Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Megan McArdle = Pauline Kael

[I would like to get two things out of the way before we begin. One: I don't give a fig if Pauline Kael actually said the quote attributed to her, and I double plus don't care to listen to any "evidence" to the contrary, or in support of the provenance of the quote for that matter. Two: Megan McArdle is a perfectly cromulent writer for the blog with which she's been entrusted.]

I don't read all that much stuff on these here Intertubes. I'm busy, and since I'm a content generator now, I busy myself with writing barely readable, worthless text. I'm not that big a consumer.

I did read quite a bit for a while, just to see what everyone's about. It doesn't take long to figger out who's who and what's what. But I have little interest in going to Memeorandum every day and seeing what everyone's interested in. I already know what I'm interested in.

So ipso facto I'm a content generator, not so much a consumer, and I'll confine my remarks to the production side of things. Someone pointed me to the remarks by Megan McArdle at the Atlantic, and they struck me funny. But because I'm a little different, It seems that I'm the only one that had the reaction I did.

Pauline Kael is famous for supposedly uttering the opinion that Nixon couldn't have won because she didn't know anybody that voted for him. And now Megan McArdle says everybody that she knows that could possibly write an economics blog already has one, or isn't interested:

I was at lunch with some blog people today, one of whom wants to recruit an economics blogger and asked for names. I basically drew a blank. All of the high-traffic economics bloggers I read are either professors, in some similarly rewarding profession, or already tied up by a media organization.
I think this is becoming broadly true of the wider blog world: the biggest bloggers are either professionals, or they have an even more lucrative job.

The comments were interesting, and a few bright people I know from blog correspondence like Tim Worstall appeared with cogent comments, but I couldn't shake off one little aspect of the whole idea as stated.

Megan says her Rolodex is fresh out of names of people who are willing, capable, and have the credentials to blog about economics. Who's left out of her equation? Why, anyone who would know the first thing about economics.

You see, I couldn't care less what people like Paul Krugman have to say about economics, because if they worked for me, they'd be qualified to sweep the floor and get us all lunch. You can indulge any sort of bizarre idea about economics if you have a sinecure. Hell, you have to be careful about the pronouncements of people who are already successful in the business world, as they have the money to indulge in all sorts of strange ideas now, too. I don't really care what Warren Buffett thinks about what people that ride the bus should be doing. How the hell would he know? How the hell would an academic?

Megan McArdle, who is very bright and lively to read, says that all the people with sinecures are taken, so the game's up. She's not dumb. She's blind.

Perhaps I've been too harsh to compare her to Pauline Kael, although Kael certainly was a very fine writer, so it's not really less than a left-handed compliment. But my impression of economists, or more precisely people scribbling about economic matters, is that with a few exceptions, you'd all be much better off to be just like Mike Rowe, out in the landscape looking in wonder at things that average people do to make the world, and everything economic, go around. At least Mike Rowe doesn't think he knows enough about anything to be placed in charge of the affairs of others, like most economists, academics, and writers do. He's just inquisitive and deferential and lively.

A thermometer is not a weather god. Mind your own business, the whole lot of you, and pay attention to the people who know how an economy actually functions. Here's a hint: You will never find even one of them in Washington DC. Not one.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Only Movie I've Liked In The Last Five Years

Maybe ten.

Some things are magnificent to look at, and to contemplate. I'm hard pressed to come up with a comparable melding of cinematography and music. Lawrence of Arabia? Nothing's better than that. This isn't that good. Just better than everything else.

Everybody was asleep when I watched it, so the volume was very low, and all the charcters mumbled and grunted or whispered anyway, so almost every word spoken was inaudible to me. Didn't really matter.

When I was young, I read Dumas, Scott, Stevenson Kipling, London, Irving, Twain, Hawthorne...

Never mind. I was lost in a reverie. It's a pleasant place to go, from time to time.

Ten bucks. Heh. Deuce Bigalow Male Gigolo is eighteen. There's Hollywood for you.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Please Make It Stop

I am a lover of houses.

To be a lover of houses, you really have to be a lover of people. Houses used to be inextricably linked to the people that inhabited them. That's slipping a bit. More than a bit. A lot. Damn it, there's been a wholesale destruction of the concept.

There, I said it, and I'm glad.

I've made all sorts of things, many house-like. I make furniture now. So I still have something to do with houses. I've recently gotten a look at all the shows on cable TV that feature the purchase, renovation, decoration, or sale of a house as a sort of American Idol bloodsport, and I don't like what I see. Here's why:

I used to renovate houses fairly often, sometimes really ancient ones. I always was attentive for what was considered part of the essential fabric of the house, and noted how often I was charged with ripping out and replacing things that had been added or changed by the occupants, based on fads that come and go.

All the shows I saw based the rehabilitation of homes-- some were new houses, too-- on what I consider very ephemeral fashion. But a house is not garment. You are making long term decisions with short term design elements. The house itself is a two or three hundred year decision, or could be, if you remember to put batteries in your smoke alarms.

I started early in life in this business, so I've already seen all the mistakes that popular renovation culture makes. The cutting edge stuff you're picking out at Home Depot? I've already ripped it out of houses --twice-- in the last twenty-five years, while the homeowner said: "What were those people thinking?"

As far as the renovation TV zeitgeist, the only overarching theme I see is that even people of modest means are now taking advantage of the services of buyer agents, decorators, and landscape and house designers that may or may not be contractors. Only the very wealthy used to do that. I like to see people of moderate means establishing households and being happy. Call me a soft touch, if you will, but I'm hardly a snob about such matters.

The customers' attitude is generally a kind of profound confusion. They have no frame of reference about the beauty, utility, or value of one thing, never mind all the things together. So they invite people in to spend their money and tell them what to like. And with few exceptions, they're inviting the wrong people.

I've seen many wonderful and terrible things. I've watched women in open-toed shoes performing demolition. I've seen the Village People do plumbing. I've seen an Amazon woman whip out house redesigns, some quite fetching, like she's winding a watch. I've seen ex-football players make a kind of frat-house tree fort for a homeowner to hide from his wife in. Norm Abram is still rattling around on the periphery. And after taking it all in, I only have one thing to say:

If I see one more room with everything powder blue and cocoa brown, glass tile, and industrial knobs on everything, I'm going to climb right through the screen and kill someone.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

When The Junk On The Walls Was (Still) Real

I've been in a thousand roadhouses. Paint peeling from tin ceilings, yellow pine floors stained with the offal of a million benders and scoured clean by the grit of numberless shoes. The neon winks at you. The Men's room door is on its fifty-fourth set of hinges, the room itself is on its third cleaning in forty years. There are bowling trophies and fish heads and incongruous signs on the walls all donated by the denizens -- some of whom are half forgotten but in attendance, others always present but dead. The glasses aren't clean but beer comes in its own glass, and you can order it by holding up your fingers. The pool table lists to port a bit; after 11:00 PM the patrons do too, so all is well. The quarters, stacked like a tower in Pisa, signal "next game" 'til tomorrow and then some anyway.

There's a stage, capacious enough for an anorexic to tell jokes from, with four people, their instruments and equipment, and a full drum kit on it. The singer wanders the floor anyway. He sings into a bus station microphone, whispering in it like a lover, or alternately screaming into it like a Stanley Kowalski sort of lover, and peppers his delivery with winks at pretty girls and harmonica playing like a distant elegaic train whistle on the prairie at night.

The guitar is a Fender Stratocaster, of course; it's strung with strings like cable, and you never hear a note unless it's intended. You can't mash them all around. The amplifier is right behind him, that player, and if he swings his hips -- he does-- the sound shakes the strings into a sort of harmonic frenzy, and he rides the rising howl like a surfer does a wave, and then swings the neck away and the shimmering tone of the plucked chord returns to the slow boil.

There's a lot of space in the music. The bass is an anchor. The drummer could make do with just a high hat and snare. His right foot is like a piston driving a pile. He moves his stick to the ride cymbal, and you sense that the bell of the cymbal is a world away from the edge.

The guitarist knows what he is doing, and never plays what is being sung; he winds his counterpoint around the vocal like a vine on a drainpipe, and the beautiful rainwater courses down inside, splashes down in the garden, the curb, the gutter -- into the very earth. It rises again from that earth, and forms melancholy clouds, scudding across the musical horizon, then brings the cool, gentle rain down on all of our heads, which cleanses and anoints us.

Your girlfriend goes home with the bass player, of course.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008


Today's throughput. There are two more piles just like this one, partially finished. I'm a road warrior today. Gasoline costs $3.45? The filling station shuts you off like a drunk at a bar at $75. Who knew? I haven't been outdoors in a year, it seems to me.

I guess I shouldn't have worn long underwear. It's eighty.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Happy April 22nd!

Today is a big anniversary for anyone born in the fifties. An event of profound importance is commemorated on this date every year now -- first popularized, of course, in the seventies.

What? What the hell are you talking about? Yeah, yeah, littering is bad. But what the hell are you people picking through your trash like raccoons for, and calling it Christmas? Never mind all that. It's Peter Frampton's birthday!

Excuse me, I have to go cut down a tree and make it into something useful.

Monday, April 21, 2008

(Still) No Admittance

[Editor's Note: He's got two or three deadlines to meet, so you get a rerun from years gone past.]
{Author's Note: Don't worry, everybody has Internet Alzheimer's and can't remember what they read two days ago. They probably don't even remember that there is no editor.}

What shall we talk about today?

By the time you are reading this, I'll be pushing wood through a saw. I have help occasionally, but for the most part it is a solitary thing.

Many people used to work in solitary endeavors, or in small groups. Those types of situations are becoming much more common again, and many more people are joining the ranks of the fractured work force, as I have. I think it's better in many ways.

There is an image I have in my head of the average denizen of the office building. It is not an imaginary image, as I have worked there myself. It occurs to me that it it is the office building filled with information workers that is old-fashioned, not me and my version of the work picture.

The office building is the text version of belching smokestack-noon whistle-timecard punching-id badge-break room-factory of my youth. The cubicles and the old CRTs and the in and outboxes are the assembly line of text now. That's the modern version of the old sepia colored photo of a humming factory. You nice folks with the boxy shoes and skinny glasses and the Blackberrys and ACT folders open are the buggy whip people now. You are the people who used to wear coveralls and carry a sandwich in a pail and grind it out until you get a watch and bed with a lid. Not me.

The idea that you'd all congregate in one place made sense when there was a smelter in the back. The smelter is a server now, and you probably don't even know where it is. There is little reason to congregate in one place between low-pile carpeting and drop ceilings just to think. It is unlikely people will continue to do so much longer.

I have a network of persons to help me when I need it. That pool is too small, but not inconsiderable. We congregate when it is necessary. We generally each have the tools we need available to us wherever we are, or go. We buy components and materials and machinery from people we will never meet, and sell the fruits of these constantly shifting associations to other persons we may never meet. In the past, I've even occasionally worked in occupied homes and never met the occupants. It's not always necessary.

The little shelf outside the HR office with the brightly colored forms. The vending machine. The bagels laid out before all but the most hardy clerk arrives by a contractor no one has ever met. It's all going the way of the dodo. You cutting edge old-fashioned people are going to have to learn to live in the world outside the office tower. The world is booming, and it's kinda scary if your sun is of the fluorescent variety. Be brave, and do not allow yourself to be taken advantage of by those that say they can put the workplace genie back in the bottle.

I bet you'll like it out here.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

How Do I Explain Mrs. Cottage?

I've been married for almost two decades. I don't know anything about my wife.

I imagine I know her better than anyone else at this point. Maybe her parents knew the little girl they raised better than I, but she is gone into a person now.

My wife is quiet and mysterious. I talk all the time and am mysterious. It's not a bad combination. We have made children together, and raised them a little. Everything good about them reminds me of her. There's more good than bad.

Marriage is a decision. It used to be a profound decision, and so most people took it seriously. It's more or less morphed into a cultural ornament, one considered a little threadbare by the hipsters. My fellow countrymen mostly bounce like a tennis ball between marrying every person they meet, serially, or ignoring the whole ritual and coupling without any title.

If you decide to marry, really decide, it helps you to stay that way. Because if it's no big deal, you feel no compunction to gauge your behavior for the long haul. You're figuring you can act like a jerk to a series of people.

If I was cruel to my wife, I would have to look at her for the rest of my life in regret. I am far from perfect and so I do have my regrets. My wife is one of those people who will be buried someday and no one will remember a single bad thing about her. You will not be able to find any sane person to make an unkind remark about her. You'll be able to form a Roman Legion of my detractors.

So, as I said, I do have my regrets. But I have never once regretted asking my wife to marry me. And I certainly don't regret that she is too inscrutable for me to figure out if she's regretted marrying me for every waking moment of half her life.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Ten Things That Are Gonna Happen Maybe

I'm going to hang my arse out in the breeze a bit, and start predicting things.

1. I predict I'll be way off

See, this is going badly already. It's starting to remind me of my first To-Do lists:

1. Make list
2. Check list
3. Check off "Make list"
4. Ckeck off "Check List"

5. Lunch

So I acknowledge no one knows nuffin', and I'm as no one as anyone. But the writing is on the wall for all these, if not in my lifetime, than at least my childrens'. Let's read it:

1. Practically no one will commute to work. Almost no work will be of a physical nature involving drudgery. Most non-food things will all be made out of the same inexpensive stuff, just assembled differently
2. Large scale farming will shift to a sort of factory setting. Farm animals will no longer be necessary, as flesh for eating will be generated without growing animals. Continent-sized swathes of the Earth will return to wilderness. Populations will again move toward cities, when the only reason they ever left is conquered: Government corruption.
3. We will never run out of anything important.
4. The world can, and will, support many more people than it already does, as long as they are relatively well off. They will be
5. Things like surgery will become obsolete. Common colds and other humdrum maladies will be eradicated. Life spans will be greatly lengthened
6. Pan-pagan rationalist mysticism will be superseded by some great religion based on the family
7. Support for all political regimes will be based on economic matters alone. Economic hardship will be considered prima facie evidence of government malfeasance. All governments will move to a sort of Google model: Only those that require special treatment will be charged money. All other services of the government will be available free to the citizen. Few will want anything the government offers
8. The only problem for energy is storage. It will be solved and no other considerations about energy will ever matter again
9. Large scale warfare between nation-states will become obsolete
10. Numbers 1 through 9 will never happen because we will either elect socialist autocrats or reactionary statists whose worldview is based on either rationing goods or restricting intellectual freedom; or perhaps become gangster states based on resource cartels, a form of international rationing. And rationing by its very definition is never sustainable, kiddies. It only works in the lifeboat if someone's coming to save you. And we eradicated Pan-pagan rationalist mysticism way back in item six, remember?

Thursday, April 17, 2008

An Invitation Into A Disorderly Mind

I'm not a blogger.

I hate the word. It's inelegant. The Internet is disorderly and inelegant, so it fits, but I more or less have never gotten the urge to be "a blogger." This might seem counterintuitive to those who read the URL for this page and see dot blogspot right in my name. Google named it, I didn't. Google couldn't even name themselves properly. Who should expect them to name others wisely? I tire of gibberish in great things.

Bloggers are other people. I am not casting aspersions. I'm just telling ya, is all. I confused a few people yesterday, because I put the raw feed from my head on the page. If you look at the picture I supplied, and read what I wrote, it's entirely coherent. But old friend AJ Lynch's observation:

Say that again but slower this time.

and new friend anonymous':

You want to share whatever you've been smokin'?

are entirely fair. They are cruising the Internet looking for people expressing themselves forthrightly. There's nothing more forthright than the Internet. I can't ever recall being told to Die In A Fire in real life, after all.

So I'm a little too obscurantist for the Intertunnel. I can't help it. I write essays here. It's different. I apologize unreservedly, in advance, for everything I'm ever going to say in the future.

Those were my wedding vows, by the way.

Perhaps I owe it to my audience to explain the idiosyncratic workings of my mind. Here goes.

See the picture at the top of the page? I saw it on our beloved Intertunnel yesterday. What's the first thing that comes into your mind when you see it? Wanna know what mine is? This:

Marilyn Monroe is sitting on a very old school sawhorse, one that I've made myself. I have never encountered another person still making them this way. I learned it from men, all dead now, for whom Marilyn Monroe was more than a Elton John retreaded song reference. My modern carpenter friends would never make sawhorses this way, as it is complicated and labor intensive compared to their designs. But I've used mine for 25 years and kept them outside for much of it. They don't even wiggle in the joints yet. I do, and I generally am kept indoors at night. There is no shame in the carpentry trade in buying pre-made sawhorses now, either, although the people I first learned carpentry from would have never spoken to you for the rest of your life if you brought one to work.

Oh, and Marilyn Monroe? She'd be camped out on my doorstep waiting for me to come home, if she was still alive. Girls like that are a dime a dozen. I'd have to send my wife out to shoo her away. But man, look at those legs.

They're 1x6 utility grade pine. Set the framing square at 24" on the blade and 4" on the tongue to get the angle right.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

There Are Rules

There are rules.

These rules are not written in any one place. Right next to essential rules are nonsense. You must parse them.

The rules allow for almost limitless innovation. But if your worldview is based on limitless innovation by ignoring the rules, you'll fail every time. And be derivative.

There are never any new rules. Just rules you don't know yet. The same people on the divan were once in the cave.

You will never be happy if you break the rules. It's likely you will not realize why you are unhappy, and will blame the rules you ignored for your troubles.

You will refer to things by their polar opposite, and be unhappy, and never know it.

A miss is as good as a mile with the rules. A little wrong might be the worst kind.

A person warning you that you are at war with nature is wasting their time if they are right. You will lose in a hurry. If you do not lose in a hurry, the person warning you is wrong.

A willing but uneducated person has a better shot at it than an intellectual, because an intellectual is only interested in ideas, and so reality is superfluous to them. Anything can make sense on a piece of paper.

You want to walk down that path, and smell those blooms, and scale those little steps, and sit on the porch with the people that live in that picture. And maybe you don't know why.

I do, a little.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

It's Still Warm By The Stove

They come, one after another. I wish they'd leave me be. It's still warm by the stove.

I got tinder and wood 'til I'm gone and forgotten. The food still comes from the ground if you make it. Still they come and cluck their tongues and try to take me from my squalor.

Squalor. I always loved that word. The pastor would boom it from the pulpit, and the newspaper would have it from time to time, back when they could still write, talking about some woman and her cats. People don't understand thirty cats and one dish any more because they aren't on a farm with a pile of something worth eating they'd like to find still there in February.

I live in squalor so what. But they come dressed like streetwalkers or wandervogel or something and want to save me from it. Save me from myself. How can anybody do that, anyway?

They don't know about the shades that tread the house with me. Gone to their reward. I could not go away from them until they invite me to join them. And I will not let you scrub their residue from my walls.

I pray over their stones, including the granite stubs at our feet where we dared not write the names for fear of breaking our hearts over and over. But they have names in my heart, oh yes, they always did. I've whispered them in my own ear every day.

They come in their fancy cars, skinny with mindless exertions and not work, expiating their guilt on my doorstep. But you see, my life is like a coat that's gone shabby and threadbare and I don't care. Many garments are not for show on a farm.

So my life is lived in squalor, and this must not be, you demand. But I take one look at you and know that you never spent one moment in squalor, but your life is squalid. You're a gilt-edge leather-bound thirty-dollar Bible with all the pages written by Beelzebub. Not the same, is it? People didn't use to try to save you. They'd extend their hand and call you friend. I can't find it even in church anymore.

Leave me be, by my little fire, to be warmed by the life I lived. I'll not join you on your icebergs.

Monday, April 14, 2008

(I'm Not Going To) The Boatyard

[Editor's note: The author is bumming me out. He wants me to re-run this from years past, and I want to go to the boatyard, too, but I'm too busy.]
{Author's Note: There is no editor. The boat is very real, and very dusty now.}

This is the time of year for the boatyard.

I got rid of my sailboat. Gave it away. I didn't use it, and I tired of it calling out to me all the time, reminding me that it was there and I wasn't using it. The reminder came, generally, in the form of a bill of some sort. If it just existed, that would be one thing. But it became a taxi to nowhere, up on blocks, with the meter running. No fun.

Don't get me wrong; it was marvelous to go out on Buzzards Bay in the high summer and trail your hand in the hissing foam along the gunwhale and feel the sun and the breeze on your face. But it was an awfully long run for such a short slide. I spent as much time painting it as sailing it the year before I finally pulled the plug on it.

I made another boat. It was my original idea, to make a boat with my own hands and get out on the water in that. It would take all the dilettante out of it for me. However modest it might be, no one makes sport of a boat you made yourself. People have all sorts of ideas about other people's boats at the harbor, most pretty catty, but there's a sort of respect that comes with the fabrication of the thing.

I made the little boat all from mahogany and mahogany plywood. I finished it about three years ago or so. It was in the way, half built, for more than half a decade before that. I finished it in a flurry in three weeks so I could get it out of the way. I never launched it.

I stuck it in an unused bay in a friendly garage, and only the dust motes drift by it. It calls to me, as the other one always did, but in a different way. There is no meter. There is no urgency. There is no feeling of foolishness of pouring cash into a hole in the ocean.

Whenever you're ready, it says.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

It Might As Well Be Spring Is Here, Lover

Erroll Garner playing Lorenz and Hart, and Rodgers and Hammerstein, and Rodgers and Hart, I think. That's what the credits say, but who writes the credits? Before my time.

I always hated Broadway. Right in the middle of a play, people would burst out in song. The better the play part, the more bizarre the musical interlude would seem to me. I could never get over the idea that people don't act like that in real life.

What a jackass I've always been, and always will remain, I'm afraid. But I learn.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Saturday Badfinger Fix

We need to hear Badfinger right now. In my case, it is a strictly palliative dose. But you're a wreck. It's life and death for you.

Bonus convulsion-causing-Kenny Rogers-with-Helen Reddy's-haircut appearance.

Friday, April 11, 2008

The Place Delmer Wouldn't Leave

Delmer Wilson is a haunt. He is over my shoulder now.

One reads the House of the Seven Gables in grade school. Oops. I meant one used to. You read Harry Potter now. I will leave it to you to decide which is preferable. But you must for a moment try to understand a reverie.

1. a state of dreamy meditation or fanciful musing: lost in reverie.
2. a daydream.
3. a fantastic, visionary, or impractical idea: reveries that will never come to fruition.
4. Music. an instrumental composition of a vague and dreamy character.

Almost all those words in that definition have been debased in common usage. I've noticed that the average educated person's use of language is a shadow of what I was accustomed to in years past. I rarely see people use language elegantly and precisely any more. I include myself in that, generally. Maybe it's all the typing and television; I don't know. The average person has become more highly skilled in jocularity and a kind of direct hammer-blow speech, but doesn't seem to be able to express themselves with any subtlety or have much of an ability to parse fine shades of meaning from what they are reading or hearing. Many are easily manipulated by those who know how the language works. They glean a false impression. In many cases, the false impression is deliberate. Anyone who has watched an infomercial knows what I'm talking about.

Daydreaming did not used to mean "goofing off in your cubicle." The word "fantastic" wasn't simply a sportscaster with a limited vocabulary barking out something that sounds superlative to his tin ear. "Meditation" did not used to infer a period of quiet and intense narcissistic self-absorption shoehorned between frantic periods of yammering into a cellphone. And "visionary" was a serious word once, and not associated with people who make Heavy Metal music videos.

Delmer Wilson would have understood a reverie. His life was like that. Like a monk on a pile of rocks in the angry Atlantic, scratching illuminated texts of the only knowledge left in the world while barbarism raged all around, Delmer knew the solitary room of the mind where you go to see around a corner not visible to other men. Your hands are doing familiar work, and your surroundings are peaceful. There is light and space and an endless supply of just one more thing. You have visions. Inspiration. Quiet contemplation.

Delmer got me to thinking. The machine hums and the silky baulks of wood slide through my fingers. The sounds are all quotidian. Nothing to make the animal brainstem react and put you on edge. You think of Delmer. What makes a man turn his shoulder to his own mother, and stay where he is?

Such things come to a man in a reverie.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Ode To Delmer

The Internet tide brought in some lovely things yesterday.

I spoke of Delmer, the noble Shaker Brother. There is a tightrope aspect to my scribblings, because I am generally writing straight out of my head, and memory is an imperfect thing. While I'm not exactly General Motors in the hypertext world, enough people see what I write so that if I make an egregious error, I will be found out. After all, people dispute with me occasionally over matters of which I have first-hand knowledge, so I know second-hand knowledge is fraught with peril. I was once scolded by another Internet scribbler that I had no idea what I was talking about regarding an obscure but noteworthy musician. The scribbler had made a sort of study of the personage amid the bookstacks of academe. He asked me, in a flurry of expletives, how I came up with such a crazy formulation of the workings of the mind of the object of his affections.

I told him the fellow had told me that directly while I was working with him.

So I wrote of Delmer, and K2 showed up in the comments and had an actual remembrance of him:

I lived with the Maine Shakers in the winter of 2006/2007, and Sister Frances Carr remembers Br. Delmer Wilson very well. I use to ask her lots of questions about him. She would tell you that he was an old-fashioned Shaker; straight-laced and upright. Even during his last days, he would not allow the Sisters to respond to his final needs. Brother Ted Johnson slept on the floor of his bedroom and attended to Br. Delmer in his last days. During Br. Delmer's life, he made not only wonderful boxes, but other wooden items. The tables we eat at in the dining room were made by Br. Delmer. (He's still a very important part of daily life at the village.) He drove the Village's first car, took fabulous photos, was a first-rate orchard overseer, built a wonderful cabin on Sabbathday Lake, could fix anything broken, and was generally a well-rounded person in mind, body, and spirit. He didn't like waste, however, and would not have been happy having any of his work spoiled by lack of care. This was a man who would call the Sisters to his side of the dining room to remove toast crumbs from the butter before he would take it. Lack of care in all things was not his style. He was, truly, an old-fashioned Shaker. His influence is still much felt throughout the Village today. He passed, by the way, from this life, in 1961.

I was alive in 1961, too.

Delmer had got me to thinking, and I had decided to search him out as best I could, and write about him today. But my work was half done before it began, thanks to K2.

Sabbathday Lake in Maine is one of the Shaker communities I study. There is Mount Lebanon,NY, which gave a name to this table I make. There is Watervliet and Groveland, also in NY. Harvard and Hancock, Mass. Enfield, CT. Union Village in Ohio, who made me think of their neighbors buying this from them. Kentucky had a village.

I found Delmer's picture in the book I told you about, just as I remembered it. I refuse to break the spine on a $150 book to scan it for you. But the Internet is our friend here. The Maine Memory Network has some Delmer. It's piquant that Delmer took most of the Shaker pictures featured there, too. A polymath pilgrim, my ghostly friend Delmer is:

That's Delmer Wilson on the left. I believe the man seated is his brother, in addition to being his Shaker Brother. Delmer's mother left her sons at the Shaker Community when they were small. People don't associate the Shakers with children because of their celibacy, but they would take in whole families, or orphans, or foundlings. They made lots of cradles and little furniture for little people, and not just for "The World," the term many used for people who were not Shakers.

Delmer's mother came back years later to get her her boys, and Delmer refused to go. What did a world that abandoned him have to offer? He lived his whole life as a Shaker.

Delmer was highly respected by his peers. I speak from time to time of the grudging respect of men in the ditch for one another if you pull your own weight. There are always a few that command a sort of respect that approaches awe among their contemporaries. It's not just an old fashioned ideal. People who work in trades still are like this. Bulldozer or block plane; makes no difference. Unlike intellectual pursuits, your credentials mean zero. If I told an academic I had a Doctorate from Harvard I would be accorded immediate respect. If I was placed in charge of men pushing dirt around, and I reached for a pointed shovel to spread processed gravel around instead of a square shovel, I'd be immediately chided and scorned by persons I had the authority to fire on a whim. They are not afraid. Only afraid to let down their mates. Anyone in the military knows what I'm talking about, too.

There's all this talk about walking the walk. To be a Shaker was to walk the walk. Delmer Wilson inspired respect among people who did not bestow such regard lightly. That is a kind of awe, isn't it?

Our Internet friend Ruth Anne Adams wonders if I could make Delmer's box for her. I've made things for her lovely family before. It gives me great pleasure to send my trifles out into the world to serve and perhaps to give a sort of enjoyment. I do know how to make Delmer's box, though I have never made one. It's not a complicated thing to make. But it is a very complicated thing, indeed, to make even a simple thing that approaches perfection.

I am grateful that there are people in the world that picture a person like Delmer and somehow see me. It is entirely unmerited. But we are all vain, and I am no exception. I have occasionally won the respect of those like Delmer, who think I'm a fool, but willing. It is enough.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008


The most expensive Shaker handiwork I've ever seen is one of these boxes. I look at the auction records for Shaker items from time to time, and I see their magnificent sewing tables and desks going for real money, as collecting the items has gone to its logical conclusion and only museums and the hardcore speculator can afford most of the genuine big articles.

I found an example of two small boxes like the one pictured, with their lids, that were auctioned in 2003. They are a very bright yellow. Shaker items are often assumed to be from a sort of rich but drab palette of colors, but most of that is because of the passage of time. They were routinely painted screaming yellow and lipstick red and a really jazzy salmon color, among others, but they fade to more sedate hues.

The two small boxes? $42,250. No, really. $42,250. But that's just one. The other was $34,500.

There's a handsome Shaker cupboard in the same auction report. Five drawers below with two big doors above. It looks like it's made of cherry. It's really big, really fine, in excellent shape as far as you can tell from the picture, and went for $12,500. Why so much for the little box?

Because it's perfect, and sublime. When you can make an art photograph out of your object, you're generally on to something.

I have lots of books about Shakers. In one, there's a fellow named Delmer. Can't recall his last name. He's in Maine, and he's making those boxes about a hundred years ago. He's standing in front of a pile of them that goes up to the ceiling behind him. He's in a barn, not a mobile home, so "up to the ceiling" means something.

The boxes were utilitarian. They were for a humdrum purpose. And Delmer made them over and over, and tried to make every one perfect. He hurled thousands of them into the maw of the world, which used them and wasted them or lost them or whatever happened to them all in the intervening years. And there were hundreds of Delmers.

Now they are precious. They are rare because there were so many and they were so cheap there was no reason to save them. And they are fantastically prized for their rarity. But there's something more; lots of ugly things are rare.

If you woke Delmer up from his eternal slumber, and lied to him and told him they were all lost, and so no one could testify to the effort and care and art and mystery he put into them, I bet he wouldn't care a whit. I doubt he would have changed a thing. He tried to make a perfect thing in his human and imperfect way, and gave it over to a very imperfect world.

I'd like to tell him just how close he got to the sun. But I am not that nice a person, really. I'd have an ulterior motive to give him his posthumous attaboy. I'd ask him what the warmth of that faraway orb felt like on his face; because how many of us will ever know the sensation?

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

How To Blog. Lesson One: There Is No Lesson Two

Unsubstantiated rumor. Epithet hurled at people who mildly disagree with you. Specious argument. Disregard for manners. Balogna. Baloney.

Now insert cut-and-paste research to bolster crabby worldview cadged from monomaniac manipulators, if plain fibbing is unavailable. Charts are best:

Remember, hyperlinks to pointless unedited text are great, but really long strings of URL gibberish that make reader's browser display funny because they run off the page are always better. When in doubt, it's best to just paste thousands of words in one big undifferentiated paragraph right in there like a texty skyscraper of unanswerable intellectual doom. Otherwise no one might read it.

Possessive it's. Possessive it's. Possessive it's.
Contraction for it is: its.


Point out spelling is for loosers, you spelling Nazi! I learned critical thinking at Community College! All you can do is spell.

Big bowl of que cue and queue in a mixed salad with bile.

Pie Chart!

Just yell Strawman! over and over. Not sure why.

I hate hate. I hate the hating haters who don't hate hate like me. Kill the hating haters! Sterilize the hating haters, then kill them and desecrate their graves and dig them up and hate them for hating like that.

One word for you: Hitler!

There are too many people. Something something Darwin. Something something border fence. Al Gore is fat. Rush Limbaugh is fat.

Apocalypse now. Apocalypse then.

You drink the Kool-Ade. I drink from the fountain of truth and wisdom. And Mountain Dew and Red Bull.

Don't forget: Drop dead! is way too generous a sentiment for anyone you don't like. They must perish in a conflagration.

Picture of cat, with non-sequitur slogan rendered in mangled syntax, spelling, and in an unattractive font.
Ascribe superpowers and imbecility to the same public personage for the same action. Point out that you're forced to take Paxil, Prozac, Valium, Xanax, Ativan, Effexor, Zoloft, Zyprexa, Seroquel, Strattera, Ritalin, and Adderall because everybody else is so crazy and neurotic. Then fire up an enormous medical cheeba blunt to calm down.

***Place quote from "The Big Lebowski" here where quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson used to go***

Remind everyone of your threat to move to Canada if the political Zeitgeist doesn't shape up. Divide yourselves equally between people who will flee to Canada because it's full of pacifist diversity-minded hippies, or because you're going to get a job in the 1890s style oil boom economy where people go to the saloon after work with a six shooter on their belt. Never leave your cubicle or your couch, though.

For no particular reason, and with no particular point in mind, finish up the whole thing with:


Monday, April 07, 2008

Two Posts In One Day!

My friend Gerard at American Digest has a handy diagram of his desk on his page today, which in a fit of inspiration he stole from someone else. I'm not sure if Gerard is a raconteur or not. I never met the fellow.

I always like to imagine my friends are all raconteurs. See, I'm an international man of mystery, so I'm sort of obligated to surround myself with raconteurs. There is always a danger in this world of trying to associate yourself with the proper sort of raconteur, but ending up, sadly, with mere wags.

Now, I realize that this is the Intertunnel, so for all I know Gerard is actually a four-hundred pound Korean woman who cleans herself with a rag on a stick, collects Potsy Webber bobble-head dolls, knits big loud afghans to donate to the American Friends Service Commitee, eats only Pringles, and drinks Jolt/Red Bull/Zarex/Rohypnol Smashes all day and night while posting 2200 word rants about her sewer rates in the comments at Perez Hilton. Anything's possible.

But I hope he really is a raconteur. I need to maintain a certain tone in my Intertunnel arrangements.

At any rate, I've prepared a sort of "How To" map of my affairs, just to help you people along that don't know how to handle yourself in the Go-Go world of big-time Internet Celebrities like me. And Gerard. I think.

The Internet. They Gotta Lotta Nice People There. A-Hau-Hau-Hau-Hau

Sippican Cottage! Now with bonus points for perhaps obscure title reference!

[Editor's Note: Pastor Jeff, who is a very pleasant fellow, ain't he, has suggested that we re-run this item in lieu of participating in on of those there mimetic thingies what for occasionally sweeps this here web with all sorts of whoopin' and a-hollerin' and a-linkin' and a-postin' and whatnot. OK]
{Author's Note: The editor watched Rio Bravo last night and he's got Walter Brennan on the brain. But we do like Pastor Jeff and welcome any opportunity to avoid working, so here you go. And there is no editor, and it's not my birthday.}

Today, I'm forty eight years old. I don't care.

I've cheated death a few times. I've had good fortune, and I've been royally screwed. I've had money, and I've had none. I've gone hungry for a little while.

I've been simultaneously propositioned by one woman while being assaulted by another-- both strangers. I've signed a few thousand autographs. I've been recognized on the street by passersby, confusing my companion. I've gone unrecognized on occasion by my own relatives.

I blinded everyone in my chemistry class in high school. I counterfeited money in shop class for a lark. I was nicknamed "The Phantom" by that chemistry teacher, because I was constantly truant. I was a National Merit Scholar.

I've performed dangerous backbreaking labor. I've been paid to teach frisbee.

I've been a welder in the desert. I've had pretty secretaries bring me coffee.

I've saved a few people's lives. I've seen a man murdered.

I've worked for charities. I've committed vandalism. I've been robbed a half dozen times. I've stolen things.

I've been thought a clown. I've been considered dreadfully serious.

Half of the employees at my last job called me Mr. Rogers. The other half called me the Prince of Darkness. They were all correct.

I've been picked on like a sissy. I've knocked a man senseless--that struck me first-- with one blow.

I'm very polite. I have a terrifying apoplectic temper.

I've worked with people for four years and never said a word about myself, despite the fact I talk all the time.

I made a joke, in a foreign language, in a foreign country, and people laughed. I've been booed, loudly, before.

There was a stretch of my life, lasting one third of it, where I was profoundly unhappy all the time. I doubt anyone knew that.

If I could live a thousand years, I wouldn't change a goddamn thing, if it meant one fewer minute of sitting at a table I made, in a house that I built, across the table from the wife I won, watching the children we made smear their dinner on their faces.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

The Fourth Wall Has Been Breached Irrevocably By The Internet

The Auditioner from Kate on Vimeo.

Now you audition for things by making a viral video of you auditioning for things and asking if they'd like to see your your audition video instead of auditioning.

Excuse me, I really have to take this call.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Got Happy? No? Get Happy!

I am not officially out of the music business right now, as I am forced by my friends to perform two or three times a year. But "in" the music business now is kind of an exaggeration, too. I'm not sure where the instrument I generally play is located, exactly. It might be in my house.

If I was in a band right now, this would be it. I'm concerned however, that I might have to tone down my hairstyle and fashion sense or they wouldn't let me in.

Abso-fargin-lutely genius here, and one more for our collection of outre covers of this chestnut:

Friday, April 04, 2008

Got Wodehouse?

I don't think you understand humor.

That's not a knock on you, of course. I'm not sure anyone understands humor.

Let's say you go to a comedy club. There's a guy saying silly things or behaving obstreperously or whatever. He throws out a few tidbits, you begin to laugh a bit, then he begins the next joke while the first one is still reverberating. You get up on a sort of wave and ride it. That fellow? He doesn't understand humor either.

Jokes are not humor, really. You go to the doctor; he hits your knee with a little rubber hammer; your leg jerks forward. That's the medical equivalent of a joke.

Medical school for the comedian consists of hitting you with the hammer in the head, then the kidneys, stomping on your toe, eventually trying a shovel or an ice-pick instead of a rubber hammer, until he gets the desired reaction. When all else fails, he starts waling on himself. Finally something works, mysteriously to all involved. He writes that down, then does it every night, three shows, until he's dead or you are. If you think I'm exaggerating, how else do you explain sitting on the couch at Oprah's or Letterman's weeping and begging for forgiveness for your sidesplitting comedy routine? You know, just blue-skying here! The one that was sidesplitting in the mirror and career-ending in the club. You get tired of talking to Al Sharpton or the police and you think maybe if you're not allergic to white greasepaint, perhaps a nice mime act might keep you in booze and cigarettes for a few years.

If the audience is lucky, the comedian has a little sense, and like a farmer searching for truffles, he doesn't waste his time looking for valuable things in places they are unlikely to be. If you see a truffle hunter having his pig sniff around a paved road looking for the beastly little things, you've just seen a bad comedian. The majority of bad comedians try to tell you that looking for humor where it ain't is absurd, and so is funny. Well, Carrot Top has to eat too, but I'm not interested. A true humorist would have the farmer, when queried, say he searched for truffles in the road because he's just read a Steven Covey book and realized he could double his output by using the light from the streetlamps to search at night, too. In the woods, he had to go home at dusk.

True comedy is telling a story in an amusing way. You put jokes in them like diamonds in a tiara, and have the actors apologize for telling them. But never forget it's the broad wearing the tiara that's the real story, folks. If she's not a princess, she might as well be wearing a bucket on her head.

Pelham Grenville Wodehouse. Book it. Done.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

We're Here 'til Wednesday. Try The Veal

[Editor's Note: Sure, we take requests. Ruth Anne, The Maternal Optimist, is calling out for an encore, or perhaps a do-over of a venerable essay that caught her fancy. We live to serve, Madam. We feel we must comply, because if you know the lovely Ruth Anne, you know she'll remember it forever and make cutting puns about it in perpetuity if we don't.]

{Author's Note: There is no editor, but I suspect Ruth Anne might be real.}

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

A Longstanding Sippican Tradition: PPRPSP


We have many new readers these days. Welcome. If you're new to the Sippican Cottage blog, there are certain traditions we adhere to strongly. One of my personal favorites, and I'm sure the favorite of many regular readers and commenters, is our longstanding tradition of showing pictures of Paul Robeson playing softball, which we run every Tuesday at 9:03 AM.

The management of Sippican Cottage regrets that we're a little thin this week. We apologize for not having our usual large array of new Pictures of Paul Robeson Playing Softball Pictures, or PPRPSP as the regulars like to refer to them. Maybe if the weather is better, we'll have many more next week.

Thanks! And safe driving!