Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy New Year!

It's New Year's Eve again. Once again it doesn't mean much to me. I used to make a pile of money on New Year's Eve back when I was a working musician, but I always hated it. Amateur hour, we used to call it, because even sober people were drunk on NYE. And you had to play late because the party didn't start until midnight. Bah.

When I was a little kid, my parents listened to Guy Lombardo on NYE.  "Guy Lumbago," as my dad used to call him. We had very little truck with the Guyster, don't get me wrong; he was infinitesimally less uncool than Lawrence Welk, I guess, but he wasn't exactly Sinatra or anything. He made 99 percent of his money in .002 percent of his time on NYE, playing Auld Lang Syne.

So on Christmas, we'd get a mangy stunted spruce at a mall parking lot, tie it to the roof of the car, and drag it inside when we got home. Easter? We'd eat a ham freed from a can using a key that was welded on the side. Mmmm, canned pineapple slices nailed to the ham with cloves. New Year's? We'd rely on Guy Lombardo to pester Auld Lang Syne out of his orchestra, which consisted solely of 147 tenor saxophones playing in unison. And that's the way we liked it.

But there's a problem. Guy's dead. If memory serves, he looked dead a long time before he fell over, too. But he Got. The. Job. Done. He was the head on the New Year's totem pole.

We Need A New One. The official square peg for the round hole of New Year's Eve.  I hereby nominate Max Raabe. Aw, yeah, picture it: New Year's eve, with Max Raabe wafting from the wireless in your lebensraum while the spumante fizzes like a science experiment on the credenza. The chicks will tumble for you then, no question.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Violet Days Are Here (A Month Early)

[Note: I started writing this essay all over again until I realized I'd already written it last winter. The forecast starting Monday is for twenty degrees below normal, and normal ain't normal to a normal person]

It's ten degrees, but it won't last. The sun is retreating and dragging the thermometer with it. The violet days are here.

There was a moment before sunset when the sky and the earth and everything in, on, and between them turned this lovely purple hue. It's an indescribable color. Light through a lens fashioned from a limpid pool, frozen. It can't mean anything but cold to my eye. I don't know how many bedrooms I've seen painted this color. It's arctic looking, and the person that chose it always told me it was, you know " a warm color." Yes, it is, in the same way a walrus butthole planted on a floe is warm. To a lunatic, it might be warm.

But cold as a concept is not as bad as many make it. It is a fact, here. It will be below zero, day and night, for three days in a row. It will be ten, fifteen, maybe push twenty below zero at night. Winter is not fooling around anymore. So what.

Winter is a full time job in Maine, E. B. White said. But he lived Downeast, where it's warm compared to here. But he understood. You have to look it straight in the face, and deal with it. You can't go out in your socks and scrape the frost from your windshield with a credit card. I've made over 500 fires already, and I've only used one match, once, to do it. You have to prepare yourself for winter. It reminds you that you're mortal, and that there are seasons, and those seasons have meaning. It shows you that your life will pass you by if you're not careful. Winter is useful that way.

I see a great number of people talking about how they're going to deal with a coming apocalypse. They're going to hoard this and grow that. They're going to be the Omega Man crossed with Johnny Appleseed. Forgive me, but life is plenty hard here, and I can't help but notice you're not moving in next door to me before the apocalypse. I doubt you will the day after. If winter is too much for you, I doubt you're prepared for an army of zombie Robespierres or whatever it is you're planning for.

I can't say I like the winter. I've always been cold. Poor people are often cold, and I have been poor in my life. I'm not a fool and I don't like misery. But I respect the winter here. It's a worthy adversary, and so, goddamn it, am I. Bring it on.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

It's Almost Fat Time Again

Fat Time from sippican cottage on Vimeo.

It's been four years since I made that video. It's been almost seven years since the Harpy hove into view and the ill-favored kine desolated the land. I'm beginning to feel it. Time to make hay. It's Fat Time again.
1 And it came to pass at the end of two full years, that Pharaoh dreamed: and, behold, he stood by the river. 2 And, behold, there came up out of the river seven kine, well-favoured and fat-fleshed; and they fed in the reed-grass. 3 And, behold, seven other kine came up after them out of the river, ill favoured and lean-fleshed; and stood by the other kine upon the brink of the river. 4 And the ill-favoured and lean-fleshed kine did eat up the seven well-favoured and fat kine. So Pharaoh awoke. 5 And he slept and dreamed a second time: and, behold, seven ears of corn came up upon one stalk, rank and good. 6 And, behold, seven ears, thin and blasted with the east wind, sprung up after them. 7 And the thin ears swallowed up the seven rank and full ears. And Pharaoh awoke, and, behold, it was a dream. 8 And it came to pass in the morning that his spirit was troubled; and he sent and called for all the magicians of Egypt, and all the wise men thereof; and Pharaoh told them his dream; but there was none that could interpret them unto Pharaoh. 9 Then spoke the chief butler unto Pharaoh, saying: 'I make mention of my faults this day: 10 Pharaoh was wroth with his servants, and put me in the ward of the house of the captain of the guard, me and the chief baker. 11 And we dreamed a dream in one night, I and he; we dreamed each man according to the interpretation of his dream. 12 And there was with us there a young man, a Hebrew, servant to the captain of the guard; and we told him, and he interpreted to us our dreams; to each man according to his dream he did interpret. 13 And it came to pass, as he interpreted to us, so it was: I was restored unto mine office, and he was hanged.' 14 Then Pharaoh sent and called Joseph, and they brought him hastily out of the dungeon. And he shaved himself, and changed his raiment, and came in unto Pharaoh. 15 And Pharaoh said unto Joseph: 'I have dreamed a dream, and there is none that can interpret it; and I have heard say of thee, that when thou hearest a dream thou canst interpret it.' 16 And Joseph answered Pharaoh, saying: 'It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh an answer of peace.' 17 And Pharaoh spoke unto Joseph: 'In my dream, behold, I stood upon the brink of the river. 18 And, behold, there came up out of the river seven kine, fat-fleshed and well-favoured; and they fed in the reed-grass. 19 And, behold, seven other kine came up after them, poor and very ill-favoured and lean-fleshed, such as I never saw in all the land of Egypt for badness. 20 And the lean and ill-favoured kine did eat up the first seven fat kine. 21 And when they had eaten them up, it could not be known that they had eaten them; but they were still ill-favoured as at the beginning. So I awoke. 22 And I saw in my dream, and, behold, seven ears came up upon one stalk, full and good. 23 And, behold, seven ears, withered, thin, and blasted with the east wind, sprung up after them. 24 And the thin ears swallowed up the seven good ears. And I told it unto the magicians; but there was none that could declare it to me.' 25 And Joseph said unto Pharaoh: 'The dream of Pharaoh is one; what God is about to do He hath declared unto Pharaoh. 26 The seven good kine are seven years; and the seven good ears are seven years: the dream is one. 27 And the seven lean and ill-favoured kine that came up after them are seven years, and also the seven empty ears blasted with the east wind; they shall be seven years of famine. 28 That is the thing which I spoke unto Pharaoh: what God is about to do He hath shown unto Pharaoh. 29 Behold, there come seven years of great plenty throughout all the land of Egypt. 30 And there shall arise after them seven years of famine; and all the plenty shall be forgotten in the land of Egypt; and the famine shall consume the land; 31 and the plenty shall not be known in the land by reason of that famine which followeth; for it shall be very grievous. 32 And for that the dream was doubled unto Pharaoh twice, it is because the thing is established by God, and God will shortly bring it to pass. 33 Now therefore let Pharaoh look out a man discreet and wise, and set him over the land of Egypt. 34 Let Pharaoh do this, and let him appoint overseers over the land, and take up the fifth part of the land of Egypt in the seven years of plenty. 35 And let them gather all the food of these good years that come, and lay up corn under the hand of Pharaoh for food in the cities, and let them keep it. 36 And the food shall be for a store to the land against the seven years of famine, which shall be in the land of Egypt; that the land perish not through the famine.'

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

People Can See Right In

We live in an old Victorian in a mill town in western Maine.

A Queen Anne house is bound to be interesting. They're not symmetrical. Adam colonials, and the capes they replaced, mostly, are sober and staid and regular. Everyone knows where to trick-or-treat at a colonial. Houses should have a head, and eyes, and a mouth --in short, a face-- and in general, it shouldn't look like some blue broad Picasso painted. If you can't say something witty, try to be coherent, at least. Baby steps.

Victorian houses like mine have a face, still, but it's frozen in a kind of delighted smirk, or something. Everything makes sense, but it's pinwheeled and stretched and off-balanced a bit. It lends interest to a floor plan, and a facade. It's tougher to pull off than straight symmetry. Everyone tries to make asymmetrical houses now, and they're a mess, because you have to know the rules before you can bend them.

The main front room of the lower floor of our house has a bay in it, facing the street. There are three, big windows in a triptych, looking northwest, north, and northeast. The windows are big. The center one's five feet square. The ceilings on the lower floor are high, and so the top of the window is way up high, and the sills are pretty low. It's great to walk up to one of those windows and look out. It's not a porthole. Windows that face north-ish don't catch much direct sun, but the room is always bright because there's enough windows, facing every which way, to make it pleasant in there. In the late summer, the setting sun might overheat it as it makes its way behind the hills we have in abundance here, but there's a big porch across the front to shade it, and keep the rain off your head while you wait at our door. The porch is big enough for two rockers, and we sometimes sit out in the evenings and wave at our neighbors when they walk by. Everybody goes for walks here. The house is only about twenty feet from the road.

When my mother came to visit us here, and my wife's mother, and many other people, they all say the same thing to us. "People can see right in!"

Yes, yes they can. Like many Victorian houses, the rooms downstairs are enfilade; that is, they go one into another, with no circulation corridors outside them. You must pass through each one to get to another. Someone standing on the street can not only see right in to our living room, but straight through the dining room and the kitchen, too. Only the back wall of the house stops them from seeing the river in the background.

People can see right in is generally uttered with an undertone of panic. How can you possibly live like that? Why don't you mew yourself up in there, like a normal person?

Well, I've embraced not being normal for quite some time now. It costs dearly in some ways, but it has its sunny aspects. A normal person nowadays builds a bathroom with a bathtub in front of a picture window, but puts shutters, shades -- and then drapes, just in case -- on all the windows in their living room, and then hides their entire house behind a garage, just for good measure. Me, I figure my house has some public rooms, and some private, and I let sunshine and fresh air and neighborly eyes into my life in these semi-public places, and reserve some parts of my life for my own. What a weirdo I've become. If people could have seen right in last night, Christmas Eve, they would have seen my wife and I and my two sons dancing like fools in a circle in the living room while a Christmas song my sons wrote and recorded came right out of the radio. Oh, the shame of it. 

I write, too, and people can see right in.  I publish all this stuff here, and don't have any drapes on my monitor or anything. I live in a semi-public world, in a semi-public way. Most bloggers say next to nothing about themselves, really. They post snippets from newspapers they claim are biased against them, but read anyway, quoting people they say they detest, but spend most of their waking hours being fascinated with, and then say some inane, wordy version of,  What's up with that?, like a shortbus Voltaire. Me, I'm not even a blogger; I'm an essayist.  People can see right in.

It is a different sort of life to let people see right in. It has, in some ways, cost me a great deal to do so. But the vast majority of people who I've let see right in have rewarded me with their friendship, understanding, and support, and in such great measure, that I'm constantly amazed by it, and grateful for it. And I've noticed that most people that are afraid of people spying on them keep a Facebook page.

And so, in closing, I'd like to wish all my Interfriends and Webpassersby a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, and hope that you all get what you need instead of what you want, because I want you to be happy, not contented.  Many, many thanks to everyone that looks in here, and supports my children's efforts, and ours, and buys my book, and my furniture, and sends us stuff to help us out.

I only have one question: What are you looking at?

Monday, December 23, 2013

Unorganized Ghost In The Machine

So, anyway, on my essay Perfect Pitch, old comment-friend Dave from the wrong coast asked:

Whoa that was amazing. Know what I really really want for Christmas???
Use Me, by Bill Withers
Not the dude, the SONG. Nice little stretch for the boyos methinks
I'm betting on the 10 year old and I'm putting $50 on the table.
By Christmas. 2013.

Professor D
Fretboard Kinesthesiologist 
Well, as usual, be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it.

The little feller's mysterious abilities range further than President Math, and Perfect Pitch, and being the Greatest Ten Year Old Drummer in the world. He likes computer programming, and electronic music.  His older brother put a copy of FL Studio on his work computer, in order to edit the rough tracks they use on YouTube videos. Our latest purchase for the boys' videos, made possible by the generous support of my readers, was an input/output digitizer. It allows them to record up to sixteen separate signals at the same time, turns each of those feeds into digital signals (microphones are analog) that can be directly inserted into a computer for mixing. They used to have to do it one or two tracks at a time. It wasn't cheap, but it was well worth the money we spent.

FL Studio was free. The little feller figured out that you could compose electronic music on it. He started sneaking into his big brother's room early in the morning, putting on headphones, and monkeying around with it. He looks quite comical in there, the big hemispheres of the headphones on his little head, and the big screen full of virtual sliders and knobs and so forth on the screen in front of him. He looks like a mad scientist on his day off.

It's a sequencer, and drum machine, and noisemaker par excellence. And that little boy can play it like a Stradivarius, getting all sorts of noise out of it. He's composed dozens of fairly long pieces of electronic music, all by himself, with piquant names like Zither, OS, Don't You Dare, Petrified, Iowa, Bismarck, Prism, Maps Of Salem, #45, That's Correct, Acid Reflex.  According to him, they're "Acid House, Brostep, Complextro, and sometimes Trance." I'm old, so they're all Kraftwerk to me. They are all between three and seven minutes long, and coherent and interesting.

So Dave bet on the ten year old. Dave bet wisely.

[Remember, it's not too late to download an mp3 of Unorganized Hancock's Generic Christmas Song at Bandcamp; only 99 cents, or any amount you'd like to give. And Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Wherein My Cable Company Does Me A Favor, Sorta

The cable company did me a favor yesterday and turned off my cable service.

Now don't get me wrong, we don't get cable TV. Cable service is the only practical way we have of getting Intertunnel access 'round here. It's not bad, exactly; but it ain't good, either. It cost rather a lot, if you ask me, because they're endlessly trying to get us to sign up for their bundled TV service, and it's only a few dollars more than the wire and the modem we get from them. I don't think you're paying full freight for those two hundred channels of Dancing With Honey Boo Boo's Bachelorette Fringe Mentalist: Special Victims Unit -- I think I'm paying for them, and you're all watching them. I still think I got the better part of that deal, however. The clerks at the cable place are endlessly fascinated with my wife's obduracy in this regard. How could you go five minutes without TV? Are you deranged?

Well, yes, we are deranged, but what's that got to do with it?  Five minutes without TV is just fine, thanks, and we'd like to follow it up with another five minutes, and another, ad infinitum. But five minutes without Intertunnel access is a form of death sentence for us. We rely on it big time.

When I logged on yesterday, early, I got a bizarre message, purportedly from Time Warner Cable. It was a warning that a computer that was using my modem was infected with some form of the Zeus Trojan virus. It directed me to press a link at the bottom of the page to fix it. There was a problem. I didn't believe the thing I was looking could possibly be legit. It had the font choice, layout, grammar, and syntax of a letter to the editor from someone that wore a hockey helmet and licked the window on the bus to grammar school, published in Highlights Magazine. I wish I took a screen capture of it, because I can't really do it justice by describing it. It had yellow, blue, and red letters mixed in with black text. It was more absurd looking than a 1040 form.

I tried to ascertain if it was legit, but my Internet service was deader than disco, of course, so, how could I figure it out? We don't have a landline phone, either. They're always trying to sell us that to go along with How Gilligan Met Your Mother The Survivor On Hawaii Five-O.  So I had to call the cable company on my cell phone. If the acoustics of the room and the demeanor of the people in it are any indication, Time Warner's customer service is being subcontracted out to someone straining on the pot in a public men's room in Bedlam.

So it turns out, the message was legit, which I had long since figured out, but still couldn't believe. I got a lecture I didn't need from a series of people that undoubtedly sat in the back row in high school and didn't raise their hands much about Intertunnel security, along with a helpful suggestion that I download some of their fine McAfee software. The man on the phone pronounced it Mack AFF ee, between wipes, I think, so I knew he was really tuned in to Intertunnel security. I asked him if I should kill someone in Belize to restore my service, but he didn't get the joke. He turned the Intertunnel back on for me rather than talk to me any more. I got cracking.

Let me go on record here, and stick my neck out a bit, just blue-skying, really, pants in the breeze: I don't think you want the Zeus Trojan Virus on your computer. Now, I don't know you all that well; maybe you'd like it. You might like TV, so anything's possible. So maybe you'd like downloading six separate virus utilities, all of which look exactly like another virus to my eye, and running them all, some two or three times, on six different computers, each one coming up clean, until you finally find out that Russian mobsters have install a rootkit, and have keystroke copying capability, on your ten year old son's ancient,Vista-hobbled rattletrap computer.

Tovarisch, if you're listening, I hope you're getting rich selling all his Minecraft logins, but I am beset by doubts.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Get Unorganized Now!

The Unorganized Hancock boys are doing swell with their first original recorded composition, Generic Christmas Song. It's for sale for adding to your mp3 player playlist on the spiffy Bandcamp website, for only 99 cents. Some very pleasant people have noticed that you can pay more than 99 cents if you want to, and they sure have. Many, many thanks.

Regular reader and commenter Julie was, and will always be, the first person to ever buy an Unorganized Hancock selection. We're putting up a plaque in the basement in her honor. It looks a little like a shim under the lally column, but don't be fooled, Julie. You're aces in our book. So is Dan D. and Russell D and Fred L and my old high school friend Jay D and Robert E (that Robert E, we wondered?) and Dan Z and Phil B and Karen M and Jonathan C . Many thanks to all for your support! The boys have sold copies in Canada and the UK as well as the States, so I guess we have to call them international recording sensations now.

Our Interfriend Steve Layman over at Anderson Layman's Blog posted our lads' video and did more than threaten to hit the tip jar, he gave it a good workout. Many thanks for the link and the support! 

But wait, there's more! Generic Christmas Song will be featured on Christmas Eve on WMBR in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on their Pipeline show.  You can stream WMBR online, and you can bet we will.

It's not too late to get your copy. Here's Unorganized Hancock's page at Bandcamp:

Get Unorganized now!

[Update: Additional Generosity Outbreak includes Nicholas K, and Kathleen M, and Malcolm A (who wondered what sort of teenage weirdo composes songs in A flat) and Robert S. Many, many thanks to all! Merry Christmas!]

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

I Was Considering Putting On A Sweater

I love the weather channels. Hair farmers and dime-store Kardashians waving their arms over an imaginary map, talking about WINTER STORM FABIAN or WINTER SEMI-BLIZZARD OSAMA or WINTER ARCTIC DEATHSTORM INGA. The least you could do is explain what the hell I'm suppose to expect on Monday on that forecast there. Is the weather going to be serrated on Monday? Will I be expected to swim laps in some sort of frozen pool? Is frozen angel hair pasta going to be made available to me? What are those squiggly weather lines? Should I make out a will, and make out with my wife one last time on Sunday night?

I got up this morning and it was fifteen below zero, car wouldn't start, because the car is smarter than a person, and we were still shoveling a foot of "partly cloudy" from the day before.  I didn't really mind, exactly, because I didn't move to Uppastump Maine expecting palm trees and grass skirts on the babes, but there is one aspect about it that rankled. Listen to me, you weather idiots. It's not the winter. It won't be winter for four days or so. The average nighttime temperature here in December is fourteen degrees Fahrenheit. That makes last night thirty bleeping degrees below normal. Thirty degrees is a lot, don't you think?

I can take thirty degrees below normal. But if you call it winter one more time, I'm coming to look for you, and not with opera glasses, either.

[You can listen to, and purchase if you like (just 99 cents), my sons' Generic Christmas Song here:]

Sunday, December 15, 2013

You Deserve A Wonderful Generic Christmas

Those two scamps, Unorganized Hancock, are back, and they're back with ORIGINAL MATERIAL. They're obviously the greatest homeschooled pop duo since that other homeschooled pop duo retired. No, not that one. The other one. And that other homeschooled pop duo was the best one around since Mozart and his sister trod the boards. And Mozart couldn't even play the drums, dude.

What kind of writing pays the best, my son asked me. I said, "Ransom notes," but he doesn't listen. So he's written a goldurn Christmas song, and it's a daisy. Generic Christmas will sweep the nation, I have no doubt, and maybe after they sweep it, they could touch up the paint, and empty all the trash barrels.

Our brave new world of original music comes at a price: 99 cents. That's right, if you like Unorganized Hancock's Generic Christmas, you can purchase a digital copy of  it suitable for framing or ramming into your MP3 player for less than a dollar!  Of course, if you don't like it, we suggest you buy a copy of it anyway, and then erase it brusquely from your iPod to teach those two a lesson:

Unorganized Hancock on Bandcamp

Spray And Pray, Baby

[I"m busy making things. Thought you'd like to know exactly how I do it. I'll tell you how I finished fixing the basement shortly. Promise]

I've decide to give you a behind-the-scenes look at the old Sippican in his natural habitat, inhaling fumes in lieu of drinking Guinness.

In this photo, you can see me applying "eco-friendly" finish to one of my creations. Not satisfied with simply having a carbon footprint as small as a clubfooted tse-tse fly, I've gone the extra mile and switched to only using finishes made from recycled radons, which I capture at night in the basement with a mining helmet and a dipnet.

As you know, the radons are a multi-legged organism that scurries around unwholesome places like basements and state senators' mattress pads, and transmogrifies previously harmless substances into the carbon we all fear like dentists. By harvesting the radons only when their distended bellies signal a full load of the nasty stuff (we throw back the small ones) we ensure that we offset at least three quarters of a one-way plane ticket to a Climate Change Summit for one congressional staffer, as long as they don't weigh more than 89 pounds and don't have any luggage. Unpleasant people actually desire that the trip only get 3/4 of the way there, as it's in Bali, but we shun such naysayers, and redouble our efforts.

Another beneficial side-effect of using the radons to coat the furniture is the gentle glow your furniture has in the dark of the night, allowing, perhaps, for your children to find their way to the unheated composting bathroom without the need for a carbon-spewing 2 watt light bulb in a nightlight for them. With us it's all subtraction, subtraction, subtraction.

I'm sure you'll remark, of course, on my spraying costume. The tie does not have an industrial use, it's true, but I save a lot of paper by using it in lieu of a napkin at lunch. Win/win, as it looks rather jaunty blowing back in the radon breeze, like a WW I fighter pilot.

So everyone, follow my lead and ask yourself: What have you done today to save the environment for the future generations of children you shouldn't have?

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Perfect Pitch

My little son is only ten. He hands me teeth when he walks by every once in a while, and likes Minecraft, and riding his bike and sledding, and lots of other little kid stuff. But he's kind of wonderful around the edges.

He plays the drums in a band with his big brother. They call themselves Unorganized Hancock. Just the two of them. He can, and has, played in front of live audiences for as many as three hours at a time, without making many noticeable errors. He's homeschooled. He has not been drilled in drumming fundamentals very much. I gave him rudimentary lessons for a few weeks to start him off a couple years ago or so, but he really learned simply by playing along with his brother.

They were rehearsing a new song, and the little feller asked why his big brother was playing the first note of the song as a D#. That's wrong he said, the first note of the song is supposed to be E. The big guy had tuned his guitar down a half-step, which makes it easier to sing some songs while still playing the guitar as if it was in a standard tuning. There was no way for my ten year old son to know that. He just hears the first note and knows it's not correct.

Musicians with absolute perception may experience difficulties which do not exist for other musicians. Because absolute listeners are capable of recognizing that a musical composition has been transposed from its original key, or that a pitch is being produced at a nonstandard frequency (either sharp or flat), a musician with absolute pitch may become distressed upon perceiving tones they believe to be "wrong" or hearing a piece of music "in the wrong key." Wikipedia

He doesn't need a reference note to know what any given note is when he hears it. That's Perfect Pitch, also called Absolute Pitch. People without the gift of Perfect Pitch can train their ear to recognize intervals from a reference note to name notes on a scale, which is called Relative Pitch, but there's no way to "learn" Perfect Pitch. My older brother is a very fine musician, and is quite adept at hearing "Relative Pitch," by dint of lots of work on his part. Me, I was a bad musician and don't even play the radio now. I told my older brother that his nephew, who is also his namesake, seemed to have Perfect Pitch, he told me that he thought that perfect pitch was the noise you hear when you throw a bagpipe into a dumpster, and hit a dulcimer you threw in there yesterday. He says try the veal, too.

Wikipedia says maybe one person in 10,000 has Perfect Pitch, but that number sounds way wrong to me. I was a working musician for a long time, and played with and alongside hundreds of musicians, and never met anyone with perfect pitch, never mind among the general populace. Maybe lots of people have it, but don't know it. It's an uncanny thing for me to see in my little boy. It's much more neato because it's just a part of him, like a freckle or something.

It's one hell of a freckle, though, ain't it? You know who else had that freckle?

Bach, Bartok, and Beethoven; Casals, Cole, and Chopin; Miles and Ella and Hendrix...

[Update: Many thanks -- no, really, many of them -- to Teresa C, and Robert J for hitting our tip jar. My wife and I generally use the money to buy musical instruments for our kids and tranquilizers for ourselves]
[Yet More Update: Many thanks to J.P. in Waco, too!]
[Across the Pond Update: Many thanks to Saul J in the UK for hitting our colonist Tip Jar! ]

Monday, December 09, 2013

Sippican's Christmas Whatsis 2013

Well, it's that time of year again. A couple of weeks until Christmas, and you're still frantically looking for that one, last thing to max out your credit card and dazzle your significant someone or other. I have some suggestions.

For all your Christmas fixins, you should visit our friends at 32 Degrees North. They have old skool decorations, ornaments, cards, and gifts, the kind we adore here at the Cottage. They always send my children Advent Calendars, which brings a big smile to their faces and a wistful tear to my eye. They've got Easter stuff, too, which is like Christmas with less shoveling, so I like it even better. Go there now, there's no time to waste: 32 Degrees North. 

Our friend Nora Gardner has forsaken Wall Street and started her own business, the eponymous Nora Gardner. She's as bright as the star atop the Christmas Tree, and she's even better looking than the pretty models she's got showing off her demure but dazzling dresses, which doesn't seem fair, really.  Her stuff is made right here in New York City, too. Buy American! Get Gardner!

Speaking of nice legs, Sippican Cottage Furniture has some Ready to Ship items that are, well, ready to ship. We've got a brand new payment provider, Checkout by Amazon, as well, to make purchases easier on your end. If you've got an Amazon account, you can use our buy now buttons and all your payment and shipping info is already on file with Amazon. Easy!

We've got three striking solid tiger maple Kipling Tables ready to put in a box and make their way to your house, and one extraordinary solid quartersawn white oak Shamrock Table, all with a fat, jolly 33 percent Yuletime discount, and free shipping to boot. Think of the extra eggnog and mistletoe you'll be able to buy with all the money you save. The three Kipling Tables are dyed Cinnamon, the Shamrock table is a new color of ours, called Montecito Ebony, which is a rich, dark coffee color, that is if you get your coffee from a Turk and have a Sicilian espress it for you. The Kipling Tables are all very strikingly grained, and super handsome, but man oh man is the grain on the Shamrock Table wild.  They're all the same dimensions; 15" square, 28" high.

To take advantage of our Free Shipping promotion, enter Coupon Code: FALALALA upon checkout, and purchase before Friday, December 14th. 

Kipling Table 1 

Regularly $299, now just $199, and Free Shipping

Buy Kipling Table 1: 
SOLD! Thanks, Teresa!

Kipling Table 2

Regularly $299, now just $199, and Free Shipping

Buy Kipling Table 2:
SOLD! Thanks, Teresa!

 Kipling Table 3

Regularly $299, now just $199, and Free Shipping

Buy Kipling Table 3:
SOLD! Thanks, Greg P. ,and Merry Christmas!

Shamrock Table 1

Regularly $299, now just $199, and Free Shipping

Buy Shamrock Table 1:
SOLD! Thanks, William S, and Merry Christmas!  

Got questions? Email me at sippicancottage at and I'll answer all the polite ones. And Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all!

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Life Is A Carnival, And I Live In A Tent. So Do You

I can't see the forest for the poles
Well, maybe not a tent. A tent can be elegant. No self-respecting bedouin would put his tent on the back of his garage. He lived out front and the camel went in the back. No Snout Tent for him. A bedouin encampment could be pretty posh. You can't afford one real wool hand knotted Persian carpet, while some really sunburned guy with nothing but a camel, a copper pot, a pistol and a bad attitude could afford to make his Levantine wigwam out of dozens of them. He knew comfort. Bedouins were so famous for putting it up and taking it down in a trice that even Longfellow knew about it, even thought there weren't all that many Arabs in Portland, Maine for him to observe.

And the night shall be filled with music,   
  And the cares, that infest the day,   
Shall fold their tents, like the Arabs,   
  And as silently steal away. 

But you don't think of your house as a tent. You think of it as a big, immovable solid object, like your mortgage. You don't want to live in a tent, except when you're on vacation. Even then, your tent is probably a Motel 6 without premium cable so you know you're roughing it. The idea that a house would move around, and breathe in and out, and care about the humidity more than a mother-in-law in the summer bugs you. That's why you probably think you can jack up your house like a car with a flat tire. The house just weighs more, so you need a bigger jack, right?

No, it's more like a tent. Let's go down in the basement. Put a jack anywhere. Big jack. Very big jack. Start jacking. Does the house go up? No. At least, not in the way you might think. It's closer to pushing a tent pole up in the middle of a big top's canvas roof. The house doesn't like it, and groans and pops and shifts and makes even stern men wait outside a while when you start cranking or pumping or whatever. The house doesn't go up; a bit of it goes up, right over the spot you're lifting, drags what it can with it, like swimming in a dress, and if you're lucky, you get the house to bulge higher in that one spot. Or, more likely, it punches a hole going up, or punches a hole in the ground. The previous occupants were forever pitching these tents in the basement, to little effect.

I counted ten aftermarket adjustable steel columns in play in the basement.They are misidentified at every store and website as Lally columns, or basement jacks, or both. They are neither. A Lally is a steel tube filled with concrete that acts as an improved substitute for structural wooden posts, invented by John Lally about a century ago. They are cut to length and are not adjustable. Every single one of the steel columns in my basement were mislabeled further by the manufacturer, and labeled 8'-1" , which is 97 inches if you can count and read and write. Of course they're actually 81 inches, which is 6' - 9", but hey, what's sixteen inches between friends, other than a really scary porno? The label also shouts: APPROVED BY HUD, but then again so was the mortgage on every foreclosed house in the nation. Let's move on.

There's an adjustable plate at the top of the columns that you raise by turning a screw. It's just meant to allow you to adjust the height of the whole mess, but everyone sees "jack" on the label and figures they can pick up the house with it. Then they bang on the little metal rod they give you to turn the screw until it's bent like a scimitar,  give up, and buy another one. And another one. Et cetera.

Here's what you get for your trouble, generally:

The former denizens tried making a beam out of 2x6s, which is a waste of time and lumber and nails, then put a steel column on each end, and no doubt clapped their hands together theatrically and made the Solomonic statement so common to amateur house repairers everywhere: Don't worry, concrete is strong.

Well, yes. A weightlifter is strong, but that doesn't mean you can shoot him with a deer rifle without him at least complaining about it. Strong how, compared to what is the operative question. This column, for instance, one of our bevy of  things standing around doing not much, as if I'd purchased a Post Office, had punched a hole in the thin concrete dust cap that a cellar floor actually is, not the bedrock everyone assumes it represents. If I hadn't come along and bought this dump, its foot would've been hearing muffled Mandarin soon.

So there were ten or so fairly expensive adjustable steel columns, all of which I eventually removed, and they probably cost as much as the proper jacks I purchased to actually pick up the house. As I mentioned before, it's more expensive to try to fix your house than to actually do it.

I ended up making the garage doors out of the 2x6s that beam I mentioned was made from, so it wasn't a total loss. Anybody want to buy ten, 8'-1" Lally columns, er, I mean ten, 81" metal poles?

(to be continued)

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Welcome Back My Friends To The Show That Never Ends, I'm So Glad You Could Attend, STAY OUTSIDE, STAY OUTSIDE!

OK, here's where I admit embarrassing things.

Well, additional embarrassing things, I mean. I had to change my wife's flat tire a day after mocking my dear departed dad's flat tire method. That's pretty embarrassing. But it's supernatural, of course. No one's really embarrassed when someone on Olympus lobs a lightning bolt at them. It's considered a kind of flattery: Zeus noticed me enough to smite me! I'm somebody!

No, it's hitting your thumb with a hammer when a pretty girl walks by that rankles. You know better, and feel sheepish, and the worst part of it is knowing that chicks don't dig guys with big, purple thumbs all that much. You're suffering for nothing. It's the sheepish sort of thing I must admit here: I really didn't pay all that much attention to how much my house weighs.

That crummy 5-1/2" x 8-1/2" scribble on the free pad they gave me at a lumber yard I haven't visited in five years is all there was to my calculations. There's an amusing error right in the middle of it. I put a dollar sign where I meant to put a pound symbol, and then wrote lbs after it, too. It's an understandable mistake. All I was really worried about was money all the time. We were doing this project on less than an Amish person's clothing allowance. I had money on the brain. I certainly wasn't going to waste any on a structural engineer.

The former occupants of my house didn't waste any money on structural engineers, that's for certain. They wasted money on all sorts of things --ceiling fans, mostly -- that was evident. It's easy to waste money trying to fix your house. It's actually a lot cheaper to not try, and actually fix the house. Therein lies a lesson. Here's some of what I was faced with down there:

I know, you can't make out much in the picture. Believe me, it's not you. I was standing right there and it didn't make any sense with your face right in it. It was a Mousetrap Game covered in cobwebs. That was the real problem, not the weight it was holding up.

Back to the greenprints. How'd I come up with 78,750 pounds that needed to be lifted? Well, I'm not a structural engineer. A structural engineer would have said in stamped ink that it was 250,000 pounds, because if he said 78,750, and then I dropped my house on my head, his troubles would just be beginning; it's lawsuits and women in black on 60 Minutes sobbing and saying that dastardly engineer dropped a house on my husband and now we're eating dog food thrice daily.  Me, I just say 78,750 because that's probably plenty, and if I drop my house on my head, my troubles are over. What me worry?

So I drew a rectangle that represented the square footage of the floor that relied on the back wall for support. The house is about thirty feet wide, and the span of the rooms above is about half that, so 30x15= 450 square feet. Remember our engineering lesson? The back wall is a Crushy Thing, and the floors are the Vaguely Bendy Things. But the back wall only carries half the Heavy Thing arrow in this case, because half is carried by the Other Crushy Thing, i.e. : the interior walls that support the other end of the Vaguely Bendy Things. So we have a 50 percent margin for error in our weight calculation. All of the framing is as charred as Satan's barbecued ribs, so such margins might come in handy.

My house is built strangely in order to make straightforward calculations, never mind the many modifications over the years. There are three floors above the concrete I'm standing on in that picture, and a roof, dontcha know, and they're framed like a weird lasagne. Some framing goes left to right, and rests on the sidewalls of the house and the main carrying beam, which is the charred thing you see sitting atop that weird steel beam/ lally column cockup I found down there. The other floors go from front to back in the house, so that one end rests on the back wall framing, and the other on post and beam carrying beams and walls spanning the interior of the house. That's why calculations like these can drive you batty. The floor above my head, with my workshop and all sorts of heavy cast iron things and whatnot doesn't rely on the rear wall of my house to hold it up. Not one pound. Which is good in one way, because that wall was gone. It's bad in another, because that means the back of the house, which had slumped almost six inches, had only a passing relationship with the first floor over my head. If I jacked up the back wall, I'd be lifting up the second and third floors, and the roof, but not the floor above the basement.

(to be continued)

Monday, December 02, 2013

I Just Might Stop To Check You Out, In An Unorganized Way

My Heir and my Spare are back, and better'n ever, if you ask me. That's a peppy song, and I used to make money covering it for various gaggles of inebriates back in the day. It was current then. To my children it's an Al Jolson record.

If you just wandered in, my sons call themselves Unorganized Hancock, and perform live here in Maine from time to time, and write their name on the Intertunnel wall every week or two, over by the YouTube cutoff,. They're homeschooled.

The big one is playing the electric and the acoustic guitar, and the bass, as well as conceiving and editing the videos, and the little one plays the drums and generally hangs around looking cute. He's only ten years old, and I do believe he's the greatest ten year old drummer in the world.

No brag, just fact. If he was doing anything to brag about, he wouldn't be that good, if you ask me. So why is he the best ten year old drummer in the world? He can't play a drum solo. Or more to the point, he has been taught that playing drum solos on YouTube isn't making music, and has been instructed first, last, and always to make music with other people, for the entertainment of a real audience. Your job is not to show off. Your job is to accompany others to play songs that people want to hear. I could teach every kid in the public school to play like that, but it's not allowed, or attempted, or whatever. And I was always a lousy musician, I just worked. Only the approach is important.

That's why he's the best ten year old drummer in the world -- it's by default. No one even attempts to do what he's doing. He can't do anything impressive. All he can do is play almost faultlessly for up to three hours in front of a real crowd of people in a real band. Hell, he's never required more than one take to make each and every Unorganized Hancock video, including this one. If his older brother requires more than one take for anything, for instance to overdub things, which he must do because there's only two of them, after all, then he never misses on any of the takes. According to YouTube, there's nothing impressive about that. He's supposed to play along with an Iron Maiden deep cut through headphones with four iPhones pointed at him at all times, I think.

The older one isn't very impressive, either, I gather. After all, what sort of talent does it take to perform live for three hours at a stretch with only a ten year old to accompany you? Anyone could do that. And he doesn't even know Freebird, mang.

I hear the public school kids are learning to play Frere Jacques on the flageolet this year while the teacher asks, "dormez vouz?", over and over, to everyone in the back of the class -- and means it. Good luck with that.

Nota Bene: Reader, commenter and friend Leslie painted the watercolors at the end. The Spare Heir demanded we include it in the video. It was in his performance rider, right after NO BROWN M&Ms. 

[Unorganized Hancock Tip Jar update: Update: It's possible that Kathleen M. in Connecticut isn't the nicest person in the world. But I doubt it]
[Update, but moreso: Dinah in Missouri is a peach]