Friday, July 31, 2009

Still There (From 2007)

Ever work in a factory?

If you're reading this page, the answer is likely no. I remember reading that if you are at a gathering of college educated persons, not one of them will know personally anyone who is not. They can cast around for the name of the plumber or something to make their working class bona fides, but it's not the same thing. With a few exceptions, educated persons don't know people who are not, and vice versa.

I am not fixing to hold myself up as any sort of example of anything. I don't fit in anywhere and so am useless as any sort of ruler to measure such things. I drift along through many sets of people, and belong to none, really. Maybe I should be a writer. I have no fixed perspective.

I have worked in a factory. More than one. A big old brick building with tall windows and a punch clock and battered formica tables and two vending machines in a break room. Union, some of them, too. I know what it's like. A lot of people who have never known work talk about the loss of belching smokestack factories like it's a plague of locusts or something. If they ever worked in one they might feel differently. I can't properly describe the sensation of eating your lunch out of a paper sack and reading an inexpertly printed missive from personnel (they used to call it that without shame) telling me, just 19 years old, that all I had to do is work another 49 years putting the same tiny screws into some holes while looking at a gauge, and I could retire with a little pension.

They never understood why I left. My fellow workers, grown old and crabby in the traces, tried to get me to explain, which I could not do without insulting them, and then, frustrated, barked at me that I'd be sorry. I never was. The factory has been shuttered and dark for decades now, and they all lost their jobs. The world is a shark and must always swim. I recognize the charlatans that say the shark must stand still no matter how they tart up the presentation. Numbskull Canutes want to rule the world.

There can be dignity there, in a factory. If there is work that is not dignified I have not seen it. You must bring the dignity with you, as in all things. It will not be supplied to you. It cannot be taken from you if you will keep it.

That picture is taken in 1940. There is certainly dignity in that picture, along with hard work and danger and a wage, and it shines right through. Old Kenyon's Johnnycake Mill in Usquepaugh, Rhode Island. I used to visit the towns around there often in the summer. And the place is still there.

Kenyon's Corn Meal Company

It's marvelous it's still there after centuries. The shark must swim. It does not devour all its young, though.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Round Of Golf Fails To Cure Crohn's Disease. Again

Rockbottom, Massachusetts:

Area man Josh Mulders reports that the four-man charity scramble he attended on Thursday of this week at The StoneLedge Links of the Pine Point Country Club at Tall Oaks Gated Preserve Community failed to eradicate Crohn's Disease for the second straight year. Mr. Mulders reports that in addition to failing to find a cure for "some sort of disease or something," the tournament failed to meet many other expectations of the participants. "This place sucks, and the open bar only has well drinks," he said.

"I thought it would be like a day off, without wasting a perfectly good sickday to play golf," Ted Sandringham, another local Springsbury participant reported, "but my supervisor kept calling me on my cell and asking me where I kept everything. And the golf dweebs are so uptight all the time they say they can hear my phone even when it's on vibrate."

Sandringham, the designated "fore-man" of his group, pushed a bit of Ziti Carbonara around his plate and added: "And the one time my wife called, she heard the drink cart broad talking dirty in the background to the young kid from shipping. That's two nights on the couch for me, easy, and I didn't even get a glass of water from the skank."

Another avid duffer and concerned citizen seated at the same table also reported: "The Porta-San near the tenth tee box is a horrorshow. I mean, really. Whoever that guy is, he should stay out of Taco Bell and the liquor store for a coupla days. Whoah. Who the hell goes out in public with your bowels in an uproar like that?"

Tournament officials were at a loss to explain how two successful outings in a row had failed to cure the disease, despite raising a total of almost $1100 for the Crohn's disease charity, after expenses. Food and beverage steward Alan Koop, when interviewed after the silent auction of Jerry Adair memorabilia, offered: "It's a shame that disease, the Chronin thing, is so tough. Everyone says they liked the scallops wrapped in bacon. It's a mystery, I guess."

Club President Geoff Malabar thinks the club might be trying to do too much. "We had Rides for Tots, Make-a-Wish, Breast Cancer, that goofy art place in the vinyl-sided defunct church, whatever they call it, all on the same day as the Clone disease thing. There's only so much we can do to solve all these problems, at least until the zoning board gets off the dime and lets us fill in that wetland for another nine holes."

Malabar was then interrupted by the sound of crashing dishes from the kitchen, and took a moment to smooth over the problem through the pass-through, in flawless Spanish, and then returned and warmed to his theme: "What with me comping four of the seven selectmen over and over, you'd think it'd be a done deal by now." Malabar seemed to muse for a moment at the staggering responsibility resting on his shoulders, and continued: "Hey is that a tape recorder? Are you from the paper or something?"

Perhaps overcome with emotion for Crohn's sufferers, Josh Mulders seemed to be fighting back tears near the soon-to-close open bar: "My boss kicked in $1500 on my sayso, because I told him it would be a good way to network for our business. But I just threw that out there to get a chance to play at a private club for a change. How the hell my boss thinks I'm gonna sell boiler circulator pumps on the back nine is beyond me," He said. "I am so fired on Monday."

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Great Moments In Vaguely Disturbing Advertising: Kickin' It Italian Style

My Italian is kinda sketchy at this point, and the rat-a-tat delivery wasn't helping, so I gave up and just let it wash over me.

Nothing sells coffee like a deranged Gumby-and-Pokey-class depiction of a concentration camp for coffee beans. Pointing out that the competition's product will make your heart jump out of your chest is a nice, if subtle touch to end on.

They missed the obvious slogan, though: Have-a HAG bring you your coffee in the morning!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Sippican Cottages And Bungalows

Sippican Cottage Furniture is featured twice in the August/September issue of Cottages and Bungalows. Neato.

I always appreciate the attention. I'm a small business in a ferocious fiscal climate and need to cadge attention where I can get it.

They always send you a complimentary copy. Most everybody in the magazine and television world have been very professional and thoughtful, in my experience. When I was featured on NECN they even sent me a disc with the appearance on it.

I've never paid to be featured in magazines or other media. I've received some rather creepy overtures in this regard. Some of the surreptitious pay to play arrangements in the big shelter mags, and especially TV, seem like borderline fraud to me. We'll pretend to like you if pay us. Most of the home improvement shows now have the smell of: "Hey mister, do you want to buy speakers out of the back of my van?" A long time ago, I was hired to testify as an expert witness in a lawsuit against the host of a major home improvement show that was taking kickbacks. It does happen.

I hadn't seen Cottages and Bungalows until my furniture was featured in it. It's a really good magazine. There's something interesting on every page. My wife likes it even better than I do. Many houses are too fussy and sterile for my taste, and I think for the occupant's taste, too, though they don't always realize it. We are a casual society. It's unlikely you'll be happy living in an operating room.

You can buy a copy at many newsstands or Target, Lowe's, Wal-Mart, Barnes and Noble, or Borders. Or you can buy a single copy or a subscription here. I know I will. And if anybody buys anything much, I wouldn't mind advertising there, too. See? They are good businesspeople over there at Cottages and Bungalows, even though they're honest.

PS: They have a forum, too.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Slipping From Caricature To Cartoon: ComicCon 2009

[Editor's Note: Pictures are from a slideshow of the ComicCon 2009 hosted on Rotten Tomatoes]

The comic book convention. Hmm. I wish to tread lightly here. If a wag is supposed to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable, I can't see how being mean to these souls is appropriate. I do not wish to harm the harmless. They wouldn't care anyway. Their worldview is all about embracing derision. Not strong in the face of criticism, exactly. More like learning to like the taste of sand.

When faced with cultural trends, the default attitude is plaudits or vitriol, nothing in between, and never ambivalence. 99% of the "analysis" I read and see, isn't. It's a poorly disguised, already-held opinion drifting on the sea of culture looking for any dock to bang against. Everyone and everything at the ComicCon is nothing and nobody to me. It is prominent enough for me to pay attention to. That's it. I have no (Triumph the Insult Comic) dog in this hunt.

These are grown people. There are a few people who have dragged their children along in matching costumes, but the kids don't look all that interested. Kids just put a plastic pail on their heads and become knights-errant. They don't spend twelve forty-hour weeks making a Watchmen costume trying to impress a Princess Leia who's a bit broad in the beam for the metal bikini but wears it anyway. Kids like fun. This is not fun. This is serious.

But, as they say: "Why so serious?" It's a convention based on comic books. Don't blame me if I look at the way you're behaving seriously trivially seriously. I'm not the one that demanded that comic books be called "graphic novels" and entered into real school curriculums here and there as if they're important. I haven't mistaken George Lucas for St. Augustine and Robert Heinlein for Paul of Tarsus. Hell, I haven't even mistaken George Lucas for a competent filmmaker.

A kind of incoherence has crept into the language. School teaches students never to learn anything by rote, and to rely on your judgment alone when you're trying to spell arguement. So I'm unlikely to be able to ask you what's up with your overriding urge to dress up like it's Halloween every day, and you're four years old forever. You'll just answer in that Internet singsong about reigning in loosers that definatly need to seperate themselves from you right now before they beg another question. I can't find things out by talking to you. I must watch and learn.

People are people. Fifty years ago, people made elaborate train set worlds in their basement, model airplanes, and ships-in-a-bottle. They spent countless hours perfecting their ping pong stroke and their horseshoe arc. Hell, I made a decidedly flammable popsicle stick ashtray and gave it to my parents, who did not smoke. People have always wasted their time trying to amuse themselves.

But beware: the Shriners wore funny hats and drove in parades in little cars, it's true. But the Shriners weren't founded solely as a way to gather together to wear funny hats and drive little cars. When your child can be admitted to a ComicCon Hospital and be treated for third degree burns, for free, then 160 pounds of Catwoman in a 120 pound suit can snicker at their fezzes, not before.

It's said that no real head doctor would offer an opinion of any person based solely on what they read in the paper or saw on the TV about them. But I'm an amateur, so I'll let it rip. If a goldfish got to wishing, he wouldn't wish he was just on the outside of the bowl glass. He'd wish he had fangs and wings and breathed fire and shat bullion and mated with mighty morphin' megasexual mates ten at a time. Then he'd go bump into the glass on the other side of the bowl.

I spotted this on a Flicker page of a StumbleUpon correspondent:
Dollhouse 1920. Made for my mother from an old packing crate. The embossed lettering is still visible on the back of the roof. Made by her father, Andrew Sebastian K., who died a few months later.

That story is right up there with Hemingway's six word masterpiece: For Sale: Baby shoes, never worn.

That man grew up. He married and had children. He made his children toys from whatever was handy. He made his meager (as is everybody's) offering to posterity and launched it, luckily, before his time was over.

What a looser. He could have made himself a bitchin' Nosferatu costume and gone to WarrenGHardingPalooza instead.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Watching The King Family On TV

Hey, wanna watch the King Family on television?

AW HELLS NO!!!11!1!!1! Not that King Family!

There was a King family back in the sixties, although they weren't related. Albert King, Freddie King, and BB King. BB outlasted the others, so everyone knows him, but it was Albert that adumbrated an entire style of playing. Hendrix and Clapton and Stevie Ray and dozens more in their turn worshipped at the altar of Albert King.

Freddie King, too, to a lesser extent. When I hear Clapton or Jimmy Vaughan, I hear Freddie first and foremost. But Freddie's dead, since 1976, and everyone's mostly forgotten about him.

Here's Freddie with his biggest hit on The Beat in 1966. The emcee places an unfortunate pause in his introduction while he mentions Dallas, JFK, and shooting. Smooth sailing after that.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

You Look Good, Like A Captain. I Salute You

Ah, the week in public comments at the Santa Cruz City Council and the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors. It's like a national treasure, truly.

Whose soul is not stirred by the sight of a windmill looming on the horizon? But if the fair Dulcinea ain't showing up, who can blame the man of steady mien if he doth assemble his Panza Division anyway, and transfer his attention to anther fair maid, and her $209,000.00, $209,000.00, $209,000.00, $203,000.00, $203,000.00 $194,000.00, $203,000.00, $174,000.00, $198,000.00, $193,000.00 $198,000.00 $193,000.00 $194,000.00, $187,000.00, $187,000.00, $184,000.00, $184,000.00, $184,000.00, $184,000.00, $184,000.00, $179,000.00, $182,000.00, $164,000.00, $173,000.00, $172,000.00, $172,000.00, $178,000.00, $171,000.00, $168,000.00 ...

"Panza Division" copyright 2009 Sippican Cottage, all rights reserved. Snicker.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Can You Hear Me

If the rain comes they run and hide their heads.
They might as well be dead.
If the rain comes, if the rain comes.

It rained all night, and hard. All day yesterday. It seems to rain all the time, but of course that's not possible. But seeming matters, for we are animals. There has been no summer to speak of. July is the average hottest month here. We may never have summer at all.

The hottest temperature ever recorded here in Marion was 100 degrees, in 1975. I'm fairly certain we have never touched 80 even once this month, though it is the average high temperature we should expect here in July.

When the sun shines they slip into the shade
And drink their lemonade.
When the sun shines, when the sun shines.
Rain, I don't mind.
Shine, the weather's fine.

It is an interior life I live, anyway. I see four concrete walls all day, lighted by dreary fluorescents, and by the time that's over so is any daylight, so you get a kind of submarine vibe in your life.

One searches for meaning everywhere, including where it is unlikely to be found. It has occurred to me that the vital thing is the promise of something. The availability of many things, whether you care to use them or not at any given time, matters. The car in the driveway serves a purpose far beyond the time you're actively driving it. The car itself is just a hood ornament on the important thing: Mobility. I could leave and go elsewhere if I wanted to or needed to is a profoundly important idea. It is why it captivated the American psyche.

I can show you that when it starts to rain,
Everything's the same.
I can show you, I can show you.
Rain, I don't mind.
Shine, the weather's fine.

We are hectored. Persons whose intellectual cupboard resembles a penthouse refrigerator -- empty because they know they're going to eat in a restaurant for every meal -- are wondering why you have food in your larder. Telling you that you don't need a lot of things. These things are a burden and you'd be happier without them. You're not using them right now, so they are of doubtful utility. They demonstrate your existential car is useless by pointing out that you don't drive in a circle around your astral abode all the time. Wouldn't you be happier on the transcendental tram?

No. A real adult lives for the promise of things.

Can you hear me, that when it rains and shines,
It's just a state of mind?
Can you hear me, can you hear me?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

This Is (Still) Sippican's Place

[Editor's Note: From 2007. Lots of bad things have happened since then. It's still Sippican's Place. Somewhat amazing, really.]
[Author's Note: Oh shut up and sand something]

It's hard to be Floyd.

I'm Internet Floyd.

It's hard to explain a Floyd to a non-Floyd. A non-Floyd thinks you're certifiable if you explain there is no vacation, no Sunday, no insurance subsidized by others, no corporate umbrella to shield you from liability. You're at the mercy of events so far beyond your control that they might as well be lightning bolts. You could be made penniless overnight by the stroke of a pen in a legislature or a smoldering cigarette butt. It's not generally a situation where you might fail; you wake up every morning and you've already failed --it's the default setting-- and you work all day with your mind and your back and your hands and your prayers to get back to zero so you can go to sleep again.

Why would you be a Floyd, you ask?

So you can hang a sign out front that says: This is Floyd's Place. It's really no more complicated than that.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Inches We Need Are All Around Us

When an old Italian man wearing capri pants tells you to do something, you do it.

There's an endless loop of Vince Lombardi playing in my head when I work. Try it; it gets results:

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Mi Dispiace

I do believe I defamed Country Music in my Bass Lessons blogpost a coupla days ago.

After further reflection, I realized that I was too harsh and dismissive. The genre produced Doctor Hook and the Medicine Show, after all.

It always helps to have two escaped Bigfoots in your band. If the audience gets rowdy, you're unlikely to lose another eye in the fracas.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Put On The Costume

If you're familiar with opera, Vesti la Giubba from Pagliacci might seem kind of trite. Even if you know little or care nothing for opera, you might recognize it. Seinfeld and Mel Blanc have a long reach.

To be trite is death in modern pop culture. If you're wearing last week's clothes or referring to a passe celebritard's sack of a hotel room to your hipster friends, you can become as hip as a thirty-five-year-old at a house party very quickly. Trite kills.

But many things become trite for a reason. The lingua franca doesn't often become franca willy-nilly. It usually strikes a profound chord that almost anyone can hear. Vesti la giubba is like that. Trite. Profound. The image of the heartbroken clown, putting on a happy face because the show -- and he -- must go on, is almost universal at this point. The tear in the corner of the eye might be a tattoo on a gang member's face now instead of greasepaint. That's universality.

Vesti la Giubba
To act! While out of my mind,
I no longer know what I say,
or what I do!
And yet it's necessary... make an effort!
Bah! Are you not a man?
You are Pagliaccio!

Put on your costume,
powder your face.
The people pay to be here, and they want to laugh.
And if Harlequin shall steal your Columbine,
laugh, Pagliaccio, so the crowd will cheer!
Turn your distress and tears into jest,
your pain and sobbing into a funny face - Ah!

Laugh, Pagliaccio,
at your broken love!
Laugh at the grief that poisons your heart!

Let's be trite and make it into a contest. The Intertunnel is the graveyard where lists and contests among non-contestants go to die. Who sings what everyone refers to as: Pagliacci the best?

The go-to guy for non-opera types is Pavarotti. Guy can sing, but his is nothing special:

The topic and the performer at the right period on their career must mesh. Athletes don't often give their home address as a nursing home or a nursery, either. You need to be mature enough to know which package to lift, but still have the back to do it. Little-known Canadian Jon Vickers does a better job here:

Fargin' Caruso is hard to beat:

They fixed the music up, but you're basically listening to Enrico yell over a phone, and you can still make out the power in the performance. He's from Naples, so yelling and stabbing people comes naturally, anyway.

Giuseppe Di Stefano might have been really sad about a lot of things, including having Maria Callas screeching in his ear so often, including after he went home for a while. His instrument isn't all that earthshaking. He plays it, though.

If you ask me, Di Stefano puts them all in the shade. But I always say that. I'm either being trite, or correct. Or both.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Rocco Bongoletti and the Humperdincks

Just kidding. That's the Spiral Starecase. Hey, don't blame me. I can spell, they can't.

It's finally warm and sunny here, first time all year. I was just about to give up and put out the markers for the snowplow driver to navigate the driveway, but maybe we'll have at least a three day summer this year. Just not three days in a row.

Summer always calls for listening to guys in tuxedos declaiming their love for girls in hot pants, while driving Chevies with the top down, filtered through the ether and transmogrified by the AM radio in the dash with the tiny speaker. But on the internet, you can watch the bass player do his steps while he plays. Not steps, exactly; more like a handicapped ramp shimmy. Sublime!

Happy Summer!, for tomorrow it's probably Merry Christmas! again.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Bass Lessons

[Editor's Note: Written in December of 2008 and never used. Not sure why]
Author's Note: Don't ask me; I just write the stuff. There is no editor]

I (used to) play the electric bass. It's not a bass guitar, although everyone calls it that. There actually is an instrument called a "bass guitar." It has six strings and is tuned lower than a regular guitar, but it's not a bass. A bass is that doghouse with the four strings. The electric kind hangs on your neck and gives you a bad back (left side), deafness, and a couple hundred bucks a night for as many nights as you'll show up, because every other person in the world is an unemployed guitar player. Own a bass and you'll always work.

That's what my brother told me all those years ago. He actually knows how to play the thing properly. Everything I learned about it he taught me in one afternoon in his freezing cold, decidedly downscale apartment in Providence RI. I never had to learn anything other than what he taught me that day, and I've forgot half of that, and I could still work every night if I wanted to. I don't. No one owns one, shows up, and plays bass -- instead of monkeying around like the guitar player they wish they were on the wrong part of the neck.

But you need bass lessons, and I'm busy and don't know how to play, and my brother's busy and in lives in LA, so we're stuck with YouTube. I'll teach you everything you need to know right now.

You have to play the blues first. It's easy. Just shut the hell up and never venture past the fifth fret. There are only three chords, and if you play with John Lee Hooker he's not even interested in all three of those. Muddy Waters will show you how:

That's the first song I played for money three days after my lesson. I stunk, but everybody else did too, and they practiced so they had no excuse. The audience was drunk, what difference would it make?

You can actually practice, and you can hang all sorts of musical drapes on that framework. Like Miles Davis' friend Paul Chambers:

But you're a hack whitebread dude. You gotta eat too. Duck Dunn will show you the way to play in barbands where the all the fights are merry and the dancing is violent:

Nuffin' to it. But what if you want to play pop music? Well, it's really just tuba parts from the music hall. Macca gets it.

He sings OK, too. Remember, no matter how bad you sing, make sure there's a microphone in front of you or you'll make less money than the other guys. Even Ringo figured that out eventually.

But you need rock music, too. The thudding kind, not the Beatles kind. You only need to learn one song --any song-- by any one of a dozen bands with guys that go to Chest Hair Club for Men. Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Lynyrd Skynyrd; makes no nevermind. This is as good as any:

If you want to play like a real bass player, you'll have to devote your life to figuring out what the hell got into James Jamerson to make him play like that on all those Motown records. Good luck. How Einstein came up with the special theory of relativity is an easier poser.

Got all that? Me neither. I used to try to play like 10 percent of that and had to sing over it, too. The seizures are getting better, now.

Reggae bass playing is easy. Just play like James Jamerson, only backwards.

But you've got to learn one lesson, and learn it fast: Girls don't want any of that. They want to dance, and they don't want it too sophisticated. This was the National Anthem of girls in a tube top right up to the present day: Easy, too. The song, I mean:

See, even Helen Reddy will have an extra sloe gin fizz and get jiggy when that's going on.

There you have it. You're qualified to make a crummy living from 8 PM to 3 AM three nights a week and two weddings a month. Hope your girlfriend has a comfortable couch.

What's that? Country music? Which country? Our country? Don't bother. There's only two notes, and neither is all that compelling.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

I (Still Don't) Want To Go To Las Vegas

[From 2007]

No, I really don't. This person does. There isn't room in the whole town for both of us. Besides, I'm self-employed, and that's all the gambling any soul could ever need.

I offer this as a window into my soul; no offense, but this is exactly how I picture every commenter and author on every page on the Internet until they prove otherwise.

I don't know what they pay policemen. It ain't enough.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Wet Paint

As reader and commenter Ruth Anne pointed out, we have indeed remodeled Sippican Cottage. The blog, not the actual house. That's getting pretty shabby. Cobbler's children and whatnot.

New masthead. New font. New, wider screen. Same old doggerel and maunderings.

We've tarted up our Borderline Sociopathic Blog for Boys, too. Lest we become stick-in-the-muds. Like sharks, we all must swim ever forward or die. The whole Intertunnel is our chum. Check it out when the boss ain't looking. We will accept either praise or approbation. We're open minded like that.

The Borderline Sociopathic Blog for Boys.

10 Things You Should Be Able To Do If You're a Handy Homeowner (But Still Can't)

[Editor's Note: First offered in 2007. Well, at least the masthead is new]
[Author's Note: I've read 653 additional lists of this kind since. You guys really need to go outside more. There is no editor]
I'm not sure I can take much more of this.

I'm enthusiastic about people becoming interested in what I've always been interested in: making things with your hands. It's not the people hungry for knowledge I'm disappointed with; it's the people who are telling you what it means to be "handy."

Part of this appeal is that people that work in the mines of intellect long for the touch of a lump of real handwork coal from time to time. In a world where division of labor has become so incrementally small that many never see any one thing through from start to completion, the appeal of making a thing out of raw materials as a balm for the soul is growing. But man, the people peddling this stuff have no idea what they're talking about.

Remember Norm and Bob? They once stood on a scaffolding hanging off a decrepit Second Empire dump in the city of my birth and banged on the thing until it was livable. Fantastic. Norm is still banging away, but only at furniture, and still worth looking at. But his old, original haunt has degenerated into advice on how to interview consultants you can hire to hire designers to assist you in finding feng shui necromancers who will aid you in finding a personal shopper to help you pick out fourteen gold faucets for the powder room off your conservatory turret. Jaysus, make something, will you?

Our internet friend the Instapundit champions this cause, and good on him for it. But he linked yesterday to Popular Mechanics' advice on how to "be handy," [Editor's Note: Amusingly, the link is dead now but it goes to a list of 10 other identical lists] and I didn't know whether to laugh, or cry, or what. It reminded me of so many customers I'd seen in construction, desperately trying to convince their wives they were good with their hands, too, after their wives looked out the window at the addition being built on their house, and saw the sidewaller with his shirt off.

Popular Mechanics telling you you'll be "handy" if you change the handle on your shovel, or learn to solder a circuit board. Priceless.

By the way; the "shovel" pictured by PM would never be called that by anybody that wielded one. It's a pointed shovel, but everyone calls it a spade. A flat shovel is an entirely different animal. And if you worked for a living you'd buy another one because a new one is cheaper than a handle. The handy part is digging with it properly, and knowing how to sharpen the nose with a file, and what kind of linseed oil to put on it in the fall so it doesn't rust.

OK, enough carping. Here's what you need to be able to do to be handy.

Ten things you should be able to do if you're a handy homeowner

10. Crosscut and rip a board
Think of the board as Anne Boleyn. If you want another, skinnier wife, that's ripping. If you want the same wife, only shorter and suitable for replacement by Jane Seymour, that's crosscutting. They are two different things in cutting wood, and it used to make a great deal of difference which of them you were doing. Old fashioned dudes had one hand saw for each. You likely need to know how to rip on a table saw, and crosscut on a sliding miter saw. You also need to figure out how to make enough money to purchase those tools.
9. Order a piece of lumber at a real lumberyard
Note to my new handy friends: Home Depot is not a lumberyard. It is where you pick out window treatments if you don't mind a concrete floor. A lumberyard is that place where there's a mysterious chainlink yard behind a steel building with a grumpy man behind a counter in it that says: What do you want? and then stares at you. You need to know the species, grade, nominal and actual sizes, and shortcut nomenclature for raw wood components. Hint: a 2x4 isn't.
8.Paint a straight line
It's the most important skill any person can have in your home, and you stink at it. If you're using tape or any gadget, you're doing it wrong. You need a good brush, the proper paint pot, and a lot of rooms with bad lighting to try it enough times to get the knack of it. Also, the reason the painter has paint all over him is that he's worn the same clothes every day for fourteen years. He never gets paint on him, really. If you're making any kind of mess, you're doing it wrong. You can make a mess of the rolling later. Learn the "cutting in" first.
7.Wire a convenience outlet
Spare me the danger thing. You work with electrical outlets all day, every day. If you can't learn how to wire a 15 amp branch circuit to a box and install an outlet in it, I don't see what good it'll do you to learn to solder things that you've got no place to plug in. Learn how the electrons flow, handy dude or dudette.
6.Plant a shrub
I don't mean dig a hole with your... hee hee... "shovel," and water the rhody 'til it's dead. Watch a real landscaper prepare a hole for a shrub and plant something, and you'll know how to go outside and be handy. If you can do that, you can grow pretty much anything.
5.Hammer time
There's actual advice on nailing technique in that PM article. Trust me: Nobody nails nothing no more. At least not with a hammer. You break metal strapping off bundles with the claw end when you're not mashing things flat, but you need to know how to safely use a pneumatic nailer and compressor to nail things now. They're as cheap as dirt, and safer. I know people who have lost an eye hand-nailing spikes way back when. Hand nailing is fine. It just never comes up.
4.Fell a tree
It's hard to do safely, and unwise to try on anything you can't get your arms around easily, but you really should know how to cut a pie-shaped notch on the side where you want it to fall, and a slice slightly lower on the opposite side to get things moving. You need to know where to stand, which is generally: somewhere other than where you are. Chainsaws are a blast. They're safer than imported Chinese food, too, so never fear. I cut down a tree every Earth Day, to keep in practice.
3.Plumb a sink and toilet
If you don't know how to make the finless brown trout go away, you've got no business calling yourself handy. And if you can't make water come out of a sink to wash your hands after, just call the plumbers and go back to flower arranging or crossword puzzles or whatever.
2.Lay some ceramic tile
It's easy, really. It's as close to a truly permanent installation as anything you'll ever do in your house; which is why you'll always pick out the worst tile to install. At least you'll know you can replace it yourself. Rent a wet saw like a pro has. You can cadge backrubs from your significant others real easy off this one.
1.Build a piece of furniture
Look, a table is just four vertical poles, four little pieces of wood connecting them, and a cutting board on top. You need to make some sort of this thing. It will be hideous, misshapen, poorly proportioned, rickety, and you're bound to paint it a color you'll tire of in a year or stain it with the color and uniformity of the contents of a sick baby's diaper. So what?

What are you waiting for? If you ask nice, I'll send you a plan for a table if you need one. A handy man will answer any request, generally, unless you're foolish enough to refer to them as " a handyman." That's generally when you discover they're good in a fight, too.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Trajectory of Rock

A little video for your delectation, with enough subtext to gag an Aesop.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Hurdy Gurdy Man

Ah, the sixties. What was all that about? Let's demonstrate the gulf between action and repose, ideas and reality, wishing and doing, and vibe and substance.

IDEA! The Hurdy Gurdy Man sure is swell. He'll show up and bring us enlightenment. And more dope and chicks, I hope:

REALITY. Bagpipes are played in Purgatory. A Hurdy Gurdy plays on a loop while you eat brimstone and get red-hot tridents in the butt in the Big House:

Just say no, kids. And beware public access television. It's a portal to hell. I know, I've been on it.

There is something worse than hurdy gurdy music, Donovan Leitch, or bagpipes, of course. In Satan's private lair, where he consumes the souls of innocents, tortures state senators, and watches Oprah, he listens to Donovan playing Hurdy Gurdy music on the bagpipes, from the Famous Scottish Musicians double record set.

For all the real hard cases he's got on the rack, he flips disc two over and gives them Sheena Easton.

Friday, July 10, 2009

One Of These Things Is Not Like The Others

It's subtle, I know, but my readers are very sophisticated, so someone might spot it.

Did you notice it? Yes, that's right! The third guitarist is not wearing glasses!

She is, however, wearing a doorknob.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

One Of These Is A Parody

For inspiration, I suggest a prayer to the patron saint of quality footwear.

Who's the patron saint of quality footwear, you ask? Geez, do I have to do everything around here?

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

(Let's Listen To Some) Hydraulic License Rock (Again)

[Editor's note: First offered in 2006. For all you young kids out there: That's not George Lucas, Dumbledore, and Grandpa Simpson playing in a band together.]

[Author's Note: Never mind that; I'm still trying to get over the fact that someone is still playing a sizzle ride cymbal. And there is no editor.]

The quality of this YouTube DailyMotion feed is better than most. (It's not all that high quality, but everything is pulled off of YouTube after five minutes now.)The quality of the music is too:

That's Cream re-united and performing "White Room," probably their best known song. I've watched it many times. It occurs to me that it explains a lot about rock music.

Those are old men. Eric Clapton, playing the black stratocaster, has his hair mussed just so as a sop to youth, but they're old farts. Old farts playing rock music are lame. Cream is not. Here's why:

The term rock music has been twisted and stretched to cover just about any set of noises organized to sell discs. It's as if forty or fifty years ago a religion was founded, and you had to get the A and R rabbis at the record companies and radio stations to announce you were kosher, ie: rock and roll, to be consumed.

If there's anything lamer than old, bald men in spandex still yelping about the discontents of teenagers as if they were still in junior high, I haven't seen it. "Hope I die before I get old" only stirs the blood if the blood doesn't require Geritol. You're not allowed to pick that gauntlet back up and complain about your backache while doing so, too.

Performers used to acknowledge that their shelf life as young rebels "fighting the man" was short, and if they wanted to keep performing afer it expired, they'd have to become part of the nostalgia industry. Listening to Peter Frampton in 1976 is excusable. Listening to Peter Frampton to remind you of 1976 is excusable. Listening to Peter Frampton as anything else is kinda silly.

Cream is a part of a tradition of adult music. they listened to music from America's black musical tradition, where it is was plenty acceptable to be an adult, and consider adult themes. When they were young, they were striving to be old. Now they are old, and need not strive.

I watched them, and knew that I had seen their like before; but not where you'd think. They were operating their machinery, and I had seen men operate familiar machinery before. I've known many men, skilled in the rough arts: masonry and concrete finishing and excavation and demolition and blasting--men past their physical prime, but still tough as nails, and wise; and able to leave any three youngsters in their dust.

They sit in the chair in the excavator, their knobby hands move the levers just so, and they move the bucket with the delicacy of the teaspoon. They wake up tired, and yet they never fade while working, because they husband their energies where the young and strong and dumb flail away and drop out.

They stand in the shade whenever possible, and rest when it is offered, but do not flag.

And they smile at one another at the end of the day's work, exactly the same smile exchanged at the end of this song; a knowing smile among those who have earned the respect of a fellow adult man.

And the young men watch them and learn.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

What Does It Matter What You Say About People?

A man you don't know is dead.

I know him. Too many dead people just now. Another friend called to tell me, just as he did a month ago for another. It didn't register until the receiver was replaced. I sat for a quiet moment after, and considered the scythe that takes the winter wheat; the summer; the very stubble in the field.

Fifty-four he was. That's it. Older than me, but not old, surely? His children are grown enough to be elsewhere. He raised them well enough for them to leave him. Now he's left them. The second sweetest woman in the world is his wife, and I cannot think of her just now. I don't have the gas in the tank to get to the end of that road.

I said I knew him. No man knows another, really. We worked together a bit. We did different things at the same time. A kind of respect, perhaps affection, appears in those situations, or doesn't; because the world is full of those that don't elicit it -- usually more than those that do -- or maybe it's you that comes up short. Once in a while you take a man's measure and submit to the same in turn and you're glad he's there instead of some millstone. He thinks the same of you. That is a man you can work with.

He was easy with a laugh but didn't constantly stop to jaw. When the world must be physically different at the end of the day, you learn to hate the man that won't stop talking, or start working -- one or the other or both. He kept going. But you can't keep going forever, can you?

A tradesman can't get rich but one way. He can work a lot. You can't work a lot if people don't like you and you don't know what you're doing. He made a comfortable life for his family and even managed a little leisure. I've stood in a decrepit building with him at two AM, both still trying to make the world different enough to get our shekels and get our leisure. His is taken from him, now forever; and mine never seemed to arrive.

They took all he had near the end there. Men who do not deign to fill out forms can find anything they want on a workingman's forms. There is no way to be correct; you can only not come into their line of sight. It's like a cat and a mouse. You know how it will play out but not exactly how it will be played. They ignored the men who worked just next to him that made no pretense of honesty, ever, because only an honest man has enough meat on his bones to attract their appetite. He tried; that was his mistake.

They stripped him bare and hounded him. They made him into an indentured servant. They told a man that had thirty years of two AM, two AM, over and over, that he had another life of two AMs to make up. To keep them in their ease.

He drank a bit. I might have too, and worse. He walked on feet with the toes gone one after another and tried to fill the hole without a bottom. Theirs,especially; and his. He had a big heart, but not big enough it seems.

I could shake a fist for him now, at some unseen Olympus we dare not tempt in life. There's no point. He was a man, flawed and funny and kind, and now a kind of contraction has happened to my planet. It is diminished. The electrons still flow through his wires, and the whole universe would travel through those anonymous conduits eventually, if you gave it enough time.

But there's never enough time. What does it matter what you say about people?

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Sales 101 (Now With Fresh Baby Goodness! Act Now! Operators Are Standing By! But Wait, There's More...)

[Editor's Note: First offered in 2007]
[Author's Note: Blogger is refusing to upload any pictures for me today, and I can't outlast it, I have to go make furniture now, so you get leftovers. New video...I mean advertisement though! And there is no editor.]

Advertising has got to shift.

If you wish to advertise now, you have only one mission. People have got to want to look at the advertisement itself. Nothing else answers. Super Bowl ads are fantastically expensive not because so many people tune in, but because it's common that many, if not most of the audience, is going to watch the commercials for the entertainment value that's in them.

I don't have an opinion one way or another about Evian water. I rarely drink water out of a bottle. When I do, only its temperature and the shape of the spout would matter. There is no important difference from one bottled water to the next unless it is carbonated. Even then it's pretty much all the same.

All that being said, I can't imagine that Evian is produced by soulless rapacious oligarchs after watching the following. Even if management had nothing to do with the production of the commercial, if they were heartless people they would have watched the video as a pitch from the ad company and said: That's sappy. Can't we have Chuck Norris or Britney Spears or something?

The most creative people in the world work in advertising. Always have. After all, Michelangelo Simoni Buonarroti's statue of Moses is just an advertisement for the dead Pope Julius, isn't it?

I imagine the reason why all the greatest visual work you're ever going to see is advertising of one sort or another is because a person that wants many others to like them or be interested in them hires the most talented persons in the visual and audio arts to make sure it happens. And artists go there to yoke their horses to a cart that's going somewhere, and has hay for the horse, too. All the frauds are in the art gallery.

I'm pretty sure it happens about the opposite of the common image of advertising for the most part. It's not the callow businessman ordering the nice artist to fool the public with a hardcore pitch. Really callow businessmen always make their own ads, and appear in them, too, and bark at you to come on down. No, I imagine that the immensely talented artist that wishes he was doing something else sorta edgy brings the businessman his idea for the campaign: "How about a dystopian future, where global warming has desertified the planet and a few tribes of Neo-cavemen battle it out with cudgels in a bone-strewn desert trying to kill one another for the last bottle of Evian?"

There is a short silence and some polite eye-rolling.

"I don't know..." says the executive. "How about some nice babies?"

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Happy Independence Day, You Bunch Of Bumpkins

[Click to embiggen the picture; it's huge]
July Fourth, 1915, Nome Alaska.

Alaska wasn't a state in 1915. Alaska wasn't even a state when I was born, and I'm not all that old. Alaska's new. But they felt civic-minded enough about being a territory of the US to have a Fourth of July parade.

Of course, everything was new when the picture was taken, too. Want to see a picture of Nome in 1900? of course you do.

[Click to embiggenate]
Fifteen years difference. They were looking for gold. The Alaska Gold Rush was really more of a Canadian Gold Rush, but a few doughty Swedish fellows stumbled upon a vein of gold out in the wilderness that is now Nome and made their claims. That was 1898. Two years later, as you see in the picture, they had plenty of company.

Living in a tent in Nome Alaska. Who would do that? Wyatt Earp would.

I guess Idaho wasn't desolate enough to suit him. Nome was a rough and tumble place, as you can see, but he was no stranger to rough and tumble places, was he? He opened a saloon, made some money, and eventually sailed south to retire, and finally died in Los Angeles in 1929, after teaching John Wayne how to act like a cowboy.

But that jumble of tents couldn't possibly disgorge anyone else famous, could it? Well, Jack London was said to be friends with Earp, but people tend to exaggerate such connections for the frisson of having celebrated people for acquaintances. But it's possible.

Jack London is the third greatest American writer, after Twain and Hemingway. It's telling that all three of those men wouldn't be out of place in those pictures. It's a wan bunch scribbling away in the newspapers now.

But drifting through a place isn't the same as the place producing notable people, is it? Well, Jimmy Doolittle is likely in one of those tents. His father came up to Nome to prospect and little Jimmy lived there until 1908, when his mother thought it would be better if her children were educated in Los Angeles. Jimmy Doolittle never stood taller than 5'4", but after learning to brawl in Nome, he was qualified to kick everyone's ass in California. After making some dough as a professional boxer, and going to college to study mining, he joined the military. He eventually became an aviation pioneer, and was the first person ever to take off, fly and land a plane entirely by using instruments.

There has never been a man with a less apt name that Jimmy Doolittle. His raid on Japan in 1942 was the most audacious military action by an American since Washington went over the Delaware to kick some shivering Hessian ass.

The one signal characteristic of the modern intellectual, after ingratitude, is back-seat-driving 20/20 hindsight. The little intellectual community college hothouse flowers seem to have an opinion on everything that's ever happened, and that's not how they would have done it, I'm telling you -- in the comments section of a third-rate blog at two AM. And it's considered very trenchant just now to jape at anyone from Alaska, as we all know they're all bumpkins up there.

They're right, of course; it isn't how they would have done it. None of it. They would have lain down on the ground, whimpered, and died before lifting a finger to help themselves, never mind helping anybody else. And I have grave doubts the pharmacy, just visible in the 1900 picture, has any Prozac; and although every manjack in town would have been prescribed Ritalin in kindergarten today, they wouldn't have taken it. They would have moved to Nome instead.

Happy Independence Day, you bunch of bumpkins. No caveats. It's all been as magnificent as human beings and nature would allow.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

I Nearly Died From Hospitality

The Climax Blues Band. 1976. You know, that still strikes me as a hep, peppy little tune.

It's conspicuous for its lonesomeness. I recall 1976 as a vast, desolate wasteland. Every aspect of life, too, not just the dratted radio. But the radio was especially bad. You can easily cobble together really good entertainment for yourself now, but back then you had to take what came out of the transistors or tubes, good and hard, and like it. LPs were expensive and you couldn't transfer them to anything you could carry around much yet.

Think I'm exaggerating about music in 1976? Here's a list of all the Number One hits of the year, from Billboard:
  • Afternoon Delight - Starland Vocal Band
  • Blinded by the Light - Manfred Mann's Earth Band
  • Boogie Fever - The Sylvers
  • Car Wash - Rose Royce
  • December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night) - The 4 Seasons
  • Disco Duck (Part 1) - Rick Dees & His Cast of Idiots
  • Disco Lady - Johnnie Taylor
  • Don't Go Breaking My Heart - Elton John & Kiki Dee
  • A Fifth of Beethoven - Walter Murphy & The Big Apple Band
  • Heaven Must Be Missing an Angel (Part 1) - Tavares
  • Hurricane (Part 1) - Bob Dylan
  • I Wish - Stevie Wonder
  • I Write the Songs - Barry Manilow
  • If You Leave Me Now - Chicago
  • Kiss and Say Goodbye - The Manhattans
  • Let Your Love Flow - Bellamy Brothers
  • Love Hangover - Diana Ross
  • Play That Funky Music - Wild Cherry
  • Rock'n Me - Steve Miller Band
  • Saturday Night - Bay City Rollers
  • (Shake, Shake, Shake) Shake Your Booty - KC & The Sunshine Band
  • Silly Love Songs - Paul McCartney & Wings
  • Tonight's the Night (Gonna Be Alright) - Rod Stewart
  • Torn Between Two Lovers - Mary MacGregor
  • Welcome Back - John Sebastian
  • You Don't Have To Be A Star (To Be In My Show) - Marilyn McCoo & Billy Davis Jr.
  • You Make Me Feel Like Dancing - Leo Sayer
  • You Should Be Dancing - Bee Gees
Yeesh. Loading those songs in that order into your iPod is more likely to end all life on Earth than turning on that supercollider they built in France. At the very least, the listener will end their own life. DIY mercy killing, if you ask me. The Stevie Wonder record -- Songs In The Key Of Life -- was pretty good. The Wild Cherry song was a kind of dumb fun. You can go to any wedding and you'll hear it, if you get a hankerin' for it. The rest was ...

Sorry, had to run to the bathroom. I was going to go through the list one by one and append mordant remarks about each one of these turds in turn, but that would be dull. For me, I mean. Let's make it a puzzle! Match up the following trenchant observations with the appropriate songs and win a prize!
  • Execrable
  • Me? You make me feel like Manson, you execrable midget
  • Execrable
  • Don't go killing my dog with that execrable song
  • Execrable
  • Yes, you write the execrable songs, you bastard, one after another
  • Not all that bad. Not all that good, either
  • Execrable
  • Heaven must be missing a mongrel, more likely. An execrable mongrel
  • Execrable
  • Tonite I'm going to rock you tonite. Execrably
  • Execrable
  • Like the other execrable Wings songs were serious.
  • Torn between two horses, sounds more like. Two execrable horses
  • Execrable
  • If you leave me now? I smashed the radio. Now you want me to leave, too? Execrable.
  • Execrable
  • Stop singing like that. It's execrable
  • Execrable
  • Stop singing like that. It's execrable
  • Execrable
  • You should be horsewhipped until you sing in a normal, less execrable register
  • That execrable guy was manifestly guilty
  • Execrable
  • I wish I was deafened by the execrable light.
  • Execrable
  • Execrable
  • Where does this execrable singer live? I want to know. No reason

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Ginger Or Mary Ann?

My Intertunnel friend Gagdad Bob over at One Cosmos has opened up a can of worms. He's pointed out there was more than one M. Jackson, now dead and gone, that was a talented singer and electrifying performer; and it's a shame that the washed-up weirdo Jackson with the chimp and the glove and the tupperware nose gets all the pub, instead of the sublime Mahalia.

So far, so good. But there are great Manichaean questions presented to every red-blooded American every day -- Ginger or Mary Ann; Disney or Warner Brothers; Coke or Pepsi; Red Sox or Yankees; Moe or Curly; Ford or Chevy; Bailey Quarters or Jennifer Marlowe; Apple or PC; Samantha or Jeannie, Jefferson or Hamilton... well, will you listen to me ramble. You guys know the big questions. But the king... er...queen of all these conundrums is: Mahalia Jackson or Sister Rosetta Tharpe?

Well, of course it was over even before Sister Rosetta started blazing away on the Gibson SG, which was kinda like spiking the football in the end zone after a really easy score. This immediately becomes one of life's great mysteries, however, as we all know that Fender Strats beat Gibson anythings.

If you're one of the benighted people that answer Ginger, Disney, Pepsi, Yankees, Moe, Chevy, Jennifer, Apple, Jeannie, Jefferson, and Mahalia, I'm not sure I can be seen with you, but I promise I will pray for your corroded soul.

If you answered Mrs. Howell, Hanna-Barbera, RC Cola, the Pittsburgh Pirates, Larry Fine, Dodge, Ubuntu, The Flying Nun, and Aaron Burr, I feel only pity; there is no need to actively oppose you.

If you mention Shemp or Bachman-Turner Overdrive anywhere in there, I'm going to come looking for you, and not with opera glasses.

Oh -- Ginger or Mary-Ann? Trick question. We all know it's Elly Mae Clampett.