Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Have A Very Happy Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Halloween

Forget Bobby "Boris" Pickett's version. Here's the real deal:

Neil Innes is the greatest spoof musician in the history of the universe. Weird Al should be cleaning his pool while Spike Mulligan mows the lawn.

Be sure to watch their tribute to "The Sound of Music" at the end. I'm not sure, but I don't think they liked it all that much. Maybe it's just me. But we watched it on TV every year when I was a kid, and I always rooted for the Nazis, hoping to stop the singing.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Hallowe'en Explained

{Editor's Note: Greetings to Pajamas Media Readers.}
[Author's Note: There is no editor]

Hallowe'en's a mess. Everybody tells me so.

Read the newspapers. Hallowe'en is a combination salacious bachanaal, devil worship love-in, workplace sexual harrassment playground-- with the added attractions of being fired, run down by cars, dressing your daughters as Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver, and perhaps getting razor blades or anthrax in your kid's candy. Other than that: Have Fun!

Pope Gregory III moved Festum omnium sanctorum --All Saints Day -- to November first to put a Christian gloss on the thing, but I bet appeasing dead spirits that walk the earth with treats goes back to the times of the caves of Altamira. The actual caves, not the Steely Dan song.

Co-opting an existing tradition for a current generation's amusement. Hmm. Sounds exactly like what every crank, weirdo, jerk, and dogooder busybody is trying to do right now with Hallowe'en. At least the Pope just monkeyed about with the day after Hallowe'en, so his flock could enjoy a pagan festivity without worrying about it much. It's like a Fortune 500 company hiring P Diddy as a spokesman. It's more about image than any change in substance. My apologies for referring to him as "P Diddy." I think he's just "Diddy" now. Or perhaps he's changed it again; it's almost 10:00 am and I haven't checked today.

I don't have much of an opinion about Hallowe'en. Everyone seems to have lost their minds about it. There, that's an opinion.

I see problems:

1. People use the day as an excuse to do vicious things to one another. I don't care for that. I don't think you really want to be placed in any jail population wearing a costume. Knock it off.

2. Adults participate in it more than children now. That's silly. Adults are supposed to walk behind their children with a flashlight and carry their charges and their loot for the last 7/8 of the trip.

3. People's insane ideas about what other people should eat are intruding on the fun. Hint to homeowners: children like candy. Children don't like candy designed for diabetics. Trust me on this one.

4. Paganism is the root of Hallowe'en. If you're an actual Pagan, or Druid, or Wiccan, or think you're a witch or warlock, I've got news for you: Hallowe'en ain't your night. It's NOT the one night when everybody sees the essential coolness of your worldview; it's the one night of the year that normal people pay enough attention to the imaginary trappings of your foolish worldview to make fun of you. That's it. Just like everybody else on Hallowe'en, you should behave and look differently for a short period. In your case, you should dress normally and act in a dignified and intelligent manner for a little while . You can spend the other 364 days acting like a loon.

5. Hallowe'en considered changing its name to: "The College Kids Don't Wear Much, Drink Still Liquor- Keystone- Cough Medicine-Rohypnol Smashes While Re-enacting the Sack of Troy, Amateur Arson/ Rapist/ NASCAR driver/Insane Jehovah's Witness/ Melee Night." It wouldn't fit on the t-shirt, so they left it alone. College kids don't need Hallowe'en. College kids only need the calendar to read "Thursday; PM," for all that. No use eggin' them on.

I'm here to help. Let's solve all our problems with Hallowe'en:

At around dusk, small children dressed in cute and fantastic costumes will visit the doors of their nearby neighbors, who will give them a little Snickers bar for their trouble. Any child old enough to be unaccompanied by an adult is too old to trick-or-treat. The children's parents will stand slightly behind their children and wave to the neighbors and they will exchange pleasantries. The home will have a pumpkin or two on the step, and perhaps the silhouette of a witch on a broom and a black cat, cut from construction paper by a gradeschooler, in the window. These small children will not be frightened by this activity, and startling people for your amusement will get you only a rap on the head from a Maglite flashlight that you will commemorate for several weeks by rubbing the lump it leaves on your addled head. The small children will be home and asleep at the regular hour, more or less.

While they sleep the deep, comforting sleep of the weary and contented child, I will steal their candy.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Ditto Wind On Sunday

We've lost our electricity a half a dozen times in the last two days. The wind is... Heathcliff on the moor-ish?? Guns of Navaronian? Lawrence of Arabitious? Well, they're going like a talk show host.

If I've got to stand there in the dark one more time listening to the sawblade decelerating and wondering where my fingers are vis-a-vis said blade, I'm going to need psychotherapy.

Before this magical machine winks out again, here's something interesting to look at while I light candles and pray to the god of Tesla.

This, ladies and gents, is what technology is capable of -- if it runs on batteries:

Saturday, October 28, 2006

The Wind Is Howling

It's wild outside the window right now. The rain sprays against the windowpanes. The wind is howling.

The wind doesn't actually howl of course. It encounters some object -- our house with all its little jogs and juts and dustcathchers-- and makes its presence known as it tries to get from where it is to where it's going. And that sound reminds you of the invisible ubiquity of it.

Artists whistle at our windows. They make the mistake, sometimes, of thinking they are the wind. Or we make the mistake for them, and ask them about matters great and small. Expecting blueprints, and getting fingerprints. No. The wind passes by, and makes them trill. And through them, we can sometimes get a sense of the world going by because they make us hear it. They whisper, or coo, or shriek. They point.

Marvin Gaye was a weirdo. Artists often are. He certainly could whisper, and coo, and shriek. And the wind passed by our windows, and he gave it voice. It might be the loveliest voice of his generation.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Happy Hallowe'en From Pat And Stanley

If you're new in this neck of the internet, you can read about Pat and Stanley here.

You could learn to speak French too; it couldn't hurt, but it's really not necessary. Enjoy.
And Happy Hallowe'en!:

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Disaster Strikes - Not

I was mildly discommoded yesterday. Twenty years ago, I would have been in a world of problems. SOL we used to call it. The reasons why I am back in the clover, more or less, instead of breaststroking through the septic, are poorly understood by the chattering classes. And by "poorly understood," I'm being polite; I really mean: they haven't the faintest clue about which they speak, and would destroy everything good about what I'm about to to tell you, while sumultaneously excacerbating all the problems attendant to it.

What happened? A very important tool broke, and at an inopportune time.

There really is no opportune time for this sort of thing, but when you're working 12 hours a day or more every day trying to keep up already, calamities such as this can make a weak man look for a length of rope, an overhanging limb, and a chair. What the hell am I going to do?

The majority of all construction concerns, whether they be atelier furniture or condominiums you're building, is logistics. You heard me. The skill part is way down the list.

How are you going to get the things you need, when you need them, and thereby make something that satisfies the logistical needs of others. The filigree is nice, but it ain't important.

If you're a framer for house construction, you have to know what you're doing, cutting and nailing-wise, but it ain't rocket science. How are you going to get a 35 pound sheet of plywood up on a half built roof using high school dropouts and non-english speaking persons is the rub. And how are you going to make sure that that sheet of cdx you need isn't on the bottom of $40,000.00 worth of other lumber you ordered. How do you get it to the job on time, but no so early it gets stolen for the neighborhood kid's treehouses before you even begin? Logistics, people. It's all that matters.

As I was saying, the machine quit on me. A puff of smoke came out of it. Smoke signals in woodworking always translate the same: Don't even plug that thing in again. The "blue screen of death" in woodworking actually involves death sometimes, so you don't flirt with it.

I've been in this game a long time now. This used to happen in the field or factory, and you'd spend prodigious amounts of time, effort, and treasure trying to get another machine in place, or get the smoker fixed. You had no cellphone or computer; you' d call from a landline, never getting the person you needed, trying to find the thing you wanted, driving around, and all the while your projects languished. You'd have to tell all your customers that the job was delayed, we're waiting for such and such a part to come from (fill in the blank) and in the meantime we're all sweeping the floor and sharpening our plane irons.

Someone in China wants to make this tool for me. Someone that can negotiate transnational contracts and shipping wants to broker a deal to make and ship the things. Somebody wants to drop enormous coin in advance to buy and distribute the item all over these here United States, so there will be a big stack of them everywhere. Somebody wants to go through all the hassles of finding, permitting, building, and maintaining enormous box stores all over the landscape so I the average Joe can get to the things they're selling. Someone wants to drive a big truck all over the place day and night to deliver said items while we're all sleeping. And some clerks want to stand there and scan the box when I finally get there. Don't even get me started about all the information various parties wanted to supply me with on the internet, more or less free of charge, about the who, what, where, when, and how damn much it's gonna cost.

That's a lot of people who want to do things. I'm sure I've forgotten all sorts of people in there too, who are obscure but important to me. That's understandable, because no one knows who's important to them anymore. It's just not knowable. And tinkering with the process whereby a willing seller hooks up with a willing buyer because you think you know better than everybody what everybody needs, is where the chattering class comes in.

They don't think the guy in China needs that job. They don't think the importer should be able to do that. They don't think that truck should drive all night - or at all. They don't think consumer goods need to be so cheap. They don't think that warehouse should be built. They don't think those clerks make enough money to bother working in that big box store. They don't think... why am I bothering to list all this? They don't think anybody needs anything they don't need, and only if it's offered in a format they understand and adheres to their cranky worldview.
Yes I do need it. Everybody in that endless concatenation of events and people need what we got, and what we especially don't need is you mucking up our lives by saying we don't know what we need.

I purchased a replacement for a tool I've been using --hard-- for 15 years. The new one cost 1/2 of what the old one cost, and that's not even adjusting for inflation. And it works better than the old one did, even when it was new.

I lost most of a day because of this. Twenty years ago I could have lost the better part of a week or more, and pulled out some of my hair in the bargain. And whoever sold me what I ultimately got would have performed the highway robbery pricing routine on me to boot.

Busybodies, get out of our way, we're working here.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The Japanese Thang

Maybe it's because it's a pile of rocks out in the ocean. I know about those.

The Japanese are always fascinating. Their culture is likely born of the hothouse- long periods of segregation from outside influences, like in a greenhouse, promote a lush growth, but also a delicacy that does not always translate into the greater world. And a fear of The Other.

They have produced some of the most interesting things to look at. Frank Lloyd Wright, among others, was greatly enamored of the Japanese style. Through reading about him, I was steered towards Hiroshige, and Hokusai. I never tire of Mount Fuji and cranes and waves when such as they churn them out.

What am I to make, then, of Kodomo No Kuni? Kodomo No Kuni (Children's Place, or Children's Wonderland) was a children's magazine published in Japan from 1922 through 1949. And it's beautiful and touching. And it's disturbing, because it's not disturbing at all.

I've always found that period of the 1920s and thirties fascinating. The world was becoming modern, in the true sense of the world, and various cultures and countries were trying to make sense of it. And no one got it wronger than the Japanese.

Everybody got it wrong, really. There were just varying versions of bad, and worse, and frivolous, and stubborn obsolescence. No one really understood what the enormous changes in technology and macroeconomics meant to the human race. Do we now?

If you look at the pictures of the children in Kodomo No Kuni, and see how the artists are trying to convey a message about fitting in in a world that's shifting rapidly. We in America still read Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel to our children as a nostalgia piece, but originally it was made to explain the newfangled world to a disoriented public. Time marches fast, and sometimes people rely on old thinking because they are adrift in events. The best things in culture help us to see the new things while standing on the shoulders of what has come before. Dynamism yoked to Traditionalism. Not Reactionaries and Deconstructivists, thanks.

The real problem is that old thinking is tarted up as the Next Big Thing all the time. The most antediluvian idea is presented as cutting edge by the same old busybodies. And the oldest idea in the world is "us against them" when the going gets rough or disorienting.

Even when wonderful things happen, the pace of change accelerates and makes people nervous. Nervous people are susceptible to the idea that there is a force behind everything, and that force is nefarious by its very existence, and since somebody designs everything, we might as well decide who that someone is and put him in charge. There is never a shortage of persons ready to tell you they're up to the job.

The real problem is that human society isn't really "run" by anybody anymore. Everything has long since become too complex for anybody to know very much about anything, never mind most things. But human beings always desire to see a face in what is formless. And to my way of thinking, people who see the hidden hand of human interactions and think: it must be a cabal, and we can run it better, are much more superstitious than any holy roller. At least the vast bulk of holy rollers ascribe to the idea that life, the universe, and everything is not knowable. It's the fellows and ladies that say: "I can run the world better than the folks that do now" that worry me. Because "no one" is running the world now, and replacing "no one" with "someone" makes perfectly lovely people, raised in beauty and love and respect for others, like the beautiful children depicted in these amazing magazines, grow up and fly kamikaze planes into aircraft carriers when they're done with the Rape of Nanking.

Read Kodomo No Kuni
, and weep a little, perhaps, for those weaned on it who didn't get to live in the world they saw in it.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Mamet Management 101

I like watching David Mamet movies. He's a screenwriter and playwright and director. I noticed him back when interesting things came out of Paul Newman's mouth in The Verdict, and the dialog in almost every movie Mamet makes is first rate.

I'm not sure he's a very deep thinker, really. He wrote a book about life in general, and he has a decidedly mundane view of matters great and small. But he has a knack, obviously buttressed by a lot of work and a diligence in observation, that makes the things he has people say in a movie sound believable. We were watching an enjoyable old Thin Man movie from the thirties the other evening, and we were all japing at the stilted dialog in it. One of the characters says: "Suddenly, I went back up the stairs to retrieve my handkerchief." By gad, people don't talk like that.

It's the seeming that's important. People don't talk like they do in any movie, good or bad. The trick is to encapsulate ideas and move the story along without calling attention to the words. It's gotta seem like something someone would say.

"What one man can do, another can do."

That's from Mamet's try at an action picture: The Edge. There's a great big bear, and it's eating the characters, and they decide to kill it. They're trying to buck up their courage to kill the bear while lost and defenseless in the wilderness. One character tells the other that Indian boys used to kill bears as a rite of passage. We can do it, because other people can do it. They repeat it over and over until they're pumped with the idea.

I'm sure Mamet got that tid-bit from some zeitgeist background noise about multi-level marketing or Men's Wilderness Bonding Retreats or Tony Robbins speeches or a ghostwritten CEO's pap book. And he used it perfectly. Management books asking"How would Attila the Hun handle this?" were all the rage at the time, after all. The man-eating bear as a management problem. Funny.

Anyway, that slogan is interesting, because it doesn't apply to me, really. Who can I mimic, exactly?

I don't know of anybody that's doing what I'm doing, business-wise. I'm making this up as I go along. So there's a problem whenever you try to explain what you're doing, whether it be to a customer or a bank or your wife or your kids or whoever. People want to know which mental manila folder they keep in their head for various kinds of people you fit into. And you don't fit anywhere.

So you're out on the edge of the map. Here Be Monsters is all it says. What do you do?

You think small, is all. No, not about big things. Strategic thinking for all business is all out there on the edge of the map. Think small for the small stuff, I say.

Break your big, hairy thing into little component parts, and surely most of those component parts are things other people have done before. You can figure out how other people do things, maybe improve on them, or better yet --find a way to make them superfluous, and soon the little things falling into place allow you to make progress on the big thing, the thing not on the shelf at the library yet.

Google was started in a garage, same as Disney, same as a lot of other big important things these days. Somewhere early along the way, someone noticed that office space in garages is cheaper than in office buildings. A small thing. Paid off big.

What one man can do, another can do; all day long. I'll raise my hand when you're innovative.

Monday, October 23, 2006

By The Stove

I slept in a dresser drawer until I was four. Pater would always tell me that.

Pater was always saying the same thing. His head was stuck. My head is never stuck. I wish my head would stick, and not run off like Mater says it does.

There were four flights to the basement. I don't understand the counting. The house only has the three stories. When I'm on the piazza, though it slumps a bit with my few stone, I can see into the neighbor's kitchen. They're on the third floor, same as us, and leave the lights on like a millionaire, my father says, when he's not stuck.

We go down four and I don't understand. We stand on the dirt floor and dad peers into the furnace. Sometimes I look in the furnace too, just for the feeling on my face. Pater feeds it like an animal.

Other people's lives are in the basement. They are stacked and boxed and moldy, other people's lives are. They die and go away or go away and die. Their bedsteads stay forever. Where they go there is no sleeping, I guess. Pater's stuck again and won't tell me.

I have a clock in my head and it never stops. We have a clock in the parlor but my clock can't keep up. Pater leaves the faucet in the kitchen open a crack. The valve is like a violin for him. He plays it. No one else plays it like Pater, Mater says. He has the touch.

He rubs his hands like Edward Robinson in front of a safe and puts his hand on the valve each night in the winter. He says things under his breath when it won't let him start my clock. Jesus, Mary and Joseph, he says, so I know he's praying. Pater is always stuck when he's praying. Or maybe he prays when he's stuck. I don't know.

Then the drops come. Not as fast as the mantel clock; no. It's sinful to waste it. Let it drip and it keeps the pipes from freezing in the night he says to no one in particular. I hear my clock, those drops, in my head even when I'm outside. They slow me down because they can't catch the mantel clock. Pater snores and Mater sighs and sisters and brothers go down the hall but I don't care because I'm warm and I can hear my clock. Pater puts the coats on me when he thinks I'm asleep.

I put the sugar and cinammon on my bread, and I spilled it. Mater was cross. She said I was disreputable. That's what I am when Mater is cross.

I don't understand what I am when Mater is cross.

She sits me on the chair, and tells me such as me doesn't deserve to be abroad. My friends are skating and sliding in the Public Garden, but I can't go, because I'm disreputable and it's Mater's turn to be stuck.

It's warm by the stove when Mater is there.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

How Old Are You?

How old are you? If you're of a certain vintage-- say, fortyish -- you know what this is:

The rest of you? As you were. Nothing to see here. Move along.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Happy Birthday Chuck

It's Chuck Berry's birthday. He's eighty. Happy birthday Chuck, you magnificent mean weird wonderful hack genius AMERICAN.

He's all those things, surely. And not American. AMERICAN. Only America could possibly produce such as he. The rest of the world loved him, of course, but they could never cobble together a guy like him. The Europeans sent us a bronze broad to stand in our granite harbor, perhaps so something familiar would be standing there when they bolted that dusty museum they inhabit and finally got here. We sent them Chuck Berry records as a way to show them: This is how we roll.

If you read Chuck's bios, you're bound to find people desperately trying to minimize and pooh-pooh his criminal background. The gun he used in a carjacking was broken, so it doesn't matter... Don't buy it. Chuck is what he is, and never really made any bones about it. He really was kinda mean and edgy and hypersexual and avaricious and pushy and grasping and grabby. Who cares? He went to jail occasionally, and that was that. Chuck had a chip on his shoulder after he got out of jail, but then again, he had one before he went in too. It doesn't matter.

Chuck Berry is important in the context of the 1950s. He was a big star in the sixties, too, because a whole lot of British bands adored him and mimicked him. He made a little money in the seventies by making a fool of himself with songs like My Ding-A-Ling-- simply dreadful, and not very fun, really, for a novelty tune. After a while, Chuck just showed up in varying states of sobriety, with an untuned guitar, plugged it in, then blasted away with an endless procession of ad-hoc bands he didn't have to pay or acknowledge --sometimes a few Beatles or Stones, sometimes a bar band--he didn't seem to acknowledge the difference -- just cashed the checks all the same. But the fifties; man, he defined America in the 1950s. Forget Elvis.

I offered that video with the underwater sound to show you what the fuss was about. Look at him. The stage is too small for him, and the world is his stage. America was the most important thing in the world at the turn of the twentieth century, but no one knew it. It took World War I to show what paper tigers the european empires were. America shirked the big mantle, and avoided its responsibilities as a great power until the hakenkreuz and the rising sun were waved right in our faces. So we shrugged and rolled up our sleeves and pounded the world flat again -- the way we liked it. And the Soviets stood there after, leering over half the globe, and said they would bury us.

There was the sobriety of Eisenhower. The muscle of the finned cars rolling off the assembly lines. The educated children newly minted by the public school. There was Jonas Salk and a million others who beat not only microbes, but fear of sickness itself. Hollywood gilded the country in pictures, and then gilded itself. There were things raucus and fun and serious and thoughtful bubbling out of the radio, and eventually the TV. Broadway shone like a thousand Folies Bergere.

And Chuck Berry, from the center of our universe: Saint Louis, stood up like a man and looked you straight in the eye --fearless. He was full of optimism and bonhomie and his own brand of charm. I'll strut, thank you, like the peacock I am. He didn't wink or pinch, he winked and pinched, and meant it. No idle threats, no meaningless boasts. Chuck don't flirt. Chuck asks flat out with a twinkle in his eye and an angel on his shoulder and the devil in his heart. And he'd put up his fists if you wanted it, and laugh with you after,too--when you were beaten.

Bury us? We Berryed you.

Friday, October 20, 2006


You guys don't understand Rock music.

That's OK. You don't know how you'd fare in prison because you watch Oz, either. You're a consumer. That's fine. Well, I was a producer for a while, in a little way, and I worked with lots of other varied producers of your rock and roll entertainment, and I'd like to sing the praises of a certain type of guitar hero: The motorhead.

No, not MotorHead. That's a band. They have an inexplicable umlaut in their name I can't be bothered to add. No, I mean motorheads. Watch the Grand Funk Railroad video. Those are motorheads.

You see, rock music wasn't all sissies like David Bowie and Peter Frampton and so forth. And it wasn't all pseudo intellectuals like Yes and Sting. It wasn't all escapees from Broadway or the music hall like the Beatles or Elton John or Queen. It wasn't all three chord cowboys- all hat no cattle --like the Eagles. It was guys from shop class. It was motorheads.

They were good at sports, but wouldn't play on teams because they didn't give a fig. They liked two-stroke engines, took apart LED watches, and had jobs when they were sixteen. They bent sheet metal for the HVAC guy, or did body work in a garage, while you were home watching TV. They had mini-bikes and guns for toys when they were little kids while you were playing Clue. They were shaving, or needed shaving was more likely, when you still had your mother's face. They had a sunny, easygoing disposition, got Ds in everything in high school, and got all the girls the football players didn't vacuum up. And a lot of the ones they did, eventually.

It was all because they were good at math and music, they were masculine, and they could play rock music. Their music, whether copied from others or home-made, was raucous and lively and manly and fun and brash and direct and unaffected. They weren't sexual as a pose. They weren't pretending to like pretty girls by the armload.

I'm not paying attention closely anymore. I don't know if there are people like this around anymore. I can't think of any. They never whined, so no grunge, thanks. They never committed suicide, because they were happy all the damn time, so no Cobainiacs need apply. They'd never dress up, so that leaves out the Ozzie wannabes.

Oh well. I'm Rock and Roll Darwin, and I'm here to assure you: These dinosaurs once roamed the earth. And they were a blast.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

More Hysterical Fiction

[Editor's Note: This story was written to accompany a candle shelf, a common item in colonial America, sort of our forebear's wall sconce. I've used real people and places, but it's fiction. Any man that has called on his sweetheart knows that being fiction, it's a long way from being fictional.]
{Author's Note: There is no editor.}

From Wethersfield we went out, about half an hour before sunrising, for Quabaug. We lost our way in the snow, which hindered us some hours. Having neither house nor wigwam at hand, we lay in the woods all night. Through mercy, we arrived in health to the proceedings. JosephBradford, appraiser, had begun calling out the Probate Inventory of our beloved departed Obadiah Dickinson, father of my bride, recently deceased of apoplexy in the yeare of our Lord 1750.

My bride was in distress, and Mr Bradford, spake quickly, and the words tumbled out and gathered and split asunder again without warning, and we were content to let them go past without signifying. Mr Bradford paused, with force, and called my name most clearly, and approached to take my hand. He placed in my hand six coins, of no value, worn and dirty with much handling.

"It was the earnest desire of Mr Dickinson that these be returned to you, sir. "

I was adrift.

"I know not of these coins, sir. That cannot be returned which was never given. "
My wife pressed my arm, and looked at me with with such emotion, I did not spake further, hoping until such time as she could explain this mystery.

For my wife's father, who was a good man, and true, did not care for such as myself. He tolerated me only, and watched over his girl as a bear watches his cub. I felt always his look over my shoulder, even betimes he was not present.

We hired a team to bring such belongings as were meet over the frozen Connecticut River to our lodgings, Methinks the villein charged more than the lot was worth to transport them, but he avowed he would not hear the frozen river cracking under each footfall for less than a treasure. My wife could not do without what little was left of her father, and I grudgingly gave way.

"Why should your Pater, who knew no rest in minding me, make me this present? He did not care for me."

"You are harsh, Caleb, and wrong in the bargain."

"I speak the truth, woman, Bless his soul, but he did not care for me. He has given me this trifle to shame me afore the appraiser."

"Nay, Caleb, they are your coins, and it is his love which it displays, not scorn."

"How can this be?"

"You are older now Caleb, and forget the things of your youth. But my father, and I, did not forget."

"What do I forget?"

"You would call on me Caleb, with your hair in place and your clothes brushed. "


"And my father would let us sit alone in the room, while he smoked outside; do you remember?"

"Just so; I had forgotten."

"Father would say he would come back inside when the candle flame could not be seen on the candle shelf anymore."

"Through mercy! I would put the coins under the candle to raise it up and prolong the time. "

"Yes Caleb. He knew. And now it is time you knew- Father did not smoke."

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Business 101

I'm not in the advice business. I'm willing to talk about what I'm doing. That's different.

I have no formal business training. I'm not sure it matters much. It would be nice if they could train you to be able to run something effectively right out of the gate, but it seems unlikely. All the advice I got from business educated persons while running businesses wasn't just worthless, it was actively bad.

It may be because I've always been in the construction industry, more or less. It's different in many respects from other industries. When I went to college, there was no such thing as Construction Management. It was a blue collar profession right to the top.

I read Adam Smith and F. A. Hayek to get the big picture. I have no use for Keynesians or Marxists. Keynes says bang on the side of the TV to get a good picture. Marx says steal the TV, and then break it so no one can watch it. Then we'll all be happy. The world doesn't work that way. As far as getting the small picture, I just paid attention. I've learned some harsh lessons along the way, but never as bad as educated persons did alongside me. I've seen some colossal errors made due to hubris. I just plug away, generally. I've always made the most money doing things most everyone thought was crazy when I began. I could fit it on one page in pencil and all the numbers added up. That kind of crazy.

I have absolutely no use for show-biz management. Lee Iacocca and Donald Trump and all those guys with the laser pointers and the Rah Rah speech couldn't find their ass with a map and flashlight in the real world. They either build houses of cards and sell them before the wind blows, or allow you to point a camera at them while they run things into the ground for amusement. That's why they're telling you how to do it at $450.00 a ticket in a seminar. It beats working.

When I was working at a large commercial construction company, every once in a while, I'd be sitting in a meeting room with a fat sheath of figures of doubtful accuracy and utility, pressed into my hand by some inkstained wretch who had the BIG ANSWER. Move things from column A to column H, and all would be well. Institute Protocol F to counter Bad Behavior M and we'll lay in the clover. Make Target X and Bank C will give us a toaster.

"You do realize that something happens outside of this building, don't you?" I'd ask.

These gentlemen thought that the building of large and complicated things out in the landscape from Canada to Florida and Martha's Vineyard to Sausalito existed simply to give them figures to Rubik around on their desktop. They did not realize that they existed to support the actual operation. They thought they were the actual operation. Everyone in the government makes this same mistake, 25 hours a day, 11 days a week, by the way. A quarter of a billion dollars was going through that business a year. Very few of my colleagues had ever seen one bit of it generated.

They ran that place into the ground.

I was a middle manager. I helped make them a lot of money while everyone else lost it by the bushel. They hired consultants to restructure, and the consultants were instructed to ask me how I did it. I sat in front of them and got the same feeling an ugly puppy must get when the vivisectionist visits the dog pound. Some things are not amenable to being pulled apart for inspection. The components only work when they are working together.

I told them I didn't do anything. I let other people do it. I told them that when the customers called, we always answered the phone, and asked them what they wanted. I told the estimators to accurately determine what it would cost us to perform the required work. I submitted the bids on time and told the customer I wanted the job. If they said someone else was cheaper I instructed them to hire them, and to please keep us in mind for the future. I kept accurate track of how we were doing, and made sure we charged for all the work we performed. And I directed that we deliver the jobs on-time no matter what. When I ran out of one kind of work, I looked for work that was similar to the kind we already knew how to do. I hired good people and I trusted them, while expecting a lot from them.

That was it. They seemed disappointed. They were looking for a slogan of some sort, I think. They promoted me, and I left.

I'm trying every day to make the thing I made yesterday, only better. Or faster. Better and faster is even better. If I can't make money at it, I am disinterested in giving a congressman $1000 to get a set-aside for me, or a law passed against my competition. I'll do something else. The market is wise because the market is everybody's wisdom together. The market will tell me what to do. The customers tell me what to do. I listen imperfectly, because I am imperfect, but I get it eventually. I'm going too slow, and doing a poor job, but it's always getting better.

I show up every day, and work as hard and as smart as I can. I've been told that this pays off in the long run.

Who told me that? Why, everyone that has nothing to do with the government, a university, or a newspaper or television, that's who.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Take The Sippican Cottage Parenting Test

I'm an OK parent. I've seen really good parents. I'm not them.

I am A Parent, though. There is a pass/fail aspect to it, and I defy any person to say I don't pass. I think that many parents fail because they are not satisfied with passing; they are determined to be THE BEST PARENT EVAR. And they mess up their kids trying.

There is only one way to demonstrate that you are THE BEST PARENT EVAR - your kid must be Bruce Lee/ Buzz Aldrin/ Tom Brady/ Albert Einstein/ Steve Jobs. Unless of course you've got a female of the species, you know, the ballerina/astronaut/CEO/oarswoman/scholar/runway model. There will be no finger painting. You will learn Mandarin Chinese while listening to Bach fugues and eating free range organic watercress sandwiches and drinking only water collected from terne metal gutters from French cathedrals, while waiting for your violin lessons to start.

While wearing a helmet.

I'm not THE BEST PARENT EVAR. My children get three squares a day, and can read and write after a fashion, and their peers don't point and giggle after they walk by, and other parents ask their children: "Why don't you invite that Sullivan boy over, he's nice and polite." They sleep all night in their beds untroubled by adult cares. We don't watch slasher movies together. They go outdoors occasionally. They won't get mumps or whooping cough because they have THE BEST PARENT EVAR who won't let them be immunized because immunization leads to being average! Like everybody else!


Sorry, I was channeling a bit. My kids are not extraordinary. You know, like Michael Jackson or The Olsen Wraiths...oops I meant Twins, or Paris Hilton or River Phoenix or Screech or Danny Bonaduce or Gary Coleman or ... well, you get the picture.

Anyway, I'd like to set your mind at ease. Take the Sippican Cottage Parenting test. Don't worry, it's Pass/Fail. Watch the following video. If it doesn't look like you and your children, then you're probably fine.

How'd you do? I thought so.

I wonder how many kids that woman had before she started the act.

Monday, October 16, 2006

It's Coming

I'm not that old. There's no tapioca on my chin. But I've inhabited a world of lost souls, shades of a distant reality that rarely showed itself to the average person.

My children will tell their children that they used to go to parades on July Fourth, and they'd see actual WW2 veterans marching in them. They used to have the odd WW1 veteran marching when I was young. When I began working, I used to encounter people who were nearing the end of their working lives --and so their whole lives-- and had a passing acquaintance with Civil War veterans.

There were things that were played out right in front of me, anachronisms then, mysteries now, really; as out of step as high button shoes. Hmm. That expression is out of date --high button shoes--I guess I should have said as out of step as 386 intel processors. I've spent too long in the mausoleum of words, the library, and I talk like Taft is still president, occasionally, I'm afraid.

Let me talk about construction. You think you understand construction, but you don't. It's not on TV. It's not the same industry or tradition as it was only 30 years ago. It's a different thing altogether. You just live in the the thing after, so it seems the same.

When I was very young, I worked with old-fashioned persons that were building old-fashioned things for old-fashioned customers in the old-fashioned way. And watching those men and seeing their works gave me a glimpse into the past. That window is shuttered and dark now.

I worked with men that had never used a paint roller. Their working life predated its introduction, and like the elderly and the internet now, they said they'd muddle through without its wonders because they had learned a thing a certain way and that was that. But there were still customers then that refused to let rollers be used in their house, and would pay a premium for the old man to take out his six inch brush -- that was a small one-- or an eight inch brush, and leave the delicate striations in the oil paint as he brushed the entire wall surface. They are all as dead as the idea now. \

They'd all smoke all the time around flammable things and never cause a fire. And they'd drink themselves blind after work, but never miss the following day. They were late if they weren't 30 minutes early, too. They always carried a newspaper. If someone brought them a phone while they were working (It's for you.) there was someone dead on the other end of the line.

I've sheathed a house with boards. Not plywood. Boards. Cut with a hand saw. No, not a circular saw held in the hand; a hand saw wielded by a fellow that set and sharpened the teeth of his handsaw every week. Some guys never got used to the idea of plywood. I've installed wooden lath, skipspaced, so a plasterer could smash his "browncoat" through it, in preparation for the finish plaster to come. Never mind drywall; no sheet good substrate - blueboard, they call it- for the plasterer. Ask a contractor for a bid on such a job now. You'll hear dial tone before you can finish explaining. You don't talk to lunatics on the phone, either, do you?

We mixed paint with raw materials in a big barrel. Don't put in too much Japan Drier, as to much drier makes the paint refuse to dry. It's the greatest metaphor for modern life I've ever encountered, that. I've applied lead paint that the owner had saved after it was outlawed, as it was the "only thing", the expression people long dead used to used as a two word explanation of being unamenable to substitution.

Layed block foundations with persons still hoping that poured concrete wouldn't catch on, decades after it had? Check. Ladders with wooden rungs? Check. Don't forget to put linseed oil on them yearly or they'll rot and you'll fall off and die. Remember, raw linseed oil is that fabulous stuff the Amish use in poultices and as medicine, taking a teaspoon of it regularly to keep them oiled inside too; boiled linseed oil is poison. Don't confuse those two. You always use boiled linseed oil in the wooden gutters after you install them. Yeah, I've installed lots of wooden gutters, why do you ask? I make the downspouts out of rolled lead flashing. You install them in a rabbet and hold them in with copper nails, and sealed in a bed of tar. The thing you think is a downspout is actually a leader. Get the round galvanized kind if you can't afford copper.

I could go on like this for a long time. I could be as boring and old fashioned as you'd like. In my day...

But it wasn't my day. I was living in another man's day. I was among people who were stuck in amber. You couldn't always get good advice from such persons. They were flinty and iconoclastic and moody and quiet, and absolutely terrifying in a rage. I've seen such men wield plastering hatchets in a fight before. That is a tomahawk fight, ladies and gents. What could I learn from such persons?

Well, I learned a lot, actually. But it was rarely what they were trying to teach me. Because they very rarely could parse out the appropriate from the counterproductive. They couldn't identify progress. Period. They were just suspicious of everyone and everything. Some still refused to put their money in a bank to the day they died. Many were interesting cranks, but no less cranky for the interesting part.

They taught me the difference between traditional and reactionary. These were men achingly laconic, and as obdurate as stone when challenged with change, but who would lovingly and patiently show any other man the way they performed their craft in the time-honored way. But you'd have to ask in the right way, it was rarely offered; and the best and wisest of them would finish their soliloquy with: "But it's better now - you don't need to know this anymore."

Yes I do.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

The Better Brother

Jimmy Vaughan is better than his brother.

Jimmy is the older brother you never heard of. He was playing in the Fabulous Thunderbirds out of Austin Texas all through the seventies. This video is from 1980, and encapsulates the roadhouse vibe perfectly. And people familiar with Jimmy's younger brother Stevie Ray will hear many phrases they heard later on, transmogrified and supercharged a bit. But not improved.

Of course Jimmy is an editor, a syncretist himself. You can hear all sorts of people in there, in a huge mashup of Texas and Chicago and Mississippi blues. But there comes a point where the derivations have been blended and tweaked and stacked and distilled to where they can honestly be called original. Jimmy is standing on many people's shoulders. His brother stood on his.

It was easy to be impressed by Stevie Ray Vaughan. He was flashy. But all flash must be subordinated to the propulsion of the song forward, or it's frosting on a turd cake. Later in his career, before he died, SRV figured that out, and calmed down enough to be musical first, and a machine-gun hero second, and so was able to push farther than Jimmy by finally emulating him properly. Move the song forward. Don't interrupt it to show off. The guitar must thread through it like a string through a Christmas garland. There's usually Christmas garlands from fourteen years ago decorating the roadhouse stage - in July -- to give you the hint.

I used to see both brothers now and again in roadhouses, and eventually in theaters. It's hard to describe the feeling of paying a couple of bucks and standing right in front of that and letting it wash over you. The crowd would always act like a big organism - single celled, not thinking -- reacting to stimulation as one, aligning their rhythms as purposefully as the worn stripe on the pavement that passed by the shack into the darkened distance. Going somewhere unseen, together without planning. Moving and standing still.

Beer comes in its own glass. There is no worry about ruining your good shoes because you don't have any good shoes. You never have to ask because everybody dances with everybody else. The fights are for amusement. The big Fender Twin's tube's reflected glow illuminates the back wall all it's gonna get. Jimmy Vaughan reaches down with his extended pinkie, and spins the volume knob without thinking, and makes his lilting interjections come forward or lay back to taste.

Always to taste.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Friday Fun

Why do people climb mountains? Because they are there, is the famous rejoinder. But it's more than that, of course. I've gone around plenty of mountains in my day. It's things that capture your imagination that get you working feverishly, sometimes seriously, sometimes just for fun. Just being in the way doesn't always do it.

The best stuff is always when people make serious fun out of the serious stuff. Or you can go the other way, and watch people spend two forty-hour weeks making costumes for Star Trek conventions.

All that said, I have no idea what to file this bad boy under:

I know:

Thursday, October 12, 2006


If you know what Zarex is, then you might have seen those Drive-In Movie shorts before. When I was very young, our parents would put us in our pajamas, then pop an enormous supply of popcorn made with kernels from a big bag, in a huge pot on the stove with a puddle of corn oil in the bottom. Then they'd get out a big plaid cylindrical steel Coleman cooler, and mix the Zarex fluid with water-- a sort of human antifreeze beverage --and put it in screw top glass bottles in ice, and off we'd go to the Drive-In theatre in the Rambler station wagon.

It's difficult to describe the Drive-In theatre experience. Everybody knows what it is, because even the current i-Pod generation has seen it used as a cultural metaphor in innumerable television shows and movies. But I know who Gisele Bundchen is. That's not the same as knowing Gisele Bundchen.

A trip to the drive-in was a sort of amusement version of the Bataan Death March. A frivolity endurance test. Now that I think of it, I saw The Bridge On The River Kwai at the drive-in, so maybe that's not as crazy as it sounds.

A movie was still a luxury for us. A movie theatre was generally too expensive to bring a family of six to. And standards of decorum were not yet in disrepair, so our parents would never think of bringing the youngest of us to a place where our natural childish fidgeting would annoy other moviegoers. And parents didn't abandon their children much to strangers then. We all went everywhere, or didn't go. People yak on the phone during movies now, and yell at the screen; my wife and I had to listen to a toddler yammer continuously behind us during an opera recently. I shudder to think of what it's like at the movies now.

It's fun to think of such anachronisms as the Drive-In movies, but let me assure all of you -- it was a dreadful way to get your amusement. Everything is so much better now. Back then, you couldn't see. The audio would be delivered on a speaker that makes a bus station announcement sound like Bang and Olufsun's best. You could suffocate, and look through the fogged, pitted windshield, or you could open the windows and be eaten alive by the mosquitoes. The movies were mostly bad, and generally not first run anyway. The projection was almost always sketchy. Your brother was always bugging you -- like any car ride. It's difficult to describe the feeling of spilled Zarex congealed on a vinyl car seat.

Why would people brave all that, just to get their amusement?

Because it was marvelous, all the same.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Googlewhack Is Amused

I'm stupid busy today. It's good busy though, so no complaints.

I have some experience in the music business. I can assure you that it's counterproductive to try to understand what attracts the majority of people to any given piece of music. It just doesn't lend itself to analysis much. It's like a kind of vivisection to try to pull something as ephemeral as pop music apart. The poking around in there always kills it.

My older brother once told me that everybody has one song in them. It's one of the reasons everybody thinks they should be on-stage in an arena - they do indeed have the goods necessary; for 2 minutes 30 seconds, anyway. After that, it gets sketchy.

Anyway, it's hard to describe the kind of frenzy playing a cover of this song used to elicit in a college age person at one time. Not very many of them had any idea what the lyrics were, really, but that's common. This guy that wrote it made the ultimate good career move in surly rock: he killed himself. It lends a certain cachet to your ramblings and mumblings in the world of "everything sucks and I'm here to sing about it."

But he had one song in him, that is for certain. It even works in this format. Enjoy.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Look At Me, Ma --I'm A Googlewhack!

As far as I know, I'm not a Antegooglewhackblatt. I'm pretty sure I'm not a Googlewhackblatt either. But dad gum it, I'm a Googlewhack.

What's a Googlewhack, you're asking? I know that's what you're doing, because that's exactly what I was doing when an Irish university student named Ciarin H. sent me a cryptic e-mail that got me scratching my pate: "Did you know you were a Googlewhack?"

"You take that back" is a regular person's first thought, of course. But I was intrigued. I'm fairly used to hate mail at this point, as I've run several internet lemonade stands for some time now, but this didn't look like any DIAF missive I've seen. So I looked it up in Wikipedia:

A Googlewhack is a Google search query consisting of two words--both in Google's dictionary, and without quotation marks--that returns a single result. A successful Googlewhack returns 'Results 1-1 of 1'. Googlewhacking is the pastime of seeking such a result. A person attempting to find a Googlewhack is known as a Googlewhacker.
Well, Ciarin H. was assigned Googlewhacking as a university project, and lo and behold, discovered me.

I remember way back when, when I started my first website, I duly registered with dmoz and Yahoo and the Yellow Pages and so forth, and would try Google every day to see if by typing in my exact name you would find me. It tooks months before anything but my entire web address would work. Now I'm all over these here intarnets like a rash. You can type "cottage furniture" into any search engine and see what I mean.

But that's small beer. I'm a Googlewhack! I'm eternally grateful to Ciarin for alerting me to this, and having the kindness to tell me the two words -- but no one else -- because you see, being a Googlewhack is like being Praseidimio. Who's that, you wonder? Why, that's the Italian version of the old fairytale Rumpelstiltskin. And just like Rumpelstiltskin, if I reveal my Googlewhack to anybody, and they publish it anywhere on the internet, Google will index it, and my Googlewhack status will disappear like Rumpelstiltskin through the floor when he stamps his foot.

A Googlewhack. Me. Napoleon, Alexander, Einstein, Churchill, Lincoln... all pikers compared to me. What are their accomplishments, really, when hoisted up next to mine? It's like a kind of internet nobility, really; and like real nobility, there's no effort or merit about it. I just gotta sit still and keep quiet.

By gad, this is like a curse for a yammering fool like me.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Front Yard Foliage

If you walk out my front door and point a camera towards the road, this is what you see. In the winter you can see the headlights passing. In the summer, just the susurrus of the rubber on the pavement, as indistinct as the breeze.

There is a stone bench next to the back door, always in the sun. It needs the sun to warm it now. It is a place to sit and contemplate for an ephemeral moment, your feet on the gravel and your back against the sun-blasted wall. You hear the world whir by. The sun grinds overhead, the meal growing thinner as the calendar passes.

A man's life is like a bucket of water - or a fistfight. You take a bucket of water, and you dump it on the floor. At first, there is a rush, a deluge; it spreads out in all directions, pushing things before it, soaking, scouring and washing. But it soon runs out of energy, and gathers itself into little rivulets, and then puddles. You must gather it up with the mop, and wring it back into the bucket to begin again. Each time, the floor takes its vigorish, and the bucket has less than the last time. The scouring of the floorboards on the mop makes it fray away slowly, imperceptibly at first, the wear accelerating over time as you work it harder to try to glean the same amount you remember possible anyway. Each time it takes longer to mop it all back into the bucket for the next go. The floor is always dirty.

I never dream any more. I think while I am asleep--maybe. Or I lay there dead. There is nothing fantastic in my head anymore.

Oh yes; the fight.

If it's not over immediately -- one man overmatched and beaten before it starts, really -- then the blows rain down in roughly equal measure until you are both near exhaustion. At some point one contender realizes that the other feels exactly as he does, and thinks how easy it would be for he himself to be beaten.

The man who realizes that first about himself, correctly, can beat any man.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Aujourd'hui- Pat Et Stanley

You remember our friends Pat and Stanley, don't you? Well, they're back, with more infantile, borderline scatological hijinks. Enjoy.

Friday, October 06, 2006

I Tire Of This, Sport

I'm gonna qualify for Medicaid by the time I finish writing about this, so let's put a fork in it today, what do you say? Let's fix the floor:

The bedroom is that rarest of things. It has natural light available from three directions. So we can afford to make the floor dark, to give it a quiet look and a visual weight. That, and there's no way I'm ever going to drag the 200 pound rental drum sander up the stair to properly sand it before I finish it, and dark covers a multitude of sins. So we play it as it lays, as they say in golf, referring to hitting your ball from the spot you kicked it to when no one was looking.

Lacquer thinner and coarse steel wool will remove the mill stamps identifying the grade and species of wood and the occasional whoopsie my wife made with her warpaint. That's it for preparation, but what the hell; the purpose of a pine plank floor is to look old and a little rough, so it'll be kosher right from the get-go. Now for the miracle fluid.

Shellac. Magic stuff. It's the residue left on a tree from the lac bug, gathered and dissolved in denatured alcohol. It sticks to anything. Anything sticks to it. Dries almost immediately. It dries in low temperatures. No matter how much you thin it, it still makes a coherent film. I root around in my stash of old fashioned but still state of the art liquid aniline dyes, and find Dark Walnut. Yeah baby. 100 drops per quart of shellac, two quarts of shellac will do it, and a big slug of alcohol. The alcohol goes in the shellac, not the shellacker. Never drink while you work. Never. Guys named "Lefty" or "Stumpy Joe" drink while they work.

By the time you reach the end of the plank, the end you started at is dry, so you've got to be brave. Stop to wipe your brow, and it'll splotch. Give it a few minutes, and go back over it with clear low lustre water based polyurethane, and let that dry for an hour or so. And it's done.

Alright, we finished about a third of the floor, and half the walls and trim on Saturday night. Sunday, we move the furniture onto the floor that's finished and I begin... to think about the Patriots game. Must go faster!

It's wide open spaces now, so it's easier to work. There's a lot of woodwork, but we're not moving the furniture twice, so I do it all as we go, more or less. We're ready to do the remainder of the floor by late afternoon. I shellac the floor, and hey, it's 6-0 Bengals!

I admit it. I stopped and watched the last two quarters of the Pats game. Take that Cincy!

Back upstairs, and recoat the floor with the polyurethane, and sleep in the den a second night. Monday morning, we put the furniture back, with about half of it removed. Addition by subtraction. Here's before and after in the front of the house:

Everybody has a built in paneled headboard with integral windows, don't they?

And my wife's favorite place now, least favorite place before:

I told you the red chair would work. I even threw in a sale-able piece of furniture, a Shamrock Table, because my wife is swell, and deserves it. That, and I had one.

Well, there you have it. I've got to wait for a hard frost to kill the mosquitoes, and then I can take the screens out and paint the window sashes. The closets need painting, and I'll do it at the same time.

When's the Patriots' bye week?

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Get Busy

[Editor's Note: If you just stumbled in, we're redecorating the master bedroom in a day and a half. ]

{Author's Note: There is no editor}
It took too long to make the paint. I have to finish enough of the room on Saturday to put all the assorted flotsam and jetsam in the room in the finished part and press on to the finish line on Sunday. But there's a limit to just how crummy a job I'm willing to do, no matter what kind of hurry I'm in. So look above to see what we use to prepare for the actual work. Well, that and yeso. And a vacuum cleaner.

What's yeso you ask? It's plaster in spanish. Everything comes labeled in Espanol et Francais these days, and yeso is so much more fun to say than plaster, so we go with it.

Here's the room:
Please note that the floor is not finished either. Now, you pikers were wondering if I could repaint my bedroom in a day and a half. My indifference to your doubts can scarce be measured. If all I had to do was paint it, I'd be drunk by now. I've got to finish the floor, too.

You see, my wife and I suffered mightily to get our home. My wife, mostly. And we had to move into our Master Bedroom before it was complete, because the bedroom we had been sleeping in down the hall was promised to another family member, and that's that. Hell, before we even had that room, the whole upstairs in our house was unfinished; and when we moved into our house at first, me, my wife, two cats, and eventually an infant slept in the room I'm currently typing this essay in. Cozy. So my wife never complained about this floor not being finished, because there was so much more floor than before that she hardly cared.

That's pine plank flooring, screwed and pegged. Our whole house has it, except for ceramic tile in the bathrooms and kitchens. Many people think it's extravagant. It cost less than wall to wall carpet, that's why I did it. There's a lot of sweat equity in it, though. Anyway, we're going to finish it too. You people still taking action on the likelihood of me finishing?
Pull all the nails and hooks out of the walls. Remove the electrical cover plates. Lose all the screws. (Just kidding. Put the screws back in the electrical outlets after you remove the plates, or you're fired) Mix a little yeso powder in water, and when it's a thick doughy paste, use your putty knife to fill all the nail holes. Don't listen to morons who tell you to mound it up because it will shrink. Scraping wet plaster off the wall is easy. Sanding is hard. Fill the hole, scrape all excess off, and two minutes later the plaster will be hard and you can fill it again to take care of the shrinkage problem. (Insert George Costanza joke here)

Caulk all the seams where the woodwork meets the plaster. You'll never get a good looking job without doing this. Fill nailholes in woodwork with Dap 33 putty if necessary. Not many in a repaint. Sand all the woodwork first, and your yeso patches after, with 220 grit sandpaper. Vacuum everything. Now vacuum everything again, you did a lousy job. Now we actually paint something.

What color is the trim going to be? The pinkish tone of the existing woodwork ain't cutting it. I need something whiter, but not white. Hey, here's a gallon of Benjamin Moore alkyd satin "White Dove." White Dove is never called "White Dove" by the female customers. They call it "Dove White," no matter how many times they hear it said or see it written "White Dove," and Benjamin Moore should just give up and call it that. Old Ben throws a little earth tone in white, probably raw or burnt umber, and it makes a nice warm pale gray. And I have some. Warren G. Harding's paint shaker to the rescue!

Use a natural bristle brush in a real paint pot (Never the can. Never.) Cut in (paint in a straight line) the crown moulding, and around the standing (vertical) moulding where it meets the walls. Leave the running (horizontal) moulding till you've painted the walls. Paint the baseboard after everything else because it's dirty down there, no matter how many times you vacuum.

You're supposed to let that dry overnight. Not bloody likely. Don't get a lot on the walls, eat dinner, and go back and give the walls two coats of green with a synthetic bristle brush to cut in, and a roller for the field. Get everywhere you can reach now, because that's where you've got to put the furniture tomorrow to get the rest of the room.

And don't make a mess! The first sentence in the stipulations of any painting contract reads:
Protection of surfaces not to be painted.
Duh. If you're making a mess, you're doing it wrong.

You get two cracks at drawing a straight line where green meets white, and let me say a word about doing it.

I don't have time to use adhesive tape to draw a straight line. The place the tape would go is covered in wet paint anyway. And if you go to the paint store, you'll see one doogizmo after another being sold to allow you to cheat and achieve this straight line. Forget all of them, and the tape too.

People in recent memory generally had all sorts of hand skills and practical knowledge we are all oblivious to now. They could split wood properly, and sharpen a handsaw, and fix a two stroke engine, and limb trees, and all sorts of things that are lost in the mists of time for most of us now. But there are a few hand skills that any self respecting handy person should acquire. And painting a straight line between the wall and the ceiling or the wall and a doorframe should be one of them. You'll go slow for a while, but you'll get it. Me? I told you, I'm the Prince of Darkness.

It's getting late on Saturday, and about 1/3 of the room is painted. What the hell am I going to do about the floor?

(to be continued)

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

OK. First, Get 200 Gallons Of Paint

[Editor's Note: If you just stumbled in, we're redecorating the master bedroom in a day and a half. ]
{Author's Note: There is no editor}

You don't have 200 gallons of paint in your basement? Hmmm. See, I was toning it down, setting the bar low, because I used to have 400 gallons of paint in the basement. But I've cut way back. What do you people have in your basement, a ping pong table? A dungeon?

It's hard to know what to keep these days. Most stuff you keep is worthless. You store it your whole lives and then your children put you in a home or a box and buy two dumpsters and whoops! It's all gone.

My parents were children in the depression, and some of their pack-rat instincts linger in their children's genes. Maybe that's why I like Dean Martin records. No, that's Rat-Pack instincts. That's different.

What I mean is, poor people collect stuff. It's wealthy people that are always droning on about achieving a zen-like simplicity in their affairs. They know they can cash a dividend check any time they want and buy a sailboat. Poor people always have, in the back of their minds, the niggling suspicion that _____ is the last ______ they're ever going to see, so they better save it. I've succumbed to that urge myself.

I'm not as bad as my forbears, but I'm bad. It manifests itself in saving building materials with me. I've gotten better over the years, and the further removed from the Jimmy Carter presidency I get, the more sanguine I am that any given meal I get won't be my last.

I've still got a lot of usable paint left over from when I was a contractor and bought it by the tympani load. So rule number one: let's not go to the store and buy anything is made possible. Let's make paint.
You have a paint shaker that dates from the Warren G. Harding administration, don't you? Makes things much easier. OK, here's what you do. Pull all the flat, or very low sheen latex wall paint off the shelf. Find something that looks vaguely the color you want, but way too light. Just make sure you have almost enough to do the job right right from the get-go.

The bedroom walls are a sort of light buff color, with vertical stripes in a sort of light rose. The stripes are ragged. Not "ragged" as in Raggedy Andy, "ragged" as in "applied in a broken color glaze with a rag." The wood trim (there's a lot of it) is painted Ben Moore "Antique White, a sort of pale, pale peach off-white. It's kind of like an Edwardian drawing room motif.

In short, it's @#$%ing pink, and I hate it like poison.

Instant decision: It's going to be dark. Green. Warm color though, nothing acid. Not all the way to the olive everybody loves these days that will depress them in a few years. But a quiet, sort of somber green it is.

I've got a gallon and a half of light blue, a sort of watery sky color. Hideous. Let's use that. Dump it in a five gallon pail after you shake it. If you don't have a paint shaker, I'll wait four weeks while you stir it with a paint paddle. That metal rod you see in the bucket is a heavy wire doogizmo you can chuck in your drill and speed things up. But you'll have Charles Atlas forearms if you stir it all by hand. Your call.
OK. Let's say OK again. OK? Right. Now, let's make the blue into green. You were in kindergarten, what do you add? Yaller is right. I've got a half gallon of screaming margarine yellow there, left over from Ray Charles' house, so let's dump that in. OK, it's green now.

A dreadful, toothpaste green. Now what do you want to do?

This part's easy. We're angling to put a deep magenta red club chair in the room eventually, and we're going to make sure it works in there right now, colorwise. I scan the rows of paint, and come up with a gem: Number 5 base means it's as dark as a politicians heart. I scan the pigments written on the side. This will do. Super dark cranberry red. It matches the fabric on the chair fairly closely. I dump half a gallon into the toothpaste green.

There are only three colors; red, blue, and yellow. We're throwing in the third now. The red and green are opposite one another on the color wheel, so they make a kind of mud brown, and calm and darken the thing right down. The yellow we chucked in is based on an earth yellow, not a nasty chrome yellow, so the warm tone stays, and makes the whole thing into a regal, calm, strong green. No one will ever know the red has been added, but the chair will magically look great in front of the wall. You'll see. I've got two and a half gallons of it all together now. Plenty.

Now we must name it! Hmm.

I know! OK Green.

(To be continued tomorrow)

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Heterosexual Eye For The Married Guy

[Editor's Note: Of course the topic of today's lesson has already happened. It's set in the future tense to add excitement. We promise not to lie about the timetable. We likewise promise to exaggerate about everything else]
{Author's note:There is no editor}

Sorry about yesterday. Commenter Pastor Jeff wrote: "You. Are. Evil."

Well, I'm glad you're paying attention. Yes; yes I am. But never mind that, when it comes to making things domestic on a shoestring budget, I'm not just evil; I'm the veritable Prince of Darkness.

Look, I've been making a cozy silk purse out of a domestic sow's ear for three decades or so now. And I used to watch those shows where you were instructed how to use felt to make your home look like Park Avenue, or how to get a gallon of metallic paint and a rag and make your home into a veritable Studio 54, or get a pile of wooden pallets and make a Chippendale coffee table, and all the other iterations of How-To programming which are like a walk in a barnyard in bare feet for merde. And I've come up with a saying for it all: "You can't do it; they can't help."

I'm joshing, but just a little. But I've been asked my opinion of amateur do-it-yourself marvels so many times, and turned to my wife in the car ride home and muttered "Home Depot blew up, and Walt Disney vomited on it" so many times, that I'm losing my perspective on the whole "let's spruce the joint up" vibe. I needed to get my groove back.

I cast my mind back to a lovely bedroom addition an acquaintance (long dead) showed me. He had painted it himself.

It was magnificent. He was retired, and wanted to make this new bedroom sparkle. He succeeded. The room was a perfect Adam interior. Dentillated crown, chair rail, multipane windows, paneled doors, tall scotia capped baseboard. He had decorated and painted and wallpapered it. The wall paper was an exquisite delft blue toile print, and expertly applied. The trim was a strong and rich, dark, bluish-green. The cutting-in lines were straight as a ruler, the finish everywhere smooth and without blemish or stroke; nary a run or drip anywhere. It was the rarest of things: amateur work of the highest quality, and of the most appropriate design.

How long did this take you?

"Three or four months, working seven days a week. I took a Sunday off because I had a cold."

I've told you before, I work all the time. Cry me a river, you typed into your Blackberry with your thumbs, dragging your suitcase through TSA security on your way to your third city in a week. I know, I'm not complaining, I'm explaining.

My wife is the exemplar of: "The cobbler's children have no shoes." Our house has no furniture in it, more or less, because I sell all that I make, and I generally only give her the stuff that's broken or something. Perhaps the experimental designs that look like Dr Cagliari designed them. That sort of thing. And we moved into our Master Bedroom a decade ago before it was finished. And she's suffered along with it all this time, and now it's time... well: Attention Must Be Paid. And I've sorta promised her not to work on Sunday anymore. Maybe just in the morning. Alright, a little in the evening. Anyhow, after close of business Saturday, I'll pay attention to her plight for one day.

OK. Look, here's what we're gonna do. I'm going to redecorate my bedroom. And I'm going to do it between sunset on Saturday afternoon and sunrise on Monday morning. But that's too easy. We've got to make it inneresting. I'm going to lay points on this. Call your bookie now.

I'm not going to leave the house to purchase anything to accomplish it.

Heads up Martha Stewart and Norm and Effeminate Furniture Arrangers and that dork with the soul patch and the screw gun. This is me taunting you.

So, what do you think, can I do it?

Monday, October 02, 2006

It's Over

It's over.

My wife and I finally looked at each other, and there was nothing left to say. We'd been living a lie all these many years. The thing we thought we had was a chimera. It existed only because we never examined it; to inspect it was to instantly disabuse ourselves of the illusion. We needed a clean break.

We went through the motions for a decade now, pretending everything was okay, but always knowing in our heart of hearts that it had started out defective -- and then become shabby; tawdry even. The years had not diminished that suspicion; it only grew. The calendar was the enemy, inexorably pushing us toward our awful, cataclysmic decision. Some barren things become picturesque with time; the most austere patch of ground can adumbrate the most marvelous jumble of life in the garden, for instance; just a little attention and the riffling of the calendar can bring forth a bounty. All the time in the world couldn't save us. We know that now.

And so, despite the two children that sleep blissfully unaware down the hall, and the huge dislocation it would cause them, and all the time and effort we had sunk into the thing, trying to make what was wrong right- trying to cobble together the happiness of wedded bliss in the squalor of the situation we had conjured, we made our fateful decision:

Our bedroom would have to be painted. There was no way around it.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Oh Dear

Well, I did something stupid, and I ended up having to sleep...alone...on the pull out couch in the den last night.

Anybody want to guess what I did? (Please remember, this is a family show, and my thumb hovers over the erase button at all times.)