Friday, October 31, 2008

Have Fun Trick-or-Treating. Don't Step In Any Bonzo Dog Doo Dah

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Hallowe'en Explained (Again)

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

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

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

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

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

I see problems:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Kids These Days

Multi-tasking. People talk about it, but they don' t really know what they are talking about. It's not their fault; there's no such thing.

If you're a little bright, and bright enough to know better than to be an intellectual, you can be serially interested in a lot of things without much of a pause in between. You're fooling yourself if you think you're doing two things at once. I've seen you drive and talk on the phone.

I have to "multi-task" all the time. It wears you out and invigorates you. Was it Churchill that said vacation was: "Doing something else"? I dunno, I'm too busy doing the same thing to look it up. At any rate, something else always needs doing, so it's easy to do something else.

But there is no leisure. Literally, now: none. And I use the word literally literally, not like people that use the term multi-task when referring to talking on the phone while driving with two tires over the yellow line. I don't remember the last time I was doing nothing.

Two or three things had to happen on Sunday, and I had to toss a fifth on the heap by taking pictures of the fourth thing, which was watching the little fellow pick apples at Tougas' Farm in Northborough, Mass. I'm not a good photographer but he's blurry for a reason. He arrived home on the kindergarten bus the other day and he and all his brethren were wearing cooking pot hats made from construction paper, all still resolutely being worn all the way home. Johnny Appleseed, dad.

And so we were calling on a family member who was ill, and it was right down the street, and Johnny Appleseed, dad.

The orchard was mindnumbingly huge. You needed directions to find certain kinds of apples. Whole neighborhoods of varieties stretching off into the distance. It looks more like a vineyard than an orchard, with the trees cut way back to force the limbs and fruit to sprout. Copsing, I think you call it. Many trees used to be farmed and forced, and not just for their fruits. A "stool" is a tree stump that sprouts many limbs after cutting. They used to harvest them and weave wattles to keep the pigs in, or hold your plaster up. They'd cut trunks above eye level and climb up and harvest the stickers from time to time while allowing ruminant animals to pasture below. The animals would eat the stickers if it was a stool on the ground. Above eye level they call it a "pollard."

Well, I inhabit the ether above the average person's eye level, so me and the five-year-old got all the apples that weren't at waist level, one way or the other.

They've got animals in pens. You pat yourself down like you're arresting yourself, looking for a quarter to buy a handful of food pellets from a vending machine to feed to the goats and such. I realized how remote that we've become from anything animal. We need to have regular barnyard animals displayed in a Potemkin farm because everyone joins the Sierra Club but have never been outdoors.

I'm just like the orchard, and that little kid, when I stopped and thought about it. People pay me to make things for them. But there's an element of the theater to it, too. People want to rub shoulders with something real, made from nature and touched by humans. I'm grateful to all the people who frisk themselves for a few quarters, and feed me through the Internet fence.

I'll give you a bite of my apple; I hear tell there's wisdom, and a little sin in it, too.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Harry Longbaugh's Bench

Harry Longbaugh's Bench

"Grampa, Mama says that old bench is special. It looks awful plain to me."

"Your mama's right, in a way, my boy, but like every thing a man can own, the people who use it are more captivatin' than the thing itself. That's Harry Longbaugh's bench. Well, not his bench 'xactly."

"Who in blazes is Harry Longbaugh? Is he that man mama went to grammar school with that put a frog in her bookbag? And why do you have his bench? And.."

"No, no, my boy. You see, your grampa used to work on Harlem and Long Island Railroad, back when the years began with 18's. I was a crack telegraph operator..."

"What's a telegraphs any ways, isn't that that guy who used to come to the door with the brushes and soap and get the door slammed in his face by pa ...?"

"No, no, my boy. The telegraph was a machine we used to send messages to each other, before you, your mama, or the telephone was around. We did manage okay then, you know."

"But who's Harry Longbow? Why did you steal his bench? Is he that man that came with the crooked stick to find a place to dig for the well, that daddy says "If he ever shows his face around here again, I'm gonna..."

"No, my boy, I didn't steal anything. You see, The telegraph operator had to keep busy all day, even when there was nothin' to do, so I was in charge of sweeping the station in Harlem, and lighting the lamps, and tending the Lost and Found..."

"But who's Harry Longfellow? Was he lost? Did you find 'em?, was there a reward...?"

"Harry Longbaugh! No he wasn't lost, but there was a reward, but I didn't get it, exactly, and if you'll let me..."

"Is the bench your reward, did Mr. Longshanks give it to you for..."

"I declare, young man, I'll be gone to my reward before I finish this story! Now keep still, and I'll unwind it straight through, and no more detours!"

"Now, people left the darndest things in that station house. And we'd keep 'em in the office for what seemed like eternity, because you never knew when they'd come a 'lookin' for 'em. Of course there were the usual parasols and bowlers and such, but one day, the baggage boy brought me out to one the benches, THAT VERY BENCH you're sittin' on, to be specific, and pointed to a valise left on the shelf below, where I'd found many a forgotten item. It was a curious sort of bag. I found out later they called it a Gladstone Bag, after a Britisher, I think, and made from a Persian Carpet! Well, as a matter of good sense and manners, I keep my nose from other's business, and stick to my own, but I felt an overpowerin' urge to look in that bag, you see, and make out if there was something inside to tell me where I might find the owner. And what do you think I saw? "

"Henry Longchamp's unnerwear!"

"Harry Longbaugh, you little knothead! NO. As I was sayin', inside, what did I see but a big Colt revolver, the old army sidearm my daddy called a "leg of mutton." Now, you don't see that sort of thing in New York City much, but it didn't catch my eye as much as the money. Stacks and stack of bills, tied ever so neat with string, like little bricks..."

"Was that the reward...?"

"No, my boy, now listen. Along with the money and the pistol, there was a ticket, for passage on the "Soldier Prince," a boat bound for Argentina! and on that ticket was a man's name."

"Harley Limbaugh?"

"That's Harry, dear boy. Harry Longbaugh. Yes, it were. and I must admit, I was caught in a sort of reverie, thinkin' about that ship, and that money, and that gun, and Argentina, when easy as you please, a man taps me on the shoulder and says, "Excuse me friend, I think that belongs to me." He was a handsome man, with a big friendly grin, but there was something else about him, too, something hard and cold behind that smile."

"Well, he took that bag, and walked straight out of there, and joined another man and a lady on the platform outside, and no doubt went to Argentina. And I kept that bench, where I found that bag, to remember it all by."

"But with all that money, he didn't give you a reward for findin' it? What kind of story is that!"

"My reward my boy, is that I'm still here to tell the story. For I found out at the Post Office, not long after that very day, that Harry Longbaugh was known by another name too-The Sundance Kid."

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Someone Had To Be The Beatles After The Beatles Lost Interest In Being The Beatles

Paul 2.0 got the upper hand, John Lennon 2.0 just croaks in his midlevel monotone harmony as usual, Ringo 2.0 is taller and less jovial; but in a million zillion years George Harrison 1.0 could never learn to play the guitar like that.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Oh, Baby; Me Gotta Go

I heard the original version of Louie Louie the other day. It's the best.

The Kingsmen are associated with the song, but they were just carpetbaggers. Richard Berry was the progenitor. I like the relaxed, vaguely Caribbean sound of the first version.

I never understood why almost everybody couldn't decipher the lyrics to the song, and made up all sorts of wild tales about what was being said, as I'd heard the words coming completely intelligibly out of Richard Berry's mouth in the first place.

I'm trying to remember, but I think the Richard Berry version is in the soundtrack of Animal House somewhere. I played party music for money for a bunch of years, and there was a progression of cultural totems for the milieu. I always had the most fun in the "Otis Day and the Knights" kinda thing. I see the boneless MADD-supervised PC fun college-aged kids are allowed to have now, and I weep for them a bit. They need to rediscover their inner Elvis; a kind of rude, harmless infantilism. 1960 beats 1968, every time, if you hipsters are looking for a cool vibe to mine.

One of the most disconcerting moments of my entire life involved Louie Louie. I may have performed that song more than the Kingsmen ever did. Thousands of times. It was just another day at work to hear it or play it. All songs like that become a sort of aural wallpaper that you don't notice much any more because you've been in that room so many times. I woke up late in the morning after playing some job that lasted until 2 AM. I worked all day in construction and all night in music trying to get by, and it lent an air of befuddlement to my life. A sleepy automaton vibe. The clock radio started beating me about the head, cajoling me to get back at it. I'm laying there in a half stupor, trying to remember what the hell day it was, and all I can think of is: That version of Louie Louie coming out of the radio is the worst version ever; who the hell is that? They should be horsewhipped.

As I fumbled for the off button, I realized it was a demo tape that someone had sent to the radio station, and I was playing on it.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Ain't No Smilin' Faces -- Lyin' To The Races

The Staples Singers on the Flip Wilson Show.

America is a wonderful place. Glittering things are just lying around everywhere. Our ancestors would hear that in America the streets were paved with gold, and ride in the holds of the rusty bucket steamships to leave musty Europe while history was giving it Extreme Unction. But the streets were not paved in gold here. That would have been a step down for America.

I went to the store to buy a little food the other day and we found almost 2% of the money we needed in the parking lot. Everyone walked right by it, for they've forgotten the value of it. I had to point it out to my own son. Pick it up, son, that's money.

The Staples Singers are found money.

You're supposed to feel better after you listen to it. You don't clap because it's over. You clap because you wish it weren't.

Make sure that's the general mood at your funeral, people. Better start now, it's hard to catch up once you're behind.

Saturday, October 18, 2008


Let me tell you about safety.

If you live in the educated, white collar world, you know nothing of safety. That is to say: you know nothing of danger; you're insulated almost totally from real peril.

As you move up the intellectual food chain, and your experience with the world inhabited by those faced with real, daunting challenges is practically non-existent, your attenuated worldview becomes almost worthless to people who are faced with real danger.

If you are entirely insulated from the consequences of your actions, it would be decent to recuse yourself from offering advice to others, no less so than a man who stands to profit from the outcome. When a man is facing a spinning blade, the cardinal sin is to distract him. Yelling: "Look out!" is akin to shoving him into the blade. The time to identify danger is before, not after. It is predictability and stability and a certain kind of respect that is helpful. Nothing else.

Let me tell you about the blade. You think you can handle it because you fancy yourself intelligent. You're wrong. Because the danger it presents, the real danger, is hidden from you.

I watch people who have no business offering advice to anyone telling amateurs and professionals alike how to do what they're trying to do. I see the safety fetishist's clown shoes -- safety glasses worn to hang a picture -- and the matching squeak-nose of warnings over the toxicity of stuff you could eat, never mind touch, juxtaposed with behavior that reminds me of sheep sniffing around the shambles.

You think that you're smart. You think that you can put your hand near the blade, as long as you don't push your hand right in it. It doesn't work that way.

You have to avoid putting yourself in the position where your hand will be drawn into the blade and there's nothing you can do to stop it. There was no danger, really; you were maimed without danger announcing itself first. It was there all along in a way you'll never "get" until it's too late.

The wood lays there on the table. Perhaps it's some mundane species. Straight, plain grain. Maybe it's exotic or unusual. You like the look and feel of it. The smell of it. It gives you a little thrill to think what could be made from it. It's full of a kind of promise of a fantastic future.

But it grew from a little sapling. Buffeted by winds, warped and enfeebled by its greedy reaching to get up to the sun before the others that would wither in the shadow of its canopy, there are stresses built up in the wood. Maybe the tree grew straight up, but the ground where it was born and raised was tilted, and the constant stress was locked in the grain. Maybe the sawyer saw that it was growing at a crazy angle, and put it on the logging truck anyway, out in the landscape where no one would know that no straight timber could ever come out of it. He'd have his money and someone else closer to the blade would find out what was in there the hard way.

Besides the stresses in the wood, there is a phenomenon associated with how it is seasoned. Most wood must be seasoned out in the air -- or in an oven to do it quicker -- to allow it to become useful by acclimating it to its future use. Leaving the lumber out to dry is time consuming and has its risk: bugs and weather and fires and so forth. But there is a real danger in drying out the lumber too quickly in a kiln, too. It's referred to as case hardening. Sounds like metallurgy, but it's not. It means when you try to pass the blade through the baulk of wood, the tensions locked into the wood are released --or better put: are revealed-- by its travel through the blade. The outside of the wood seems OK. But the inside is different.

You are holding on to that piece of wood, if you trust yourself not to put your hand too near, and trust others never to fool you, or be fools themselves. You've been told that others have made you safe, and so you trust it a bit more than you should, maybe. On the table saw, the case hardened wood might pinch the saw kerf closed, and it will grab the back of the spinning blade and be hurled at you. Or conversely, perhaps you will hang on to it tightly enough, and it will buck and rocket away in some unexpected direction, and draw your hand into the abyss.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Big Yellow Taxi

I once had a real job. I routinely scrawled my name at the bottom of documents with vapor trails of zeroes on the numbers. People worked for me I'd never met. I flew on planes to work fairly regularly.

This never happened once then. I was a failure.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Found In Translation

I could explain to you that the average world citizen's worldview is too narrow. Muse about the reasons many exalt the worst sort of tripe while they execrate the most sublime sort of art. I might point out the frauds and mountebanks that flense extravagant slices of notoriety from the beached whale carcass of celebrity nowadays. I could even dissect and analyze to the nth degree bits of the Zeitgeist, and discomfit you by making you notice how shabby the trappings of your popular culture are.

But I'm not going to. I'll just mention that the world is full of marvels and wonders, and I adore swimming through its limpid digital pools. My world is big enough because this guy (?) is in it. So I'll let him speak for himself. He explains his video thusly:

The bosom oak it is and performing the pop with the ukulele

Yes, indeed.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

I Tire Of This, Sport (And Explaining That This Happened Two Years Ago)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When's the Patriots' bye week?

Monday, October 13, 2008

Happy Colon Day

[We interrupt our regularly scheduled painting extravaganza to properly celebrate Day.]
I remember Columbus Day because I used to play music in a hundred and one bands anyone that would have me and try to make money to eat and get cigarettes and I don't smoke and there still was never enough money and I played at a tee-totaling biker association party for two members' wedding not gay a man and a woman that arrived on a motorcycle with the woman I think wearing a white Wedding Dress and no helmet and we played for one hundred sober bikers and ninety-nine of them were like accountants and one was like a serial murderer but they all looked exactly the same so you had to assume they all would kill you if they got the chance instead of the more likely thing that they'd do your taxes if you asked nice and I never played Born To Be Wild for a Wedding Song before and the bride's father was in jail I think so she had to dance with the groom twice and the whole thing was held at the Italian-American Club on Gano Street in Providence but everybody calls it Guano Street for a joke haha and it's a real long time ago but it might have been the Portuguese-American Club I don't remember but I do remember it was Columbus Day and I went into the bar to get away from the sober biker accountants and that one serial murderer that were in the function room and it didn't matter if it was the Italian-American Club or the Portuguese-American Club or the Knights Of Columbus Hall haha that would be funny but I don't really remember but I distinctly remember a guy with a knife a real knife not a just a knife a dagger that came to a perfect point and didn't fold or look like you could do anything wholesome with it it just looked one hundred percent like it was designed and made to gut a bass player and that guy held that knife right under my chin and explained to me in Portuguese that Cristobal Colon was Portuguese and don't you forget it and my Spanish was very sketchy and Portuguese sounds like Russian to me not Spanish anyway but believe me I understood every damn word he said and I advise you all to answer the question did you know Cristobal Colon was Portuguese in the affirmative at all times.

The end.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Get Busy (Two Years Ago)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(to be continued)

Saturday, October 11, 2008

OK. First, Get 200 Gallons Of Paint

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now we must name it! Hmm.

I know! OK Green.

(To be continued tomorrow)

Friday, October 10, 2008

Heterosexual Eye For The Married Guy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How long did this take you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 09, 2008

It's Over (Reprised from 2006)

It's over.

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 06, 2008

I Just Read A Comic Book So I Think We Should All Live In A Railroad Freightcar With A Lot Of Windows

My friend the Instapundit is interested in interesting things. But he's got a blind spot:

I remember reading a Robert Heinlein essay from the 1940s on how absurd it would be to have your car hand-built in your driveway by a collection of artisans, and how homebuilding as practiced was equally absurd. I think he was right.I suppose that's better than the script-kiddies who think Gene Roddenberry is John the Baptist for our generation; but just.He's linked to the most tired old trope in architecture: Let's build houses in a factory! You know, instead of letting cavemen make it out in the landscape! It will be all gadgety and glittery and you'll be able to plug your iPod into the toilet or the wallpaper or the driveway without a dongle!

Me and Donald Fagen have heard all this crap before:

I've taken issue with what passes for architectural analysis at Wired before, and I'm not going to stop now.

Prefab is "modernism's oldest dream," curator Barry Bergdoll says. Since the industrial revolution, architects have been in thrall of the idea that houses could be built in factories, like any kind of widget. But reality hasn't been extremely cooperative. Whether because of conservative public tastes, unachievable economies of scale, or designers' less-than-stellar business acumen, their utopian visions have mostly remained fantasies.

Don't you just hate it when reality is uncooperative? Their "utopian visions" have remained fantasies because that's exactly what they are. Unmoored from the real world in real-time or the future, they identify a problem that does not exist, suggest solutions that are worse than the imaginary problem and have internal inconsistencies that make them null anyway, and then try to ram their goofy ideas into the public sphere over and over. Normal people don't want to live in an expensive, desolate, cramped, bleak, lifeless terrarium. Film at eleven.

Mass production of houses is an ancient idea, and has already been accomplished to death:

Levitt was able to offer these houses so cheaply because he was applying construction methods perfected in the deployment of prefab housing in the armed services during World War II. Bill Levitt had served as a Seabee during the war, and he learned the techniques of rapid construction using standardized parts, tightly controlled suppliers of goods and services, and a workforce with highly specialized skills. Like the Army's builders, like the Seabees, Levitt took the mass-production assembly line and converted it so that workers moved from site to site doing their specific targeted tasks. Life, Newsweek, Time, and many other magazines delighted in the story of the painter whose sole job was to paint the window sills of each house; but the example was an apt one, for by moving crews of workers sequentially from house to house, Levitt avoided the necessity of craft workers, unions, and the rest. In addition, his program could tolerate high labor turnover, a dreaded feature of the new prosperity after the end of the war. If one worker left, another could be quickly hired and trained as a replacement.

Economies of scale for cookie-cutter housing were roped and branded the better part of a century ago. There is no more mechanized, technologically astute, nimble, large-project process in America than single-family home building. Why don't you call up Apple and tell them you want a big black rotary knob on your iPod? You tell your general contractor you want to move bearing walls in your house when it's half built. Who would take longer and charge more money to accomplish your request? Only Bill Gates can afford to order an iPod with a rotary dial. I see pregnant women in flip-flops moving bearing walls in their own homes on HGTV every night.

The Levittown houses are the very houses that the factory housing apparatchiks sneer at while they try one more time to round us all up and force us to live, alternately roasting and freezing, in the terrarium daytime and fluorescently lit darkness of their glorified stackable FEMA trailers.

Look at the video linked to the article.

At least Lawrence Sass from MIT knew enough to choose a New Orleans Shotgun House to make, which is an essentially humane place to live. But where's the value added? He plops a CNC router at the jobsite and routs the panels. Whoopty. That house could be made by a framing foreman and a handful of willing grunts in less time and for less money than any prefab deal. The spindlework on a shotgun house was pre-fabbed in factories and shipped to the job way back in the 1800s. Where's the value added, Lawrence? You're not bringing much.

The rest of the video is just have the same tired old the house is a machine nonsense we've been hearing since 1910, and it ends up looking like the galley kitchen in a 747. Please note that the houses these people make never have anything that looks like humans or their possessions about. I'm sick of people with Martin Bormann accents talking about how ve mussht maik howsays dat ahr masheens fvar livink und the yoomans musht be made to leev in tem fuhr zehr own gut!

People watch high-school dropouts portray businessmen in Wall Street and think that's how the economy is run. People join PETA because they saw Bambi and think animals can do long division. People read glorified comic books like Heinlein's and think it would be good public policy if you were required to kill big alien bugs before you could vote, and we should make a 124,000 pound thing in a factory and then drag it to your houselot.

I know exactly how a house was built in the 1940s. I know exactly how a house is built now. Robert Heinlein had no idea what he was talking about then. He has absolutely nothing to offer about the topic now.

Ever read any Heinlein? I have. Here's a part of a plot synopsis from Wikipedia of one of his:

Their alien kidnapper is nicknamed "Wormface" by Kip, who refers to the species as "Wormfaces". They are horrible-looking, vaguely anthropomorphic creatures who do not recognize other species as equals, referring to all others as "animals". Wormface has two human flunkies who had assisted him in capturing the Mother Thing and Peewee, a preteen genius and the daughter of one of Earth's most eminent scientists. The Mother Thing speaks in what sounds to Kip like birdsong, with a few musical notations in the text giving a flavor of her language. However, Kip and Peewee have no trouble understanding her.

Kip, Peewee, and the Mother Thing try to escape to the human lunar base by hiking cross-country, but they are recaptured and taken to a more remote base on Pluto. Kip is thrown into a cell, later to be joined by the two human traitors, who have apparently outlived their usefulness. Before they later disappear, one mentions to Kip that his former employers eat humans.

You know, you read that, and think: that's the guy I want picking out tile with me and my wife.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Beyond Good, Evil, And Funny

If there's anything more piquantly amusing than the conjoining of Family Circus cartoons with Friedrich Nietzsche quotations, I haven't seen it.

The Nietzsche Family Circus from losanjealous.

Friday, October 03, 2008

It's (Still) Coming

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

My children will tell their children that they used to go to parades on July Fourth, and see actual WWII veterans marching. They used to have the odd WWI veteran marching when I was young. When I began working, I encountered people who were nearing the end of their working lives --that used to mean approaching the end of their lives, period -- and they had a passing acquaintance with Civil War veterans.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes I do.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

We Were Up In Heaven, And Now We're In The Mud

I've been married for eighteen years.

I still do not understand how it works. I've blasted millions of words into the ether, one way or the other, in the last two decades, but in my heart of hearts I know that I've never looked at it straight on. I look upon the whole situation using a kind of intellectual peripheral vision. It's pagan perhaps, or sublime - I don't know - to be afraid to look right at something for fear it will go away when viewed.

I used to play music for money. I fell in with the best kind of fellows for it. They didn't care a fig about what we were doing except that we should entertain the audience. We didn't invest pop songs with superfluous meaning. It meant nothing to us one way or another what you wanted to hear. We avoided what we couldn't pull off, and ignored the cranky calls for Freebird, but that's about it.

I noticed when I had to learn a song that I liked, (that was a very rare occurrence, as my tastes varied wildly from our audience almost to the point of unanimity) taking it apart to see how it worked spoiled it for me. It ceased to hold any entertainment value for my use. It was either amusing or challenging to play, and you'd gauge its appeal to the audience, but it wasn't the same sort of an animal for me any more.

I have absolutely no idea why my wife would descend from her heavens and come and stand with me in my mud. And I have absolutely no intention of asking her.