Friday, September 29, 2006

Mom Busted Teh Intarnets

Now, I have a lot of friends on these here internets. We jostle and poke fun, and chat and so forth about a lot of things. Some how or another, like a fool, I mentioned that Jackie Kennedy was a hot babe way back when. Twice as foolishly, I also mentioned that she couldn't hold a candle to my own mother. And they tempted me to prove it.

Now, pictures of my family from forty years ago are in short supply, and I don't have many. This one is a scan of a scan, I think. She might be graduating from high school here, or egad! junior high. Anyway, you see what I was talking about now, don't you my friends?

The really funny part is, she pretty much looks the same right now. Hi mom!

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Today's Timbuk3 Reference

OK yesterday we defamed the elderly. It don't matter; they've barely learned to use the telephone, and I doubt any of them are ever going to be reading teh intarnets, no matter how big they make teh intarnet pipes. So let's get back to where we started. If you're not a stick in the mud, technology can improve your life immensely.

As I am the foremost authority on myself, I can assure you in my case that's absolutely true. That might seem odd at first blush.

I make reproduction antique furniture. Talk about a stick in the mud. Well, go to IKEA if you want to buy Jetsons furniture made out of wooden shredded wheat and formaldehyde glue, swathed in woodgrained wrapping paper. I'm not interested. And I'm not interested because "modern" furniture is an old idea. It's just as dated as any Shaker table is. It's the method of making it and selling it that's new, and I put IKEA in the shade on that score.
So I'm a thoroughly modern mill- man, trust me. So what exactly makes my day so modern, in the true sense of the word, and how is it different than it was just twenty-five years ago? I'm glad you asked:

1. I can get really good coffee anywhere, including in my house.
This is totally overlooked. Good coffee was really hard to find 25 years ago. Home brewed was boiled, generally -a terrible way to make coffee. And your average diner had coffee from the tenth century in that pot. I've got a German coffemaker that cost $16.99 and makes sublime java, or I can drive four miles in any direction and get really good joe. I do.
2. I can live where I want.
Everybody told me I was crazy to move where I live now. They said I was too far away from everything. My house has appreciated 539% since I built it 13 years ago. Yeah, I'm a dope. You don't have to live in a crummy apartment next to your job in a big factory chugging smoke if you don't want to anymore.
3. My house is comfortable
Hot water always comes out of the shower head. It 's warm in the winter and cool in the summer. It's dry in the basement.The furniture's not bad in here either. I ride when I mow the lawn. My children have their own rooms. These were magical dreams when I was a kid.
4. I'm alive.
I've been brought back from near dead a couple of times. Twenty five years ago, they would have given me aspirin and last rites.
5. I don't have to drive anywhere.
Look, I'm sympathetic if you're a road warrior. I've been there myself. But I never drive anywhere now. It's possible now. Even bank robbers can stay home and steal on the internet.
6. I make money at home by writing.
This one kills me. I tap out some text, which is visible in a little window on a screen, and occasionally get an attaboy or WTF from an editor that I have never met, and money is deposited directly into my bank account. This is the equivalent of alchemy circa 1975.
7. People find me even though I simply exist.
I invented guerilla marketing. I was the king of "copier art" word of mouth, free publicity, you name it. Now I simply exist on the internet, and people looking for what I have to sell find me and buy things. I think I've spent about $125.00 on advertising in the last three years. The internet is making willing buyer/willing seller come true in spades.
8. I have really good equipment from all over the world.
I've bought really good equipment and materials from all over the world and had it delivered to me here and never met the people I bought it from. I remember how hard it was just to get a 1x12 piece of pine after four in the afternoon on a weekday, and forget weekends. Now I can buy a 600 pound cast iron table saw made in Taiwan and sold through a company in Washington state, 2500 miles from me, at 2 AM on Sunday and have it delivered in less a week. I know this is the case, because I did exactly that. And Home Depot is open on Christmas.
9. I have access to really good information
Of all kinds too. Maps, directions, weather, pricing, comparative shopping, the internet is an astounding treasure trove of information.
10.You're reading this, ain't you?
I really can't say enough about this mode of expression. They didn't even teach men to type when I went to high school.
11.My packages get where they're going.
I was a shipping clerk for a little while 25 years ago. Shipping used to be as reliable as lottery scratch tickets. Now everything gets there right away, and you can track it all the way there.
12.I know how much things cost.
How does a saleman get paid? It used to be that salesman got money by knowing what a customer didn't, and taking advantage of that situation. Good luck trying that now, with this screen and Firefox in front of me. A saleman is in customer service now, or he's fired. Unless you're a car salesman. Then you're still evil.
13.I can be contacted at all times.
When I entered the construction trades, the idea of a phone on the job was science fiction. We all met before the sun came up in a dingy construction office and tried to predict everything that would happen all day to everybody and fix it before it happened. Yeah, that'll work. My life has been immeasurably ennobled by the cellular phone and e-mail. I f your job is miserable because of those two marvels you've got a bad job. Quit now.
14.I can make financial transactions on the web.
I go to banks to sign mortgages. I go to the Post Office...Never mind, I never go to the Post Office.
15.I have access to money easily.
People in the real world think easy credit is a snare to catch you. I've built empires on unsecured loans. All you have to do is always pay them back. People like me used to be trapped in laboring, or preyed upon by loan sharks, because regular banks wouldn't touch us. Now they beg me to borrow money. I don't need any today, because I could get my hands on it when opportunity knocked.
16.I have digital photography

It's hard to exaggerate its usefulness. I sent a picture of the exact item purchased to a customer, with a picture of it inside its crate with one side open, to show a customer what's inside and how to unpack it. He purchased it because he saw a digital photo of the last one.
17.I have a big truck.
I never go anywhere, but when I do, I can carry an enormous amount of stuff, safely and comfortably. The very idea of air-conditioning in a work truck boggles my mind still. Is that an FM radio?!!
18.I am not isolated from society.
I reiterate: you're reading this, ain't you? I have friends I've never met, all over the world. A note in a bottle, or waiting for my Nobel Prize ceremony was my only hope of meeting such persons before.
19.I can fly.
When I was a young teenager, my father took me to Boston's Logan airport, who was running a sort of tour where the children of the great unwashed (that's me) could get a chance to ride on an airplane. We took off, circled Boston twice, and landed. I thought at the time that was going to be my only chance to fly in my life. Thirty years later I was flying twice a week to a remote office for my last regular job. I used to get home in time for goodnight stories for my kids. My father worked in Boston when I was a kid, commuting only 35 miles from our house, and I almost never saw him at the dinner table.
20.This box makes me smarter than I am.
That's not that difficult, but the computer and the internet is the greatest cheat sheet in the history of mankind.

There you have it. It's always "the future" right now, and it's so bright... well, I told that joke already. I must be getting old, I'm repeating myself.

I'm Wearing Shades; Are You?

Look, I'm not young. I don't know what young is, really; but I'm not it anymore, of that I'm sure.

Why is the average person in a nursing home so dull? Make eye contact, or if you're really foolhardy, ask a question in a nursing home, and you'll likely get a disquisition on everybody and everything that person has ever seen that they can still remember, going back to Roosevelt. The first Roosevelt. And it comes out in one, punctuationless sentence, along with a little spittle generally. And 99% of it isn't interesting to anyone. Why is this? Why are old people so dull? One of the very first jobs I had was working in a nursing home, so maybe I can answer this.

The reason most old people are so dull, is that they're people, and most people are dull. You just don't notice is until it's in a wrinkly package.

We're all mostly dull. But time strips away sex appeal, and the likelihood that the other person might be able to help you move furniture someday, or introduce you to someone with sex appeal, and all that's left is the run-on sentence we all have prepared to answer the simple query: How are you? That, and a peculiar odor.

It's the people that are the same person, just been around longer, that I'm interested in. My father, who you met here a while ago, has interesting things to say, and if you get a minute, ask him an interesting question. And so we must all strive to be interesting and/or useful throughout our whole lives, or we'll be the ones waiting to describe our bowel movements to strangers, whether they ask us about them or not.

Like I said, I'm old. Well, I'm not young. Don't invite me to the Ween show; I won't go. I'd sit in and play with Ween, though. Because I'm not out of the game until they screw the lid shut. Growing up is not necessarily growing old.

Time marches really quickly these days. Lots of stuff is offered, in a dizzying array daily, agitating for your attention. And some of that stuff is pretty useful. And it occurred to me yesterday, that my life has been made easier, immensely so, by the march of technology coupled to the mostly open market to get it to me.

So tomorrow, I'll list all the ways my day yesterday was made easier, safer, more convenient, faster, -- and in a few cases just plain possible -- by the march of technology and my willingness to use it instead of saying: "That's not how we did it when Kennedy was President, you whippersnapper."

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Get Out Of My Way

Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so. Douglas Adams

I found out something fascinating yesterday. You can be educated, by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, for free.

No, I don't mean the rheotorical you; I mean you. And me. Anybody.

Well not anybody, of course, because not everybody is educable. But there are no entrance requirements, no interview, nothing; they just put the curriculum up on the internet and let you use it. As Lawrence of Arabia says to Ali, pointing across the trackless waste of the Nefu desert towards Aqaba: "It's just a matter of going." Simple, really.

Indeed. Now, you're not going to get to ask anybody any questions, get help from your peers, go to any keg parties, or clap any erasers for brownie points or anything. The stuff is just laying around there. You've got to do something with it, no one's going to show you the way.

Experience is a dear teacher, but fools will learn at no other. Ben Franklin

Now, if you know the vernacular of the 1700s, you'd know that "dear" means "expensive" or "difficult" in that aphorism. And Ben knew what he was talking about, because he was talking about himself, really. He's one of a long list of people that taught themselves what they wanted or needed to know. Like most auto-didacts, he knew amazing and voluminous things, but there were large gaps in his learning. This is the danger in not having a curriculum set out for you.

I've never been able to learn things properly. I always just wanted to be left alone in the library with the information that interested me. But you'll notice that Ben Franklin didn't espouse his method of learning, and neither will I. It's a self-selecting cadre I inhabit, and if you join because you think it's sexy, you'll likely make a mess of your life. Try going into IBM and telling them you know the things an MIT education encompasses, but you have no credentials to prove it. The tests you didn't take online aren't in the Human Resources person's desk, either. Grab a broom.

The only real way to learn anything in this world is to do it alongside someone that knows what they are talking about. But the person that knows what he's talking about is a rare thing, and rarer still is that person that will help you. They're busy. But sometimes they write it down. And you can learn it from them, even if they're halfway across the planet, or dead as a Pharoah.

People drop out of college now, and say: "Bill Gates dropped out of college, and he's rich. No problem." Believe me, you're not Bill Gates. If you were, you wouldn't be looking around to see what other people were doing, and mimicking their approach. Being an auto-didact is a force-play. You run to second base on a ground ball or you're out. There's no deciding in it. You are or you ain't. Bill Gates and his ilk stole second and third and home, and you're still trying to bunt.

A sympathetic Scot summed it all up very neatly in the remark, "You should make a point of trying every experience once, excepting incest and folk dancing." Sir Arnold Bax

Regular people make the world go round. By definition, most people are regular people. But if it's enough for you to have the stuff in your head, because you can use it, and know how to pan through the whole placer to find the glittering dust that's there in the ore, it's there now.

It's just a matter of going.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Hysterical Fiction

Hi all. I'm having a Monday squared, how about you? There seems to be some sort of dark matter on-line somewhere that eats my text whenever I'm trying to enter it into a text editor. Bad comedians used to make jokes about "where the socks disappear to" in the comedy clubs. I imagine it's been updated now, and with your two drink minimum you get to hear about "where the pixels go" now.

Anyway, we get peevish when the little wonders we are increasingly relying upon let us down. It's human nature. But I've missed a few meals in my youth, and knew people that grew up dirt poor, and I always try to remind myself that we're worrying about the icing on our cake, and luckily rarely have to worry about the pastry itself anymore. You know, like Sinead O'Leary had to:

Her Uncles had found her alone, a little girl sitting quietly in her family home in the county of Mayo. For the Irish, the famine was just the last straw; they had a litany of Cromwell's leftover reasons to leave anyway. And so they left in their thousands. Sinead O'Leary was no different; first to Liverpool, then to Canada, on to Boston. When she finally moved to New York City, now a grown woman and married, she rechristened it New Cork, and no-one she knew dared disagree. She made it so.

She simply refused to remember anything unpleasant, and seemed to forget nothing else. She regaled her children and grandchildren with stories of Cuchulain, and Medb, and faeries and wee people, a living encyclopedia of fun and fantasy.

She saved what little money came her way, and she bought and sold things. Her long lost relatives would send her this and that from the Auld Sod, and she'd sell them to Yankees who collected such as her family had, as if the Irish were as exotic as Babylonians, not right across the Irish Sea from their own forefathers.

One fine spring morning, she opened a bible box her uncle had sent her. Inside, sheepskin glowed with monastic filigree. She knew the Lord's word was on those Latin pages. Oh yes, she knew. She was wise enough to know also: There was a devil of a ransom in it from a collector too. And when a trim woman appeared at her door, sent by her employer, the Colossus of Finance, to buy it for that mausoleum of manuscripts he was constantly stoking on Fifth Avenue, Sinead was ready. He wanted it like the damned wanted icewater. Sinead knew how long to hold out before acquiescing.

Into real estate the money went. Then her son invested it for her in the stock market. Soon the simple woman, who still retied her own lace when it frayed, was rich. She always was, if you asked her, even though her Uncles could have told you they had found her alone in that stone cottage, all those years ago, because her parents were dead and gone, outside the door, their mouths green from trying to eat grass when the potatoes failed.

She was very old when that awful day christened "Black Friday" took her fortune, just like the famine had taken her family those many years ago. Her son sat with her on the simple wooden settee she still favored. "It has St Patrick�s clover in it, and to put a cushion on it would be extravagance itself!"

He gently told her that he had lost her money, over a million dollars, in one afternoon.

"What a blessing!" she said.

Her son, now grown grey himself, and ruined along with his mother, couldn�t comprehend.

"How kind of the Lord to wait until I could afford to lose a million dollars. Imagine what a blow it would have been to lose such a sum when I was poor!"

Her son burst out laughing. And he knew then, that his beloved mother was placed on this earth for a reason. And they would rise again. Surely.

"Besides," she said, "I have three more Bible Boxes"

Alway remember whence you came, people.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Pat And Stanley Part Deux

We've pointed out the predilection of our children to pay minute attention to what they watch on a screen. They are paying attention, and in a way we adults don't really understand anymore. We are looking at most everything we see and ignoring the bulk of it out of hand, relegating it to a kind of background noise. But our little ones are not comparing what they see to a framework they have already assembled; they are busy assembling that framework. And they notice.

Pat and Stanley are brushing their teeth in yesterday's video. My little boy has camped out at my door for two days now, waiting to importune me to show him the big hippo and the silly dog at every chance. And yesterday, he ran up the stairs after watching, to brush his teeth, because Pat and Stanley do. He got out his bucket of bath toys, and started rifling through them like a mad person. He found his heretofore ignored rubber duck bathtoy, placed it next to the sink, and brushed his teeth over and over.

My wife later noticed that Pat and Stanley have a rubber duck off to one side in the video. We hadn't noticed. But if it was good enough for his French-speaking friends, it was good enough for our little boy.

We're afraid to eat spaghetti.

All Pat and Stanley weekend! Enjoy!

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Pat And Stanley

Do you know about Pat and Stanley? I discovered them while looking for something else on the internet, and my three year old son is laying siege to my office right now, trying to get his hippo and silly doggie fix:

They're speaking French, and my French is pretty rusty, but it doesn't matter much. My toddler doesn't speak much of anything, and he's out of his mind for Pat and Stanley. There's a kind of rude charm about them, an irreverence and foolish earnestness which comes across in most any non-Taliban country.

Here's the one that got us hooked in the first place, and sent us scurrying for more.

According to Wikipedia, they belong to an Italian candy company, Ferraro SpA, who also make tic-tacs. Pat and Stanley are selling Kinder Happy Hippos, a sort of hippo shaped cookie available in Europe. They could sell steaks at a PETA picnic, if my little son is any indication:

YouTube can be a marvelous thing. It serves as more of a catalogue of human likes and dislikes for me than any other medium now. For all I know, Pat and Stanley are well known by everyone reading this, and I'm last to the party. I'll risk it, to show it to you.
Advertising sometimes attracts the most talented people to it, and here's a perfect example if that. I think kindly of anybody that brushes their teeth like Pat and Stanley, and makes my little boy laugh:

Bravo Andre Roche. Bravo Pat and Stanley!

Friday, September 22, 2006

Slow And Steady Wins The Race

[Editor's Note: Hit the "Play" button and you can listen to this song while you read.]
{Author's note: There is no editor}

Well, she's stumbled badly. I'm vaulting over her prostrate form, after trailing her badly for a week. Ann Althouse has posted a picture in her series: Unplayable 45s I Won't Throw Out, of Wham! singing Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go. She's suffered an irreversible setback on two fronts:
1. She owns this record. Now, I own lots of bad records. People would give me records all the time, thinking that's just the sort of thing I'd like. These were generally the sort of people that used to give me handkerchiefs or Hai Karate aftershave for Christmas presents. "I noticed you like John Lee Hooker records, so I bought you this Olivia Newton John Greatest Hits. Same sort of thing, isn't it?" I always found such gifts touching, but I never got the urge to listen to Physical while wearing after-shave and blowing my nose. Which brings us to:
2. Number two, indeed, because that Wham! record might be the most obnoxious thing ever pressed into plastic; but poor, deluded Ann is telling everyone it's "one of the best pop singles ever."
The mind reels.

First of all, we know that the greatest piece of pop ever is either Ringo singing It Don't Come Easy, or Badfinger singing No Matter What. This has been determined scientifically by me listening to the radio for a while and then writing my opinion down on the internet. Literally tens of people have agreed with me. Case closed.

That Wham! (don't forget the exclamation point!!!!!!!)record came out in the eighties. There is no delicate way to say this to a woman, but here goes: you're older than me, Ann, and that means you were an adult when you purchased that thing. How do you bear the shame of it? Seek solace in the Bible or the bottle.

Now, me, I'm going to put up the second best Rod Stewart record ever, Maggie May. The best is of course You Wear It Well, but I can't find that one. This will do, it's still 25,000 % better than George Michael. Faint praise, indeed.

Now, Rod Stewart was busy being 99% as bad as George Michael in the eighties, and other than avoiding lingering in public bathrooms recently, it's a tie as to who's worse now. But Rod Stewart, or Raw Sewage, as I used to call him, made a few fabulous records thirty odd years ago, and he can always trot them out onstage while women throw their grannie panties at him. George Michael just gets to pose for mugshots.

And me? well, I'd rather hold up a mugshot number than a Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go single.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Thanks Everybody

Thanks to dirtcrasher for sending along this picture of the B-24 in flight.
Thanks to Pajamas Media for putting us on their Daily Scroll.
Thanks to Maggie's Farm for linking to us.
Thanks to Patrick Martin for sending along his good wishes and linking to his fine story about his trip to the D-Day Museum on Stubborn Facts.
Thanks to Callimachus for his link, story, and more great pictures over at Done With Mirrors.
Thanks to Takhullus over at Sideways Mencken for noticing.
Thanks to the Collings Foundation for flying these things around.
Thank you to everybody else for reading and commenting and making my father happy two days in a row.
B-24 landing gear
Climb right in, and they'll lower you out of the plane. Nice view. Look out for Zeros.
My dad flew in one of these too. B-25. Says it' s the only plane he ever threw up in. Said it was like a Ferrari, while his B-24 was like a Model A Ford.

With guns.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Why Am I Writing This?

That is a difficult question. I don't answer difficult questions unless you ask me while holding a check or a gun. And even if I did tell you, I might lie. More likely though, I'd just be wrong. Being wrong is more common than lying is. Occam's paper cuts apply here too.

I think I know why you read it, though. Because I am an idler, and you wish to live vicariously through me.

Now, by idler, I don't mean a guy doing nothing. I'm working more than most people are, and harder than maybe I should. But I'm not in a normal sort of work setting, and the trajectory of my life is not predictable. I go places and see things and do things and so forth that salubrious people have to eschew to make this world go 'round properly.

We used to play sports. Then we began to watch others play sports for us, and sat in the audience. Then we invented media so we could watch people watching. Now we go to chat rooms and talk about persons that watch people watching other people playing sports.

It's all fine, of course, but the further removed from the engine of your interests you become, the more you long for a glimpse of the world you're not currently in. People's lives are richer and more interesting and varied than they ever have been, but the cost of that minutely parsed use of your skills, interest, and time is to risk making you feel a bit disconnected from the world at large.

And so perhaps you seek out others, whose lives are different than yours, and try to inhabit their little world for 600 to 1200 words at a time, and take a vacation from your discontents for a moment. What's that dope with the two kids and the wife and the cottage and the guitar and the furniture and the camera and the keyboard doing today?

It's not my fault I notice things, I used to tell people. I'm pleased to notice things for you, and allow you to notice things, namely me, in turn.

I read musty authors a lot. Twain, Mencken, Bierce, Kipling, Gibbons, Smith. I read Robert Louis Stevenson still:

Extreme busyness, whether at school or college or kirk or market, is a sympton of deficient vitality; and a faculty for idleness implies a catholic appetite and a strong sense of personal identity. There is a sort of dead-alive hackneyed people about, who are scarcely conscious of living except in the exercise of some conventional occupation. Bring these fellows into the country, or set them aboard ship, and you will see how they pine for their desk or their study. They have no curiousity; they do not take pleasure in the exercise of their faculties for its' own sake; and unless Necessity lays about them with a stick, they will ever stand still. It is no good speaking to such folk; they cannot be idle, their nature is not generous enough; and they pass those hours in a sort of coma, which are not dedicated to furious moiling in the gold-mill.

We all must furiously moil in the gold-mill. If I help you to idle a moment, as many have helped me, than I am content. To the rest of you... well... you're not reading this anyway.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Monday, September 18, 2006

My Father Asks For Nothing

My father asks me for nothing, really. Every three months or so, I take him to his doctor, who pokes about him wondering what keeps him animated, and that's about it. He's grown frail, and has discovered the joys of "Not Going." It takes a lot to get him to leave the comfort and safety of his house. I was really surprised when he called me on Saturday, because he asked me to take him somewhere.

My father was a ball gunner on a B-24J Liberator bomber in the Pacific during WW2. He rarely spoke about that. My father and his confreres considered themselves part of a thing greater than the sum of their parts in it --or so it seems to me -- and more or less did what was expected of them as a sort of unpleasant chore, kept themselves safe as much as was practicable, amused themselves when possible, and got back to being regular people as soon as they could.

As far as how practicable it was to keep safe hanging below a plane filled with four hundred pound bombs with nothing but the ocean beneath you to bore you and Japanese Zeros shooting at you to keep you interested in the trip, you can draw your own conclusions.

My father said that the last B-24 in flying condition was going to be at a little airshow nearby, and he wanted to go see it. Would I take him?

As I said, my father is very frail. His heart is big but not useful. His mind is sharp but not overused now. It takes quite a bit of effort for him to get down the hall and into a car. And there was nothing I could do to keep him from trying to climb in that plane when we got there.

I didn't try, actually; I just was sort of amazed, and wondered how I could help him. You entered the plane on a rickety jump ladder in the tail, walked through the fuselage filled with wooden ammo boxes and gun emplacemements, climbed around the retracted ball that was his home for forty missions, and then had to walk on a catwalk less than a foot wide between the bomb racks to get to the cockpit. All this for a man who needs a walker.

We went along the side of the plane, creeping along at the pace my father goes, my father assiduously avoiding walking between the fuselage and the props -- a habit sixty years old and more -- and he saw his chance. He ducked down and crept into the bomb bay.

Down came the hands. No one needed to be told who that man was, or why he was there. Everyone behind paused to wait patiently and respectfully, and everyone within reach helped me pick that old, frail, brave man up to look on the nuts and bolts of that totem of his distant life. And they thanked him, and they asked him questions, and marveled at him. A Brigadier General and a sailor and a J.A.G. and Vietnam vets by the handful pressed his hand for the piquant residue of that life that might be on it.

He just looked for one familiar face that he had not brought with him, but there were none.

My father asks for nothing.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

It Don't Come Easy

Commenter Mark Daniels saw my Ringo single yesterday, and had this to offer:
It's probably not an opinion that would pass muster with the rock intelligentsia, but I've always felt that 'It Don't Come Easy' was one of the greatest rock songs of all time. It's great!
Well, I don't know what the rock intelligentsia think...

Strike that -- I know exactly what they think, and I don't give a tinker's fart. I say "It Don't Come Easy" is one of the greatest pieces of pop ever. Listen to it:

The Beatles killed Rock music, really. They made artifacts- studio confections that existed in a realm outside live music. They had the knack for the little ditty writ large, and indulged it. They could get away with it, but it led to all sorts of trouble for those less talented. E.L.O. anyone?

But let's not worry about that. If you're going to assemble pop confections, who are you going to do it with?

Well, how about the fellows from Badfinger, and Beatles cronies like Klaus Voorman and Steve Stills, and Eric Clapton? Have George Martin ride herd over that, and see what you get. And when George Martin's not around, have the other George -- Harrison-- arranging the whole thing.

"We were always rather beastly to George," George Martin famously said of George Harrison. George's compositions were relegated to the end of the queue, afterthoughts really, and his guitar playing was a bit too lugubrious for the records, and George Martin would guide his charge through his solos more often than not. Paul McCartney played guitar in the original iteration of the band, and I'm sure George always had that feeling that he was looking over his shoulder a bit. It surely rankled, but George soldiered on.

Like the football player that isn't a star until he coaches, George really didn't shine until he was directing things. And he certainly had been paying attention to what George Martin was doing. He could do it too, when he got the chance.

The Beatles were kaput. We weren't tired of them, but they were tired of themselves. And George decided to give his friend Ringo a leg up, since they were all out on their own now. And George Harrison most assuredly wrote It Don't Come Easy, or the largest possible portion of it, if you disbelieve the record label and believe your eyes and your ears. Ringo sits in during the concert for Bangladesh, George out front with the Badfinger boys, and Ringo forgets about half the words when they play it together. He keeps on smiling through the whole thing, and invests it with that original and unmistakeable packing crate beat he invented for himself in the seedy clubs in Liverpool.

If you have any doubt who wrote the thing, listen to George and the fellows play it before Ringo shows up for the studio session:

All that was missing Ringo's sunny disposition, his infectious beat, and his likeable, plodding voice. You could hear him toss his head on a record, somehow.

George arranged some horns, really well, played that magnificent shimmering intro and outro, picking his way over the three chords like a mountain climber reaching the arete to gaze down into Shangri-la, and got his friend to play that guitar solo I bet -- Eric Clapton. It sounds like him, and he was there.

We were poor when I was a young teen, but not so's you'd notice. My weary mother would take us to the pizza joint, hard by the dissipated college kid's dorms, and we'd eat cheap pie and drink cokes and she'd give us quarters for the big Seeburg jukebox. George's warm pizzicato chords, then Ringo's voice would come out of that box like a benediction, and you'd let the whole thing wash over you like the warm, sweet wave it was.

Friday, September 15, 2006

45s I Won't Throw Out - Part Deux

Ann's got a Who record with a bite taken out of it. And it's actually a good Who record, not My Generation or something. It' s like she has me up against the ropes, and she's working the body now.

But I have Richard Starkey.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

45s I Won't Throw Out

Well, I've posted twice in one day. That just doesn't happen. But certain gauntlets must be picked up. My friend Ann Althouse hurled one at my feet, though perhaps she didn't know it. Ann got a head start on me, calendar-wise, but hey, bring it on.

Summer Fallow

The autumn is coming, or is here. There is no way to know. The farmer rushes, for he knows in his bones what is to come, as do we all. His daily exertions -- never mighty, always steady -- will yield their dividends if the cold dead hand of fortune does not intervene. One does not dwell on such things, except on the Sabbath, when you are not among them.

The fall is bittersweet for any man. The year is old enough to provide, but the reminder of the fresh strong exertions of spring, gone forever into the ground, are arrayed all around. The exhortation: "You will never see its like again" is the beginning of something, too.

What can you look upon, from a pinnacle, exactly?

Wednesday, September 13, 2006


When I was a kid, gas stations were few and far between. You'd have to travel a little way to get to one. I remember, forty years later, the Sunoco Station in the town I grew up in. We'd always drive past to get to another one. They had the usual signage on the old concrete block building, but it had fallen into disrepair. They used to repair automobiles at service stations too, and this place was no exception. It had two bays, with illuminated letters over the big bay doors that read CUSTOM SERVICE.

But not forever. The wind or snow or ice or just plain gravity had gotten to three letters, and for as long as I can recall we'd drive by and say aloud: CUSTO SE ICE.

I think's it's great to be noteworthy. That place certainly was; I remember it after all these years. But I remember Lee Harvey Oswald too. Remembering ain't the whole thing.

People derive certain impressions from all sorts of things about you. And in business, those cues you give, and some that others give about you, might determine if you eat three squares a day.

I make and sell furniture
. I give out all sorts of emanations about the whole state of affairs. This is one of them, come to think of it. What sort of impression does it give? I don't know.

I don't know because I'm not you. I can ask you, but you might lie. People don't like telling the truth always, if the truth hurts. In a former, much more rough and tumble business I worked at, I've been told terrible things by perfectly happy customers who thought yelling was the way to get a discount, and I've had people tell me everything was fine while they were searching for our replacement. You can't always tell what people are thinking by what people are saying. Ultimately, you have to try your best, listen as hard as you can, and trust in yourself.

I don't give an impression, but you might get one, is the short answer. Let me give you an example.

I've written many times about promenading in Bristol, Rhode Island. It's a lovely, quiet place, full of salubrious and friendly people. On our last trip, we were walking down the street, and we passed Muzzie's Attic on Hope Street. It was in an old building, and had the look of a place that has 11 things in a 10 thing bag. Bursting. And in fact, it had burst right out onto the sidewalk a bit. My wife espied that little putti birdbath, and its attractive price, and said she must have it.

We had our own little putti with us, and taking him into a store filled with small items, including ... shudder... porcelain, was out of the question. So I went in alone to pay.

The place was old and cluttered; but cluttered in an interesting and Victorian way. It was absolutely clean and shipshape. It didn't look ritzy. It looked like someone cared about it. I met that someone.

The lovely lady that took my credit card returned from the terminal with a question, which is never good. Well almost never.

"I'm a Sullivan too," she offered, and we chatted a bit about our fuzzy but similar lineage, and other such topics. I was in a bit of a hurry, but she neither shoved me out the door nor wasted my time. In short, I got what I wanted, and I got a pleasant impression of her, her family, and her lovely little store full of treasures.

I see that dish of water in my garden every day. It reminds me of:
-My little son
-My lovely wife
-A pleasant afternoon
-Bristol, Rhode Island
-A pleasant woman
-A pleasant store

I've forgotten about the money it cost. Go to Muzzie's Attic if you like pleasant people and interesting things. Go elsewhere for:


Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Stop Me Before I Chatham Again

You know, when you try to go with the zeitgeist, the vibe is always a moving target. That's a picture of Mr. Whalevedere, and I bet the town fathers thought they were a wild and cracy bunch when they put this ouside the town offices. It's kinda charming in its own right. But it's not hip. Hip replacement hip, really.

Here's the Chamber of Commerce information thingie in Chatham. It's right downtown and gives just the right impression about the place. There's an old joke about New England towns:
"I never go to public bathrooms in New England."
"Why is that?"
"I'm afraid if I take it out, someone will paint it white and hang shutters on either side of it."

Colonial houses can appear very chaste and elegantly plain. But get your hands on five starfish, and you're a whimsical trainwreck.

Here's the shopping district, looking sorta medieval on steroids. It has that rarest of things in it: Art galleries with pleasant but not kitsch paintings. Art should be looked at through a window with real muntins first. Check.

You've got 'til Columbus Day to stroll in the fine weather. After that, it's Katie Bar The Door until Memorial Day. Hurry up.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

On The Porch

It's Sunday. Sunday's lovely. The children and parents alike are in their pajamas still. Work never really stops for such as I, but there is an extra portion of downtime built into the day.

There is a period between Labor Day and Columbus Day when Cape Cod is literally perfect. The sunshine still has the power to warm your bones properly, but never hits you like a hammer as it does in August. The flowers still bloom. The sun doesn't get as high in the sky, and so the flat, washed out effect of the midday is tempered into a kind of vibrant illumination only. The mosquitoes are losing interest.

The tourists have fled. Park on the street. The shopkeepers are glad to see you again. The ocean has reached its benificent peak, before its long languid slide to icewater. The weather has turned, and all the haze has fallen out of the sky to linger above the grass in the long morning, or hangs in the twilight like the smoke from a million elves' chimneys.

The tree branch will hang over my bairn as he waits for the bus tomorrow, the leaves tinged with red and yellow, reminding me that the year, and the boy, is slipping away down the calendar. Let us linger in it all today.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Time Marches On

I know I'm not supposed to be, but I'm a terrible Anglophile. My pater's name is Ó Suileabháin, after all. My ancestry is obscure, but it wouldn't take much effort, I'm sure, to trace it back to Sullivan Beare, skirmishing with Henry VIII, and "hold paper" on the Empire, as it were. A long while back, I was present in a place where darts were thrown and Guinness was pulled, when an IRA sympathizer tried to pass the hat to "pay for some treason." A man that said he knew someone killed when Lord Mountbatten was assassinated threw hands with him. I threw in with the Britisher. Michael Collins and Churchill couldn't have done any better. St Patrick was a Britisher, after all.

Anyway, the internet tide brings in all sorts of interesting people, and yesterday, commenter "editor theorist" shared a bit of his thoughts about the similarity of our Chatham to his Northumberland:

Yes - far views. The tourist board here describes Northumberland (northernmost English county, bordering Sotland) as 'land of the far horizon' - and that is a great appeal of hillwalking in the Cheviots. The coasts have a similar flat expansive quality to that picture of Cape Cod.

If you're like me, you were up to your arse in the British Empire at the library when you weren't reading about America. There are great swaths of England I could find my way around even though I've never been there. It is familiar in your mind. Like Canada and Australia and many other places, Great Britain is in the bones and very marrow of this place. I own the dotted line on the map between Marion- my home, and the next town. That town is named Rochester. An Anglander knows that name. I've lived in Medfield, and Medway. It's called New England, for St. George's sake.

Anyway, he got me to thinking, that theorist, about Cape Cod and my youth.

It's not possible anymore, because Cape Cod is a year-round residence for many now, but there was a period in my youth when the summer season would end and nobody but a few hardy souls, and artists, would remain on Cape Cod.

There was a tradition, mostly exaggerated but with a kernel of truth, of the locals standing, drunk as lords, on the overpasses on the highway on Labor Day, waving black socks at the retreating tourists. They were japing at the predilection of tourists to wear black socks and shoes with their shorts, or egad! sandals and black socks. They depended on the tourists for their livelihood, and resented them at the same time.

There was a period of weather until Christmas, with the warm ocean water tempering the thermometer, which permitted you could walk vast expanses of empty landscape there, alone with your thoughts and the gulls, and feeling as Byronic as any Heathcliff on the moors ever did.

My grandmother lived halfway down the Cape in the 1960s. She was surrounded by cranberry bogs as far as you could see. We used to walk on the tiny aretes between the table-like expanses of russet berry plants and make our way to the beach -- pounded flat and smooth as concrete -- and walk until you tired of walking and your own solitary company.

Time marches on. I don't begrudge the new residents their piece of heaven. I had the use of it, free for the taking, for a good long while first. Just like the British before me.

Friday, September 08, 2006

The Long View

Ah, we've returned in pixels to the lovely Chatham, Massachusetts. Chatham's way out there on the cape, near the elbow where you turn north and head for Provincetown, and then... well, Portugal, if you've got a boat.

Pilgrims have been mucking around in Chatham since 1656, when they first came here to farm. Eventually even a pilgrim can figure out the ocean was full of fish, and didn't require weeding, and the local economy quickly turned to fishing from farming. My own uncle used to fish based out of the harbor down the road... um shore -- Harwich. There's more tourists than fishermen now, of course, but you can still get in a fight at the local taverns in the dead of winter if you so desire. It's the traditional way for the Cincinnatus of the ocean to pass the time in any dead period in their schedule. It has its amusements, these fights; for the fisherman and the onlooker, anyway.

Chatham's a rich place. And it still looks like a beachside resort, not Disneyland. It's fun to walk around and look at, if you like shore architecture. I do.

The first picture is a scenic overlook and stairs to the beach, located across the street from the Coast Guard station and lighthouse. It's a busy little strip of parking and gawking and shoe-sand shaking. The sand bar you see in the distance used to go right across the horizon to the left, but was breached in a hurricane a few years back and stayed that way. The beach rarely stays put in this world, no matter how much you paid for beachfront property. There were dire predictions about this breach in the sandbar, but like most dire predictions, it hasn't amounted to much.

People from the midwest don't understand how rare it is for people around here to see the horizon. It's hard to get far enough away from anything around here to see it. It's the reason, besides the water, that the ocean captures the imagination of the average person.

People build bad houses that gape at the water through big sheets of glass now, because they have money and no sense. It's not the way to go. You quickly get a surfeit of any view you hog like that, and it becomes a sort of wallpaper. The first time you go to someone's house that has a second floor deck served by banks of sliding doors on the ocean, you're captivated, and massage their ego for owning the whole thing. You big scene gaping swell, you say. Stay with them for a week, and you'll notice it's the glowing blue thing in the cabinet, not the luminous blue thing under the sky, that they're looking at. You've got to frame that view if you're going to look at it every day.

It's nice to be at the shore, with the great corona of the sun beaming upon your mien, and the gentle zephyr wafting the fragrant sea air all around, and tiny devils of sand like talcum swirl underfoot. You're outside. On a boat, with land in view, it's even more wonderful and striking. But when the shoreline disappears on a boat, the ocean becomes blue textured shag carpeting, as seen from a mezzanine in a lobby -- unless you're in a small boat, when it becomes kinda scary.

So that's a lovely place I showed you to go and see and sit and swim. But this is how to meter that loveliness into your quotidian life, like divdends on some wise investment. Frame it and show it, and snatch it back from sight and reveal it again.

I walked back and forth right there until the owners of the house called the police.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

I Could Paint That, But My Brushes Are Too Small

I had to dash all over creation today. I found myself in Chatham, Massachusetts in the early afternoon. I risked death, dismemberment, and a general lack of other motorist's bonhomie -- as distinguished by the raised finger salute I received for daring to jerk the truck over at this spot ---to get you, my dear readers, this essential view of the fabulous thingness of late summer light on Cape Cod.

You're welcome.

More tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Ramshackle Is My Middle Name

I've been in the construction business, in one form or fashion, for most of my life. Tectonic plates have shifted; continents meandered across the mercator projections; empires have risen and fallen. Pluto's not a planet again. I keep going.

When I was a schoolchild, they told us Pluto might not be a planet, by the way. What's happened in the interim that gave everyone the impression it absolutely was a planet, and now absolutely isn't? Is it the same thing that makes people argue about it on the internet as if they owned real estate on Pluto and stood to lose money, all the while spelling argument "arguement" and sprinkling apostrophes all over the place except where they belong? I expect so.

People have all sorts of information available to them now, and not much of it is very good. And some of it is good, but not useful. To paraphrase Mark Twain: stay away from the internet and television, and you're uninformed; go there, and you're misinformed.

I'm an odd person. I've been lots of places and seen lots of things that most people that can read, write, and spell never do. The real world callouses make me inscrutable to a cubicle dweller; the "Three R's" make me suspicious to the day laborer. When I left my last job, the CEO and the COO begged me to reconsider. They had promoted me from the lowest rung to senior to one of the owners. What did I want? Why would I leave? They called me, a day before my notice was up, the notice they had strung out over three months, and told me: Eureka! we got the bright idea of digging up your old resume and now we finally understand you.

I think not.

Ever live in a house like the ones pictured above? I have. I used to work on them all the time, too. By gad how I loved them.

When I was wandering through a portion of the education required to become an architect, a friend of mine took me to see one of his other friends who was renovating a bombed out looking victorian in Roxbury, Mass. I was born right down the street, but hadn't been there much recently. It was very dangerous to be there after dark.

The fellow had bought the place for next to nothing, lived in it like the wooden cave it had become, and was repairing it by himself.

He had taught himself carpentry, and electricity, and plumbing, and plastering and painting, and all the other aspects of home construction usually foreign to architects. You heard me right, architects generally have nothing but the most vague ideas of how things get done in construction. Surgeons don't empty bedpans. I didn't want to be an architect anymore. I wanted to be that guy whose name I don't remember. And this was five or ten years, easy, before Norm Abram and Bob Vila stood on a scaffold right down the street from the place I was describing, and did the same thing with a camera pointed at them.

I've done everything you can do to a house, old or new, from digging the hole to putting a vane on the cupola. I've bathed in lead paint. I've discovered beehives the size of mattresses inside the walls. I've found whisky bottles left by the workmen who built the places in the 1800s in the walls. I've seen wooden plumbing pipes and dirt floors and secret closets where people hid during King Philip's War. I've worked 16 hours straight, laid down on the wood floor when it got dark, and got up and started again. And now I make furniture.

I've got to get my hands on it. I can't help myself. And I'm just like Pluto. I dip into the solar system, occasionally, in my erratic orbit, and the other planets wonder: Is he like us, or isn't he?

It gets cold out here from time to time, but you get a wonderful view of the universe.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

It's New, Improved, And Old-Fashioned

Anything that doesn't kill us makes us stronger.

That's a banal observation, but like most things that enter the lingua franca, it's probably got at least a kernel of truth to it.

I'm supposed to be a fuddie-duddie. Get accused of it all the time. I'm not.

The way I see it, there's two kinds of observations about yesteryears:
1. I like to go backwards in time because I had all my teeth and most of my hair then.
2. I want to go back in time because we're going backwards, progress-wise now, and to go forward we've got to back up a little first.

I'm almost never in the first camp. I'm happier now than I ever have been. I see people in general, and egad! politicians waxing nostalgic for the 1970s or worse, and I reach for my imaginary revolver. Look, I was young, and wild, and free, and so forth, in 1976, and I wouldn't plunge us back into that morass for anything. People forget easily. As far as I'm concerned, the Jimmy Carter memorial should be at the bottom of a deep dark well.

Anyway, my fascination with old fashioned stuff is more #2. (Insert obvious joke about bears doing number two in the woods, and popes and so forth HERE)

Enlarge the photo I supplied. I started Sippican Cottage Furniture a few years ago, and that photo is older than dirt, so you guessed it: I work for Reuters in Lebanon.

Just kidding. But yeah, I manipulated the image for grins. Now how do you pigeonhole a fellow like myself who uses photomanipulation software on a digital scan of an old snapshot like that? I like the old look. I like the new whizbang methods of communication and data movement. Where do you draw a line?

I'll explain it as succinctly as I can. Not everything that happens is an improvement on what came before. If it is, let's go warp speed. No union set asides, subsidies, or rationing please. But there's an awful lot that gets changed for the sake of change, and gets worse in the bargain. It's not my fault I notice that, and point it out.

I describe my business as : new, improved, and old-fashioned. All the best things --and people --are.

Monday, September 04, 2006

I'm The Only Person Working On Labor Day

Well, I've got some sort of browser problem. It's harshing my mellow. Sometimes I wish the Apple cultists were right, and Bill Gates was trying to take over the world, and he actually would, and everything softwarish would talk to each other on the internet and in my desktop. The rest of the time I stick needles in a doll that looks like him. All that keeps me busy.

Hey, the lovely and talented Amba at Ambivablog is talking about me again. Don't believe her for a minute, though; I'm not a patch on her old man Jacques. Can I get away with everybody reading that old post, and let me make tables today? Hope so.

Besides; my resume is on the internet, if you know where to look. Note: it might not be entirely accurate.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

The Great McGonigle (From 2006)

When I was young, there was a coterie of entertainers, some still alive, many recently dead, that seemed a bit mildewed and square, but had a certain something that kept them from disappearing from view altogether. They'd have little renaissances, either as shadows of themselves, still performing, or as icons; then they'd slip below the entertainment horizon again.

All the three main Marx brothers had a run. Henny Youngman. Rodney Dangerfield. Charlie Chaplin ebbed and flowed. Harold Lloyd. Even Mae West caught a flurry of interest in the seventies. George Burns clawed his way out of the crypt every once in a while for forty years or so, dragging his friends Jack Benny and Milton Berle along. Jackie Gleason got his homage regularly. Come and go.

But man, I never got tired of William Claude Dukenfield, the genteel bum:

There were a couple of juggling videos making the rounds of the internet recently, and they struck me as mildly entertaining. They immediately reminded me, though, of the most entertaining juggler that ever lived: W.C. Fields. Someone finally took pity on me and posted that video on YouTube, so I could prove it to you. And he's barely trying in that one.

Remember when celebrities could do things, and entertain people?

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Crescent City Fais Do Do

Oh, you don't know me if you think I'm finished with New Orleans. Because New Orleans is the home of all sorts of the greatest american music, which means the greatest music anywhere.

It's spanish and french and sicilian and neapolitan and arab and indians and acadian and irish and scots and deepest darkest africa, baby.

I'm going to do this from memory:

Jelly Roll Morton - raggin on yer stride, or stridin' on your rag
Louis Armstrong- where's my laxatives and trumpet?
Louis Prima- the greatest show ever
Dixie Cups- Iko Iko, no t Ikea!
Clifton Chenier- less cowbell- more washboard!

Meters- words optional
All those Marsalis fellows- a dog in every fight
Professor Longhair- no truth in advertising
Mac Rebbenack the Night Tripper-right place, right time
Alan Touissant- pianny please
Lee Dorsey- The Kid Chocolate, workin' in a coal mine
Fats Domino- still there
Little Richard Penniman recorded there with:
Bumps Blackwell - more fun than a bear on the street, with more hair
Rufus and Carla Thomas -gee whiz
Sidney Bechet!- that's how Van Morrison always says it; with an exclamation point
Lloyd Price -too black for American Bandstand. Just right for me.
King Floyd - groove me!
Mahalia Jackson- angels take notes
Marcia Ball - I played with her once. Her legs go right to the ground, as unlikely as that seems

We could always drive up the road to Mississippi and find my old friend Albert King, if we got bored.

You wanna know how great New Orleans music is, and was? I bet I forgot 500 people, and it don't matter.

(updated: lohwoman reminds us of: Preservation Hall Jazz Band with Sweet Emma. OK, so we've only forgotten 499 people now.)

Friday, September 01, 2006

Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans?

[Editor's Note: We serve no masters here but our own defective interests. I don't think anything I've ever written elicited the response, public and private, that the New Orleans entry did.
When I was a performer, we'd play a song sometimes, and the girls would love it. We were never like artists - we'd play it again if they asked us to. (We never cared a fig about what guys liked, under any circumstances. Sorry, that's just the way it was.)
So I'm interested in this. So are you. To hell with everybody else.]

{Author's Note: There is no editor.}

Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans?
And miss it each night and day
I know Im not wrong... this feelings gettin' stronger
The longer I stay away

Miss them moss covered vines...the tall sugar pines
Where mockingbirds used to sing
And Id like to see that lazy Mississippi...
hurryin' into spring

The moonlight on the bayou
a creole tune that fills the air
I dream about magnolias in bloom
and I'm wishin' I was there

Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans?
When that's where you left your heart
And theres one thing more...I miss the one I care for
More than I miss New Orleans
The moonlight on the bayou
a creole tune that fills the air
I dream about magnolias in bloom
and I'm wishin I was there Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans?
When that's where you left your heart
And theres one thing more
I miss the one I care for
More-more than I miss-New Orleans