Saturday, December 30, 2006

Winter Reruns -Bog Hockey

[Editor's Note: I wrote this a year ago. I'm assuming the regular readers are like me and can't remember what you had for dinner last night, so you're primed to read it again. The rest of you need to know about Bog Hockey]
{Author's Note: There is no editor}
This picture is a lot older than I am. Probably thirty years older. But it is an exact rendering of my winter life in our little suburb -- check that-- exurb --- check that -- that word didn't exist then-- out in the sticks where we lived in the sixties.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 29, 2006

Winter Re-Runs

[Editor's Note: There's lots of new readers around today. I'm always amazed at how many people follow links on prominent webpages like Althouse. So I'm reprinting this from last year, hoping to explain what's what around here]
{Author's Note: There is no editor}

Do you labor in the vineyard of creativity? Most people do, whether they consider it creative or not. There's a lot less drudgery in the work world lately, and take it from someone who's actually dug ditches: a modern ditchdigger is driving a backhoe that costs more than a Lexus, is conversant in simple geology, hydraulics, physics, mathematics, explosives, and small engine repair, and he's talking to his brethren on a cell phone while laying out the ditch with a laser level, or perhaps Global Positioning Satellite data. He's usually aware of both current and ancient water, sewer, drainage, telephone, electrical and data line burial practices. And if something unforeseen and unfortunate happens, he knows CPR too. And he knows the spread of the Ravens/Giants game to boot. What does an Ivy League Liberal Arts professor know, exactly?

I make furniture. There's drudgery there too, like any job, but you can use a complementary mixture of your head, heart, and hand more than you can in most work. I prefer the tangible arts, because there's a framework that you improvise inside, and it actually allows a greater range of expression than if their are no rules, even though that seems counterintuitive.

At least it seems to seem counterintuitive to that Ivy League professor I mentioned earlier. A football game has lots of rules, for instance, mountains of them, many obscure. The teams prepare game plans for a week at least, to work within these rigid guidelines against a known opponent. They script their plays, and try to predict their opponent's script. Then they blow the whistle, and all hell breaks loose. The rules don't stop inprovisation, and no two football games look very much alike, not for very long, anyway. If there were no rules, people would have to stop and decide everything, and so nothing much would happen, and very little would happen in quick succession, except fistfights over the "decidin,'" and that's hockey, not football.

Furniture has rules. They boil down to three: Is it sturdy? Is it comfortable? Is it beautiful? Some call it: commodity, firmness, and delight. There are many subsets of rules, of course; the average human is 18" wide at the shoulder and kitchen counters are hard to make bread dough on if they're higher than eye level. But never mind complexity, get the three rules right, and you're in high cotton.

There's a mindset that's de rigeur these days that rules are for schmucks. (See Ivy League Professor) Do your own thing, man, be creative. My little son's teacher demands that he write complicated and flowery prose, while refusing to teach him to read or write or spell. The rules will just get in the way of creativity, she thinks.

What utter bosh. Michaelangelo Buonnarotti Simoni painted some interesting things, and he labored under plenty of constraints, including: Don't piss off your patron, he can have you killed AND excommunicated. It didn't seem to take much off his fastball. But let's give the Rousseau "Noble Savage" wannabes the benefit of the doubt. Let's imagine we let the old chiseler off the hook from Pope Julius. Paint what ever you want, Mikie. Do you really think he'd paint something better than the Sistine Chapel? Why stop there? Let's take it as far as modern artists do. Why not have Michaelangelo paint with his feet, using yogurt instead of paint, and a toilet brush for his stylus? That should free up his creative juices, huh? Don't like the sound of that? What are you, square?

As I was saying, commodity, firmness, and delight. Sounds easy enough. Let's see you do it. It's easy to blaze a trail if you start out by saying wheels should be square instead of round, or made from spaghetti. You'll get Yoko Ono sized plaudits in the art magazines for that, but the cart still won't go. Your mission, if you live in that world, is to find a patron that wants an odd useless cart. And has a trust fund too.

Forget all that. Let's see you carry the rules on your back lightly, like an angel on your shoulder, or heavy, like a rucksack filled with brass knobs-- whatever is your lot in life -- and make the trip to creativity. Let's see you do it for a price. Let's see you make another person -- or even better - many people, happy and comfortable and safe for a little while. Let's see you do it on time. Let's see you please yourself, and the rest of the world, and maybe throw your little all into the mixer of meaning that is posterity, and have it stick, maybe just a little.

Sometimes, I think I did it a little, and it makes me content.

I'm Still Too Busy To Write. Here's A Picture Of A Filling Station I Built

I love this picture. It reminds me of an Edward Hopper painting. The Mobil canopy won a bunch of design awards, both here and in Europe, and deserved every one of them. That place screams: bright, clean, safe --pull right in. A filling station is an industrial building and looks appropriate in that mode. People have lost their minds, and try to make their own kitchens look industrial, and then go to planning board meetings and demand that service stations put peaked roofs and shingles on their canopies.

By the way, in the oil business, they never call it gas. It's called "product."

I told you I've built every damn thing. If I'm busy again tomorrow, you're getting pictures of the football stadium. No, not that one. The small one.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

I'm Still Busy. Here's A Picture Of A Boat

I'm still too busy to write. I'm not writing this, really. Consider this not written.

That's a boat I built. It's 14-1/2 feet long. It's made of mahogany, and the hull is made of marine plywood, which is made from mahogany too.

It was fascinating to read the ink stamps on the material and paperwork, and trace the trajectory of the wood around the planet before it got to me here in Southcoast Mass.

The wood itself is probably African, or from Southeast Asia. It's glued together in a sandwich of layers and epoxy glue, in Greece of all places. Then I think it went to Canada. It was blessed with holy syrup there, or something. Perhaps extra splinters were installed; I dunno. Then it went to Maryland. I don't know about that one either. Then I bought it from an internetish concern in Somerville, Massachusetts, and the Maryland people drop shipped it to me. I made something out of the oak pallet it was shipped on, too.

I farted around with this boat for a decade, maybe two. By "farted around," I mean I looked at the plans over and over. They were sold to me by a guy in Florida, who bought the rights to them from a guy in Maine. The guy in Florida took out an ad in a magazine published in Maine to sell the plans.

I have a headache.

Anyway, I started building the thing, forty-five minutes a year, just like clockwork. I am very steady in this regard. I can work on things forty-five minutes a year almost indefinitely. I am implacable. It is wiser to be a glacier than a supernova, is it not?

It was in the way, eventually, the 315 minutes worth of moulds and the few sticks of boat. So I finished it in about three weeks. And then I put it in a garage. It's still there. We rechoose a name for it every couple of years to keep the interest we have in it at its fever pitch.

Hmmm. Perhaps I was hasty earlier. I think it's still in the garage.

At the time, it was the third boat I owned. The others were each much bigger, and slightly smaller than this one, respectively. I gave those two boats away, because I never really used them. They were moored ten miles away, but late at night in the summer, when the roar of the peepers and the gentle coo-coo of the morning doves abated, I could hear those boats laughing at me across the inky ocean and the verdant landscape. I didn't know how to sink them, so I gave them away.

I could always go out on the water on this one, the one in the picture, I thought. You know, the one in the garage, I think.

I'm busy. Here's a picture of a boat.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

I'm Busy. Here's A Picture Of A House.

I've built a lot of different things over the years.

The term "built" is nebulous. The owner of the house builds it, but doesn't do anything except write checks until their hands bleed. The designer usually stops after the lines are on the paper. The general contractor generally rides herd over the whole mess, and is often a framing contractor around New England. The rest is subcontractors, or "specialty" contractors, who don't know very much about everything, but know a great deal about what ever it is they do.

I used to work at large commercial contractor, and there were people there that had been working at "building" things their whole lives, and had never seen one of them. They never left the office.

I make furniture now, and like it. But we were out on Christmas Day, visiting for the holiday, and we went to the house in the picture. It's perhaps the best expression of whatever talent I have at building my favorite thing to build - a house. And if anybody can claim to have "built" a house, I can claim this one. I paused in the driveway, and for a minute I remembered the scratching on the paper, and the spreadsheets, and the permits, and the framing, and the painting, and trim, and ... well, I remembered all the effort I put into that place; remembered all at once. It might be a better example of the most gratifying work I've ever done than even my own house. It still looks neat as a pin eight years later.

In three hundred years, that house might still be there. Someone might find the business card I pitched into the space between the stringers just before I nailed the stairtreads home. Will they think: "I wish that guy was alive today to build me another house"? Or will they wish I was there to get a scolding for a missed nail, or a crooked stud I should have burned instead of nailed?

I don't know. But I do know I wouldn't have thrown my name in there, if I didn't care about what I was doing.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006


I'm busy making furniture today. Actually, "busy" doesn't cover it. "Going like hell commensurate with not forgetting one table leg out of four or being called 'lefty' or 'old one-eyed stumpy' for the remainder of your life" is more like it.

But you're all so nice, I need to thank you for visiting and commenting and buying furniture, and for all your expressions of goodwill and holiday cheer. And hey! we actually got presents for Christmas from some people. So thank you -- you all deserve a Russian Kiss from Pat et Stanley:

Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas, Everybody Everywhere

They were standing in the rubble of a world gone mad. Finally they stood over the stricken bully, exulting only that the thing was done, and offered their hand again to all that would take it. Like all decent people, they did what they had to do, then shrugged and decided to get back to the real business at hand.

I like people that scrape themselves up off the floor and come back swinging. We've been swinging ever since, more or less.

Merry Christmas.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Merry Christmas, My Brother

Commenter "Deb from Madison" mentioned Christmas wreaths made from computer punch cards, and Christmas trees made from Reader's Digests and gold spray paint, and I about wept. Talk about a shared experience. A Scandinavian was as rare as a sober Kennedy where I'm from, so they'll be no Euchre. Italians play Whist, thank you. But it's just the same, otherwise.

There's a sort of self-examination rampant in modern life that is corroding shared experience. Nothing is done unless it's filmed, dissected, and critiqued. We used to just do stuff, and not worry too much about the deeper meaning of it. The deeper meaning was reserved for the impetus of the holiday. Now they'd write ten thousand column inches, footnoted, about the deeper meaning of using computer punch cards to make a Christmas wreath.

Let me shorten it up for the poindexters: We were poor. Christmas was important. We celebrated it as best we could with the materials at hand. And Deb and I, and I'm sure many others, remember that fondly.

I miss my older brother. He lives in California, and likes it. I miss him especially at Christmas. My brother is a fair sum older than I, would come home from collegefor Christmas and sleep until noon every day, and make icosahedron ornaments out of my construction paper. We'd plead with him to take out his guitar, and marvel at the music being conjured out of the dead splits of mahogany and sitka spruce. There was no video cameras then for us, or YouTube, of course. He could probably cook it up fresh for you to this day, but the recipe and the chef is 2500 miles away from me today. I found this fellow on the Tube, and it'll have to do:

That's very European, that music. It says snowflakes and sleighs and so forth. Let's go south for the finish, and let a culture whose simple piety and joyous attitude toward a holiday makes Santa come right out of the desert, too. My brother lives hard by that desert. Here's hoping Santa comes out of it for you too, my brother.

Feliz Navidad to all, and to all a good night.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Hi Dee Hi Dee Hi Dee Ho Ho Ho

[Editor's Note: This is a re-run from last year, with a new link to a new Christmas light picture site as the old one seems to be associated with an internet gambling site now. As if the Christmas lights weren't tacky enough. Anyway, the new site seems to have the requisite holiday spirit. Also, it's gratifying that last year's reference to arguing about Christmas seems to be less apt this year. That usually means the side I liked surrendered, and there's no use talking about it anymore. Whatever; Merry Christmas!}

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

I never hear the word "decry" for eleven months of the year, but I get it morning noon and night at Christmastime. Seems like everyone's decrying some aspect of the Christmas thing, and if you look in more than one place, you'll find people decrying the opposing angles of the same Christmas condition. Christmas is too religious for some. It's too mercenary and secular two doors down. Me, I think Christmas is too tasteful.

Now, Christmas was a big deal when I was young and Johnson was president. We weren't wealthy, and your birthday and Christmas were the only days you'd get any swag. We'd study the Sears catalog like we study Victoria's Secret catalogs now, make our Christmas list, then we'd be schlepped all over creation -- in a Rambler station wagon or a Dodge Dart with a steel dashboard or a Chevy Impala convertible with a hole in the roof -- to our relatives' houses to be spoiled a bit by their generosity. None of them were wealthy either, but they always seemed to have the time and money and affection to get even their most obscure nieces and nephews a little something. The younger you were, the better the present generally was, because after all, it's easier to buy a present for a child, isn't it?

What all those homes had in common when we visited was hospitality, and garish and hamfisted Christmas decoration. Jimmy Stewart was very much alive, but Martha Stewart hadn't appeared on the scene yet, and it showed -- metallic white fake Christmas trees with rotating muticolored spotlights aimed at them; big red, blue, and green bulbs strung along the outlines of the house; plastic Santas guarding plaster creches; spray-on frost riming the windows; cheap looking tinsel and home made tree ornaments that looked like you wore your mittens when you made them. It knew no race, or creed, or social station; it was all bad, and lovely.

And your Aunts would hug you, smelling of lilac perfume and the kitchen, and slip you quarters on the way out; your Uncles would tell stories and and roar the loudest at their own japes; and when you got older they'd crush your hand in a welcoming handshake to see if you still squealed.
The music was lively, and sometimes wistful, which was nice. Christmas in 1965 was only twenty years removed from WW2, and thirty from the depression, and most all my relatives were old enough to remember when Christmas wasn't so jolly. And the perspective that the emergence from true want and danger lent to their mood was like the bubbles in champagne.

I can't bring myself to decorate in the garish style of my youth. Jimmy Stewart's passed away, and he's on the flatscreen at Mr Potter's now only, but Martha Stewart is in the here and now, out of jail and demanding once more that we straighten up and garland ourselves properly. My Aunts and Uncles have made their way to their reward, many of them, and the others are far away in distance, if not in our hearts.

But I have a weakness now that I indulge by visiting websites devoting to pointing a jaundiced finger at bad Christmas yard displays. I wonder: Am I the only one there, with a tear in his eye, remembering how genuine, and fun, and innocent these things were to the dearest people?

I cometh to bury Caeser, not to praise him.

Still, I'd like to visit one more time; put the kettle on.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas

It's possible for a Christmas wish to be something besides an X-box.

Most people have an intense longing for an intense longing. When the landscape doesn't present an opportunity to desperately want something, we have a tendency to manufacture it. Anyone that has seen sacks of rice tumble off an aid truck in a place where famine rules recognizes the behavior of a crowd at a mall the day after Thanksgiving, in a frenzy trying to buy a Playstation 3. Recognize it, but not understand it, exactly.

I don't want any "thing" for Christmas. I'm too old for that sort of thing. But Christmas gets me to thinking.

Judy Garland's singing is lovely in the video. The song is worthy of a compelling performance. People who really knew what they were doing used to write, produce, and perform mass entertainment. And the themes were very adult. Christina Aguilera and her ilk, writhing about on the stage drooling melismas and flashing her naughty bits is really sort of infantile, when considered dispassionately. And while the opening up of all sorts of mass media to the forces of the democratic selection of entertainment is wonderful in many ways, the rise of the amateur has its problems. Shakespeare would not have blogged. Judy Garland wouldn't have sung karaoke.

It is useful to reflect upon the wistful nature of the song and the images that accompany it. That tableau is being played out in many places in the United States right now, and Judy Garland, Ralph Blane, and Hugh Martin probably ain't showing up to tell those home alone --some alone forever -- that their intense longing is shared by many, if not all of their fellow men.

Have yourself a merry little Christmas, now.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Greatest. Christmas. Song. Evar.

There's no video of Brenda Lee singing this one on YouTube, and all the mash ups stink. The remakes by people like Kim Wilde are uniformly dreadful. You'll have to make do with just audio.

But what audio! I think the song and the singer and the time and place and cultural context have emulsified into one of dem dere "cultural artifacts." All the anima is contained in the original.

I've performed the song countless times myself, and it's not that it's not amenable to performance by others. It's easy and fun and lively. It's just that it will always be just an homage to the original. That's rare, and in this case, wonderful.

Have a big glass of Tang in your free glass from the gas station with your shredded wheat and cream for breakfast. Read a Life magazine while smoking a Chesterfield and waiting for Rob Petrie to come home. Drink a highball, and listen to Brenda Lee over and over while pretending it's on the AM radio. You can warm your hands over the tubes.

Merry Christmas everybody!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

We're All Scrooge In Reverse Now

Kids like Christmas. Then you grow up and it can wear on you a bit. There's additional pressure put on you, and you've got plenty of that already.

I've succumbed to the temptation to become Scrooge in reverse, and I'm sorry for it. By Scrooge in reverse, I mean starting out my life filled with the good humor and wonder of the holiday, and ending up crabby, dyspeptic, and miserly about the whole business afterward.

There will be no Bah Humbug for me this year. I will not execrate my gifts and regale you with stories of dysfunctional family gatherings. I am not already planning on returning anything. If there's anything bad about the holiday, we bring it along with us. You can always keep your perspective about the thing, ignore the voluminous minefields placed around it by those who do not understand it fully, and enjoy it for the good humor and generosity of spirit that's in it. No one's forcing you to be a jerk on Christmas.

"A Christmas Carol" begins: Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that.

Kinda grim, huh? It ends with:

..and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God Bless Us, Every One!

There, that's better. I hereby promise to get it in the right order, just like Dickins, for all the days of my life.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Kissmahhs Twee

Yeah, "Kissmahhs Twee" is exactly how my three year old said it. I don't know what the hell I'm going to do when he starts talking like his older brother, and the toddler euphonium noise is gone from our house.

The little fellow danced around the room, pretending to play a tiny saxophone ornament while we listened to Ella Fitzgerald sing and swing; the older boy waxed poetic about the tree; and finally the decorated tree stood guard over their Christmas dreams for the first time this year.

My wife and I will continue to mispronounce things in the manner of our child, and he will correct us eventually, just like the big one did. We will be proud, and hide our faces and weep.

Merry Christmas everybody. Get it while it's hot.

Monday, December 18, 2006

I Remember When Rock Was Young...

It's pretty silly, I know, but I got a kick out of it.

When grown up men play metal, I have a tendency to be bemused. By "bemused," I mean I think they're stupid and silly and absurd and a total, utter waste of everyone's time. But you can reconsider a bit when you see these kids bang away at some silly thing and getting so much enjoyment out of it.

Naming your band the Unholy Slasher Goths of Satan and prancing around like a cross between Richard Simmons and Hannibal Lecter isn't really all that subversive. The worldview is really more similar to Barney the purple dinosaur than a neo-nazi. Wear a costume, and yammer at children about sharing or Riding The Storm Out or something. I get the same sort of vibe from adults reading comic books. It's kinda silly, but harmless.

I suppose that we could watch these kids and wish they were a chamber orchestra, sawing away at The Four Seasons. Vivaldi, I mean, not Frankie Valli. But of course that's adult entertainment, in the true sense of the word. Children prefer mindless exhortations to Rock, because they don't actually rock yet. Let them bang away.

They won't be silly until they're old men, bursting out of their spiked codpieces, their exposed chest hair going gray, wandering around a stage still blabbing about Devil worshipping over three power chords while their accountant buys T-bills for them and their personal assistant hands them Evian.

Rock on, kids!

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Ho Ho Yada Yada Mistletoe Blah Blah Blues

My wife is curing me of my ambivalence towards Christmas. She likes it. I like her. There is always a substantial metaphorical breeze that causes a drift towards the enjoyment of anything enjoyable to your coterie of friends, neighbors, and especially your loved ones. It's why lynch mobs function at such a high level; it's not just Christmas.

We buy a Christmas tree from the same people every year. Our children act like an odometer for our travel through life over the last eleven years or so. We exchange pleasantries and then count how many we've each got, and gauge how tall they've gotten in the interim. My older son stood, aw shucks, at the cash register while the owner's daughter of identical vintage stood next to her mother and rang up our sale. When we first met our spruce suppliers, the Nasrallas, our boy was a tiny infant, and that daughter was a newborn.

It's happier not to deal with strangers for such transactions. Impersonal things can be bought impersonally. A Christmas tree is not an impersonal thing, or shouldn't be, anyway. No man that has ever shown me a picture of his children is a stranger.

Merry Christmas, everybody.

Friday, December 15, 2006

He's Super Freakin' Out

It's Friday. I don't have a regular, M-F, 9 to 5 job. It's just another day.

Lots of people are like me now. People in what used to be very rigid walks of life now keep the schedule of a wino. The world is always a better place when it lets you reach your full potential without crushing you with obligation and stultifying rigidity. But sometimes you look longingly at people who can look at the clock on Friday at 4:55 and say Whoohoo!

Why the hell not dance anytime, anywhere? It's Friday somewhere.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

***insert blogpost here***

***funny opening line***

***obligatory reference to hectic nature of blogger's jetset lifestyle***

***insert excuse for meager writing input here by tangentially referring to obligatory reference to hectic nature of blogger's jetset lifestyle***

***if dire emergency, post pictures of adorable children or pets here***

***childless bloggers with dead pets insert random cameraphone shots of surroundings in the manner of Japanese tourist in Disneyland parking lot***

***utilize hardy perennial reference to received knowledge about political figure to cadge 600 words from autotext***

***mock Microsoft/Blogger/Opposing Political Party/French here***

***describe quotidian activities in excruciating detail here***

***best to edit out throne/magazine/candle details from previous item- not funny***

***post YouTube video your brother sent you of Ray Charles and Van Morrison for no apparent reason except it's terrific***

***mock Billy Joel in front row--you are so not Van Morrison, dude***


Wednesday, December 13, 2006


I like wandering around the online MFA. I like wandering around the actual MFA, too -- don't get me wrong-- but it's not exactly right down the street. Even if it was, I'm kinda busy here. 11:30 pm suits me fine.

Online archives are wonderful in this respect, because they don't close and don't sleep and don't charge you, generally. The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston has a fine online archive, filled with interesting things.

Now, my favorite painter is John Singer Sargent. I know you're really not supposed to have a favorite painter, as this might lead to fantasy art leagues being formed, and paint spreads being published in the newspapers every week before the big exhibition.

I didn't just write that, did I?

At any rate, old Sarge could daub, I'm tellin' ya. And the MFA always has a bunch of him, as John Singer Sargent used to be their housepainter, sorta; and since the stuff is painted right on the walls, they can't sell it when they're hard up for money to buy pictures of blue broads with three ears and a nose on the side of their head. They're stuck with it.

I don't know why Sargent painted this picture of a 1950s wrestler. I think he's Irish, what with the harp and all. The girls are wearing too many clothes, but they're pretty all the same. It's nice of one of them to hold that dish behind Gorgeous George like that. Looks heavy. It looks like there were half a dozen muses in Boston at the time of the painting, but only one hairdresser. Times have changed since then, I see. Now there are thousands of hairdressers in Boston, many of whom would be keenly interested in our wrestler, no doubt; and if not many muses, plenty of mousse. Thin lipped college girls with their stringy shoeblack dyed hair, skinny glasses, grim expressions, and Doc Martens and backpacks stand in for the muses today. They rarely dress in bedsheets like the picture, as they obscure their tattoos and ruin the general effect they're driving at.

See, I don't know much about that painting. Sargent just put it on the wall and said: Take that! He didn't explain himself or nothing. What a dope.

Someone told me an artist isn't an artist if he has to explain himself.

I bet that someone was... an agent.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Kitschen Sink

To a college student, everything that sucks is marvelous. It's wry to like that which is dreadful, and odd, and bad.

That used to be a straightforward thing. You'd search around for something nobody wanted, and for good reason, and want it in spades. If you were a tastemaker, pretty soon everybody would want one too, and then you'd move on to browner pastures.

That well has been poisoned, of course, because instead of trying really hard to make something good, and failing miserably in just the right manner, manipulative viral tastemakers are now trying to make something deliberately crummy that seems accidentally crappy. I can't like that stuff, because it is like going hunting in those game preserves you read about where they drug some wild beast and keep it drooling and tottering around in a corral and the idle rich show up and cap them like a mob hit. I like my kitsch free range, thank you.

This is bad. Compellingly bad. Interplanetary, extraordinary bad. Hey look, homely women in ill-fitting reform school prom dresses are banging away at a song like it's a railroad spike --a song that could be entered as exonerating evidence in a rage murder trial --while a little greasy troll with some sort of nervous affliction beats an upright doghouse like it was a puppy next to a stained carpet.

It's sublimely bad. Let's like it.

Monday, December 11, 2006


(It's important for me to offer the disclaimer first, and forcefully:I'm not complaining. In the real scheme of things, I don't have a care in the world.)

I don't know how many days in a row I've worked. I can't remember. I was making clocks last night a 10:30. I'm not sure what that means, except that five people want clocks and I didn't have any and I ran out of week and kept going.

I've supervised the activities of construction workers, from one person to hundreds, with varying degrees of success, since I was young and Carter was president. I learned something funny about overtime, and construction workers. I'm not a construction worker any more, really, but there's a great deal of overlap.

I learned that in general, it was impossible to give a construction worker a meaningful raise, or to have them work overtime. This requires explaining.

The amount of money a construction worker would make would make prodigious jumps. It almost always involved going to a different employer. I tripled my income in one evening by simply sitting still and listening to an offer in a barroom once, for instance.

But once any construction worker in any informal non-corporate setting was ensconced in my care, I was never able to give them a raise in any meaningful way. I was constantly giving them more money, but it was never a raise.

I know that seems odd, but here's how it works: The construction worker finds a situation that is tolerable to them. They need to be able to listen to precisely the type of death metal or talk radio they prefer, at flight deck volume, and be dressed in rags if they so choose. They generally never want to talk to the end user. Drug testing is right out. There's a certain aversion to alarm clocks. There is never any aversion to having your affairs sorted out in a court.

They have a certain amount of fiscal requirements that they can recount instantly. And once their needs are met, they don't care a fig about your money. If you give them more money, they work less, because they don't think they need it. They need free time above all, and take it. If their circumstances change drastically, they have a tendency to make drastic changes in their work situation to make the fiscal adjustment, and start all over again. And construction workers will work incredible amounts of overtime when they need money, but they will never work more than 2000 hours a year. They'll work 2000 hours in a row, and then disappear.

When a customer hires a construction worker directly, they are often mystified that he often doesn't show up, and doesn't answer the phone. They shouldn't be mystified. It's very simple. They have not run out of money yet today. If they had, they'd be trying to climb in your windows at 5:00 am to get an early start, and a down payment.

When the informal worker gets tired of all the amusements of the idle poor, like deer hunting and darts and drinking and Keno and so forth, they generally go into another line of work, or they go to a big official construction company, or a union setting. A marriage and a certain amount of maturity is often the petri dish where this newfangled reliability is incubated. And in that new and official situation, they switch over to making sure they never work past 4:01, or on Saturday, and that's that.

It's the boss that's working all the time. His phone is always ringing, and he's never off duty really. It's what you get paid for, so you shouldn't complain. And the guy in the tavern or the La-Z-Boy shouldn't complain that his boss is making all that dough. He's still at work, and sober, so that you don't have to be.

But when there is no boss but the king of all bosses --the customer-- and no employees but yourself and the yellow pages, all that goes by the wayside. You work because it is necessary. You work because you know there is no slack, and no one to take it up for you even if there was.

You work because it is what you are, not what you do. And you forget how many days in a row you worked.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

X-Mas Cheer

My presence was required at a Christmas fete.

I'd never go anywhere or do anything if people didn't make me. But I can be treed, and rounded up, if you try hard enough. My wife went too of course, and we enjoy each other's company more than any other. Funny that.

Everyone was in a great mood. That's rarer than you might think at a party. People attend such things for a multitude of reasons, not all based on the enjoyment of the thing.

God, I remember the dreadful Christmas parties I attended when I was in the corporate setting. The Bataan Christmas March was more like it. I get to stay late at work and socialize with people I'd like to kill with my bare hands over something that happened last Tuesday? Great. I'd get to have employees marching up to me and wishing me Merry Christmas aloud and wishing I was being eaten by a band of cannibal elves under their breath, because they only got a seven percent raise, and knew in their heart of hearts they deserved seventy, because they only sleep at their desk one day out of five -- not like those lazy people in the next cubicle. Then about twenty five percent of the attendees would whisper to each other the location of a local hellhole bar and we'd meet there and have a blast.

There was none of that last night. Everyone was there because they wanted to be there. And after the party, the host invited everybody over to his house and everybody went there too, and just kept going.

I started exhausted, and came home the same. But it was a different kind of exhaustion. I had exhausted all the possibilities of conviviality, and slept like a child on Christmas night.

Thanks for making me leave the house Steve.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Weary Is Not Tired

Firewood warms you twice. Once when you split it, and once when you burn it.

There is a tradition among the descendants of the flinty Yankees around here of hard physical exertion as a cure-all for any kind of neurosis.

They liked (like) seawater baths, and sleeping with the windows open in the winter, and eating chaff they've stored in the root cellar. They rubbed salt on kanker sores and took cod liver oil with a tablespoon. They wear wool and revel in the itch like a mendicant monk in a hair shirt.

I've seen their pictures, from when such behaviors were not affectations and symbolism alone. Grim, unsmiling miens looking through the camera lens like a wraith from the afterworld. They must have seemed as inexorable in their industriousness as any army -- or swarm of locusts.

I remember reading about the neurotic mess John D. Rockefeller's son became. His father had him chop wood for a whole season to try to wear the burden of no burdens out of him. The patricians' children fool around with physical exertions still, and misguidedly think it's work.

I have in my life slept the benificent sleep of the physically exhausted unworried child. It is gone from me, forever, I think. Physical exertion has never represented a pleasant diversion for me. It's been my lot in life, for a good portion of it anyway.

By any metric, I've chosen that lot in life. If I wanted to get doughy at a desk, and think of nothing but diversions to occupy the rest of my time, that way was open to me. It was not to be. I chafed in the traces. I'm not fool enough to blame the tack shop.

But beware, you who exhaust themselves in such diversions, both mental and physical, and think you are tired like a man who's lot in life is different. A summer job is not the same as looking out at horizonless effort. An aspiring starlet does not know what it's like to work for a living because she malingered in employment in a coffee shop while waiting to become a sort of princess. She never knew what it was like to have no other hope than comfortable shoes, to the end of her days.

It is very different to go to bed and slumber because you are tired, than it is to wake up weary, and know no rest but the grave.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Economy Of Scale

My son is very smart.

I gave him some chores to do in my workshop. He was only nine or so, so as you can imagine, they didn't involve heavy lifting or spinning blades. He's not really very interested in what I'm doing. He does what he has to do with no enthusiasm for the thing itself; his enthusiasm is saved for the idea of doing what is required and finishing his appointed chores so he can get back to his amusements.

Who is to say whether his attitude is not superior to mine?

He is required to sweep the floor, which he does earnestly. It is gratifying to see him try to do a thorough job at a task so mundane. There is an old saying that when you don't know what to do, sweep the floor. There is reason behind most such hackneyed sayings. The advice battles idleness. All workplaces are improved by cleaning them up. The subtle and beautiful motive in the whole idea, though, is that when you are sweeping the floor, you are free to think while you do it, as it doesn't take concentration to sweep, and it leaves the mind free to consider whatever it is that has brought your progress to a standstill.

The jointer/planer is a machine for producing a finished edge on a board, or on the face of a board that is not too wide. It's a great big cast iron thing. It has two razor sharp knives which rotate on a horizontal spindle. You push the stock through a guard, along a fence, over the cutters. It doesn't abrade the wood, it slices it. It makes a pile of wood shaving which come out a chute on the side and collect in a heap on the floor.

My boy knows without being told to scoop these up with the dustpan and put them in a barrel to be taken outside later and made into mulch. You think you're wealthy? The mulch in my yard is made from tiger maple shavings. Bill Gates probably can't top that.

One day, my boy finished his appointed rounds, and all the vacuums were empty, and the floor was swept. And instead of placing the dustpan back on the shelf where it belonged, he placed it on the floor under the chute on the planer.

I questioned him closely on this matter.
Why is that there?
-When I begin again next time, the dustpan will have already caught the chips.
Why is that desirable?
-It will save a little trouble, but cost none.
What if it's in the way?
-It can't be in the way there. Something goes there, so nothing can be placed there anyway.
I tried to think of another question, and he offered:
-The spot on the shelf where the dustpan used to go is open now. We can put something else there.
What made you think of that?
-I thought of it while I swept the floor.
Go and play.

I wanted to sweep the floor just then, but it didn't need it.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

A Fresh Crop Of Rocks

(Editor's Note: Blogger absolutely refuses to upload the picture that accompanies this. I'm a quarter of an inch from switching to another host, or going back to hosting my own blog on my furniture website, like I did before Blogger tempted me with their claims of easy uploads and straightforward WYSIWYG)

{Editor's Note, updated: Hey look. The picture appeared}

[Author's Note: There is no editor]

-Do you miss the farm, Mr. Perkins?
~Are you daft? Another year and a fresh crop of rocks.
-Crop of rocks?
~Have you never been where the trolley don't go? Do you think we pile those rocks along the plotlines to be picturesque for tourists?
-I take your meaning, but it would seem that a fresh crop is out of the question.
~They grow right out of the ground every spring.
-Now you're having me on.
~You get frostbite standing in front of the icebox with the door open, don't you? Have you ever been on a farm?
-A pig farm.
~They're all pig farms. except on most, the farmer is the pig.
-I still don't get the fresh rocks.
~Nature provides, I tell you. But it never provides what you want when you want it. Above all, it provides rocks.
-How do they taste?
~Like sweat. Every thing on a farm tastes like sweat.
-What about the rocks?
~Look, the ground freezes hard here. Rock hard.
-I'm praying for a stony silence, now, myself.
~You asked. The glaciers came through here a long time ago. Back before locusts and Republicans. And it spread rocks around. The devil's rocks. Smooth as cannonballs, and hard enough to turn a plowshare into, well, not a sword, but not a plowshare anymore, either. It turns it into the raw materials a plow used to be made from.
-I get that part. But once they're stacked on the corners, and the plow salesman is retired on your money, that's about it, isn't it?
~You'd think so. You'd think wrong. A farmer never thinks wrong. Because a farmer never thinks his troubles are over. A farmer knows when he's eating a turkey with one hand and holding hands with a pretty girl with the other, that things are going to go downhill soon. He feels about the same way when his hands are empty and the girl is ugly.
-My hands were always empty, and the girls were always ugly.
~That's the difference, see? At least the farmer's wife starts out pretty. The farm fixes that too.
-What about the rocks?
~I told you, the ground freezes harder than a banker's heart every winter. Everything expands when it freezes. Except the rocks. They're held there, in the ground, and a little space opens up around them. In the spring, during mud season...
-Mud season?
~It's right after black fly time.
~Anyway, that sun gets to working, and the water trickles down into the earth with the heat, and fills in that tiny gap under that rock with the slurry and gurry. Imperceptible. Like a raise in the army.
After many a year, that rock shows up, like a bald head, and you've got to pry it out of there before you lose another harrow.
-I get you. A fresh crop of rocks. Why are the walls so low, then? Should be Egyptian sized, by now.
~By the time you're at waist level with those devil's marbles, your greatgrandson has moved to Nebraska to farm in peace.
-Speaking of slurry and gurry, let's go get some coffee at my house. There's no farming there.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006


It snowed a little on Sunday night.

My little three year old was quite taken with it. He stood at the foot of the stairs for a good long while, his nose pressed in the pane of the sidelight, and watched the last fat flakes float by. He turned as his big brother walked by, and said: Mioose! Noh! He said it as if he was giving his brother the combination to a safe filled with gold bars.

Snow divvies up the world according to taste and need. My neighbor will work sanding the road, an his wife will be slightly more happy then usual with the money it brings in. Like farmers who get rain after a long dry spell. He'll be sleepy. My older boy will stand at the foot of the drive, waiting for the bus in a precise spot, sheltered by the tall pines. It's the only time I can see him without fail from window of my office when he's out there, because he doesn't move around. I avoid listening to the radio on such mornings because everybody acts as if it's lava or dead monster souls falling from the sky, barking out information with an undertone of panic. I've heard radio broadcasts recorded during the Blitz in London circa WWII where the announcers sound calmer than weathermen in New England, all over a half-inch of snow. People still hoard bread and milk every time it snows. What are we? Pioneers? Calm down.

I used to drive a lot, and fly often, and I was attuned to the weather as closely as any subsistence farmer ever was. Now I'm close to home almost always, and the inconveniences of snow are diminished. I never buy wood when it's snowing if I can avoid it, as the water is never good for the boards. That's about it. It's pleasant to remember that I'm warm and dry when I'm working and there's snow on the ground. This was not always the case. It's hard to build things outdoors in the winter. I don't miss it.

The little one shoveled the back porch with his mother, sliding the big shovel across the length of it and shouting: Bye Bye noh! each time as the little bit of snow fell off the edge. I can't recall how long it's been since I've shared his delight in seeing something come and see it go too, as he does.

Let it come. It will go.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Man Of Action

I'm immune to Sartre. The antibodies are invincible at this point.

My mental filing cabinet has fewer file folders hanging in it now than it used to. I apologize to no man for curtly rejecting enormous swathes of the intellectual landscape. People who are fascinated over two bong hit dissertations RE: pins; head; faeries thereon are not my kind of people any longer, if they ever were. If I can boil your raison d'etre down to one word-- "whatever"--then I've got no use for you. You're not a man of action.

Action. The word has shifted over time. Tectonically; slowly, but in a big way. Like the movement of a constellation in the heavens. What's the big deal with that, some might say --if they lived in an apartment and took the trolley. Other people look at the night sky because they must find their way.

The military connotation of the word "action" trumps all, or it used to, anyway. KIA used to mean something. Even if you avoided the K part. It still means something to me. I think the thing is immutable, and the word has shifted. Action! says the movie director. At least in the movies he does. I don't think they actually say that anymore. But it never was action. The poor Okie farmer sitting in the darkened theatre marveling over the Busby Berkeley musical -- he knew all about action. He had a very specific kind of sunburn, and his ribs showed a bit, and his hands were flinty from the constant caress of hickory and dirt. He didn't need more action.

I knew a man a decade or two ago. Not well. He was the pleasantest sort of fellow. He wasn't that much older than I, but he already had a wife and a bunch of kids, and his job was prominent and not of the striving-to-get-somewhere kind any more. He had arrived already, and was important in his walk of life.

He gave me his business card after I had known him for quite a while. I was shocked to find PHD at the end of his name. He didn't seem the type.

I'd been to his house, many times. There were, essentially, no books in it. I had always lived in a kind of nest of print myself. My abode, which was never permanent, was just a place to keep me and my books. My friend had a library in his house. They called the room that, anyway. There were no books in it.

I puzzled over that detail about the guy for a long time. His decisions affected a lot of people, and he was responsible for billions of dollars. People would notice if he didn't turn up one day. I had thought he was pleasant, avuncular, kinda jock-ish, and earnest. But those three little letters rankled somehow. He had autographed footballs on the shelves in his office, not books. I neither thought less nor more of him over this conundrum. The conundrum was mine, after all. He was perfectly well adjusted and successful. I do believe he was, and probably is, and will probably die--happy.

I never asked him about it, because that would be an inappropriate behavior for a person like me. Too blunt. But I rolled it over in my mind like a cud for a good long time. I understand it now.

In the military, and in football, and in construction, there is planning, then logistics, then action. Eisenhower is famous for saying: "A plan is worthless; planning is everything." Eisenhower was a football coach, and a soldier, and president of a college, and maybe the best administrator this country has ever produced. Eisenhower was of a military mind in all his dealings. He required that all proposals for action be put on one foolscap page before he would look at them. His detractors thought he was dumb. What he believed was that if you could not distill your idea to that format, it wasn't worth even considering action over it. Anything expounding at greater length than that was obfuscation. Eisenhower knew all about the endless planning, the torrents of type and paper required to run the largest things. But he likewise knew that sooner or later, someone who had given something a lot of thought, who had tempered his fancy with realism borne of experience in action--sooner or later that person had to write down: "I think we should invade France across the English Channel."

My friend-- acquaintance really; not more than that-- had been prepared his whole life to do what he was doing. He did not hesitate to participate in any activity that was required for the trajectory of his life to be determined. His PHD was a means, not an end. He was not preparing himself for more thinking with his thinking. But he certainly was preparing himself.

To act.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Charles Rocket Redux

This blog thang hes been a mixed blessing. Mostly good. The internet tide certainly washes up interesting things every day.

Interesting people, too. I've made lots of friends on the web; friends I've never met, for the most part. But it's also been a sort of wan beacon into that long dark wake I've left, and I'm leaving; and by shining it out, I've allowed people I used to know a bit find me. That's been swell. No one I owe money to from 1979 has looked me up yet.

I wrote about Charles Claverie, or Charlie Rocket as he was known in the movies, about a year ago. He had committed suicide. He was an acquaintance of my brother and some of his friends, and his death shook them all up a bit.

I received a lot of mail about that one. Perhaps the most interesting thing was Dan Gosch, one of Charlie's best friends, contacted me. I hadn't seen Dan in 25 years. As a testament to how small this large world is, I'm pretty sure I painted the house Dan Gosch lives in twenty five years ago-- decades before he moved there. I'm living proof that, as the saying goes: it's a small world, but I wouldn't want to paint it.

Well, I received a message recently from someone named Yasmin in the UK about Charlie. She knows Charlie from his television roles. We all invest a little something in the persons we allow to suspend our disbelief for a moment in an entertainment. We feel as if they know us, or we know them, at least a little. Yasmin's gathered some pictures of Charlie and put them together in a Flickr photo album you can view here.

I told you you'd recognize him, though you did not know him.

That's the best description of human relations I've ever offered: You recognize him, but you did not know him.

Sleep well, Charlie. You are remembered fondly, apparently.