.

Take a big bite, and keep chewing, as the old saying goes. Building shelter is interesting, and important, but at its most basic level, it's not rocket surgery. It's amenable to plain effort coupled to curiosity. Ben obviously had help, but the Leaning Tower of Footings he's got going on underneath his mahal hints that he really did do the work by himself, along with his mates, and wasn't just posing for the pictures.

iPhone people constantly blog about their desire to mechanize the construction of home building. They figure everything they care about is made in a factory, preferably overseas where people they don't care about as much as they protest they do risk getting Bhopaled instead of them. Why not houses? What they are really daydreaming about is not having anything to do with other people, especially people whose fingernails have something besides Cheeto dust under them . They'd prefer to order an Ikea house and have it dropped off by FedEx, like everything else in their life. That's fine, I guess, but there's an enormous flaw in their thinking: Building housing for humans is already one of the most efficient, mechanized, and orderly processes there is in the American landscape. It takes so long, costs so much, and seems so mysterious and infuriating to people with skinny glasses because the process is filled with people like them -- clerks, nabobs, government officials, endless ranks of rulemakers telling the people that build shelter, and the people that occupy said shelter, exactly what they're allowed to build and live in. All that foolishness, and more, will still happen when housing becomes all pre-fab; it will just be hidden from sight at a factory instead of on display where the house goes. Then a truck will come with your Ikea double-wide and plop it down and you can live in the shabby thing without talking to anyone with muscles on their bodies that aren't the residue of mouse clicks.

That's why Ben's barn, or shed, or whatever you want to call it, is so wonderful. It is the essence of a house. It is shelter, in its simplest form -- stripped-down, straightforward, homemade. It is not trying to do much besides keep the rain off your head, and the bears out of your food. It is as iconic as a crayon drawing of a house by a child. It's an example of why the tiny house people are right, for the wrong reasons. Shelter for humans should be straightforward.

Ben has shown you something, if you'll just see it. You've forgotten what you're trying to do. Ben wasn't old enough to forget anything, so he got it right the first time.


Ben's Tiny House on The Tiny House Blog

[Thanks to the lovely and talented Joan of Arrggh for sending that one along]

Friday, March 22, 2013

We Are Not All Howard Beale Now

You must understand I am capable of galvanic rage.

That is probably news to most, if not all of my readers and friends. I'm not talking about cutting remarks on message boards after midnight, either. I mean real, bad, spittle-flecked rage. There are very few things that truly matter to me, but they matter to me a great deal. And I am very slow to anger, but there is no end to it when it's unleashed.

I don't act like that on the Intertunnel, and I try not to act like that off it, either, but I fail often enough. Many people are very blase on the Intertunnel, although they have very strong opinions. Often it is because they are shielded from real privation. They won't miss any meals if X passes the Y law. Many bloggers have sinecures, and while it doesn't always make them mellow, it does make them sort of ambivalent about the things that they rail about. I've observed outrage as a kind of hobby for decades now. It's tiresome to me. The professional doesn't listen to amateurs. Robespierre wouldn't read Andrew Sullivan.

I live at the edge of the economic map, and several other maps, including the actual map. We're cutting edge cave people here. People tell me that my life seems odd and occasionally wonderful to them. It seems that way to me, too, although it is too demanding on my wife and children to suit me. But I would not trade our life for cable TV. But if the DJIA or Congress sneezes, we get pneumonia.

I'd make an excellent Savonarola. I could build a pulpit and rail from it with the best of them. I'd give you the finger while you burned me in the Piazza della Signoria, too, because I'm an Irishman as well as an Italian. But I can't bring myself to do it. I must not rage. I'm tired of manifestos everywhere.

My god, everything is a manifesto. You can read any innocuous news story on Yahoo and there are 3000 comments after it and 2500 of them are manifestos and the other 500 are plain screeds. Every gathering, real or virtual, is a pretext to launch into a description of the New World Order everyone's going to install right after they're made God-Emperor by acclamation, by virtue of the excellent manifesto they left in the comments after a story on The Frisky about this year's bikini styles. Everyone so desperately wants to be Howard Beale. I really sort of am Howard Beale. I don't want to be Howard Beale. I certainly don't want to watch amateurs try their hand at it. I'm a pro. Born to the purple -- prose.

I put my children on the Intertunnel. A thing fraught with peril. But they are the product of the best of my self, and my wife's best efforts. They are a very long prayer released into the ether. One does not pray as if God is a vending machine; put a wish in the slot, and out comes the candy. You offer it up for its own sake.

My sons' video showed up in so many places I'm afraid to start naming them because I'll forget some and offer an unstudied insult to those omitted. I swear I saw them everywhere these last few days -- almost.

Nowhere where bad people are. Nowhere where Howard Beale reigns. I saw them in places where decent, hard-working, put-upon people congregate. I saw them where  people recognize something of the potential in persons not given over to the depravity of the general culture. People who know the difference between civilization and barbarism. People that value effort. Like progress. Think about the future.

I saw all the supportive and pleasant things that were said. The encouragement offered. The attention paid to two little boys who doggedly try despite obscurity and hardship. People reached in their pockets to help them, to support them, to let them know that there is more than a world of Howard Beales outside their practice room. I'm immensely grateful for it, but so much more than that. You've restored my faith in my fellow man, which I must admit was running on fumes. Thank you all, from the bottom of my heart.

There are nice people everywhere, if you will but look. I'm glad we did.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013


My son emailed me this.

In other news, I now receive email from one of my children. I imagine this means some sort of age Rubicon has been crossed. 

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

If You Make Things, You Are My Brother, Archive C, Shelf 7-B: Making A Jarvi Bench

Reader and commenter and all-around swell guy Leon suggested we might like this video. We do, don't we? It's one of the better looks into real work in a real shop I've seen. There's lots in it a civilian might not get to see much: steam bending, portable sawmill, and various other barbarous arts and crafts.

I love Mike Jarvi's energy. That shop has elbow room I could use, too. And three-phase power, I think. He puts it all to use. There's mad scientist/insane bartender finish mixing at the end too, which I like.

It's funny that the bench is called "Contemporary" style. It's like the appellation "Modern." To me, it suggests a style about eighty years old. To everybody else, they just see the words contemporary and modern and think it's contemporary and modern, not Contemporary and Modern. It's just a few years removed from Victorian, really.

So let's salute Mike Jarvi's bench making.

But I must warn Mike, I'm sort of a jerk, and I have an impenetrably high opinion of my own work, which boils down to this dare: I can make a bench faster than anyone that can make one better, and I can make one better than anyone that can make one faster.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Double-Take Five

Hmmm. What's a father to say about this one?

I'm not exactly sure where it came from. My children have heard Take Five a million times in our house, of course. We're catholic in our tastes, and Brubeck is a staple in the audio stable of anyone that's not a barbarian. But this is not our --my wife and I, I mean --idea.

It's the kids' idea to play it. We homeschool the kids. Well, my wife homeschools the kids, and I try not to mess it up too badly. Take a big bite, and keep chewing, we counsel them. This seems more than a big bite to me. I've watched it dozens of times already. I find it kind of astonishing. But better than that --I find it entertaining. I'll put this version of Take Five on my mp3 player and erase the original, and never look back.

The Heir is doing all the heavy lifting. He is playing three parts on the recording. He has learned to play the bass fairly well, even though he only recently started messing around with it. He tried to cajole a handful of his friends to play along with him, but they all fall out almost immediately. He decided to do it himself. With the help of my readers, he's able to record multiple tracks now, and makes the most of it. It's a tiny little thing, his multitrack. But it works. He recorded the rhythm guitar part along with his brother, in one take, and then added the bass, and then the melody and the solo. His little brother never misses, so he gets to go back to playing Minecraft right away.

I know him, the Spare Heir. He's thinking of playing Minecraft the whole time he's playing Take Five. I'm certain of that, because I remarked to him, after the last cymbal strike decayed into hiss and the recorder was turned off, that I thought he played really well, and he looked at me funny and immediately started in with: My Minecraft mod has such-and-such and so-and-so in it and blah, blah, blah...

Honestly, I don't know how he does it. He's still only nine. I can't play Take Five properly on the drums. There is no one in Oxford County, Maine, that can, probably. It's in odd meter: 5/4. If you're unfamiliar with that term, watch it again and count the beats as the measures go by. You're probably used to doing that. 1 2 3 4, you go. Count 1 2 3 4 5 for this song. It's how the song got its name, of course. The saxophone player in Brubeck's band, Paul Desmond wrote the song, which was mightily overlooked when Brubeck passed away a short time ago. Everyone assumed Brubeck had written it.

At any rate, the big one learned to play the saxophone part on the guitar, and they tried it out. The little feller played what was essentially the correct drumbeat by ear. Sat down and did it. I sat down after him, a little curious, and tried it myself. I sounded like I had some sort of affliction, and was falling down the stairs while playing the drums. I jerked around like a fish on a line for a while, then gave up. I mentioned to the boy that what he was playing would be more effective if he opened his hi-hat on the second beat and closed it crisply on the third, to make it sizzle. He immediately added that to what he was playing, further confounding me. It's very prominent on their recording if you look for it. That's the limit of my input into the playing.

Yesterday was special. I promised my wife, and the kids, that for the first time in three years, I'd take a day off. A real day off. No furniture. No writing. I've promised that in the past, many times, and always failed. I wrote everything the day before, and didn't bang my thumb or anything in the woodshop. I volunteered to be their key grip.

We took the furniture out of the dining room, and lugged their stuff in there, and we set up two ladders. Between the ladders, we laid two, eight-foot two-by-fours. We got the two-by-fours from the dump. We took a skateboard, and clamped a video camera to it with two spring clamps from the woodshop. Then I rolled the skateboard back and forth while the kids played. We moved the ladders this way and that for the different shots. We didn't bother filming the bass playing. My wife was out all day on a mission of mercy, and we boys re-enacted The Cat In The Hat, tearing the house asunder while Mom's away, and putting it all back, and doing all the dishes before she got home.

It was, in every way but one, the best day of my life.

(There's a Paypal button in the right column if you want to help us buy the kids a better skateboard for the dolly shots)

[Update: Holy cow, many thanks to Stephen L. for his generous bang on the tipjar!]

[Up-Update: Many thanks to (Sloop) Jon B. in Cholerahdi for helping the kids out!]

[More Up To Date: Many thanks to Philip B. from Yucca Val-E!]

[The continuing saga of Updates: Thanks a ton to Nathan A. with an M.O. from MO.]

[In this episode of As The 45 Turns, we send a metric carload of thanks to Bruce W. from CO for his very generous body-slam of the Paypal button. Stay away from the Donner Pass, Bruce; the world needs you]

[Cutting-edge Update: Many thanks go out to Kathleen M. from New Milford, which is obviously a much better place than Old Milford, because Kathleen M. lives in New Milford]

[Rocky Update: Why are people in Colorado so nice, and nice to us? It's a wonderful mystery. Thanks, Mark M. from Leadville for your very generous Paypal button workout]

[More Up-To-Date Update: Muchas gracias to Tanis E. for supporting the boys. Very generous! Why are people in Texas so kind, and kind to us? We don't know, but we're grateful for it.]

[Update: Maine edition: Tom C. from Bridgton sends along a generous and neighborly show of support. Many thanks!]

[Lone Star Update: Holy cow, Texas has adopted my children. Many thanks to Linda L. from League City. You're a peach!]

[Empire State Uppadate: Arthur R. from Bellport is a pleasant and generous fellow, and we're grateful for it. Many thanks!]

[Up, Up, and Awaydate: I'm speechless. Well-wishes and support keeps coming. Impresario Dave R. from California is continually generous and helpful. Many thanks! ]

[More, More, Moredate: Lee P. from the Keystone State is a generous supporter. Many thanks!]

[California, Somemoredate: Long time reader and commenter and Interfriend Lorraine, who I do not like -- I adore her -- ladles money and good wishes on the boys, and me too. My life is better with Lorraine in it. Many thanks!]

[Week Later Update: Our grateful thanks go out to Peter H. from the North Star State for his generous help and support!]

[So Very Up Update: Many thanks to Signe from Coasta Meysee for supporting the boys!]

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Happy Opposite Day

Mom's drunk. Dad's crying. Must be opposite day. Let's have a blessing:
May those who love us love us.
And those that don't love us,
May God turn their hearts.
And if He doesn't turn their hearts,
May he turn their ankles,
So we'll know them by their limping.
Let's sing Carrickfergus, and weep, and laugh, all at once. And before anyone gets any ideas in the comments, there is only one version of this song:

I wished I had you in Carrickfergus,
Only for nights in Ballygrand,
I would swim over the deepest ocean,
The deepest ocean to be by your side.

But the sea is wide and I can't swim over
And neither have I wings to fly.
I wish I could find me a handy boatman
To ferry me over to my love and die.

My childhood days bring back sad reflections
Of happy days so long ago.
My boyhood friends and my own relations.
Have all passed on like the melting snow.

So I'll spend my days in endless roving,
Soft is the grass and my bed is free.
Oh to be home now in Carrickfergus,
On the long road down to the salty sea.

And in Kilkenny it is reported
On marble stone there as black as ink,
With gold and silver I did support her
But I'll sing no more now till I get a drink.

I'm drunk today and I'm rarely sober,
A handsome rover from town to town.
Oh but I am sick now and my days are numbered
Come all ye young men and lay me down.

I wish you'd put the battered kettle on
The bag could take one steeping more
I'd walk for miles across a rocky down
To hear the whistle we're all waiting for

The gulf yawns wide and I can't leap over
Until my time is drawing nigh
You're laid to rest in the nonesuch clover
When you were here you slipped on by

Those Christmas days and our destinations
Trolley rides through the dirty snow
My childhood's gone, like passing stations
Eyes full of tears, some from the cold

Nicely done, Van. More power to your elbow.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

You Look Like A Fine, Upstanding Young Man; I Think You'll Do

Is there some point where we stand athwart history yelling stop? Or is it renaissance that's necessary? Perhaps we have to wipe things out to recognize them for what they were, and represent, and then restore them to a place of honor in our lives if we decide they're meaningful.

The restoration of handwork to everyday life serves both the person doing the work, and the customer. Walmart is useful, but it cannot feed the soul. Luddites want to dig ditches with spoons, but that's not what I'm talking about. People need to see the evidence of humanity in their everyday objects. The persons that produce these everyday objects need to feel the humanity of the people that use their creations in return.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Guitar Army

It's Chet Atkins and Doc Watson and Leo Kottke in the hallway and they're just messin' around like Michelangelo doodling on the outhouse wall or something and I probably should say something about them that's pithy or insightful but I can't, I can only remember things from my own life because I'm kind of a jerk and other people's lives don't interest me as much as they should and so I have to insert them into my life or they don't count, but I was in Nashville a long time ago in a Toyota that didn't have a dent yet but was gonna, and I was buying a bass I couldn't afford from a man I didn't know with money I didn't have so I could play in bands that weren't gonna be interested in me anyway, and the man behind the counter was so nice he took that plank off the shelf and unbolted the rosewood neck and swapped it for a maple one even though upon reflection I wish I'd have kept the rosewood one, and he was chatting with me and my brother who was riding along with me in that Toyota without the dent in it yet, and he was no use to that neck-swapping fella because he's left-handed and the shop didn't have anything sinister in it except me and I play right-handed, and that fellow said he was friends with a fellow that was friends with Chet Atkins and his friend was performing that very evening and thought Chet was going to drop by unannounced and sit in and we should go and see him with his best wishes but not his company, probably because he had fleeced me and wanted to go out with his real friends with a bankroll instead of a bedroll for a change and get tight; so we set off to find this place he sent us but Nashville was as unfamiliar to us as a steady paycheck and we wandered a bit and saw every closed and locked storefront that fine city had to offer a weary traveler until we happened upon Irma's Dusty Road Cafe hiding behind a banner that told wild tales of jam sessions being held with instruments provided, and it didn't have even a passing resemblance to the place we were looking for, but we went on in because it was getting so late that OPEN seemed right on time to us, but there was next to no one in there and they only served Pabst in cans, that's all they had, don't you fellows even think of asking for anything else, you just hold up the requisite fingers for the amount you require and you'll find Blue Ribbon succor in just that amount; and there was a blind man sitting at a table playing guitar, but in the back, nowhere near the stage, and my brother didn't pick up on the fact he was blind and insulted him by accident in his innocence, and all of a sudden that man had enough friends of his to form an entourage or a military detachment or a lynch mob gathered in a circle around him, and us --mostly us-- and there was a faraway look of PBR and anger in their eyes, the ones that weren't glass, anyway, and I thought I'd better smooth things over so I identified my brother as a bass player and told the assembled posse that he was dying to play bass with the blind fellow, who was pretty good as I recall, and my brother looked at me daggers because he didn't want to play bass in Irma's Dusty Road cafe instruments provided because the instruments provided were all broken, and a very particular kind of broken they were, too; they were broken in a right-hand way, like insult to injury to my brother, who didn't yet realize what he had done to poor us in his innocence, and one way or the other he was about to experience insult and injury, so I figured he might as well get it metaphorically, playing a broken bass upside down in an ad hoc country band instead of in the alley outside via the shod foot; so he figures he'll fix my little red wagon, and tells them his little brother would love to play the drums, knowing full well that I have never met a drummer, never mind a drum teacher, and I'd be in a bit of a bother to play the things, but he didn't care and I didn't care and the audience didn't care because they were so full of Pabst Blue Ribbon that they could barely hold up their fingers in the correct number to get the additional amount they required to stay lit, and we set to making country and music noise, my brother upside-down, and me, more or less sideways, I think, and it was jolly, I guess -- or at least the audience thought the noise we were making was jollier than beating us like carpets in the spring, and then they started going up to the bar and holding up two fingers for every one Pabst that they desired at the time, and put the extra on the bandstand for us to drink, free-like, and soon I lost any idea of striking the floor tom because it was crowded with cans of beer I was just getting to, and so was every other horizontal surface on the band stand, and the application of so much PBR to my nervous system made me play the drums with a wild abandon commensurate with great ability, despite the fact I had no ability, and it was then that a fellow told me that it would be considered a great insult if we didn't finish a beer that the audience had purchased for us, and the fact there was a dozen and one in my bullpen and it was only the second inning wouldn't cut any ice with anybody in that place, and then that same fellow, who was obviously having more fun than me and my brother put together, went up to the bar and told the assembled throng gathered there that that carpetbagging yankee drummer and his confused brother that don't know which way to hold a bass, never mind which end to blow in, well, those fellows claim they can drink more Pabst Blue Ribbon beer than we can buy them.

So you see, when I see a video of Chet Atkins, I look at it differently than you. After all, he's a friend of mine. 

Thursday, March 14, 2013

If You Make Things, You Are My Brother, Chapter XVII: The Roentgens Are Not Related To Me Or Any Other Regular Human Woodworkers

So my friend Gerard, who lurks in the opposite top corner pocket of the continental US, and imparts his English as he indulges in his pixel Jupiter Complex from there at American Digest, raining well-deserved bolts down on various varlets, sent this little trifle along. The Roentgen's Berlin Secretary:

My old familiar Ben Franklin is erroneously credited with saying that beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy. Of course the actual quote, "Behold the rain which descends from heaven upon our vineyards, there it enters the roots of the vines, to be changed into wine, a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy," is infinitely more elegant, but the point stands either way. What is the Roentgen cabinet in my email inbox proof of?
I make furniture, after all. That, that --that thing--in the video is just like furniture, in the same way that a Victoria's Secret catalog is the same as a date with Tom Brady's wife. Or as my other familiar, Samuel L. Clemens once observed, "The difference between the almost right word & the right word is really a large matter--it's the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning." So I must struggle to find le mot juste, or more accurately, les mots juste. Here goes:

The Roentgen Berlin Cabinet is proof that God hates me, and that Gerard wants me to take my own life with my own hand.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

If You Make Things, You Are My Brother. Except This Guy. He Was Apparently Adopted By A Super-Race Of Polymath Alien Artists

My goodness, isn't John Mayer a douchenozzle? A raging douchecanoe. A big, steaming bag o' douche. I need a new monitor, because I punched mine thirty or forty times trying to get him to shut up. My son had a several-month-long interest in his music, which was the longest ten centuries of my life, but it went into remission, and my boy listens to proper records now, and I wander the house contented once more.

But credit where credit is due: the douchebag had the sense to hire David A. Smith. He can't be all bad. I've featured lots of people making lots of things on this blog, but I can't recall another person that seemed to be playing not just in another league, but playing alone in a league of his own making. I have met a fair number of sign painters over the years, back when I worked at building and renovating restaurants and so forth. Many struck me as quite talented. Many struck me, period, after a few pints. But they were all primordial ooze compared to this guy.

My little son and I watched this video on our TV, using a Roku box, instead of watching reruns of How It's Made for the umpteenth time. By gad, the future is a wonderful place. I know, I'm living in it.

(Thanks to old friend Rob C. for sending that one along)

Monday, March 11, 2013

A Born Lever Puller

I must admit I look forward to these videos overmuch. The boys do them entirely by themselves now. Sometimes I hear them being made, and get a good idea of what the finished product might sound like while it's still an unthrown pot. Other times, I'm working in the shop with everything humming and banging, and I get it sprung on me the same way you do. I have to remind myself not to meddle. It's deuced difficult. I got out of bed this morning, eager to open my browser and see this video for the first time. The Heir compiled it last night, after he and his brother recorded it yesterday afternoon. I do believe a stranger could be entertained by them.

The little feller is still only nine. He deserves ever so much less credit for his efforts than his big brother. Big brother has painstakingly learned everything you see here, on his own, mostly. The little feller is just a wonder. He can play the drums as unwaveringly as a professional adult can. This is not a father's opinion. I played for money with lots of professional drummers. Maybe one or two of them were better than he is right now, in the only way that matters: the ability and willingness to play something suitable, steadily, while accompanying other people. When you see videos of really young drum phenoms on YouTube, they're generally playing along by rote with a (bad)recording, not other humans. That's data entry, not music. Not many of them, and even fewer of their parents, have much of an idea of them ever entertaining an audience by being musical. It's just Can You Top This. Music is not weightlifting. The world's gone crazy and The Gong Show has replaced Carnegie Hall. You're supposed to be entertained, not impressed, anyway.

I do believe the little feller deserves to be called a musician. His big brother certainly does. Their father and mother are very proud of them.  There's a PayPal tip jar in the right-hand column if you want to show them some love. But I'm warning you right now -- no matter how much money you send them, I'm not buying them saxophones.

[Update: Barbara M. sent along a generous donation to buy saxophones for the kids. Oh Jayzuz, not saxophones. A saxophone is just a flute with emphysema, and I don't like flutes either. But I love Barbara!]

[Upside-Update: Dave R, who dared the kids to start this whole thing, is very generous with his moolah and his suggestions and expertise. Many thanks! Kathleen M is relentlessly generous. Many thanks! Melissa K is amazingly generous and we're very, very grateful for it. Many thanks to everyone that watches, and comments, and hits the tip jar]

[Once Upponna Update: Thanks to Sarah R. for helping the boys out! ]

Sunday, March 10, 2013

It Does, Indeed, Sound Pretty Snazzy

My nine-year-old is unusual.

He does get up to things. He has a force field when he needs one. Look right at you and betrays no emotion if he feels like it. He goes and finds things. He makes things and I don't know how he did it. I ask him how he did it, and ... oops -- force field. He'll offer explanations of very complex behaviors as things like,"I just thought of it in my mind." Oh.

I'm trying to work all the time, and so he is mostly like an asteroid that whizzes by. He's my Van Allen Belt and suspenders. I hear his beeping, Dopplering past me. When I capture him and question him closely about anything, it's always worth the effort.

There was music coming out of the dining room this morning. It's the only warm room in the house in a shoulder season morning. He sits at a little desk and constructs universes with Minecraft and eats a muffin his mom made him. He's fashioned a little soundtrack for himself that plays along in the background. I think it's Spotify, but what the hell do I know? I found it amusing to hear Dave Brubeck come out of there, then The Mayor of Simpleton, of all things. Then something funky and greazy and infectious and sophisticated and adult and borderline decadent came percolating out of there. Jayzuz, son, what are you up to in there?

-What is that music you're listening to?
-It's the Italian Secret Service.
-Who told you about the Italian Secret Service?
-I was just looking around and it sounded kinda snazzy, so I saved it.
-Did you just say it sounded "snazzy"?
-Yes. Do you want to watch the fireworks display I put in my Minecraft build?
-No. I mean, yes. I mean, I don't know what you're talking about. I mean, sure. Where did you learn the word "snazzy?"
-I was just looking around...

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Greenville 1969

Greenville, Maine 1969.

Treat yourself to the rest of the Flickr Photostream slideshow.  It's a stone groove.

Greenville's northeast of where I live now. It's on the shore of Moosehead Lake. Never been. It's Piscataquis. I'm an Oxford man. Next to no one lives in Greenville year-yound, but there's resort getaways for bug bites or chill blains to taste.

I'm old enough to be one of the small children you can see in the pictures taken earlier in the evening, but the age is all we have in common. They watched a super 8 movie, projected on a bedsheet. Then they got put to bed, and mom and pop partied hearty. It's New Year's.

These are wealthy people. At least that's what they seemed to people like us in 1969. Those are dentist's sons and car dealership owner's daughters. Things have changed and people on the dole own snowmobiles now, but it wasn't always thus. Rich people skiied and we went sledding. They played tennis and we played hockey on the corduroy ice on a pond. They drove Citroens while we sat four across in the back seat of a Dodge Dart watching the road pass by through the rust holes in the floor. They let their hair down on New Year's Eve, after the children were snug in their beds, at a modest lodge in the middle of nowhere Maine, while my parents watched Guy Lombardo on a black and white TV.

Maybe ten, fifteen years after that, the world opened up and everyone had nice cars and big houses and their kids wore what they liked instead of what was left over from a cousin's closet from the previous decade. Regular people went to the hairdresser and bought their clothes instead of making them from patterns at the Newberry's. Ordinary people ate strawberries out of season and vegetables that weren't from a can. It became quotidian to fly on planes and go to movies. The dentist life was there for pipefitters. The pipefitter's kids got braces and the dentist kids went Gekko.

And now, for reasons that can't be explained, except to say for no good reason, regular people are plunged back into a dark age; back to pressing their snotty noses to the window for a peek at the dentists. Back to Greenville, 1969.

Friday, March 08, 2013

If You Build It, They Will Come. Or They Won't

I very much like the internal gyroscope that hums away in people like Dimitrios.

He doesn't seem to have ever done anything else in his life except carve wood. He's done it on two continents for fifty years or so, so I don't imagine he's going to become a race-car driver or astronaut anytime soon. His mind must be as well-ordered as his shop.

When the layman sees people like Dimitrios, they can't imagine that there could be a set of circumstances where he wouldn't be in demand. A: He can do marvelous things. B: People who can do marvelous things are in short supply. C: People will make it pay for him.

C's the tricky bit. And in it lies a lesson. Dimitrios has to begin on faith. He cannot know in the 1940s in Greece that he can make a go of it in Hampden, Massachusetts fifty years hence. He begins his monomania strictly on desire. He wants to do it. He trusts in something -- God, man, commerce, luck, himself, perhaps; whatever -- and he begins. His persistence was rewarded with a life-long livelihood.

The trickiest bit's trickiest bit is the faith part. Life's losers have the same faith in themselves. Insane people, for instance, usually have an impenetrable carapace of self-possession. Hell, business is a kind of insanity, considered dispassionately. I had a friend that ran restaurants and nightclubs. He once explained his work to me. OK, throw the best party you've ever been at. Now do it every night.

You have to go insane first, and then get people to go along with your delusion. Dimitrios has to say: I am a woodcarver, and say it before he is a woodcarver, or he'll never become one. The deranged chicken must lay the crazy egg, and vice versa. There's a guy on your bus that wears a prom dress and thinks he's Marie of Romania. He has made the same kind of decision. Then again, it's entirely possible that a guy on a downtown bus in a prom dress will make more money by holding court, and an empty Dunkin' Donuts cup, than Dimitrios makes carving.

In business, we all have to wear the prom dress on the bus first. The fickle public will raise their hand to let you know when you're Marie of Romania. Or they won't.

[Merci beaucoup to Kathleen M. and Karen O. for supporting this blog]

Monday, March 04, 2013

You Can't Stump Unorganized Hancock. They Will Survive

My Interfriend Daphne liked Unorganized Hancock's last effort, They Suffered For Their Music, Now It's Your Turn. She made a little list:

At last Saturday's dinner party, we played your sons great collection of work and asked for suggestions of music that would best suit Unorganized Hancock. Anything by Emerson Lake and Palmer ranked number one, mostly for the similar range of voice. Cake's version of I Will Survive was a big winner. Elbow's Grounds For Divorce And my personal favorite, Chris Rea's Texas.
I'm as game as the next blogger, but I'm not carrying a Hammond organ and a Leslie cabinet up the stairs into that attic. I don't want to give Mrs. Cottage any ideas with any songs about divorce, either; it's bad enough I wake in the middle of the night with a pillow on my face from time to time. And I thought Chris Rea was dead. That's OK, he probably thinks I'm dead, too. But Cake? Cake. And Dave, who's no stranger to daring the boys to play things, seconded Cake. Two people makes a double dog dare, I do believe. Perhaps the Cake is not a lie, after all.

Of course if you're of a certain age, this is, and will forever be a Gloria Gaynor song. I lived through disco as a very young man, and I survived it, and Jimmy Carter too. Unlike disco, Jimmy Carter most decidedly did not have a beat, and you couldn't dance to him, although you could use your rusting Whip Inflation Now button and the shovel you were handed five minutes after graduating high school as a kind of percussion apparatus. I wish I'd kept all the sweaters Jimmah told me to wear back in the day instead of turning the thermostat up above fifty. There's still no British Thermal Units hanging around where I can lay my hands on them, and they keep installing windmills all over Maine instead of solar panels on the White House roof, and they make it kind of drafty in addition to being colder than Sandy Duncan's glass eye when she leaves it on the nightstand overnight. Don't ask me how I know that. I don't judge you.

The kids don't know Gloria Gaynor from Gloria Swanson, but they were game to try Cake. They learned it, played it, recorded it, and mixed it entirely by themselves. If you want to show some support for their efforts, there's a PayPal donate button in the right-hand column. Look at how much progress they've made since their first, dark, tinny video in the attic. I never spent money that paid visible dividends like that back when disco was regnant. I just bought Sloe Gin Fizzes for girls in discos, hoping to spend the money before it became worthless the next day.

Suggestions for further Stump the Band songs are welcome in the comments, of course. But I'm not going to tell you again -- no Hammond organs!

[Update: Many thanks, Cynthia, for your generosity and friendship]
[Further-Update: Dave is very generous! Kathleen, too! And Leslie is a peach!  Many thanks to all] [Upper Deck Update: Thanks, Nigel from Merry Old!]

Sunday, March 03, 2013

If You Make Things, You Are My Brother, Volume 27: The Walnut Headboard

Sometimes one wishes for the quiet, contemplative life.

When you are concentrating on hand work, you can think of all sorts of things. I use too many machines, myself. There is no way around it. Besides, most of what a woodworker does is plain drudgery. Customers that require oak leaves, acanthus, and shell carvings are in short supply. Customers that want them and are willing to pay for them are rarer still.

It's nice to know that someone still knows how to do the work if you've got the cake.