Saturday, May 31, 2008

It's Saturday. Here's John Williams Performing Asturias In A Room From The Second Level Of Doom II

Friday, May 30, 2008

The Gahden

Pop knew everybody. Didn't have a dime and took me everywhere. We'd pull up to the Garden parking lot in our old beater. No hope. It was full when I was born, and now I'm in grammar school. I cringed until the face leans out of the booth and it's his nephew in there. Right over there, Uncle Buddy. Where the players park.

You couldn't buy a ticket with money. The Garden would thrum with excitement and no one would miss it for filthy lucre. Pop had four. Conjured them like a wizard at work because the boss was already wearing white shoes for the season and wouldn't sweat in a seat in that hellhole when he could be on the Vineyard. Pop says he'll sit behind the pole and stare at the big rusty rivets but I'd always end up there because I fit.

Uncle Smokey would come and puff his tiparillos and jape with Dad and I was in the company of men and stood in awe like at the foot of marble Lincolns.

There was weather inside there. Cumulus clouds of smoke would meet the smog from the drunken exhalations and clash with the cold front coming up from Bobby Orr's ice under the rickety parquet wood floor.

Then we'd stand and the floor was lost to me, nothing but the boles of men in an endless forest swaying in the breeze of excitement.

I'd kill ten innocent men to go back there for ten minutes.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

There's Win, Total Win, WINNAR!, Mega-Win...

... there's WINNAR IS YOU, there are Win/Win situations. And then there's a website called "Not Hired."

If you've ever had a job that involves reviewing a lot of resumes, you've probably seen a whole bunch of this sort of thing. I used to sit in amazement from time to time, looking at some colossal weirdo fidgeting in the chair across my desk from me looking for a clue and a job, but not in that order, when it would occur to me that they were the people that made it past HR in the first place. How bad was the raw feed?

Sometimes it's not your fault. I remember looking at a resume in 2004 or so from a guy who had worked for the better part of two decades for the Bin Laden family. Dude, lie, I thought. But in general, they're all self-inflicted wounds in the Hire Me! ER.

Anyway, here's the greatest of the very great of weirdos that want a job. How many of you are smart enough to make an insane clown-colored spreadsheet of "Things I Believe" to apply for a position? None? I thought so. Because let's face it, a potential employer is going to wonder, on a scale of one to ten, or one to twenty here and there for no apparent reason, how you feel about Trousers, Ninja Men, Groin Injuries (The Balls() Mexicans, Fast People Who Run Past My Window, Bags, Coral...

"On Something Down Under," from Not Hired.

Ninja turtles? "Yes of course."

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

It Doesn't Work

I love the Internet.

I wouldn't write if it wasn't for the Internet. The WYSIWYG editor and cut and paste and so forth made it exactly as easy as it had to be, or I wouldn't do it. I'm hardly lazy, but I'm impatient.

The Internet doesn't work. I'm sorry to break it to you, but it's a cobbled together mess, and it was cobbled together by a very informal committee of persons who indulge their own bizarre tastes and wonder why everyone doesn't want to run their own lives from the command line in Linux.

I don't know, why doesn't everyone smelt their own tin to use as solder for the circuit boards they're making for themselves?

I try to keep up with the Internet, because it's kinda my job now. So like a fool I downloaded Firefox 3 instead of waiting for its final release. And I woke up this morning, and Flash video is off my menu.

It's a sort of encapsulation of the whole affair for me. It's like the Interweb version of the low-flow toilet. I'm told about all the very important and cutting edge things that my toilet now does, because some addle-headed bureaucrat got a notion that we were running out of water everywhere, of all things. I've noticed however high-tech my toilet might be, there's still a turd in there after I flush it. Seven times.

Flush, Flash, it's all starting to look the same to me. It doesn't work for no good reason. Flash video is the format for YouTube videos, and my little widget advertisement with the slideshow of tables over in the right hand column, and a lot of other stuff. And the current version of Flash doesn't work with Firefox 3.

I'm not looking for advice on what to do here. I could expunge Flash from my hard drive, (make sure you don't have applications open with Flash in their cache!) go to Adobe, find an older version of Flash, download and install it, reinstall Firefox 3, and it would probably all work. That's a full time job for a long time, and I've got better things to do.

There is a great tech reckoning coming. I can feel it. The great mass of people are going to rise up and demand that the pasty, doughy, porn-addled, copyright infringement fetished, anonymity fascinated, Bill Gates-hatin' dorks that bang on the Internet like a blind cobbler's thumb stop fooling around and make the damn thing work. You're all mechanics --bad ones -- not CEOs. The sooner you're making 35 grand in a cubicle out back and people that understand that the process is not the product are put in charge, the better off we'll all be.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Sippican's Snappy Elastic Pricing Synopsis

You don't understand economics very well.

No offense. I don't know who you are, but I'm willing to defame you like that. Why do you suppose that is? It's because nobody understands economics very well in my experience. When I see the poll question "Which candidate for President do you trust more to run the economy?" it's the question itself which bugs me, not the percentages assigned to the candidates. If you'd ask or answer that question, you have a pre-civilized view of economics in my opinion.

I'm not educated in economics, so I know a little about it. If I was educated, I'd know about an economics education. Not the same thing. I learned what I know about economics by getting the treatment a baby gives a diaper every day out in the economic landscape. You're not allowed to indulge in fantasy very long out here. You can do it for a lifetime in a college. And beyond, if you can get published.

I want to talk about price elasticity, because it interests me. It refers to the relationship between the supply and demand for things as you tinker with price, or supply, or a host of other factors.

In general, people who work with their hands seek price inelasticity. That means that demand falls more slowly than an increase in price. Since the amount of work a person can do is finite you want to raise your price to perform the work without decreasing demand too much by doing so. You work less for more money.

If demand is elastic, this means if you raise your price, the demand falls, and doesn't make up for the increased price. You raise your prices but you make less money.

If it's unit elastic, there's a direct correlation between price and demand. Raise the price, demand goes down exactly the amount necessary so that revenue stays the same. An accountant is the only person to have ever seen this creature.

Now let's go out on the economic map where navigators used to see "Here Be Monsters."

Perfectly elastic pricing is where if you raise the price one iota, the demand drops to zero.

And finally, if we talk of demand being perfectly inelastic, no matter what you charge, the demand stays the same. You've got a crack stand in Marion Barry's living room.

Now I want you to come out to the edge of the map where I live, and have lived for the vast majority of my life. Forget inelastic price, elastic price, and the unicorn of economists, unit elastic demand. Those are just things that determine whether you'll buy a flatscreen TV or an end table or not. I want to get existential on you.

If you have a sinecure, you will never understand what it is to be in a walk of life where demand for your production risks perfect elasticity. You simply talk about the churn in the economy. No sympathy for those buggy-whip manufacturers. They should have been smart and got a job collecting tolls on the highway and then they wouldn't have found themselves in that pickle. People with whales on their pants who refer to their significant other as "Lovie" like this line of reasoning a lot, too.

People often tell me that my furniture is very inexpensive for what you get. Raise your prices, they counsel. Maybe. But more likely, they don't understand that the market often doesn't make such fine distinctions about your pricing structure. Sometimes it's pass/fail. I have to be careful never to hit the fail point because there's no readjustment period. You're just dead. People with straightforward jobs can picture this best by imagining that if you went into you boss's office and demanded a raise, the only two answers are: "Sure!" and "You're fired!". You'd be less extravagant in your demands then, wouldn't you?

What about the political angle I mentioned earlier? Oh, that's where perfect inelasticity comes in. See, you don't understand it, because if you answered the poll question above, you think the government is the producer in this scenario. You think they produce prosperity, and through some jiggery-pokery with inelastic set-asides, or elastic statutes, or unit elastic Smoot-Hawley tarrifs or raging carpet-bombing wars, they're going to arrange for the shelves in the US Store to be stocked with goodies for you. But you've got it exactly backwards.

The example often used for perfect inelasticity is the human heart transplant. If heart transplants were ten dollars, you wouldn't want one just because it was cheap, and if it cost eleventy-billion dollars, but you needed one, you wouldn't care what it costs. You'd beg, borrow, or steal the dough to get it.

So in the real world with the government in the picture, I am the good or service. But the United States Government is not a supermarket. It is a pawn shop. And I am born pawned, and I wake up every morning pawned. And if I want to get myself out of there, to work all day and try to make a few bucks so I can worry about something other than my very existence, I'm going to do whatever I'm told, and pay whatever is demanded of me. My interest in continuing to be me is 100%, and my demand to continue being me will not diminish no matter how abusive the situation you plunge me into.

My demand for me is perfectly inelastic, and the government knows it. Pay up, sucka.

The Mafia always understood perfect inelasticity, too. They'd come in, tell you how much protection money was required, and mentioned that your kneecaps were perfectly inelastic if you bent them backwards.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Do Flowers Grow On Pork Chop Hill?

[I Hope You Have A Pleasant Memorial Day Weekend. Scroll Down For New Stuff. Uncle Bobby Stays 'til Tuesday.]

He gazes out of the photo, mute, enigmatic, not quite smiling, and speaks to me across the decades.

When I was a little boy, amusements were few and far between. Television was still in black and white for us, and after the reruns of Gilligan's Island and The Three Stooges, not much was on the idiot box, as my father called it.

I remember my father and me trying to watch a hockey game broadcast from the west coast featuring the California Golden Seals, who were setting a new low in sports sumptuary and getting pasted by our mighty Boston Bruins -- Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito and Pie McKenzie and... well, I can still recite all their names down to the most obscure, even Garnet (Ace to his friends)Bailey. On a thirteen inch black and white TV with rabbit ears. We might as well have used the Etch-a-Sketch.

Eisenhower's X-Box, the Etch-a-Sketch was.

And so it always seemed a real treat when we could wheedle our mother to drag out the elegant but battered silverware box, left from some set our family never owned, filled with the family photographs. The pictures were mostly black and white too, the current cutting edge of photography being Polaroid's prehistoric b&w instant photos. They'd come out of the camera, and you'd count to a now forgotten tempo, and pray, and pull off the cover paper to expose the image and stop the developer, and smear your clothes, and hope the picture was vaguely done.

We'd see the usual babies on the shag carpet, buns up; confirmation and communion suits that fit like either a tent or a rubber glove, never any degree in between; little girls in their Easter jumpers and patent leather shoes, with their mothers wearing a hat, a real hat, ready for church. Father, grim, unsmiling in his workday suit, a little shiny at the elbows and knees.

Those photos were only the littlest bit interesting after a while, because they were for the most part, well -- us. The exotic ones were always deeper in the pile, instantly recognizable as special by that magnificent sepia tone that photos used to have, and spalling and cracking like a fresco in damp cathedral.

There they'd be, the southern Italian or Irish immigrant faces, looking stoically at the camera, surrounded by extended family on a stoop in Cambridge or Dorchester or Roxbury Massachusetts, or perhaps Antigonish, Nova Scotia. They had their hard lives written all over their faces. But always calm looking. Serene, really; not introspective or egoist. And they looked into the lens in a way that we never do. Not at it, but through it.

Our parents would strain to remember all the names, and who did what and from where, and why and when. And I figure, with the small wisdom that I've accumulated with age, that when we pestered them too much about someone obscure, they made stuff up.

And then his face would turn up. Handsome, mysterious, forever young. Forte.

Who's that?

That's my brother Bobby, my mother would answer. And that was that.

I was young, and still in the thrall of my parents, and sensed it. Here is a place you do not go.

The years passed, and the TV was in color, and my wrists and ankles began to show from my hand-me-down cousins' clothes. And the box came out less often. But when it did, the tantalizing face, handsomer than all the others, undiminished by time or care, resplendent in a uniform, always caught your eye. He died before I was born I learned, by osmosis I think, I don't remember ever having the nerve to ask, and I'm sure it wasn't offered.

In Korea.

And the earth spun, and the seasons changed, and then I was a man.

One day, my mother came to me. She had a picture. it had lain stored and untouched for fifty years, coiled, and she couldn't unroll it without destroying it. We slowly, ever so carefully unrolled it, the flecks of black and white popping off, as I stared at the faces. Hundreds and hundreds of faces. Five rows, stretching right off the page, four feet long, all in identical infantry uniforms, except the six cooks dressed all in white. C Company 506- Infantry, 101st Airborne Division. Camp Breckinridge, KY. December 27, 1952.

And there was only four ways to stand out in that mob of faces. The cooks, of course. One man in the hundreds wears an officer's hat, and looks ten minutes older than the rest. One man is holding drumsticks over a military style snare drum. And in the very center, in the very front, one man holds the company colors on a lance. Two crossed muskets, a Capital "C" and a "506."

And he has the face that speaks to me.

Now when I was in college, on a lark, my friends and I went skydiving. We trained all day in a sweltering hangar in upstate New York amongst the farms. They strapped army surplus gear on us, hung us on straps depending from the hangar roof, and shook us around violently by our heels until we demonstrated that we could unbuckle our main chute from the straps on our shoulders, then pull the cord on our belly chute. Fun.

We climbed resolutely into a DeHavilland Beaver, which now seems to me an odd name for a plane, and knelt in rows in the fuselage. A few long minutes later we launched ourselves, some with difficulty, out the open hole in the side and into a whirlwind far over the patchwork quilt of the fields. A tether pulled our chute for us, and we drifted down and found a place with a liquor license.

I called my father, and told him what I had done. Expecting praise, I guess, or some such. And he called me, gently, the fool I was.

I protested: but you were in a bomber plane. They must have made you jump. And he told me, son, if that plane was on fire, filled to the brim with rabid rats, and piloted by a dead man, I'd still take my chances in the plane. And to jump from a perfectly good one, he said, is foolish. Click.

My father was in the Army Air Force. Ball gunner, hanging in a plastic bubble under a B-24J, Les Miserables, over the Pacific. Air Medal. Distinguished Flying Cross. After I pestered him enough, he once told me a sort of a story about the war. He reeled off the names, Tarawa. Pelelau, Kwajalein, Tinian. He mentioned, in an offhand way, that after some island had been bombed flat, they later landed on it. It looked like the island had been picked up ten feet, he said, then dropped. His CO told them that some planes were coming. On these planes were some people. They were coming from somewhere. They were going somewhere else. When the planes landed, my father and his compatriots were instructed not to talk to these men, or even about them; and if he said so much as hello to one of them, or said "boo" about them to anyone else, he would spend the remainder of the war in a military prison, incommunicado. My father lost his desire, if he had had any, to speak about those men. He surmised some of them later flew a plane named the Enola Gay.

My father seldom talked much about being in the military.

And my mother never talked about the brother in the photographs.

Now the picture, the coiled picture, was ruined. But then, we don't watch black and white TV any more, do we? My mother took that picture, and a bankroll, and had a necromancer or an alchemist or something at a digital photography studio restore it, perfectly, and make copies for all of us nephews. Mine hangs today over my kitchen table.

He watches over me.

I was forty years old. My mother told me, Uncle Bobby hated his real name.

His real name?

Francis, she said.

My middle name is Francis. I never knew.

Let's Talk About America. Or Look At Hopper

Sunday, May 25, 2008

No Flammadiddles On The Coffee Table, Please

I'm reknowned for my tupperware and wooden spoon drumming, but this is pretty good, too.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Ten Dreadful Things That Have Become Housing Standards

I've been watching all the "Let's have a housing makeover" shows. It's interesting how many of them there are. Everyone seems to be interested in the design and execution process now. There's very little of what used to be the norm in home-improvement shows -- pointing the camera at the people doing the hammer and nail work. Now it's point a camera at the realtor, or the curtain guy, or the designer for the most part. They have elves do the work while the camera crew is at lunch, I guess.

Most people get their ideas about what to do in fashion by looking at what other people are wearing. Essentially, all the home rehab programs are fashion shows at this point; centered around the soft goods. I'm in the furniture business now, so it's sort of my game, but I used to be more heavily into the building of the actual house, so there's some things about the whole megillah that bug me.

They bug me because everyone is doing them because everyone is doing them. They are ugly; or nonsensical; or counterproductive; or wasteful; or mostly an ephemeral fad being written into concrete -- always a bad idea. The decorative stuff is going to be painted over shortly or thrown in the dumpster too quickly, and the permanent installations are going to make the owners miserable for generations because they're too expensive to get rid of.

So here's my counsel. STOP DOING THIS:

1. Snout houses.
Stop nailing your house onto the ass end of your garage. I'm not going to explain myself. I shouldn't have to. You are building a house for your car and living in a shack out back. Never ever ever do it.

2. Putting a flatscreen TV over your fireplace mantel.
Profoundly dumb. It's tiring to look at screens above eye level when you are seated. Designers have given up doing their job integrating two things to look at in the same room, and so have stacked them. They're not washer/dryers in a condo, people. You're slouching in your chair and getting headaches and backaches trying to look at the thing. There's a reason no one sits in the first row at the theater. Look down slightly at entertainers, and the entertainment, too.

3. Putting the microwave over the stove.
Reaching over a hot stove to remove dishes sometimes filled with superheated items, above eye level for most women and all children is profoundly dumb. It's the greasiest place in the world, too. Put it in the island and your five year old can make their own popcorn.

4. Cooktops in islands with seating.
I love to have hot grease spatters launched at me while I'm seated across an island from the cook. The boiling cauldrons of water give a nice netherworldly effect as well.

5. Open plan in a big house.
Open plan is for little houses, so rooms can share some space with one another and counterfeit roominess. A big house with undifferentiated space is a airport lobby. Last time I checked, having doors doesn't preclude a plan from being "open." You just leave them open. Not having them does preclude you from closing off the rooms when you want to, though. Even small houses are better with rooms that can be closed,if you ask me.

6. Very high ceilings in a family room.
You're trying to watch TV in there, or talk to one another, and the sound bangs around like an airport hangar. You've got an open plan so you get to listen to the dishwasher and refrigerator run, too. A two story bedroom is pretty dumb, too, but I don't want to make a Top Eleven list.

7. Plastic everything.
Vinyl sided, rubber windows, plastic decking... Man, everybody's living in a big rubber box nailed on the back of a garage. Wood, stone, masonry, glass, paint, people.

8. Ceiling fans everywhere.
Do you all really think you live in Casablanca? If I go into another ranch house with a ceiling fan hanging down from a 7 foot 6 inch ceiling, I'm going to go postal. If I can't stand up in the middle of the room without getting a bruise or a haircut, you're doing it wrong. There is no stratification of air in a house. Doesn't happen. You're screwing a window boxfan sideways to your ceiling. Stop it. Your house has AC anyway. And you live in Wisconsin. Cut it out.

9. Enormous jacuzzi tubs.
You can ooh and aah all you want when you go in the bathroom and see a big jetted tub with a window over it, and a skylight above, but I've got news for you: You will patronize your undertaker more often than you use that tub; 99% of humans will not bathe in front of a window; and the skylight will rain condensation every time you take a shower, forevermore. Strike three.

10. Blue and Brown.
I've lived through this three times now. I've ripped all this stuff out twice with customers muttering "What were they thinking?" Powder Blue and Cocoa Brown DO NOT go together under any circumstances, anywhere. Except of course in every room on every show on television.

Monday, May 19, 2008

(I'm Too Dumb Not To) Hope

I forgot who it was. Friend of my wife, I think. My wife came home from work one day, the long slog up the highway and back over, a few shekels in her pocket, a slight aureole of weariness glowing around her, and handed me one of those nasty plastic pouches that have replaced paper bags at the supermarket. In it was an awful, dirty, watery fistful of hosta, given to her by one of her coworkers. It looked exactly like some half masticated frond a stegosaur might have spit out over some perceived unwholesomeness. It was too muddy to throw away, so I planted it.

I planted it with all the hope for resurrection I had when I planted the poor cat out by the swamp when she had strayed too close to the road and broken our hearts. That is to say: none. The hosta was nothing to me, but where else would I put it, but in the ground?

Of course it grew, because we left it alone and didn't care about it. I've divided that hosta four times or so in the last eight years. Our yard is very shady, and there always seems to be one more spot that could benefit from its variegated if everyday charms. There's a period in the summer when the long delicate stalks appear like magic from the center of the plant, and wave their delicate bell shaped flowers to the breezes, causing the hummingbirds to favor our yard like an Alfred Hitchcock/Doctor Seuss hybrid project. We croak the bird book, looking for the correct term for all those little irridescent wonders. Flock?Swarm? Gaggle? Herd? Pod? A murder of hummingbirds? We're the only people who get them like this I guess, and so we'll have to coin the term:

An unentitlement of hummingbirds.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Goth Kids Used To Go To The Chapel

Trinity Parish Chapel in Southport, Connecticut. 1872. It's Gothic Revival, but it's a certain sort of that genre.

I always read old books so it's always "Gothick" to me. Please stop me if I refer to China as "Cathay." But besides being Gothick, it's Carpenter Gothic. Carpenter Gothic is a loose term for a type of rude gothic decorative embellishment that was made possible by the powered fret saw --the scroll saw. It aligned itself with an urge for authenticity in church affairs, driven by a British and Northern European sensibility about things "popish." There's nothing Mediterranean here.

It's a lot harder to put embellishment like this on and in a building than you might think. It's crude, almost brutish, but there's a light and airy quality to it too. A castle or a cake; you decide.

People gathered together in fellowship, in simple but not unsophisticated surroundings, with the feeling of a serious purpose.

They didn't just come to stare in awe at the stained glass rosette window, did they?

You've got to bring your own awe to such a place. It's what's missing in even the awesome places now. "Form follows function," the most abused and misunderstood architectural adage there is.

This sort of place testifies. I'm not sure its occupants do any more.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

I Think I'm Going To Cat Man Do

A reader sent me this one but a week has gone by and the mind is a cobwebby thing and I can't remember who it was but thanks just the same.

Update: StumbleUpon reader Angelinfreefall has confessed to the sin of encouraging me.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

E tan - e epi tan

Oh Gawd save me I'm beaten.

I sees the shadow of the whole crowd in the bowl hanging over me. I can hears the animal roar, the lust for another man's stuffin'. They'd have cheered me like me own mother if I stood over the rubbish of his corpse and the referee raised me fist. Now it's jeers.

All fours. He hit me again when I was on all fours. Hit me low. Bit me. Spit at me. It signified nothing. I'd have killed him for the money. I'd have climbed from the ring and killed his family for a finnif. I'll kill him still in the alley like a git-em-up guy for the money if I get the chance.

All fours and the blows stop. There's a ringing but I'm jerry too. There's a light in my eye that ain't shining but I'm blind with it. I can feel him standing over me. His sweat is dripping on me. If I put one foot flat on the canvas he'll hit me like a train; if I roll over the referee will end it.

The crowd is like lions when the zebra stumbles. They're on me too. I never been beaten before. I don't know what to do. How to act. They teach you to be a loser at school but here you only get to learn it the hard way.

There's a long time in the tick of the clock. I remember the nuns all those years ago and the drowsy hot afternoons. My head is like that, with the buzzing. They tried, oh they tried to get the numbers and dates and spelling into my head, but I couldn't listen 'cause I was born a gone gosling. It all swum in front of my mind's eye like a carousel at night. They said that boy's gonna grow up with no ideas but bad ones but there's nothing for it he's a dynamiter at heart.

One thing I remember from them dusty old books: Come back with your shield, or on it. A mother of Sparta was Irish, I guess, and who knew?

If they carried me out of here dead after the head and head game was settled I'd rest a thousand years no worries. But there's no mercy in it like this. I'll live and the little faces will arrange themselves around the table tomorrow, and the wife, the loogan's wife, she'll look at me hangdog and the bowls empty, and say nothing. If she said something we could shout and break the furniture over me winding up back of the fifteen ball again, and maybe I'd feel better. But the faces are all mute. I'll whisper I'm a dirty nose over and over to myself but she'll never say it. She don't have to.

I look up into the glare. There's a halo around his head like a stain glass window when you need confessin'. The referee is bringing his arm down like a poleax, over and over, with the counting. How many? I don't hear. He only calls the fouls after the blood is drawn, but now he's all business and he counts like a clock 'cause he's a hunnerd percent heel.

I look up at the johnny-come-lately face in the halo. He's afraid I'll get up. I'm afraid to stay down.

How can I lose?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Pelargonium? I (Still) Don't Think So.

[Editor's Note: This is a re-run from a year ago]
{Author's Note: There is no editor}
We're simple gardeners here at the Sippican Cottage. While we share your admiration for those whose gardens are overburdened with exotic cultivars, and on whose lips Latinate names trill, we just don't want to pay too much attention to what we're doing.

There's more to it than that for me, perhaps. To be an expert, you have to know so much about something that you can't even look at it for the pure joy that's in it anymore. If you've ever been in the office of a really accomplished specialist doctor, you can always spot them looking at you -- eventually, if not right from your greeting -- as the bundle of bones and guts you are. As they say in the mafia movies, it's not personal, it's strictly business.

I worry about doctors that take too much of an interest in me personally anyway. I'd be in a tavern if I wanted commiserating companionship, after all. And the medicine in the tavern is more efficacious, generally. The best and most competent doctor I ever met told me the worst news in the most businesslike manner, and left the room to leave me alone with my wife. He tended to his business, and left us to tend to ours. We need more of that, and not just in the medical profession.

I can't enjoy recorded music if it's a selection I've learned to play myself. I see the bones and the guts of it, arrayed like cadavers in the music morgue, when I should be getting the lilt. I have gone way out of my way to avoid ever deconstructing any of the music of a certain soul singer, because I never want the magician to show me his trick after he performs it, and I don't want to peek either. I don't want to ruin it by understanding it.

I don't want to ruin it by understanding it. Hmm. Music. Gardening. Love.

It's a geranium. It not the genus Pelargonium of the Kingdom of Plantae of the Division of Magnoliophyta of the class Manoliopsida of the order Geraniales from the family of Geraniaceae.

I think when the sun comes out, I'll sit with my wife on that brick step next to the pots of geraniums, and open the window a little so we can hear, indistinctly perhaps, Al Green sing on the box.

End of story.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


I suffer. Far, far away
The sleeping fog
Rises from the quiet plain.

Shrilly, cawing, the crows,
Trusting their black wings,
Traverse the moors, grimly.

To the raw bites of air
The sorrowful tree trunks
Offer, praying, their bare branches.

How cold I am! I am alone;
Driven through the gray sky
A groan of the dead soars.

And repeats to me: come;
The valley is dark.
O sad one, o unloved one, come!

Nebbie- Ada Negri/Ottorino Respighi 1921

Monday, May 12, 2008

(I Used To Be A) House Painter

I've had lots of interesting jobs in my life. I've had lots of very uninteresting jobs, too, but they always seemed to turn interesting somehow too. There's a lesson in there somewhere, but I'm unlikely to figure it out now.

I used to paint. I've painted lots of things. Plain things. Ornate things. Big things. Little things. Important things. A long, long time ago when I was a young man I was offered a job by a man I hardly knew for a project that was just beginning. He said he was painting the White House. There was something about the offer that told me that all the "interesting" was on the cover of the book, as it were, but all the pages were blank. It sounded exciting but turns out boring. I am not generally wise, but I turned it down, and had a glint of recognition a few years ago, when I read an obscure notice in some publication that the job was completed. "My mind is kind," my older brother says often, meaning we often forget that which is unimportant, but I think 6 presidential terms had gone by in the interim. I'd had 4 or 5 careers.

There is a reaction, somewhat common at the Post Office, which is featured on the news from time to time, that inflicts people who seek a sinecure and then are faced with endless quotidian diet of the same damn thing. Be careful what you wish for.

Anyway, I used to paint on the walls. There's a long and proud tradition of painting on the walls, and I was allowed to be included in that tradition, even if it had a little less Michaelangelo to it than maybe it should have.

Tromphe l'Oeil. Fool the eye, it's called. There's a fellow named Graham Rust who's published a few books about it recently, and is very good at it. If I had dedicated my entire life to it, or at least as much of my life as the average White House painting job lasts, I'd probably be about half as good at it as he. I dabbled. It was fun.

It's hard to explain fool the eye. It's like a joke; if the audience doesn't laugh, it's pointless to explain it. It's not a mural exactly, it's more like an illusion of depth or space or material. The lines between all these various kinds of painting on the wall are fuzzy. It falls in and out of favor, but goes all the way back to a cave in Spain. Any Steely Dan fan knows that. Out of favor or not, it's not going away any time soon. Upon reflection, it's not the only thing I have in common with stone age men.

The picture above is a powder room in a fairly elaborate sort of Gothic revival house. The owners of the house were the nicest people I've ever had as customers. Everyone who knows them would give them a kidney, but they don't need any. They wanted interesting things to look at in their home, and I hope they're still interested in it after all these years.

I jabber all the time. But like many who talk too much, I don't reveal much, really. The words are for you; my thoughts are my own. But I'm going to explain why I did what I did in that room for the first time, ever, although it's been over ten years since I did it.

People would rely on me for advice, guidance towards what was possible as much as what was desirable. And when I was smart, soemtimes I'd offer advice that was pointed towards the ultimate benefit of the end user, without them really understanding it. That's risky, for if you fail, you can't go back and explain why you did what you did.

There was this magnificent house. You'd walk in the front doors, which were massive mahogany items, and enter an big hexagonal foyer, with a marble parquet disc in the center of the floor copied from a portion of the floor at St. Mark's in Venice. Two and a half stories up there was a mural of the sky. But the architect was trying too hard to impress, and forgot his real job. The very first thing you noticed in that house, the thing that caught your eye first and foremost -- was a toilet in the powder room off this foyer.

Trailer park meets mansion. The powder room was very small, too, but the ceiling was high, as the first floor rooms had high ceilings. It was like an elevator shaft with a crapper in it. As the picture demonstrates, it's hard to get far enough away from anything in that room to even get a picture of it.

I painted all that stuff on the walls and ceilings with the help of my brothers, and the owner of the house later told me that she couldn't keep anyone out of that room. Her children were instructed to use one of the other numerous bathrooms in the house, but they'd sneak in there to look at the stuff on the walls, sometimes even when they didn't need to use the toilet.

The owner was pleasant enough to tell me that the little powder room was the most memorable thing in the house to a visitor. I was pleasant enought to refrain from telling her that it was even more memorable, in a different way, before I started.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

My Palladium

According to the ancients, a "palladium" is an image or totem of great age that acted as a defense again marauders, and in turn had to be defended by the citizens itself. The safety of a whole city would depend upon it. In the world of the great city-states, the safety of a city could represent an entire civilizational ethic, not just a locality.

I have labored over Virgil's Aeneid in grade school. I never really kenned its import until I was a man.

I have my own Palladiums now. They are more numerous and ephemeral, perhaps, than the stolen treasure beneath Diomedes' arm. They appear willy-nilly in day to day life, little tableaus played out before me. They are carved into my mind, perhaps written in lightning here and there in the scrapbook to jog my memory from time to time.

The manifestation of a way of life that must be safeguarded if civilization is to be upheld. Hmmm. I am a modern man, despite the likely image some could form of me as a profoundly traditional person. I have a moving picture for my Palladium. If she will pause for a moment sometime, amidst the unending daily care of her family --the little city state we inhabit-- right up to the final sacred ablutions of her children at night, I'll try to remember to bring my worthless offering to her mighty temple and say: Happy Mother's Day.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Friday, May 09, 2008

The (Long) View From The Trenches

[Editor's Note: First run in 2006. Sharpeworld seems to be kaput. Must have discovered a life somewhere. The Flickr slideshow is still fully operational, though; enjoy!]
{Author's Note: I've been writing this dreck for almost three years? Egad. And there is no editor}
Someone's got to play in the lounge in the Chinese restaurant.

(Click to see Flickr photo sideshow. Don't worry, that's the raciest one.)

Well, that's not fair, really -- at least around here in New England. I'm a little out of the circuit, and have been for a while; but if memory serves, the lounge in the Chinese restaurants in these parts have really good Country and Western cover bands in them. There aren't any lounge singers that look like 150 pounds of ground chuck in a 100 pound satin sack in there. And maybe it's not fair to the people in the photos, either; maybe they're more fun than a picnic for people with delirium tremens would be for a hungry ant. And even though some of them seem to have attended too many picnics for their spandex, we really have no idea who any of them are. Maybe they were swell.

I don't remember where I first saw these photos, but they lead back to something called Sharpeworld, a place where someone definitely has an eye for the obscure and odd. And if this isn't obscure, and odd, I don't know what is.

These photographs were found in the trash and rescued from oblivion; the oblivion that time will bestow even on entertainment much more popular than the people on the photographs. These people seem to be equipped with a sort of instant oblivion, like they're black holes for charisma. They're the lounge entertainment version of Men in Black: In a flash, you've forgotten you've seen them, and even forgotten what you were doing when you saw them. Some have faces that can stop a clock; all of them make the clock run backwards.

It's a wonderful array of the people who were playing at the wedding of your distant cousin -- you remember, you got food poisoning from the chicken and shells; the comedian hired for the Rotary Club Medal of Achievement dinner you missed because you had the flu; the combo on the deck (in the rain) at the golf tournament banquet from that course under the high tension power lines -- where you got poison ivy; and the stripper that wouldn't take any of her clothes off from that lounge your college buddies from upstate took you to as a hoot. You may have been too drunk to fully appreciate them, or maybe the acts were too drunk, who knows? Anyway, everybody draws a blank here.

It's not the photographer's fault. The pictures were taken by James J. Kriegsmann, who by all accounts was no slouch. I went looking for Kriegsmann, and was astonished by what I saw.

He died in 1994. He was born and educated in Vienna, Austria, and in 1929 came to New York and started photographing celebrities.

And what celebrities! Michael Ochs Archives has a wonderful set of some of Kriegsmann's work, and the people in them are astounding. Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Stevie Wonder, Eartha Kitt (rowr) Cab Calloway, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis; dozens and dozens of the most famous acts in the world for decade after decade.

I imagine that Kriegsmann's notoriety among the glitterati brought the lumpen people to his doorstep, thinking that if they plunked down the cash, some of the leftover celebrity might still be in the lens. And so Kriegsmann worked, and worked hard, and made the same attempt to portray these subjects as sympathetically as he could. It boggles the mind what they must have looked like when they walked in his door.

The proprietor of Sharpeworld put these on Flickr hoping that someone would remember something about these folks. It's a fool's errand, I'm afraid. Would you remember who was singing O Sole Mio in the Terminal Lounge in 1979 in Trenton when you went in to get out of the rain for five minutes to use the pay phone?

Though we laugh, the camera was kind -- in that it captured them as they wished to be, and maybe as they were, at least for one or two brief shining moments: Somebody.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

You See How Nice Everyone On The Intertunnel Is?

Now, don't get me wrong; I've been instructed to perish in a conflagration more than a few times on these here Intertubes. But of course, I take that in the spirit in which it is given; the astute reader cum arsonist obviously immediately kens that I am an extraordinary person indeed, and that simply dying in my bed, surrounded by my doting progeny, full of years and honors, and peacefully engaging in mortal-coil-shuffling would be a right bore for a Colossus of frisson like me. So in their affection, they apply the accelerant and Bic lighter in the comments to wish me well and hope for a more compelling end to my life, occasionally. Thanks!

I speak not of the DIAF crowd. Look at all the nice people in my comments from Monday, trying to steer me past the shoals of bad radio. People are helpful, indeed.

Of course I realize that upon close re-inspection, my comments do indeed look like a plea for musical succor; I can't deny it. But before you kindly inform me of another digital streaming wonder for my ears to behold, I think I should point out the equipment involved. When I was six, I watched Kinchloe ring up the French Resistance on the wireless that Hogan's Heroes kept under their floor, and to this day I think to myself: I wish I had a radio as good as that. Behold! Behold, all you cubicle dwellers, what the radio is like among we men of the sawdust and paint:

Again, don't trouble yourselves with advice for me until I mention that the indicator on the dial fell down in the bottom of its little vertical den a decade ago, and refuses to cooperate further; so you have to twist the big knob around wildly looking for things without knowing if you're above or below the equator of radio stations while you're hunting around.

I know I must look like I'm showing off, as the radio that this one replaced when Carter was president didn't have a knob or a dial, and you used a vise-grip on the knurled stubs to tune it.

I'm below ground in a concrete room filled with tools loaded with gigantic copper coils and fluorescent lights. It makes for an interesting tintinnabulation when you listen to AM and turn on the tablesaw, that's for sure.

I captured a jaunty station that veers from the Scylla of Spanish to the Charybdis of Portuguese, hostwise, and plays salsa music day and night.

An embarrassment of riches, really.

Monday, May 05, 2008

(I Sometimes Leave) The Musical Kids' Table

I like to keep it light, most days. Life is not without its travails, and I don't go looking for trouble where it ain't, as they say. Anybody who's actually had a job on which they depended for their daily bread where someone was yelling at you will never again have a radio on with someone screaming at you in 4/4 time.

I don't tend towards the saccharine either, and so I am not allowed the refuge of the lightweight ditty like others of the no yelling persuasion. I like country music, but I haven't heard any for forty years. There's some "Journey Wearing Stetsons" on the radio dial where Country Music used to be found; I've never heard a country song on the radio I cared for since FM radios were installed in cars, and I don't know where to look for it.

I don't mind pop music as much as many of my friends because I don't pay much attention to it. If you think it's important, than you can get awful fussy about whether Def Leppard was better before or after the drummer lost one of his arms. I just worry if one arm alone can stand all the tattoo ink. And then turn the dial.

There are times when you desire to listen to music made by people who take what they're doing seriously. Respighi and Mozart and Vivaldi and Handel and Satie and Schumann and Beethoven are always handy to have around, and unlike Lindsay Lohan discs, they're cheap. I guess it costs a lot more to cover an acre of floozie freckles in pancake makeup for the cover photo and hire four rock musicians and a studio for an afternoon than to get forty or so all-world classical musicians and an opera house. And two microphones.

But Mozart and his brethren don't suit all moods. You need something that percolates with the bubbles of modern life, and breathes the sooty air of a downtown streetcorner. You need pleated naugahyde that squeaks when your date's leg scoots across it, gin in a real glass, bad lighting everywhere but the center of the stage, and that stage raised but six inches, a salesman in the corner by the cigarette machine opining on the pay phone, you need to hear a siren go by occasionally and faintly, and you need to see the back of a neon sign like an irridescent snake wending its way across a window. What you need, is to sit in an upholstered chair,conjure up that scene in your mind's eye, and listen to Blue Note records. Forget mind's eye gin, though, get Bombay and a real lime.

Blue Note records were for people who wanted to listen to artists searching for beauty, and truth, and meaning, and rhythm, and style, and immediacy; artists that had the temerity to search at the margins of musical possibility because they had mastered their instruments first, and so could try to master themselves, and the world, and the cosmos. Their journey would take various and wonderful turns, like a river that meanders, cutting switchback on itself, labrynthine, mildy disorienting, skirting the disquieting feeling of walking too close to a precipice to see the view, and then find the broad stream of the mighty melody again and drifting with the current home.

It would take effort on the listener's part, sometimes, to appreciate what was going on. This was the challenge dropped at your feet. "We're going out where the map says: "Here be Monsters." All the spices of the Orient and beautiful exotic girls and dervishes gyrating and spinning on magic carpets await us... if we make it to the other shore."

"Wanna come?"

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Alive And Sentient In The Seventies

I was alive and sentient in the seventies.

But in addition to that, I was in the "Seventies Business" for awhile. The first really successful band I was in was the wreckage of a Beatles tribute band. It then morphed into a sort of necrophiliac version of all the parties in Animal House, and transitioned over into a kind of Big Chill waste hauler. Then, finally, we got old enough, and the audience got young enough again, to mine the seventies -- my own adolescent experience -- for ore.

I'd never been an expert on anything simply by dint of being alive and owning a transistor radio before. I had to learn all the sixties crapola like a scholar researching the Battle of Trafalgar. All I had to do was show up for the seventies.

Rock n roll had a trajectory, and by its very definition it had to flame out. It hasn't. It's gotten (or always was, depending on your taste) lame. There is now an ironclad repertoire of seventies music that gets played at timeouts at sporting events, the second set of wedding bands, and throughout every other movie soundtrack. The funny thing is, they are an agglomeration of stuff that didn't seem all that vital when they were released. Later generations picked through the seventies dumpster for YMCA and We Are The Champions and Afternoon Delight and...

I'm not going to list them. But honestly, trust me, my fellow burnouts in the seventies didn't really care about Stairway to Heaven all that much. We liked Whole Lot of Love and Over the Hills and Far Away.

The best example I can come up with that demonstrated the seventies version of Yogi Berra's maxim of "that place is so crowded no one goes there any more" is Smoke on the Water.

We didn't give a damp fart for Smoke on the Water. To this day, my friends and I will yell: DEEP PURPLE! to each other at the end of any song we're playing, and play the last two notes of that ripe turd for a joke. Like most resurrected seventies tunes, it's a goof, nothing more.

I've posted a hearty handful of goofy versions of Deep Purple's SOTW here. I find people's affection for such trifles harmless. I never got peeved if we asked the audience for entries for "Stump the Band" and they said Debbie Boone instead of Deep Purple. You're kidding yourself if you think one is less uncool than the other.

If you were driving a Ford Maverick, listening to an 8-track player, or maybe the radio through an FM converter, wearing farmer overalls and a plaid shirt, with your arm around a girl wearing a duster, her hair formed into two perfect turd curls, you'd change the station if Smoke on the Water came on. You'd want this one, instead:

Oh, I know it's terrible. It was terribly fun for a little while, too. Isn't that the point?

Friday, May 02, 2008

Got Cygnet?

If you're new around here, I live in a swamp.

If you live in an apartment in a city, you might have a fanciful idea of a swamp. You'll donate money to save it, if all someone does is call it a "wetland."

You'll be told, early and often, that it's a delicate thing, this swa... um, I mean wetland. It really isn't. It's a ferocious thing.

It cold and rainy here, like it often is in the Spring. The trees don't even have leaves on them yet. The fiddleheads are barely popped.

But let me assure you, the swamp is already on the verge of being impenetrable. Bugs, beasts, brambles, water; ticks in their legions bursting with borreliosis. The beasts come out of it every night and ravage everything that grows. When you fall down, you're pulled to pieces in no time.

I hate the Disney ideal of a delicate thing filled with fronds. It's a mindless beast. It's better to respect the power of it. I do. It almost took my life once. Sometimes, like yesterday, it shows me a little leg for all the trouble it causes.

I'm not sure if it's enough. But it's something, ain't it?