Monday, August 31, 2009

This Old Cave - Fix Back Porch Again

Back porch on cave broke. Again. Caveman broke again, too. But must fix. Cavewoman tired of ants massaging bottom of feets. Caveman fix once and for all.

Caveman fixed porch two years ago. Not caveman's fault porch not last. Porch made from leftover framing lumber scraps from house because caveman never have budget. Caveman not know what budget is. Some kind of bird, I think. Lasted fifteen years anyway.

Must make mark in life. My mark is upside down, like everything else in Caveman's life. Caveman is mystified by runes on unholy measuring tape. Only use if necessary.

Caveman have cave tan. Caveman asks reader to note that leg is moving too fast to be seen clearly. Caveman only has two afternoons and a few hundred bucks to finish. Make holes! Caveman qualified for that.

Caveman digs hole 30" deep, where frost not go. Caveman tamps. Caveman either bending down or lost lower right leg in horrible tamping accident. (Caveman checks) Leg OK. No worry.

Gravel, precast concrete mushroom footing, 4 x 4 Pressure treated post. No one tell friend Gerard 4 x 4 is only 3-1/2 by 3-1/2. Upsets him.

No measure if caveman can help it! Use stick for straightedge and plumb with level. When level is plumb, post is plumb level. Caveman know what desk jockey thinking. What with Caveman wearing gloves? Caveman is caveman, not barbarian.

Make mark, use lumber for straightedge now. Like Caveking coronation, make sure crown of lumber faces up. Caveman is swaybacked, caveporch is not. Caveporch will be two times bigger now. Cavelady will forgive everything now. Cavecubs will have place to expose themselves to sun god now, but not in the mud for a change.

Caveman use something called newmatic or some other sorcery to pound nails. Must hurry. Have tables to make after dark.

Caveman has all the barbarian tools. Sawzall great for de-boning large prey and tax assessors. Caveman just kidding. Tool is too dirty to use on large prey.

Pressure treated wood used to scare non-cavemoms with scary arsenate word. Laws passed. Lumber now treated with other harmless stuff. Of course new stuff rots nails. Caveman shrug and back up everything with galvanized plates and hangers and double hot-dipped galvy nails. Big Cavecub bang many nails in hangers. Little Cavecub only one who understands runes on tape, so he measure:

Only measure first and last decking board! Waste of time to measure and cut all one by one. Install all crooked anyway. I show you what to do. You think caveman smart, but caveman just lazy and in a hurry.

Cut first and last with circular saw older than caveman. I changed the blade when Reagan was President, so saw is ready for additional decades. Use Speedsquare as fence for straight cuts.

Caveman told you: do not measure with runetape. Use prop and line things up. No understand measure twice cut once. No measure at all, be drinking mead and eating roasted grill flesh while Norm is still trying to finish in dark while mosquitoes feast on his flesh.

I tell you one last time: No measure. Nail first board, last board. Flop other 2 x 6 PT boards down. Shove 3-1/2 inch dipped galvy ring-shank nails between boards for spacers. Pound rest of nasty nails into boards at joists. Use big nasty framing hammer or you have no shot, because wood is like wet iron. Caveman not use newmatic gun because nails would rot, and newmatic would set nail in, making many thousands of little holes filled with water. Pressure treat cheap and no rot, but water in holes freezes and pulls boards to pieces.

Caveman turning into harpy: Do not measure. First and last board right length. Stretch chalkline string between them, snap it and cut on the line. Caveman use hot pink chalk because caveman is in touch with his feminine side.

Caveman lay bricks left over from demolition of gas station ten years ago in running bond pattern in sand from little cavecub's old sandbox. Even caveman knows step should be very deep and wide outside, and land on transition to grass, not grass. Rake out soil, throw down seed and go make a table.

Caveman will paint entire thing when it dries out. Cavelady likes bigger porch. Maybe show Caveman her feminine side too.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Cure For Everything

Ancient Airs and Dances by Ottorino Respighi is the cure for everything. If you have any infirmities, deficiencies, maladies, or deformities, apply a poultice of this indiscreetly to the ear at discrete intervals.

It will make you taller. It will make you darker. It will make you handsomer. It will call you a hansom cab. It will whisper to you like a lover. It will pay your lawyer. It will put toilet paper in the shrubs of your enemies. It is a bank error in your favor.

It will make four hours at the lathe with a bad foot a trip to the confectioner's.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Things That Keep Me Up At Night

Why is Eric Clapton playing a Percy Mayfield song with a wedding band? Also, why is it that when you dial a wrong number, you never get a busy signal? And why is it if you tell people that the sun is a fiery furnace of hydrogen, constantly exploding in a fury of fusion energy, they just shrug and believe you; but if you tell them you just painted a doorframe, they touch it to see if it's sticky?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Mallet Rings ( Or Doesn't; From 2007)

This is Provincetown, Massachusetts again. 1940 this time.

That's a working boat. By "working," I'm referring to the fact that it's used to catch critters in the ocean or haul stuff around. A working boat is not a pleasure boat. There used to be many more working boats than pleasure boats.

I love this picture. You can still go places and find people caulking the seams of a wooden boat like this, but it's getting pretty rare. Most boats are made of fiberglass now, and are one big lump built on a plug and them popped off like a muffin from a tin, only you keep the tin and throw away the muffin. If boats are made from wood now, they are generally "cold molded;" that is, they are laid up from epoxied layers of marine plywood.

This boat is carvel planked. That means that the planks butt up to one another, and display a smooth hull when they are complete. Other wooden boats are made lapstrake, which means each successive plank overlaps the one placed just before it, which renders the zigzag profile you are familiar with from clapboard siding on a house. Most old salts call that method "clinker," not "lapstrake." You should hear what they call you after you leave their shed.

The hull of this boat is probably made from oak frames with cedar planking, but there are lots of species of wood that work as well for either item. Each plank on a carvel planked boat has to be fitted to the curve of the boat, usually a multiple curve with a twist thrown in. And the inside must be "backed out" to match the curve of the perpendicular frames, and the outside must be made "fair," or shaped to remove all trace of the faceting that a series of flat planks presents. If you saw the pieces laid flat you'd think their crazy shapes could never fit together to make much of anything. The curves of a boat hull, gentle and sharp alike, are exceedingly beautiful.

The planking is fitted in a very unforgiving way. The frames are like a skeleton inside. They are usually steam bent to get them to the curved shape you need. In WW II, Liberty boats tried to improve on solid wood steam bent frames, and made massive built-up frames using the then currently newfangled epoxy to hold it all together. They were immensely strong, and they all broke. The sea requires a certain flexibility.

As I was saying, the planks must fit together very tightly on the inside edge, but be open a bit on their outboard edge, to allow the planks to be caulked to seal them from leaks properly. The boat in the picture is being refurbished, not constructed, so you can see traces of the paint that has been scraped off on the planks. The planks were usually screwed to the frames, with each screw head painstakingly countersunk and plugged with a wooden plug. The old salt would call the plugs "bungs," and would make sure the grain in the bungs ran the same direction as the plank, even though that was unlikely to make a difference. If you asked him about the bungholes while referring to them as plugholes he'd probably tell you to shut your cakehole, after your check cleared, anyway.

You can see the skein of unspun cotton in the picture as the man works it into the seam with a "crease iron" and mallet. He has all sorts of irons for all the various places on the hull, but the crease iron is for long straight runs. He works the cotton into the seam by rocking the iron, which looks like a wide chisel, back and forth, and hits it at the opportune time to set the cotton in the seams.

There was an expression then. "His mallet rings." It was a sign of respect for a man whose easy familiarity with his task and his tools manifested itself with an audible clue. The sonorous, metronomic ringing of the wooden mallet, wielded expertly on the rocking iron, marked you as a man who knew his business.

My mallet doesn't ring. I have spent my life trying to manufacture with my effort and my mind what my hands do not give me naturally. In a way, it is like manners. If you don't have them, you can pretend that you do; it is essentially the same thing in practice.

But I know it, just the same; and in a quiet moment it rankles.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Writer

Why would I tell you how I do it?

They ask. I'm never more creative than when they ask. They dutifully write it down with their tongue in the corner of their mouth. They're not bright enough to look up into my face, once, to see the twinkle in my eye. The jo-school drudges will read it and take it as gospel and preach it, brother, oh brother. Can't do any of them any harm, as nothing can do them any good.

I'd tell them the truth, I really would, if they'd have it. But it's all Kabuki. Anything that smacked of coloring outside the lines would send them reeling. Animals lash out in all directions when they're spooked. Can't risk it.

They talk to me in hushed tones about the tomes, but it's not that. They want the money. They want women at a cocktail party to stand in line behind a movie star to talk to them. They want the trappings. They don't care a fart for the logos. They should get a job.

They'll coast pretty fair for a while. They'll fuss over the stuff born into their life's haversack, writing and rewriting dad was mean and mom ran off with the plumber. They'll grow dissipated and wait for more to come. Maybe they can write about waiting for a little while.

Writer's block. Hilarious. It's work. You sit down and you put the words on the paper. Or you don't. That's it. You never had an instinct for anything that didn't step right on your toe and announce itself. I'll not waste my time tracing the shapes in your palm.

You all drink to try to make yourself interesting. I drink to try to make you all interesting. There's the rub.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Not The Other, Other Thing. The Other, Other, Other Thing

Dave Barry reads our other, other, other thing: The Borderline Sociopathic Blog For Boys. Mebbe you should too.

The Great McGonigle (From 2006)

When I was young, there was a coterie of entertainers, some still alive, many recently dead, that seemed a bit mildewed and square, but had a certain something that kept them from disappearing from view altogether. They'd have little renaissances, either as shadows of themselves, still performing, or as icons; then they'd slip below the entertainment horizon again.

All the three main Marx brothers had a run. Henny Youngman. Rodney Dangerfield. Charlie Chaplin ebbed and flowed. Harold Lloyd. Even Mae West caught a flurry of interest in the seventies. George Burns clawed his way out of the crypt every once in a while for forty years or so, dragging his friends Jack Benny and Milton Berle along. Jackie Gleason got his homage regularly. Come and go.

But man, I never got tired of William Claude Dukenfield, the genteel bum:

There were a couple of juggling videos making the rounds of the internet recently, and they struck me as mildly entertaining. They immediately reminded me, though, of the most entertaining juggler that ever lived: W.C. Fields. Someone finally took pity on me and posted that video on YouTube, so I could prove it to you. And he's barely trying in that one.

Remember when celebrities could do things, and entertain people?

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Things That Make You Go Hmmm...

Sophia Loren was discovered by Carlo Ponti when she entered a beauty contest that...


***gasp for breath***

***choke, swallow uncomfortably***

***take a sip of water***

...that she did not win. This means there was a hotter woman walking the earth than Sophia Loren. Is this even possible? Do the laws of thermodynamics and underwire brassiere reinforcement even allow for this? Did they immediately shut the winner away in a convent because you'd turn to a pillar of garlic salt if you looked at her or something?

Sofia Villani Scicolone dances with Archie Leach while Samuel Cook sings in Houseboat.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Dolce Far Niente (2005)

We had quite a weather evening last night. It's been warm and dry for, well, since I wrote complaining that it was cold and wet, which is a long time ago. I blame myself.

The lawn crunches underfoot like shredded wheat. The flowers bloom profusely, as long as you water them daily, but woe be to you who forget for a day. If you are a member of the local constabulary: why no, that last sentence is fiction; we only water for an hour in the morning on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays -- being on the "odd" side of the street -- and never on Sunday.

Anyway, nature always solves everything, one way or the other. And last night, she "brought it," as they say in baseball. Rolling peals of thunder announced the change in the weather, accompanied by almost continuous flashes of lightning for hours. The power winked out around eleven, and so we returned to the America of our farmer forebears, and retired because it was dark.

A delightful puff of air came in the window, cool and ionized, and then the rain came, hissing and popping on the sill. You could almost hear the earth outside sigh, and drink, and smack its lips.

The children sleep right through it, every time, and you wonder when the last time you slept like that was. Twenty years ago? They don't owe anybody any money, so they sleep. On top of any cares they might have, unlike their parents, they're not worried that their children might be woken by the thunder and be frightened. And so the thing that doesn't affect them affects their parents because it might affect them.

So you are awake when you'd rather not be, you are slightly on edge from the booms, but the rain patters on the shingles, the paradiddles and flamadiddles begin to lull, the gentle sigh of your mate gulls you, you drowse and dream, and start a little when the lightning strikes a little closer, then return to your reverie when it passes for a time, and are content to be alive.

Content to be alive sounds almost mystical, and I'm sorry for that, but I don't know how else so say it. Peace of mind? I'm not selling insurance, that's furniture one page over. Happiness? Happiness is a memory only. You never know happiness while it's going on, you only recognize it in hindsight. You mistake thrills for happiness, until the tilt-a-whirl makes you see your lunch a second time and you realize your error.

That little sigh of the mother of your children, still nervous when it thunders -- some dim childish thought she carries forever -- as she drifts off to sleep because you are with her; the whisper of your two sons snuffling and snoring down the hall, dreaming dreams of childish intensity and amusement; the languid patter of the warm summer rain on the roof that shelters you all; and the puff of cool air through the window. The house, like all real houses, ticks and creaks and hums and pops ever so slightly, as the unfamiliar moisture permeates its very bones. But the sounds are all faint and familiar, like a wordless lullaby.

You never remember falling asleep. It steals up on you, when you're finally content to be alive.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Intertunnel Is A Useful Thing. Now And Then

When I was a little boy my older brother used to painstakingly learn Beatles and Stones songs by dutifully dropping the needle on the lp records over and over and figuring out what was being played as best he could. For the really difficult passages he'd play the record on the wrong speed and transpose the underwater sounding notes after he figured them out. I did the same sort of thing myself later, frantically writing lyrics I needed to sing on Friday straight out of a cassette player on Thursday.

There was always sheet music around the house when I was young. You'd still go to the music store and purchase real sheet music back then. Useless for rock music. You could get Camelot, or Burt Bacharach, or Lulu music or something, but sheet music for guitar bands was always transposed for playing on a piano, and was never in the right key. The piano has never heard of the key of E.

My son is learning to play the guitar, and he just goes on the wondrous and awful Intertunnel and finds whatever he needs laying around. We found this one fellow, My TwangyGuitar, who's a kind of wonder for his simplicity. He plays superclean, and has the good sense to just point a hi-def camera at his strings and play the songs properly. The usual guitar lesson on the Intertunnel consists of a guy who half learned to play using the execrable tablature method --that was once reserved for diagramming chord shapes, but is now used in lieu of learning anything about reading music or understanding what you're playing -- and yammering endlessly into a camera that captures fourteen pixels and has some ear wax stuck in the onboard microphone:

Now put your 3rd finger on the 14th fret and your pinky on the E string... no the skinny one... SOMEONE GET THE PHONE... and then you kind of like wiggle that one...

You have to know a little something about what you're doing to get the benefit out of a video instruction like My TwangyGuitar offers. It just saves you a lot of time searching for things. Or you have to know nothing at all to enjoy it:

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Ten Most Effective Uses of Music In A Movie

Right up front: No musicals. I always hated them when I was a kid. What were people doing breaking out in song in the middle of a conversation?

And we'll leave out orchestral music composed as a soundtrack. We're talking about inserting regular music into a movie and have it work. It can be performed as part of the plot, or layed in there as a kind of wallpaper. Putting it in the plot is harder than it sounds. See: The Busboys in 48 Hours. On second thought, don't.

It's become common to cram all sorts of pop songs onto soundtracks, milk the cultural value they already hold, then drizzle it over second-rate entertainment vehicles to push them over the finish line. See: Tarantino; Quentin. It's incongruous to hack off an ear while listening to Stealer's Wheel. Naked incongruity is just a fart in church; it's good for a chuckle, but it ain't art. So please; no Pulp Fiction or Reservoir Dogs entreaties in the comments. The soundtracks are swell. They have nothing much to do with the movies, which are turds. A common soundtrack malady.

No 10: American Graffiti
George Lucas is the king of the pop culture vampires, but we have to give him his due: This movie almost singlehandedly popularized using music to establish a period vibe. Awkward transitions are avoided by twisting a car radio knob or popping a coin in a jukebox. And they play it live in the gym to good effect.

No 9: Zorba The Greek
Have a little fun. Laff a little. Dance. Dolce far niente, as they say a little west of there. I almost left this movie off because of the insane murder of the widow in the middle of it. What the hell was that all about? Everybody, including Zorba and his boss, the woman's lover, just shrugs and goes back to being Cretan cretins. But if you've ever wondered where all that vaguely familiar music they play over the loudspeakers when your baseball team is behind by two runs, here it is.

No 8: The Deer Hunter
The fun of singing a bad song badly as a bonding ritual doesn't get much better than this. It gets much worse. See: Top Gun. Karaoke started like this, and got awful when people tried to sing well but entered the uncanny valley between farce and seriousness. See: American Idol

No 7:The Ladykillers
The fun but generally execrable Blues Brothers movies tried to mine the church for ore they couldn't produce themselves. Lame. The Ladykillers just went to church, and saved the middleman's vig. A terrific all-around soundtrack.

No 6: Life Is Beautiful
I could have shoved Amadeus in here if I was lazy. But the second best integration of an operatic performance into a movie is the Barcarolle by Offenbach from Tales of Hoffman.

No 5: Moonstruck

Listen up men children: This is how the wimmins picture a date. You have to establish a sliding scale to compare your efforts to shoe shopping, wine drinking, and a trip to the opera with a man in a monkey suit. NASCAR and Bud Ice is about a 0.5 on a scale of ten, for instance.

No 4: Animal House
Hard to exaggerate the effect this had on keggers in the seventies and eighties. I weep for college kids now, with nothing but Vagina Monologues performances for entertainment and a 21-year-old drinking age hobble. Do the worm!

No 3: Goodfellas
We have to give Scorcese some sort of credit here. He has a deft touch when using pop music for audio wallpaper. And his depictions of gangsters as interesting to look at but ultimately just scary losers is the way to go in the genre.

No 2: The Bridge On The River Kwai

One of those things that becomes a cultural icon, not a trivia question. The Colonel Bogey March injected into this movie summed up the ebbing British Empire's weird blend of borderline masochistic stoicism and manic frivolity. If you're old and from the East Coast you remember the Getty Oil gas station army walking over a bridge whistling this in a TV commercial.

No 1: Being There

Forget the tedious 2001: A Space Odyssey, Being There is the place to go for the melding of Richard Strauss' Also Sprach Zarathustra ( Funkified here by Eumir Deodato) with a compelling visual sequence. The movie is filled with really good and interesting music. The studio botched the last couple minutes of the movie, but if you're wondering why I don't want to go back to the seventies, go for a walk with Chance.

Honorable Mention: The Day of the Jackal

Good god, not the Bruce Willis one. Get a grip. A sublime use of music: there isn't any -- just a few snippets of ambient stuff to give audio cues. A terrific movie.

Update: Many cogent suggestions in the comments. But remember, you have to throw someone overboard to allow another example in our ten-person opinion lifeboat. And you have to get past Number Eleven, which I'm holding in reserve, too: (some salty language)

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Who Against The Proud Gods And Commodores Of This Earth Stands Forth His Own Inexorable Self

Johnnycake Hill in New Bedford, or "New Beige" as the locals call it. We went there on a rainy Sunday in June. If you turn around and roll down the hill, you'll go down to the sea and... get wet.

We were wet already, so we went into the Seaman's Bethel, a sort of pilgrimage to boredom we take from time to time. Nothing to do in there but think.

The inside is really spartan, which is piquant to a man like me, born and raised a papist. These were, after all, Quakers, who were not known for extravagance, unless you count their extravagant protestations against extravagance.

God was not an abstraction to the people in these pews. Men out on the horizonless ocean, and the families that waited for them, saw a real deity with a big fist or a big palm all the time. They gathered here to try to make heads or tails of the life of a man in a little boat on a great ocean.

Herman Melville trumped reality here, as he described in Moby Dick a pulpit shaped like the prow of a boat instead of the staid lectern that used to be here. John Huston put it in the movie, and the locals in New Beige got so tired of tourists showing up and demanding to see one that they stuck one in there. Orson Welles ain't showing up, though. Pity. I'd go every Sunday to hear that.

Sticking pins in cetaceans half-way round the world was a dangerous business. You had to survive the fevers, the sharks, the weather, and just plain gravity to live long enough for a chance to get killed by the great beasts that once lit the world's lamps. The walls of the bethel are spangled with the cenotaphs of the men who kicked it the hard way.

I'm old enough to have drowned on that last one. And my uncle was a fisherman back then, too. Thank God I was too lazy to work for him.

Monday, August 17, 2009

John Fredrick's Son (From 2007)

I found this picture in the Library of Congress. The caption is what caught my eye at first, although of course the picture itself is very compelling. The caption reads:

John Fredrick's son: "Some day we're goin' ta have a new house too, an a car like you all." Saint Mary's County, Maryland

The picture was taken in 1941. That is a very moving, mundane thing to read. That boy's father is outside the shack with people helping him to dig a new privy hole and drill a new well far enough apart so that one does not foul the other.

People used to instinctively understand that owning a house that could become a home could in turn could become a catalyst for, or a safeguard of, the only really important institution devised by man: The family.

People often assume I am consumed with nostalgia and am backward looking. I don't think so. I see people retreating towards barbarism and calling themselves progressive. That's all. In a very real way, I am living right at the edge of what society and technology allows. And I like it here.

I see the idea of a home that has meaning in and of itself slipping away at all price points. It's just a rubber box to sleep in and hold the satellite dish for an increasing number of people, and I find that disturbing for cultural reasons as much as aesthetic ones. I hear of people who pay their credit cards and abandon their homes because the homes hold no equity and hence have no intrinsic value, but their credit cards are valuable. But my home, and the home of many others who share my worldview, if perhaps only subconsciously, have intrinsic value that stand alone outside of commerce. It would be a big deal for me to lose my home. It's not just a box I live in.

That little boy in the picture understood that the way he understood the stove is hot. He did not require a white paper referencing Le Corbusier, Bruno Zevi, Christopher Alexander and Martin Luther King to figure it out.

He knew about the car, too. People used to understand viscerally what it meant, what it really represented. Even a serf knew when he was no longer tied to the land, unable to leave. You are free to go if you must, or you will-- but especially if you can.

The desire and ability to stay in one place backed up with the freedom to go if you so desire, or must. The vast majority of us take all of that for granted; or worse, a very vocal minority are actively opposed to it for reasons that boil down to, in a dark unguarded moment: I've already got mine, to hell with the rabble.

Resist the assault on all of it, lest your children find themselves in a hellish shack, wishing they had it all back.

I hope you got them, John Fredrick's son.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Difference Between Informative And Insightful




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

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

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

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


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

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

Pie Chart!

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

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

One word for you: Hitler!

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

Apocalypse now. Apocalypse then.

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

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

Picture of cat, with non-sequitur slogan rendered in mangled syntax, spelling, and in an unattractive font.

Ascribe superpowers and imbecility to the same public personage for the same action. Point out that you're forced to take Paxil, Prozac, Valium, Xanax, Ativan, Effexor, Zoloft, Zyprexa, Seroquel, Strattera, Ritalin, and Adderall because everybody else is so crazy and neurotic. Then fire up an enormous medical cheeba blunt to calm down.

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

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

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


Thursday, August 13, 2009


I had a bizarre interlude day before yesterday. Seemed odd, and unsettling.

I'm ill. Bronchitis, it appears; the little bugs thinking about pneumonia but too languid to bother. So I'm hacking and wheezing, and feel as though there's a concrete block on my chest, and a brick inside it.

That's serious business for me. But not for the reasons you'd think. All anyone cares about, ever, is yammering endlessly about health insurance, and I haven't got any. But that's not the problem. It almost never is. I have no idea what you're all talking about all the time. You all seem to spend every waking moment thinking and talking about paying for sitting in doctor's offices. You seem to enjoy yourselves there more than I do. You see, if I'm sick like that, I can't work, so all the health insurance in the world won't help me. We're instantly poor if I don't work. It's the nature of the beast if you're self-employed.

It's against the law to have health insurance in Massachusetts, and it's against the law not to have it, too. I'll explain. You better listen, because you might end up like me sooner than you think.

The word "insurance" used to have a definition. It meant you paid a small amount to safeguard against an unlikely but catastrophic event. It's illegal to purchase that in Massachusetts. Has been for a long while, or I'd already have it. Since the people who know how to bribe a state senator want all sorts of things mandated, you have to pay in advance for "healthcare," which means everything every crank wants to have paid for by other people that can loosely be called doctor-y. It's against the law for me to purchase insurance to pay if my kid gets cancer, because people want to get loaded on happy pills every day and have other people pay for it.

But as I said, I'm like a criminal in Massachusetts. It's mandatory to have "health insurance," and I don't. I just pay my family's doctor bills with my money, like I always have. The state fined me $600+ last year because I couldn't afford the bizarre set of circumstances they call health insurance. Last time I checked, it cost over $1100 a month, and I'd still pay if I went for routine care. And if one of us gets real sick, it would bankrupt us because paying a 20% copay on a six figure bill is science fiction anyway.

So I go to the walk-in clinic, and something like medicine happens -- at least what medicine resembled before you guys fixed it so it doesn't work anymore. The doctor didn't go to Harvard, but so what? I knew what was wrong with me before I went. The stripmall doctor didn't look at the wrong end of me or anything. I paid seventy bucks, didn't have to wait but ten minutes even though I didn't have an appointment, and got two prescriptions that will cure me. The doctor helpfully told me that if I went to the Stop & Shop, for some reason or other one of the prescriptions would be free. It was. Funny how with all the talk about all the help I'm going to get, I got robbed of $600 on one hand by everyone that's trying to "help" me, and a supermarket gave me something for free. Not funny haha. Funny.

When I was waiting in the lobby for the doctor to see me, the "Town Hall" meeting with President Obama was on the television. It occurred to me that I'd never listened to the guy give a speech, same as his predecessor. It was surreal for my wife and I to sit there and listen to us being discussed like we were a kind of furniture that needed rearranging. It's supposedly a time for questions, but I only have one question, and it's for the audience, not the dais demagogue -- for anyone that would watch or participate in such an event, pro or con:

He's no Clovis, and they have a cream for your scrofula now. Why would you let someone who knows precisely nothing of value about you talk to you like that?

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Odd "I" Torium (From 2007)

Step closer friends. She won't bite you and I won't bite her. That's my wife. Don't be afraid to stare. Don't worry, I've lost interest. She caught her dress in a spinning jenny all those years ago in the factory, and was pulled through the loom. She came out the other end, unhurt, in a sort of miracle. But she's never spoken since, and moves like an automaton. We have the perfect marriage; a mute woman and a man that needs glasses. Don't be shy, push right on in.

Oh, we've got it, ladies and gents. We've got the freaks and blockheads and five legged goats. We've got Queen Zoe Zingari the Circassian princess, kidnapped from a harem and held here against her will by the Mauler of Mecca with his scimitar. She's got hair like a Brillo pad, and eyes that will bore a hole right through you. Step forward and see for yourself. You there, son, you look like you want to see a genuine Circassian tattoo. Will she show it to you? Give me a nickel and she'll show you. Give me a dime and she'll show me too!

Like pigs to the slop now, wade on in, don't miss it. We've got the girl with the X-ray eyes, but when you see that raven-haired beauty you're gonna wish it was you that had the X-ray eyes; but don't worry, boy, there's not that much standing between you and her. She can see through you like a bank inspector. Come on in!

We got the human pretzel over there and he's gonna show you more contortions than a politician from New Orleans on Judgement Day. Come on now, don't be shy. Move it on over.

Man, oh man, young lady we have the Prince of Fire and he's come all the way from Constantinople to set himself ablaze for you. He eats brimstone for his breakfast and leaves the privy vulcanized. Inside, outside, the fire makes no nevermind to this boy. Step on in and he'll show you who's hot. Go on, now, go!

Oh, I know what you're thinkin' He don't have a beautiful woman and a snake, does he? A boa snake from the Orinoco? Who don't? Not me! I do! Go and see it before it squeezes that little woman tighter than you would if you got the chance. You know, I might get a little tight myself later. It's hot in the sun. Get inside for your complexions ladies. Go!

Will you come with me to Africa? Will you come with me to Africa!? Oh, they live closer to nature there than anywhere on God's green, don't you think so? They've made themselves into giraffes and they have their dinner plate with them always, but they forgot to go to the dressmaker's if you take my meaning, sir.

We've got monstrosities. Curiosities. Hell, we've got atrocities. Push on in, ladies and gents, and leave me alone out here to wish I knew what was going on in there. Move it on over.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Antigonish, Lumber Or Fish

My people came to Boston from Nova Scotia, and some live up there still. My lovely cousin's children play Celtic tunes, and I wish I had a video of them to put up here. I hear tell they're pretty good. They played at the White House.

Well, the Boston Kiltics will have to do. They do pretty well in their own stead, I'd say. They're from Boston and Nova Scotia too. Cead mile failte to my regular readers, and Happy Sunday.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

More Movie Maven Mashup

Ran this one a few years ago, but can't find it or remember when. Ah well, it won't hurt you to hear The Cornelius Brothers and Sister Rose one more time. Put the top down.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Whose House? Part The Fifteenth - The Most Important Building In American History

No, I'm not exaggerating. Heaven forfend I do that on a blog, anyway. It would be, like, the first time that ever happened, and I'd spoil the Intertunnel for everyone.

This building is so wondrous, I'll accept four different answers for who lived and/or worked here. If you don't know who at least three of them were, your license to cruise the Intarnets is hereby revoked. You will receive a library card and a block of government cheese in its stead.

[Click on the pic to embiggen it]

If Google Street View is to be believed, it's a fargin' Starbucks now. I'm going to go hang myself from the shower curtain rod now.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Coal Breaker


The great man's house. The daughters of the men who cracked his anthracite cracked oysters for him in there. The girls would come home and say they had a place in the great man's house and would rub shoulders with quality, pa. The fathers knew him, though. A werewolf. A vampire. They would sit with their black faces and their watery eyes at the kitchen table and knew what it meant to turn your bairns over to such men. They'd say nothing because there was nothing to say.

They turned their sons over to the collieries. There was pride there, and shame, too. A man hopes for better for his children than he got. Nothing is ever better in a mine. You come out every day like the womb. Born again. Or not. The great man would read of the little men like ants that worked in his seams, dead of the gas or the great hand of gravity. It was a story from far away as their daughters cracked his oysters. But the men would see their sons fight back the plain fear in their eyes as the sky passed away and the rank earth swallowed them for their labors, and feel pride, too. No man is ashamed of his son at his elbow in a mine. He is ashamed of himself, maybe.

What is a man to do? A Welshman might as well be a black ant. He's got the instinct to go down and up in that little hole and can't help himself. He knows no other thing until he knows nothing forevermore. He does what he does. And the great man did what he did. He saw the man's weakness, and strength, and used one to get the other.

Look upon it. The great man had the other great men in his pocket. He could call out the guard on a whim. He could kill a man legal. He could kill him any which way. He could do what he pleased. He could live in the shadow of a boneyard in a palace and there were none dared to squeak. The men said we'll vote and stick together, and the great man just put one more man in charge of them, the new black prince of the county with the thing with the letters behind him. It was organized, but not like you'd think. Things would go on behind a velvet curtain. If they drew it back you'd see the smirk of the hyena in there.

There was no work. The union and the boss alike said no coal. The big machines and the kept men kept even the culm from us. The great man didn't mine the coal, he mined the banks and the government and the union and got his gelt just the same.

The great man thought he knew men. But he did not know your father and his father. They knew the coal like he knew his oysters. They went into the woods where the seams lay close to the sky, and they began again. The very earth gave them what they always sought. The men sent to find them joined them. The trucks ran at night to the great glittering city where the coins slept in great vaults.

The housemaids knew from whence it came, for they had come from there themselves. They pressed the coins into the dingy hands at the alley gate and burned it in their own great man's house. Their little hods filled with bootleg coal made a pyre for our great man.

Look on it.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

The New Churchill (One Year On)

(Editor's Note: From a year ago.)
[Author's Note: Nothing got better in the intervening year, did it? There is no editor. ]

Oh yeah. Just.

Accommodated. Beautifully put. The place is full of men never cracked a spine except in a fight, and the proprietor says: accommodated. How about: put up, and put up with? Farmed? Stacked like cordwood? Buried like a Pharoah's handlers -- still alive but not going anywheres?

I climb the steps like the Aztec fellows must have on the way to the top to have the heart ripped out. It's the same. The world is more of a theoretical place now; that just means you can have it tugged out every day and it grows back for the next. Like Sisyphus in the school book. No, that's the guy with the stone. No matter; it's the same, anyhow.

There's no stone to push and the hill goes straight down anyways, not up. The stone rolled away, and a person gets winded real fast chasing it and thinks he might stop to rest a spell, then try again later. By the time he's picked himself up, it's rolled all the way out of sight. Even a man prone to fooling himself can't help but notice that the place he chose to stop and rest has a row of bottles behind the counter.

The house is like a woman gotten old, maybe missing a few teeth, gone thick and manly. But you can tell the ruin used to be something. The old frame shows something of the heretofores. I heard tell a captain of industry built it to prove to others -- he said, but to himself, I bet-- that he had made it in this old world. The bank took it and showed him that the world has no opinion. Find somewhere else that'll accommodate yourself. We're accommodating the men who heard about the fishing or the potatoes or the blueberry farms or the logging. Trouble is, they heard about two decades ago.

The inside shows nothing of the past except the ghostly outlines on the plaster where things were removed. If it was worth a damn, they pulled it out and reassembled it in a big house in Washington, D.C., they said. Fitting.

The bank stuck a guy behind the counter that they put in the front hall that don't care if you pull a razor or a roscoe or a long face or whatever. He collects the money if you got it, our your scalp if you don't. I like him, though, because he treats me the same as the rest. We do our business and he pushes the key across the pockmarked counter and there's no accusation in it. No kindness. Nothing.

It's the nothing you crave.

Monday, August 03, 2009

(I Had) Cabin Fever (In 2007)

We got a little summer cabin fever this last weekend. I was plain weary, and my wife was weary of all of us men in our little home, and we had to go somewhere else. Anywhere.

We often find ourselves going to places most people would call "anywhere." Our friends describe vacations and sporting events and concerts and so forth that sound like everyone's idea of fun. Sometimes I find myself describing our activities to our acquaintances and family and I see an expression come over their faces that I've seen on people that are hearing about eating broccoli when they'd rather be given directions to a steakhouse. I'm sorry, we can't help ourselves.

We went to the Heritage Museum and Gardens in Sandwich, Massachusetts. The four year old will go anywhere and look at anything, so he's not a problem. But a twelve year old? He can be bored, and boring.

He invited one of his schoolmates to come. That made it better. They were a pack of wolves all by themselves, and the world was their flock of sheep. We gave them a cellphone and let the line out a little on the invisible string we keep on our children. We were essentially alone in this place anyway.

The place is a big landscaping show, but late summer has few things to recommend it flower-wise. My wife and I were grateful to see a patch of grass that didn't need mowing and wasn't crabgrass, so we didn't care. We went inside that windmill, and heard the docent, perhaps only slightly older than the revolutionary war vintage structure itself, lecture the few of us on the who what when where and why of it. My four year old smiled at him and the docent turned the thing on for him. The rest of us would have got bupkis. My four year old could get a dog off a meat truck. We watched the canvas sheets pass by the dutch door for a good, long, time.

The place is pleasant, and everybody that works there was more than pleasant, but it's got no real rhyme or reason to it. And it gets a little less coherent as time passes. There's a reproduction of a huge round shaker barn, and it's filled with antique cars. I enjoy both things and find them interesting, but there's a kind of incongruity to such juxtapositions that I can't shake.

The older boys were jazzed to go because there is a an enormous reproduction sort -of-Fort Ticonderoga loghouse there, and it was filled with an interesting and compelling collection of guns and weapons and Indian artifacts and lead toy soldiers. I say "was filled," not "is filled," because we went in and it was mostly gone, and replaced by a rather tepid display of memorabilia from the Cape Cod Baseball League. There are only so many pictures of future big leaguers looking gaunt because they haven't figured out where to buy human growth hormone yet that you can stand to look at. And what's it doing in a fort? Bring back the guns, will you? We saw a few shunted off into little niches here and there. The baseball museum could have fit in a phone booth.

But the big boys were not deterred. Boys are never deterred. They walked back out into the blazing sunshine and the breeze from the nearby lake, saw me and my lovely wife sitting in the shade of an enormous oak, sized up the beauty and utility of intervening grass, and knew what it all was for.

To be.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Rest Easy, Little Donnie Pitts

It was my job to play bad music from the seventies for awhile. I didn't mind it, really. Music is 99% trifling and unimportant. It bugs me a bit to see drivel deified, but as long as you keep in mind there isn't a dime's bit of difference between the Monkees and Led Zeppelin, you'll be fine. Enjoy it, or not; just don't tell me it's important.

Since I eviscerate and then defenestrate 70s music often here, you might get the impression I think it was all bad. Far from it. In many ways it's better than everything that came after, and everything that came before, too. The technology was good enough to capture everything properly, unlike the woolly sixties recordings, and the musicians were still actually playing their instruments together and singing without Auto-Tune pitch-correction equipment. It's useful to remember that Auto-Tune was invented by a guy at Exxon. You can listen to music through a gas pump filter if you like. Me? No thanks.

Listen to how thin and wan the background music on the average eighties hit sounds now. The drum machine and the synthesizer wounded the process. Autotune would mop up by killing the singing in the nineties. I can't think of anyone current that even tries to sing anymore. They chant singsong doggerel, or sound like a cruise ship lounge act. I go searching in the wreckage for the piquant tap of a wooden stick hitting a Remo head, the squeak of a finger on a round wound string, and the gentle insuck of breath between passages passing through a plate reverb.

I am susceptible to wavering on this point, but the most compelling male pop voice I can think of right now is Donny Hathaway.

"You're joking," you just said. Or maybe: "Who?" If you remember the fairly lame duets with Roberta Flack you figure everything I learned about music I learned in an elevator. But that's just a reflection of the guy's talent. He could sing the treacle ballads playing in your dentist's office right now if he wanted to. A man with a wife and kid's gotta work, after all.

I came up with Donny as the top of the pop singer food chain by hearing him sing Marvin Gaye's What's Goin' On better than Marvin Gaye did. It's a live recording, in what sounds like a small venue, that gets run often on the soul station I listen to when the table saw's off. How can you sing that better than Marvin Gaye? Dunno. He does.

Donny Hathaway died before he had a large body of work, and so is mostly obscure compared to other seventies acts that didn't die and can still fill an arena. Colostomy Rock, I call it. I searched to find you a YouTube video of him singing, but what few they have are not what I'm looking for. So I'll get strange. I'll offer you ten minutes of Donny Hathaway performing "Everything is Everything," not even singing, just mumbling and shouting and playing the keyboards, with the talented Cornell Dupree playing guitar and the magnificent Willie Weeks playing bass. Just keep in mind that all that wonderful noise happens before he even opens his mouth to sing. See? The seventies wasn't all ABBA and Black Oak Arkansas.

You could hire Donny Hathaway for a little while. It was better to unleash him. He was dead, suicide, before the seventies were. Shame. Rest easy, Little Donnie Pitts.