Thursday, December 31, 2009

Misinformation Followed Us Like A Plague

Time for New Year's Retrospectives, I see. I'm fresh out of top tens. Too much like work. I'll ramble instead. If there was no Internets, I'd have to stand on the overpass and yell at cars.

Is Sippican Cottage the most malformed inchoate collection of essays and assorted dross on the Intertunnel? It just might be. I make no apologies. There's no one to apologize to but myself, anyway, I guess.

I'm grateful for the people that come here and read and comment and what have you. I've made very many friends that I've never, or rarely, met. I'd mention a bunch of them, but they are so numerous I'm afraid I'd forget just as many and so my shout out would be a disappointment. I'm pretty terrible about reciprocating links and answering all my email, too. I try to pay attention, but I've got so many faults that San Andreas is my patron saint.

I've had a difficult year. Let's leave it at that. I don't write about it much. Thanks to everyone that bought furniture and banged on the Amazon links and sent me emails and just plain showed up.

One of my Interwebby correspondents is Casey Klahn. He's a marvelous artist, and has a good and decent demeanor on the Interchunnel, which is fairly rare. I like to read his website because it's an entry into a world I don't inhabit. Faraway lands, fragrant with the spices of Araby...

No, that's not right. Linseed oil, maybe.

Anyhow, Casey's not nearly as lazy as I am, and he's chosen his Top Ten Artist Blog Posts of the year. He's confused the purple bruises on my thumbs for Phthalo Blue pigment, and lumped me in with people who appear to have some sort of discernible talent. He's even given me a medal, which I will wear proudly with my speedo, cowboy boots, and of course, a fez.

I suggest you go over there and read the other nine, like I did.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Happy Birthday, George Ivan Morrison III

Hope he's as funky as George Ivan Morrison II, so my kids will have something to listen to when they grow up.

Anyone complaining about Van's age should remember the true man is immortal 'til the moment he perishes.

[Updated: Reader and commenter Clayton found out it's a hoax.]

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Nothing But Some Reverb

There used to be the same sense of excitement at a live musical performance as you'd find at a circus when the tightrope walker inched across the lonely strand of steel, high above the floor. There were people playing real instruments live, and really singing. They were there unaided, and they could falter, and it lent an air of danger to the proceedings. There was very little audio spackle you could apply to the sound. Even the records were usually just made like live recordings, just with more care and deliberation and no audience. It's really, really rare now. You have to go to the opera to hear people really sing, or maybe a barroom.

For the most part, the pop music big time has become a package with no seams, and there's no humanity in it anyway to let out. Oh well; I can always put on a Kraftwerk CD and hear it done properly in the modern fashion.

Monday, December 28, 2009

There Are Mystery Masked Men Abroad In The Land. Best Be Tonto

The mystery masked man was smart
He got himself a Tonto
'Cause Tonto did the dirty work for free
But Tonto he was smarter
And one day said kemo sabe
Kiss my ass I bought a boat
I'm going out to sea

[For my friend Bruce]

Sunday, December 27, 2009


When I was a little boy, my father would take me to the movies once in a while. He seemed a comic man to many -- full of wit and good humor. He had a serious sort of mind, too. To talk a lot and say nothing without being a bore is daunting. It's a conversation wire strung between two spires. The crowd never joins you on the wire. If you fall, you have to listen. You are no longer in charge.

When I was a performer, we often let members of the audience, especially pretty girls, but not always, get up and do some little bit of an act with us. Some had to be coaxed, but many pushed right on in. They were dangerous, the pushers. Someone that desperately wants to be on stage but has no business being there is a terrible thing. Picture your bosses' speech at the Christmas party writ large. As I said, we invited people up, and asked them questions, and let them sing or dance or carry on, but there was only one, unspoken rule among the bandmembers. Never let anyone get the microphone away from you and hold it in their hand. It was much the same thing. A kind of control.

So the opposite of talking is waiting for most people. Talking all the time is a kind of self defense. I understand that now.

My father liked all sorts of movies. He laughed at Clousseau, he wasn't a bore. But he liked serious things to be put on the screen, mostly. He liked Patton and The Bridge on the River Kwai and things like that.

He took me in 1970 to the Cinema in the little town I grew up in. It was a wonder, that theater. Really big, with steeply raked seating and one, gigantic screen. Later on they cut it up into three little screens in three shabby little rooms and wrecked it. Demolished now. But way back then, it was the way to see a movie. When I moved to Los Angeles as a young man, I sat in all the big movie temples there to recreate the effect of that big flickering screen before the big velvet seats.

My father told me that Lawrence of Arabia was the greatest movie ever made, and because of the way that movies would be made in the future, it was probably the greatest movie that would ever be made. They had fixed up the print and re-released it. I wasn't even a teenager, but he took me. It made a lasting impression on me in all sorts of ways.

Pop would always jape at the television. He'd have a running commentary of the proceedings that was always more mordant and funny than anything presented as the entertainment. It was the old self-defense. When we went to the movies, and as the big room darkened and the wild orchestral opening music came up, Pop leaned over and told me I should be quiet now. It was superfluous, as I was riveted to the screen the whole time, which was a long time indeed. I realized a long time after that, that it was my father's way of surrendering his intellect to others. He gave it the respect it deserved in his mind.

It's an old habit now, and I can't shake it. I never go to the movie theater anymore, because no one ever shuts the hell up, and they're not wrong anyway; there's nothing on the screen that deserves the respect. We'll rent it and yell at the screen, and make our own fun in the Irish way.

Your father never leaves, I guess.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Ginger Ale [Christmas]

[Editor's note: From 2007. Somewhat traditional.]
{ Author's note: There is no editor. Merry Christmas}

I wish it would rain.

No; sleet. Sleet would finish the scene. Rain is cleansing. It washes away the dirt and corruption. No snow either; the fat, jolly flakes just hide it all. Snow can make a fire hydrant into a wedding cake. I want sleet.

I want to pull my collar up, and hunch my shoulders as if blows from an unseen and merciless god were raining down on me. I don't want a Christmas card. I want the Old Testament.

Old, or new - I knew it. Father and mother would open the Bible to a random page and place an unseeing finger anywhere and use it for their answer to whatever question was at hand. They'd torture the found scripture to fit the problem a lot, but it was uncanny how often that old musty book would burp out something at least fit for a double-take. But any Ouija Board does that, doesn't it?

It was just cold and bracing. No sleet. I didn't need to be clear-minded right now. Paul's tip of the hat to the season, a sort of syphilitic looking tree, hung over your head as you entered the bar like it was Damocle's birthday, not the Redeemer's. It was kinda funny to see it out there, because inside it was always the same day and always the same time. Open is a time.

People yield without thinking in these situations. It had been years since I had found anyone sitting on that stool, my place. It was just understood, like the needle in the compass always pointing the same way for everyone. Paul never even greeted me anymore, just put it wordlessly down in front of me as I hit the seat. Some men understand other men.

It was already kind of late. I could bang on those machines like a Fury until the sun winked out, but I didn't feel like working on Christmas Eve until the clock struck midnight. That's a bad time to be alone and sober.

"I'm closing early tonight," Paul said, and he didn't go back to his paper or his taps. He just stood there eying me. I took the drink.

"You've made a mess of this, Paul," I stammered out, coughing a bit, "What the hell is this?"

"It's Ginger Ale. You're coming with me tonight."

I could see it all rolled out in front of me. Pity. Kindness. Friendship.

"No." I rose to leave.

"You'll come, or you'll never darken the doorstep here again."

Now a man find himself in these spots from time to time. There are altogether too many kind souls in the world. They think they understand you. They want to help you. But what Paul will never understand is that he was helping me by taking my money and filling the glass and minding his own. It was the only help there was. A man standing in the broken shards of his life doesn't have any use for people picking up each piece and wondering aloud if this bit wasn't so bad. They never understand that the whole thing is worth something once but the pieces are nothing and you can never reassemble them again into anything.

I went. Worse than I imagined, really. Wife. Kids. Home. Happy. I sat in the corner chair, rock-hard sober, and then masticated like a farm animal at the table. Paul was smarter, perhaps, than I gave him credit for. He said nothing to me, or about me. His children nattered and his wife placed the food in front of me and they talked of everything and nothing as if I wasn't there -- no; as if I had always been there. As if the man with every bit of his life written right on his face had always sat in that seat.

I wasn't prepared for it when he took out the Bible. Is he a madman like my own father was? It's too much. The children sat by the tree, and he opened the Bible and placed his finger in there. I wanted to run screaming into the street. I wanted to murder them all and wait for the police. I wanted to lay down on the carpet and die.

"Ye are the salt of the earth; but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men. Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick, and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven."
He put the children to bed, to dream of the morning. His wife kissed him, said only "good night" to me, and went upstairs. We sat for a long moment by the fire, the soft gentle sucking sound of the logs being consumed audible now that the children were gone. The fire was reflected in the ornaments on the tree. The mantel clock banged through the seconds.

"Do you want something?" he asked.

"Ginger Ale."

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Daddy And Home

Jimmy Rodgers. The Singing Brakeman. Even through the woolly recording, you can hear it's a Martin Guitar he's playing. Nothing sounds like that. A jangly wooden cannon. You can play one just like it if you like.

Don't forget to flip it over when you're done and collect your laughs along with your applause:

A man, dead at thirty-five, had enough time to invent country music first. The rest of us mostly mill around for twice that. The world is an uncompromising place in this regard. Some people perform calculus; the rest just arithmetic, I guess.

Jimmie Rodgers.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Unterflurzugkreissäge. Gesundheit

Nifty German modular portable tablesaw setup.

In case you want to cut something at the disco with Dieter.

Now is the time on Sprockets vhen ve dance!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

It's A Miracle I Didn't Take My Own Life In 1974 While Listening To The AM Radio

It's not just the worst songs ever. It's ersatz versions of the worst songs ever. My sister fell for this once back then. She got one advertised as: "Performed by the original artists."

"The Original Artists" were a wedding band from Nebraska, I think.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Worst. Santa Beard. Evar.

Stricken with the cancer that would take his life in less than a year, Babe Ruth gives out toys to children recovering from polio.

I'm sorry, there's something in my eye.

Friday, December 18, 2009

A Veritable Font Of Innocent Neologisms

We live sorta nowhere. The Cottage is outside of a sleepy town, and the town is really just a village. We've never had a trick or treater we didn't bring home from the hospital.

My six-year old still sees many things for the first time ever. His reaction to these new things is always interesting, as you see how a mind that understands many things now searches for a slot in which to put fresh information. Sometimes only a new slot will do.

My wife took him to the supermarket the other day. A supermarket is a marvelous place for a child. It's a riot of color and text. If you're six, you're still jazzed about reading new things.

There was a new wrinkle at the store. There was a real live Salvation Army bellringer standing post outside the door. My little boy stood transfixed for a moment, sizing up the whole situation as people passed and put coins in the kettle. He'd never seen such a thing.

-Mom, can we put coins in the kettle?

-Sure, son. We'll have change after we buy groceries, and use it on the way out.

Of course there was a wrinkle. When they emerged from the store, the bellringer was gone, off to greener pastures no doubt. My boy looked this way and that, and said nothing.

My wife said he was very quiet in the car, as he turned the thing over in his mind.

-Mom, what happened to the Change Guard?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Christmas Is A Lantern, Not A Disco Ball

I like the wistful Christmas songs a lot. I always found Christmas a time for reflection, not just a party. Lots of other people get that vibe, too, it seems. Makes it seem more profound. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane, has been recorded a zillion times and featured in a million movies. The original recorded version, sung by Judy Garland in Meet Me In St. Louis is still the best.

Have yourself a merry little Christmas,
Let your heart be light
From now on,
our troubles will be out of sight.

Have yourself a merry little Christmas,
Make the Yuletide gay,
From now on,
our troubles will be miles away.

Here we are as in olden days,
Happy golden days of yore.
Faithful friends who are dear to us
Gather near to us once more.

Through the years
We all will be together,
If the Fates allow
Hang a shining star
upon the highest bough.

And have yourself
A merry little Christmas now.

Remember -- "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas Now" is an imperative.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

This Is Where The Title Goes, Generally

[Editor's Note: From 2007. Things have changed a little since then]
(Author's Note: Yeah, they're worse, four ways from Sunday. And better, too, here and there. Just like always. There is no editor.)

This is the part of the year that grinds.

I work below ground. There are a few windows, but essentially no natural light creeps in. If you've never worked on a concrete floor for long periods of time, you're lucky. It sucks the life out of you through the bottom of your feet, is the only way I can describe it. The fluorescent lights overhead cast a greenish pall on everything. From November to March, it's like being suspended in refrigerated, dessicating formaldehyde.

There's none of the dampness of the usual basement to it. It's dehumidified to death for the sake of the wood I use and store. Between the low temperature and no humidity, all the heat and moisture is wicked from your body all the time. I have a heater, but I can only afford to use it when the items I'm working on require a warmer temperature for finishing or something. By late December it gets down in the forties otherwise.

My fingers don't work properly when they are cold. Many in construction don't mind the cold, but are enervated by heat. I'm the opposite, generally.

Everything makes noise. It's tiring to listen to it, and tiring to wear something to muffle it. I listen to the sports talk radio in the background because I don't care about sports.

Almost every machine I use is dangerous enough to hurt or maim or kill me in an instant, or perhaps debilitate me over the long run. There is a constant state of readiness, an alertness I imagine a person that hunts for more than sport has. It never goes away. It is taxing to have job where a mental lapse can be freighted with such dread. A surgeon must feel that way, a little. If you sneeze, someone might be hurt, or perhaps die. At least with the surgeon, it's not him.

People generally dabble in physical labor when they are young and then move on. Cubicle farmers often regale me with stories of their toil in life's vineyard of the aching back before becoming men and women of letters. It's different, you know. Many people-- and I do not really count myself among them, as I have chosen the path I walk in life -- have nothing but hard, unremitting physical toil stretched out in front of them from day one to the horizon, and beyond, and can never choose another way. I've done more than dabble in hard, physical labor, so perhaps I am able to talk about it better than most by sheer familiarity. But that's about it. It would be presumptuous of me to claim to be like the people born with their shoulder to the wheel. I've always cherished their respect where I could cadge it.

I'm not sure why I keep doing it. Some character flaw. A kind of stubbornness, perhaps. Maybe I like it. I don't really know.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

You Use A Nail. You Rub The Amulet

Runescape. It's the largest free MMORPG -- an acronym for: Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game. My older son gave it a whirl when he was in grammar school, but he got bored with it almost immediately. Not everyone does; according to Wikipedia, Runescape has ten million active accounts a month. I'm pretty sure New York City doesn't.

There are a lot of videos on YouTube like this one. It's the virtual equivalent of The New Yankee Workshop. Hmm. It's the virtual virtual equivalent of a construction tutorial. There is no person, and he's not making anything, to sell to other not-people, to get not-money.

These are strange and new concepts, and must be dealt with. It's not as easy as saying it's foolish and a waste of time, which is certainly the default position when you first see it.

My little son spent the most of his free time yesterday making structures out of Lincoln Logs. He populated them with little people, and put a plot to their interactions, then got his mother's cellphone, recorded a video of the proceedings on the cameraphone, which he narrated. Then he erased it and started over. When I was young I did much the same thing, just without any hope of digital video -- or even a phone that wasn't screwed to the wall, with a curlicue tether, and a bell like a four alarm fire instead of a little song that plays. There is some sort of common urge there, that is being fed.

I actually...

How do I put this? See, this is the sort of thing that must be confronted, and sorted out. I actually actually stand in a little room and Use A Nail to make furniture. I don't have an amulet, and the dungeon door market is a little slow just now, but still. I show others how to do the things I do now and again, too, sorta kinda like the video. I can't imagine everyone runs out and builds a deck after I post twenty pictures about doing it, so perhaps you looked at it solely for amusement. The shadow world and the "real" one can appear somewhat the same.

There is a possibility that it's me living in the shadow world, not the people making virtual tables for imaginary friends. I doubt it, but the concept must at least be considered. I could make real tables in my real workshop and if no one buys them, it would be me living in a fantasy world, while the Runescape authors are sleeping on a bed of Benjamins. And no one is making a thousand virtual tables on a screen for nothing, I imagine. You can buy virtual goods with real money, and people do.

But I spot the danger right away, and I wonder if others do. What are we training our children to do? How does the little man on the screen capitalize and run his little business? Watch the comment box.

You ring the bell.
The servant is on the way.
The servant goes to the bank.
The servant goes to the bank.
The servant goes to the bank
Butler: Your goods, sir...

A little later:

The servant has returned with logs.
You accept the logs.

There is a whole world being presented here. Something that has captivated many minds. We live in a world where many things are virtual and value is placed on them in ways that are not transparent. Expectations about the way life is -- or should be -- receive a kind of nebulous reinforcement, drilled by repetition. Opportunities to create a virtual system are considered the pinnacle of human achievement now. Opportunities to "game" those systems, as the author of the tutorial is demonstrating, are considered much more achievable than creating a system, and so are in the second tier of accomplishment. Simple participation in the system assures just enough status to keep people wandering around in it, and so there's a big bottom on our ecosystem food pyramid, though when all is said and done, it is all nothing.

I just described Runescape -- and the career trajectory of the Treasury Secretary, Subprime Mortgage finance, Credit Default Swaps, Carbon Trading Credits, Amway, 95% of all Venture Capital expenditures, the Stimulus Package, and the entire Blogosphere, -- this little virtual world I contribute pixels to.

There are no servants. People will tell you that there are, to make you one.

Monday, December 07, 2009

I've Lived A Long Time, Been Many Places, And Seen A Lot Of Things. The World Never Stops Being Sort-Of Amazing

To paraphrase Samuel Johnson: A Japanese Country and Western Band is like a dog walking on his hind legs. It may not be done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

I Need Something Beautiful Right Now (Again)

I've too much to do, and not enough time to do it.

That's fine; we all seek out that situation, if it's not supplied to us already. The newspapers are always filled with things about simplifying our lives. It's nonsense, always. We'd fill up whatever space we made in our lives with something else, the minute we had a free moment.

Life is richer, and fuller, than at any time in the past. I'm not that old, but I remember the limitless road of drudgery laid out in front of me when I was a young man. Get a job, do it, make your replacements on this mortal coil, watch Gilligan's Island, die. Join the sepia ranks of the anonymous.

Work and family are still all that matter to me in the world, that hasn't changed; it's the dreary wallpaper of everyday life that's improved, and I'm all for it.

Sometimes I catch people wishing for misery, nostalgic for a time when they were forced by circumstances to huddle together. They feel lost out in the landscape of life, and want company. And if you're not willing to go back to their crabby world, they'd like to thrust you back into it. No thanks.

I know people I would not have known if this box of electronics wasn't on my desk. I've seen places I've never been to, and will never visit. I know things I would not have known. I've been reminded of things that would have remained forgotten. I've seen that anybody that thinks they know very much about any one thing is a fool, and that anyone that thinks they know very much about everything is a total ass, and should mind their own business.

As I said, I'm busy, and pressed for time. I've seen the inside of one room for too long. I need to see something beautiful right now.

No sweat.

The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Carpenter Poets

Reader Jason Gordon wrote to tell me about the Carpenter Poets:

On a Thursday night back in 2004 one of the men came into James's Gate Pub with some poems from a book called "Hammer" by poet and carpenter Mark Turpin. Inspired by what they read, this group of Jamaica Plain carpenters challenged themselves to each write a poem: a poem about their work, a poem about carpentry.

Thank god for the Intertunnel; if it wasn't for this intellectual periscope I have going here, I'd never know about nuthin'. That's about a 50 minute drive from here, and I'd never hear about it. At first blush, I thought I'd never seen such a thing, and wondered at it. I've written a few lines of doggerel for a lark here, but I'm no poet, though my feet are longfellows, har har. Upon reflection, I realized I'd participated in something similar my whole life.

Not poetry, though. Music. I've played music, for money, with dozens of carpenters and painters and general contractors and cabinetmakers. Hmmm. Oh yes, I forgot; set painters at Universal. Welders. Carpet installers. Pool masons. Plasterers...

I realized all of a sudden that the majority of musicians I've known have worked with their hands at the same time. If you watch the video of my son playing in a pick up combo of his father's friends, there's a General Contractor/framing contractor and a shingle sidewaller turned cabinetmaker in there along with me, who is a -- well, whatever I am, I fit in there. Only the drummer was an academic -- a college professor. If he didn't show, Lumpy the plumber would take his place, so we could have gone the whole megilla if we wanted to.

We were the opposite of the stereotype. We weren't frustrated musicians working menial jobs waiting for our big break in music. We liked our day jobs and played music for a little money and some laughs. Only the contractor types were worth a damn anyway, as far as music. A real music job is very much like a building contract. You have to plan, and show up on time, and stay sober, and understand the logistics of the equipment. You have to be able to set up and repair your broken tools on the spot. You have to work closely with others. You have to figure out in advance what the customer wants, and deliver it skillfully. There's a great deal of heavy lifting, generally at two AM in a sketchy neighborhood. You have to work whether you're sick or not; the only serious injury I've ever had since becoming a wood butcher was a chisel stuck to the bone in the meaty portion between the thumb and index finger of my left hand about a dozen years ago. That's the spot the neck of your instrument rests on. I assure you I was on a plane to Denver two days later to play with my hand wrapped like a mummy.

We had lots of guys come and go that had way more talent than many of us that stuck. Talent don't matter all that much. You gotta show up. That seems to be hard for artiste intellectuals to understand.

I see the Carpenter Poets, and I see many things. Above all, I know they'll show up and the poems won't be half done. Their performance won't be a sneer towards the listeners because the performer thinks they deserve a better class of audience. It will be real, and real is hard to come by in this world, and precious.

I feel better about the world knowing the Carpenter Poets are in it, doing the two things in this world worth doing to me. I feared I was a brontosaur, and there's a comet in the night sky.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Hilaridad Ensues

My son the loon was required to produce a commercial for an imaginary restaurant of his own invention. In Spanish. I cannot recommend having a mouthful of coffee while pressing the play button.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Aaron Copland (November 14, 1900 – December 2, 1990)

He named it "The Promise of Living."

Funny, I've been promised a living my whole life, and it never seems to show up. Ah well.