Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Tear The Roof Off The Sucka

The big, brown stains bloomed on my son's ceiling while half the rain still remained in the sky. The wind wasn't much, but it was enough. Attention must be paid. The next one would rob us of our second floor. 

The ground was covered with this sort of thing. I know the evidence well. A house neglected while the calendar repeats itself. Not the months. The centuries. I knew the roof was a horror when I bought the place, and fixed the worst part right away -- where the rain had pulled up a chair in the kitchen and lingered over coffee, as difficult to banish as any lonely neighbor. The squirrels came and went through the holes, and fought a valiant rearguard action against the dying of the sky in their world. I was as merciless as any dread god, and had to be. I murdered them all and my eyes watered for each one. Such is real life.

 I had to go up to a spot that's not visible from anywhere on the ground in any direction. There's an octagonal turret on my Queen Anne with a squared-off dunce cap roof for my older boy's room. The roof didn't look good or anything where you could see it, but really steep roofs don't need to be very good -- that's why thatch worked, more or less, before we unleashed the wonder of shingles on the crown of our houses. But I live in a house that the former owners had shingled inside. One must be prepared to find foolishness everywhere.

The back of the roof, away from the street. I crouched in the somewhat complex valley betwixt the main, hip roof; a large cross-gable; and the turret. On my right was three or four layers of roof, gone to various states of reward in the roofshingle afterlife, and on my left was 1901, the first roof the place had ever had, never even attempted in the intervening century because it's deuced difficult to get to.

As I said, attention must be paid. I was a good manager in my past, better than my circumstances might indicate. No one I've met is a good manager. You must become one, as fast as you can, before the world and all its people run you over like a dog in the street. The very worst managers tell the people they manage to stand still while they figure something out. It is the mark of the bad manager breed, generally; coming soon...

I am not young any more. I have a bad back. There is a great deal wrong with my feet. I am still a bit feebler than I'd like to be from a bout of Lyme disease. All my neighbors, the nicest people I've met in this world, no exaggeration, passed by and told me to be careful up there, fearing that I might fall, never suspecting that if one of the bees buzzing around the chimney took umbrage I'd die right there without ever making it back to the top of the ladder, never mind the bottom.

I don't care. Attention must be paid. I'm alive; right here, right now.  Are you? Or are you waiting for your manager to make up his mind?

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Sippican's Guide To Post-Irene Rumford And Brand Marketing In Education

The semi-mighty Androscoggin River rolls past my house on its way to the sea. The town of Rumford was founded to take advantage of the falls you see there. They're the largest falls east of the Mississippi except for Niagara. Whoopdy. There's a hydroelectric plant up there on the right, with a nice tangle of Frohnkhenshteen coils and such out by the road. It's close enough to my house to make the hair on my arm stand up if I'm near the window, and yet somehow I pay some of the highest rates for electricity in the country. Ah, public utilities conjoined to "green" power.

Electricity was just a sideshow for the river. They wanted the river for paper. They'd cut pulpwood in the vast empty nothing north and west of here and pitch it into the river, and collect it here to make it into paper. There's another river right on the other side of town, the Swift, and they join up downtown. Locals still refer to the area betwixt and between the rivers as "The Island."

The river was roaring yesterday. We're used to it here in the spring, when the snow melts, but it's unusual this time of year. It smelled unusual. It was the color of poorly mixed Bosco and smelled like the mulch aisle at Home Depot. Every once in a while a whole tree would bob past like a drinking straw.

The towns around here are piquantly named, and would serve to name a thousand bad rock bands. Ladies and gentlemen: MEXICO FIRE !!!!!

I don't know what the "University College" is. I know no one will be playing softball next to their sign anytime soon.

"University College" reminds me of Blutarsky's sweatshirt, or Doctor Nick's "Upstairs Hollywood Medical College." Personally, I think there's a chance that all that name firepower isn't going to be enough to get your average, or even below average Mainer off the couch (the one on the porch, natch)and into the classroom. Why chicken out halfway? Why not the University College Academy? The University College Academy School? The University College Academy School Institute? Hows about: The University College Academy School Institute Lyceum? We could go with: The University College Academy School Institute Lyceum, Truck Driving Asylum, Fill Dirt Conservatory, Storm Door Seminary, and Hairdressing Matriculatin' Military School. Done.

See, I'm an idea man. I offer these nuggets up every day, like a racehorse. Take one and pass it around.

Monday, August 29, 2011

It's A Calvin And Hobbes World

My parents' generation had a kind of nervous blame tic. If something undesirable occurred, they'd immediately come up with a scenario of who was to blame, and how it could have been prevented. The "who" was always you, by the way. Jews have schlemiels and schlemozzles. We only had schlemiels.

If you fell down and skinned your knee, you should have been more careful. Pick up your feet when you walk. Of course you caught cold, you weren't wearing a scarf. You got a headache from sitting too close to the television. If Sputnik landed on you, you should have come inside sooner.

Catholic school was likewise full of warnings that the machinery of the universe would tick over immediately to punish the incautious. Hell, (whoops; sorry, sister) if you threw your dessert uneaten into the trash some foreign kid would immediately keel over and die for the want of it. That was never his fault, somehow, and it didn't matter that dessert was prunes from a huge dented can, and even Biafrans were known to turn up their noses at those. You killed those people. A+B=C. Period.

Darwin has taken the place of Greg Brady's sketchy dad and the nun inspecting your lunch leavings in the universe of the younger generations. Whenever anyone dies for any reason, it was a sign of the intrinsic foolhardiness of whatever they were doing. If a hurricane kills you, you shouldn't have lived near the ocean, silly; if you move to Oklahoma to escape New Orleans you were just begging for that tornado to hurl you into the ether. It's a form of self-flattery: If those people were smart enough to confine themselves solely to commenting on all behaviors from the cockpit of their mother's basement, they'd be alive now. They're not smart like me, bravely doing absolutely nothing.

If Darwin had any useful opinion about current affairs, there's only one class of people he'd be interested in, and they're the legions of timid, second-guessing people that live in their mother's basement and aren't interested in procreating. Or more precisely, aren't interesting enough to anyone else to procreate with.

Of course bad things happen to basement dwellers, too, and must be explained. Explained away, as a rule. Someone did it to me. Evil people. If you get cancer it was some chemical. If you're kid's moody it's because he was immunized. If you're poor, someone stole your money. If you're depressed about being, well, you, it's because evil people won't acknowledge how swell you are and double down on their perfidy by demanding you pay a copay for your Effexor. You didn't smoke for forty years and get cancer; you were targeted by an evil corporation for smoking. The morphing of prosecution witness into a defense witness is the denouement of this process:

1950: Your honor, the defendant just snapped and killed three people.
2010: Your honor, I'm innocent, I just snapped and killed three people.

I'm hard-pressed to come up with any segment of the population that doesn't have a pre-medieval answer ready to be trotted out, at flight-deck-McGlaughlin Group volume, for any social ill or misbehavior, and a ready-made template to call any productive behavior a crime, too. There's isn't a dime's bit of difference between Pat Robertson or Al Gore in these matters. (A)Gay people or (B)Ford Explorers cause hurricanes. Take your pick, but there's no (C) 

People who heeded the call to be cautious, first, last, and always took tolltaker or public school teacher jobs, and they're angry right now because the only thing those jobs offered was security and even that was illusory, apparently. The Ivy League drudges wonder why the government doesn't tax their plumber more and leave them alone, so that they can go back to hiring illegal aliens to do their scutwork while trying to catch up with the Secretary of the Treasury on cheating on their taxes. And they're all angry at unemployed people for not paying taxes and not having enough sense to be born Chinese next to an iPhone factory.

In short, I find myself living in a Calvin and Hobbes world, and I don't like it. Predestination and barbarism are man's lot in life. But it's not the Calvinists against the Hobbesians, no; it's one faction, half and half, against another faction, half and half. Half the Calvinists say their money is the sign of God's approval of them, and the other half say money is the mark of the devil and evidence only of some great crime. 50 percent of the Hobbesians say the world's fine except there are too many nasty, brutish people that end up having indoor plumbing and golf clubs, and the other 50 percent say the world would be fine except for the nasty, brutish people who haven't got a pot to piss in ruining it for everyone else. In both cases, they'd like the other half to have nasty, brutish, short lives and stop leaving big carbon footprints -- or smoking department stores, depending on budget -- in their wake.

Me? It's occurred to me lately that a person could do most everything right in this world now, cooperate and do what is demanded of them --behave in an exemplary fashion, almost -- and get creamed anyway. Where would a person like that go, to find someone to talk to? Beats me.

Read My Stories For The New Depression, Inspired By The Last One:

Sunday, August 28, 2011

In 1976, A Hungarian Guy Goes Swimming While Wearing A Black Mohair Sweater With Some Actressy Girls He Met Before Boob-Jobs Got Affordable

My goodness. Korda György. You know this guy's a stud. He's got "orgy" hidden right there in his name. Well, örgy, anyway. I've never been to an örgy, but I bet it's even more betterer than a regular one. They have cake, too. They go swimming with cake. Downright Caligulan.

I could try until the sun winked out to match the charm and humor of the Google-translated Wikipedia page for Korda and never approach its sublime touch of madness:
The Drum Street was born out chemical polytechnics. His parents are divorced, grandparents and aunts were raised. He has worked in the Cable Factory, a soldier in Békéscsaba was. Vecsey Ernest , first as an apprentice in 1958 , came into the stage, the success of the first love song to see won. In the sixties, at the beginning of the country's most popular singer. The beat the shift from "traditional" style of dance is not favored, but he was among those who could stay on track. The popularity of retention, increase meant a lot of television and radio also broadcast by song and dance festivals and competitions. A daughter who in 1980 was born. In the eighties he met at the beginning of the vocal singer Klárival Balazs , whom he married shortly. Mutual inspiration for their art fulfillment, Korda is meant for renewal. After several months of touring for almost ten years spent in North America and Australia . Card passion [2] legends are bound, therefore, not surprising that the sports TV broadcast via poker games, sportriportertől unusual empathy, which has been in the spotlight again with one stone.
Korda György

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Exactly How Far North Do You Live, Sippican?

Well, let's not get nuts. Those "reindeer" don't live in Rumford, where we're from. They live in Norway.

Norway is a town about a half-hour south of here. My wife and I like going to Norway, and not just because you see elks that don't belong to a lodge. We like going to the coffee shop downtown, and look in awe at the person behind the counter with the gumption to put out business cards that refer to him as the "executive chef" of the place. I'm unsure if there's an assistant vice-president in charge of paper cups and Sweet'n Low or a Minister without portfolio mopping the floor. I'm afraid to ask anyone anything in there. 

My wife thinks the passel of elk was in South Paris, not Norway. Could be. I'm new around here, and don't leave the house much on top of it. I usually just set out on the von Schleiffen overland route -- driving in western Maine is like being a WWII re-enactor -- we're driving through South Paris, invading Norway, rolling over Poland. Nuvi's crisp, vaguely Scandinavian-accented directions lend a Quisling touch to the directions.

We were on our way to Kennebunk on business. I'd never been to Kennebunk. My soul has become somewhat corroded by owning a painted house in a sea of aluminum and vinyl siding in my down-at-the-heels mill town. I needed to see some paint. Kennebunk is painted, thank goodness.

Kennebunk isn't Kennebunkport. Kennebunk's very particular about such matters. The town's slogan on its webpage is: "The only village in the world so named." The next town over is Kennebunkport, but their point, whatever it is, still stands. At least Kennebunkers can sleep serene in their Kennebunks at night, knowing that they aren't arrant liars like those Kennebunkportholes who claim that their burg is: "The place to be all year."  I didn't notice a prison in Kennebunkport, and I've been in Maine in the winter once or twice, so I doubt the veracity of this statement.

Kennebunkport is for the rich swells with whales on their pants, I think. Kennebunk folk just wear lime-green slacks and white shoes at their clubs, with no cetaceans, like regular people.

Everything really old in Maine's along the coast. I live in a 1901 Queen Anne, and it would be a Bauhaus design compared to some of these places. 

Here's a big old rambler that every realtor and media person would call a "Victorian," because its a Colonial Revival and they don't know a turnip from a truffle: 

I didn't notice any riots over austerity measures outside the Acropolis here, but maybe I was there too early. Union people do tend to sleep in a lot: 

Nothing duller than an Adam Colonial. It's as dull and useful as every other thing in this country that was worth a fart in a windstorm that we've thrown away with both hands and then clubbed with an oar:

Here's the other side of Agamemnon's joint. It's got the highfalutin' version of Maine's signature rambling house layout: Little house, big house, back house, barn.

There's some exuberance in the color schemes, thank the savior. I'm afraid to go to the bathroom in a New England downtown because I'm afraid they'll paint my pecker white and hang green shutters on either side of it. Victorians were exuberant people and painted things exuberantly, too. And while you're looking at surly stick-figures with bolt-ons in the Victoria's Secret catalog and building Lego Deathstars even though you're forty and childless, those stuck-up Victorians were having fourteen kids on the weekdays, and chasing the maids around the back house while the missus was on the fainting couch with the  footman on Saturdays. 

Mount Vernon is done like this next Italianate job. The wood is carved to look like stone blocks. The corners are clad in what are called "quoins" if you know what you're talking about, and "coins" if you're a realtor that only watches TV and doesn't read much. 

I think I wanna buy the next shack. It's for sale, too; rather cheaply if you ask me, for $1.35 mil. Some escapee from a home has installed a pool behind it, but you could overlook their mental problems and ice skate on it after Labor Day or something. The blue shack you just looked at is for sale, too, but they want $1.75 mil for it, and their swimming pool is full of frogs and weeds. Farg that noise. I want the Munsters house, and I'll use the 400 grand I save to buy a french maid costume for my wife to wear when she dusts.

I'm a little short of funds just now, and the owners signaled a kind of coolness toward my scheme of making them a straight swap for my $24,000 palace in Rumford by furtively looking over their shoulder as I passed by and fleeing indoors. So you folks are going to have to buy another copy of my book and hang it on a nail in the outhouse like the first copy if I'm going to be in by Christmas, because it's straight cash homey in Kennebunk, I guess.  

Friday, August 26, 2011

Caruso, Two Tin Cans, A String, And You

Think of a progression of musical bigshots. Spare me the Biebers and Gagas and Eagles. I'm talking transformative, iconic persons. Perhaps I'm not qualified to offer an opinion on current musical affairs, or they're so atomized the there's no overarching person lately. I'll start back a bit.

There were the Beatles. Before that was Elvis. Before that was Sinatra. Before that was Gershwin. Before that was opera, and the tubby Neapolitan. I think his musical shadow might have been bigger than all that followed.

You have to read about him to get the whole gist of him. Recording the voice was invented around him; it was all very low-fi, and time-constrained, you have to interpolate just how powerful and sweet his voice must have been. I feel like a poor street urchin with my ear pressed up to an opera house door when I listen to recordings of him. A world full of street urchins did, and the rattling of jewelry inside the houses never drowned him out.

Vesuvius erupted near Caruso's  hometown of Naples, and reporters went to San Francisco to ask Caruso about it. Then San Francisco rattled apart and burned to the ground, and the world asked: Is Caruso OK?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

You Run Faster When There's Other People In The Race

As I've mentioned before, well-meaning persons often worry aloud that our home-schooled children will not be "socialized." They do not know what they mean.

They know what that used to mean, and so cling to the formulation. Children used to be thrown together, and would learn this and that by observing others and comparing themselves to what they saw. A natural kind of competition springs up and children test themselves against others over and over. This is all dead as a Pharoah.

Children are now thrown together to inure them to being thrown together, forevermore, among a group of persons that must not in any way compete with one another. They must remain passive, or they will be made so by discipline or a trip down pharmaceutical lane. By never being allowed to test themselves against others, and ratcheting their efforts up to match what they've seen from others, they never reach their full potential.

I have run in footraces. Longer than that one in the video. You run faster in a race than you do in practice. The other people spur you on. Cheerleaders don't. It's an interesting and exhilarating phenomenon.

We had a child in our home to visit. He described a class he had in school. The teacher was dyslexic. No one was allowed to "notice" that the teacher was dyslexic for fear of ferocious consequences. Since the teacher was chalking mathematical equations on the board with the integers and letters scrambled, the children found themselves adrift as to what to do, but they knew better than to say anything about it. Egalitarianism is often an interesting thing in practice.

The child that told us this is a perfectly intelligent and well-adjusted kid, and I questioned him closely about this because it seemed so fantastic, but I was ultimately convinced that he was telling the truth. I also noticed that he looked both ways, furtively, before speaking, as if someone would overhear what was said, even though it was said in a place that no one with any connection to the school could possibly be. I recognized it as the unconscious cringe of the beat dog when the paperboy makes a delivery.

So maybe I'm wrong, and nothing much has changed. Children are all still thrown together for their own good, to test their mettle among a crowd of their peers -- but it's now a race now to see who can walk backwards the slowest. The trophy doesn't shine, but at least it doesn't have any sharp edges.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Timid People Stayed

Stephen Fry is a public intellectual. Great Britain seems to produce these persons by the hogshead. I think America produces them, too, but we don't notice them so much. Public intellectuals seem to matter more in Europe.We lump Dick Cavett in with Pat Buchanan as "talking heads," turn off the TV and go fishing, generally.

Stephen Fry might want to be Oscar Wilde, but ultimately they all want to be Bertrand Russell. They wish to flash an intellect so vast that they can indulge their crabby little opinions with impunity. The US version of these sorts of people seem to come from the stands at baseball games (see Limbaugh, Rush) or from seedy theaters with sticky seats (see Maher, Bill), but in Great Britain they all seem to have upper crust crumbled on their Eton ties. There's a kind of Posh School Mafia that runs the media on that pile of rocks and coal in the North Atlantic now --Fry, Hugh Laurie, Rowan Atkinson, Jeremy Clarkson, Eddie Izzard. Only Gordon Ramsay comes to mind as being anything but a toff, and he's not exactly a soccer hooligan -- he sounds like a little kid or a woman when he swears.

Fry is fairly well known in America because of his various terrific turns in TV shows, Blackadder, A Bit of Fry and Laurie, etc.; but I'll always think of him for his marvelous, if miscast (too young) turn as Jeeves in Jeeves and Wooster.

It's hard to pass up a job that entails wandering around, eating at the best restaurants on an expense account, and having opinions. Stephen Fry seems to have discovered that he could make a living on a Twitter stream at this point, why bother with anything else, and was sent to America to get some footage and offer a mordant opinion or two. I imagine the Beeb, or whatever entity sent him, mistakenly figured they were getting a Tocqueville, but Fry will do. He's genial and curious, two attributes almost totally lacking in public intellectuals like Christopher Hitchens, who are just rustbucket brain freighters laden with tedious opinions drifting around the world looking for any odd pier to bump into to spill their cankered cargo all over.

My impression of Europe is that it's the place where the timid stayed. Bravery is entirely a matter of how you fared in the gang showers at a gothic campus and whether Beeb producers answer your telephone calls. At least Stephen Fry knows enough to gape in awe at what bumpkins can cook up when they're off the leash.

His observation that we're "overpopulated" shows a glimpse of intellectual garter that he just can't help, though: too many of you, just enough of me. It's hard to be Not Quite Our Class of Persons, Dear, but we Americans try to bear up under the shame of it.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Department Of Incongruity Department

I'd sell your heart to the junkman baby
For a buck, for a buck
If you're looking for someone to pull you out of that ditch
You're out of luck, you're out of luck

Ship is sinking
The ship is sinking
The ship is sinking

There's a leak, there's a leak in the boiler room
The poor, the lame, the blind
Who are the ones that we kept in charge?
Killers, thieves and lawyers

God's away, God's away
God's away on business, business
God's away, God's away
God's away on business, business

Digging up the dead with a shovel and a pick
It's a job, it's a job
Bloody moon rising with a plague and a flood
Join the mob, join the mob
It's all over, it's all over
It's all over

There's a leak, there's a leak in the boiler room
The poor, the lame, the blind
Who are the ones that we kept in charge?
Killers, thieves and lawyers

God's away, God's away
God's away on business, business
God's away, God's away on business, business

Godddamn there's always such a big temptation
To be good, to be good
There's always free cheddar in a mousetrap, baby
It's a deal, it's a deal

God's away, God's away
God's away on business, business
God's away, God's away
God's away on business, business

I narrow my eyes like a coin slot baby
Let her ring, let her ring

God's away, God's away
God's away on business, business
God's away, God's away
God's away on business, business

Tom Waits/ Kathleen Brennan

Friday, August 19, 2011

A Near-Fatal Overdose Of Early Seventies Hip-Shaking Awesomeness

Pan's People were a dance troupe that Top of the Pops used to trot out when a pop single absolutely had to be played and the band that recorded it was too stoned or had 10 percent too much dignity to show up and lip-sync it. And you had to play T. Rex in 1971.

T. Rex was Marc Bolan and a loose gaggle of other blokes. A lot of rock critics point to Bolan as the milepost that marks the birth of Glam Rock, even though there were plenty of art-school fops like Bryan Ferry straddling the Liberace/TeddyBoy divide visually and musically just then. Bolan was dead in a car crash before the decade ended, even though he was so afraid of dying in a car crash that he never got a driver's license. Life is like that sometimes.

Everyone would point to Bang a Gong as their big hit, but Jeepster is the really kewl thing you'd put in a seventies movie soundtrack if you knew what you were doing.

I'm getting old. The contemporary emcee's joke at the beginning about David Cameron falls flat for me. I know David Cameron was only five when that video was made -- but I was almost old enough to take a run at those sherbert-colored qiana-clad hip-hugger and halter-topped pre-boob-job-buxom bell-bottomed babes after the show. I would have invited them to play army man with me, but still.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Sippican's Handy Guide To Writing On The Internet

Hello, Interfriends. I'm from the Intertunnel, and I'm here to help. Perhaps you're new to blogging, or you're so busy running your actual empires that writing a short essay each day is cutting into your FarmVille time. Try my handy guide to writing blogposts, now in NEW, handy, step-by-step format. It's so easy, any fool can do it, and probably will.

Sippican's Handy Guide To Writing On The Internet:

(Parse innocuous comments by prominent dullards for deep and sinister meanings. Read only extemporaneous verbal remarks, transcribed by detractors who can't spell and edited by invertebrates, and refer to them like they're a legal brief.)
(Insert picture chosen from thousands to make person look bad here. Bonus points for unwittingly using photoshopped examples stolen from Google.)
(Clumsily disguise editorial comments masquerading as a search for information here. Refer to previously published balderdash as gospel to support. Steal what you can from Wikipedia, but don't just cut and paste. Paste the text into your Apple thingie and type a new version right below it, then erase the original. Confuse "reign" and "rein" to prove you went to college.)

(Place apostrophes all over the place until your text looks vaguely Arabic. Make up all sorts of imaginary rules for where they go, like before the pluralizing "s" on a word that ends in a vowel. These rules are similar to the law your friend told you about that driving with your shoes off is illegal. Your friend can neither confirm nor contradict this idea for you; he was shot dead by a policeman during a routine traffic stop because he was fumbling around under his seat and the policeman capped him. The policeman sure looked silly when the guy only had an unlaced shoe in his hand.)

(Under no circumstances learn actual grammatical rules by heart. Make sure to use the term "teaching to the test" unironically and pejoratively when referring to any educational enterprise, including the education you didn't get.)

(Never refer to any evidence. Write "the science" like a four-year-old would. If anyone ever corrects your grammar, including mentioning that it's not spelled "grammer," make sure to unhinge your jaw and scream at your monitor while you call them the sort of person that places other persons in an oven, and then tell them to perish in a conflagration. Remember, ALL CAPS is not just for acronyms anymore; it's for BEING UNASSAILABLY CORRECT ON THE INTERNETS. Your ambivalence about (your)grammar notwithstanding, if any person refuses to hew to the imaginary dictum that LEGO blocks in the plural never be referred to as legos, or stubbornly refuses to care how to spell "Wookiee," come at them like they owe you money.)

ATTENTION: No male human will pay attention to you on the Intertunnel if you don't have pictures of broads on your page. Even the gay men demand this. So make with the hubba hubba or get used to tumbleweeds in your sitemeter:

If you want women to read, too, you're going to have to play a deeper game than just hoary old pictures of Italian actresses. You need to find pictures of women eating ice cream while reading recipes and dieting advice during a shoe-shopping expedition. I'm not sure where to get those without reading The Frisky, so we're going to have to improvise:

(Here's a good spot to start making a dog's breakfast of compound words. Split them apart when you're using them as adjectives, even though that makes half of the resulting two words back into an extra verb in the sentence. Then smash two others together for no reason because some crummy website's URL does, and it looks funny if you don't. Most everything grammatically correct  looks funny at this point; you can't go by that.)

(Here's where we just throw in the towel and write a blogpost that announces that the semicolon is useless, because you have no idea how to use it, and from now on it's banned on the Intertunnel because you said so. Get some jellyfish at a style guide desk to agree with you, after they've finished decreeing that we all go into the sewer through a personhole. Almost forgot: If you write for the Uppastump Vermont Yankee and Coupon Clipper Gazette and you're too dull-witted to even cover the town meetings and they send you  to cover high school sports instead, make sure you go out of your way to farg up the acronym "RBI" and use it for a plural, too. In conversation, double down on the awesome and utter: Rs BI. )

(Too two to tu. I'm a little Intertunnel train. To Two! Too To! I go 'round and 'round in circles going: To Too! Where to I go around in circles? Over they're. Your stupid if you don't know that.)

(Now we're going to beg the question. Everything begs the question. You are going to use this term more than a dullard with barbecue sauce all down his muu-muu shirt covering the Pats uses the term "step up." You are going to ladle "begging the question" all over everything like some sort of idiomatic gravy. You will, however, never once use it to mean what it actually means, which is petitio principii. When challenged, you will refer to any number of your shortbus colleagues infesting the Intertunnel who have written blogposts announcing that since so many people are dullards and use terms they don't understand, it now magically works as anything you want it to, like a Webster's Swiss Army knife.)

(Moving on, be sure to point out that certain newsgathering outlets are sinister cabals run by shadowy malefactors and staffed by malignant hatchetmen. Then endlessly link to their output, and talk unremittingly about their puerile opinions, and ignore anyone talking sense.)

(Here's where you place an update thanking another website owner with at least 10 percent more traffic than you for linking to your blogpost. You sent it to them four times, but try to act surprised and gratified. And don't forget to tell everyone to hit your tip jar even though you make mid six-figures and have tenure)

Monday, August 15, 2011

Mission Accomplished

I work all the time, but make little money. That's a bad combination for my family to put up with. I've tried lately not to work on Sunday so much, and my younger son has started getting wild idée fixe notions about what we're going to do on the seventh day. And what's possible.

By the time Sunday rolls around, we're going to camp on the dark side of the moon using a rocket we made in the basement with cardboard and tape and eat bearburgers and ride mooses in races with movie stars and split atoms with kitchen cutlery and catch fish that would strain a politician's mettle to claim they'd caught bigger. We're going to find an extra moon on Pluto with binoculars and dig up dimetrodons and shoot an apple off every head we see. You can lick thirty tigers, today, surely, Dad.

Above all he wants to make a video. He wants to make one that would give Disney a truss to lug around the Oscars; grind Pixar to pixels; make Freddy Wong foreswear muzzle flash forevermore. He wants YouTube to send him a Nobel Prize.

We have a snapshot camera.

He was upset a little. His grand plans of building castle sets from legos, only bigger than a real one, and making his head turn all around in a circle met the immovable rock of our time and circumstances. I told him the secret that the penguin nun with the sweet face told me all those years ago: You need to tell a story? You need the five Ws.

And so he supplied himself as the Who and his things as the What and summertime as the When and his house as the Where. He drew out his little storyboard with an unsteady pencil while I sipped my coffee with one eye open.
     "You need a Why, son."
     "To make people smile."
Mission Accomplished, son. 

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Ken The Whirligig Craftsman Illustrates Perfectly How Stimulus Spending Works

Around the back, it explains green energy and quantitative easing. If he set it on fire and kept cranking, he could change the name of the machine to "British Riots" and no one would notice the difference.The machine is simply that versatile, intricate, and useful.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Friday, August 12, 2011

World's Greatest Junk Drawer

Wheathills is a fancy-pants furniture maker in Angle Land that makes bespoke "smalls." A small in this case is a keepsake box. I'm feeling lazy today, and I have to box an end table I just finished that doesn't look much like the Pantheon at all, so I'll just cut and paste their description of it:
A short conversation at a busy Wheathills Open Weekend ignited an idea that began with the words, “a fantasy place where dreams, secrets and surprises are kept safe”. From those few words an obsession grew for both the clients and Nigel Heldreich, owner of Wheathills Exquisite Memory Boxes, and before too long a concept and a brief were created - a theatre of memories, secrets and surprises.
Over the following 18 months and countless conversations with the clients, Nigel and his team of highly skilled craftsmen, developed that initial concept into an amazing Memory Box in the form of a miniature Pantheon Theatre, created by hand using age old techniques and the very finest wood from all over the world. Using ‘marquetry’, the very fine, detailed and beautiful craft of inlaying minute pieces of wood into another piece of wood in order to create imagery, the team of ten craftsmen and designers began creating a journey through Tuscany and many memorable holidays the client had experienced. The theatre, architecture and the visual arts were top of the bill, and all housed in a Palladian style building of stone, gilt Corinthian columns, domed ceiling, galleries and grand staircase.

Nigel Heldreich, owner of Wheathills, said; “What started as almost a throwaway comment has turned into a magical journey for everyone involved in this wonderful Memory Box. From the initial idea, through to the finished piece this folly has been played out in our workshop with wood, traditional craftsmanship, passion, emotion, laughter and even tears. Now though, it’s time for us to hand over ownership of the box to our wonderful clients who will, I’m sure, enjoy its beauty for years to come”.

Hmm. Allow me to translate: They took a "magical journey" through someone's bank account. The "laughter" was of the nervous variety when the prospective owner was informed of the time and material bill, and the the "tears" followed close on laughter's heels when informed that no, they weren't pulling his leg. The "time to hand over ownership of the box" will no doubt be played out hostage style, with entourages of heavies, attaches full of fivers, and a hammer poised over the whatnot until the exchange is made.Everyone will then back out of the room like the Prime Minister leaving George III's living room.

Cool thing though, ain't it? It says ten guys took 18 months to make it. I hate to brag, but I could round up nine guys and build an actual Pantheon, and it would already have tourist chewing gum spangling the terrazzo quicker than eighteen months. But maybe the money spent on the trifle really doesn't matter. The owner would probably have just blown it on a miniature giraffe or something anyway.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Housing Delenda Est

A day after we looked into the hole where hundreds of houses were being tenderly razed by the loving dozerblade of the caring banks under the benevolent gaze of the compassionate government, the tallest midgets in the intellectual circus are peeing into the smoking cellar holes to double down on proving me prescient again.

The Obama administration may turn thousands of government-owned foreclosures into rental properties to help boost falling home prices.The Federal Housing Finance Agency said Wednesday it is seeking input from investors on how to rent homes owned by government-controlled mortgage companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and the Federal Housing Administration.(Link)

In some insane alternate universe, persons believe this is a good idea.

MarketWatch: Renting, Blowing Up Foreclosures Not A Bad Idea

In this bizarro world, people unable to afford a free house because they have no job will purchase an expensive house right next door if you'll  simply destroy the empty free house. Further, in this outre galaxy, the government-supervised rental of housing will brighten up neighborhoods, and renters will take better care of properties than owners. Okey dokey, then. See you down at Spacely's when you need some sprockets, space real estate cadets.

You'll have to bear with me, as I'm a little behind the times on these matters. We used to build good, solid, liveable houses, employed lots of people to do so at good wages, and then we'd sell them to customers who would live in them, usually by qualifying for a mortgage by having a job themselves. I fear you're going to have to bail Tony Rezko, Charles Keating, Neil Bush, Susan McDougal, or someone similar out of jail, or look under whatever rock they might be under just now, and ask them how it's going to work from here on in. Any five Senators will do in a pinch.

A little later on in the AP article, there is a bit of a clue of what we might expect:
A federal "request for information" released Wednesday included an option for previous homeowners to rent out the homes or for current renters to lease to own. Private investors could also be allowed to manage the rental properties.
I see. The housing industry will now be run from Washington using the ColorTyme business plan.Sounds like paradise.

There's no word on whether Bank of America and Wells Fargo will eventually be nationalized and run on a payday loan/ pawnshop hybrid model.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

We Had To Destroy The Village In Order To Save It

A few news stories like this one made the rounds last week:
There are nearly 1.7 million homes in the U.S. in some state of foreclosure. Banks already own some of these homes and will soon have repossessed many more. Many housing economists worry that near constant stream of home sales from banks could keep housing prices down for years to come. But what if some of those homes never hit the market. Increasingly, it appears banks are turning to demolition teams instead of realtors to rid them of their least valuable repossessed homes. Last month, Bank of America announced plans to demolish 100 foreclosed homes in the Cleveland area. The land is then going to be donated back to the local government authorities. BofA says the recent donations in Cleveland are part of a larger plan to rid itself of its least saleable properties, many of which, according to a company spokesperson, are worth less than $10,000. BofA has already donated 100 homes in Detroit and 150 in Chicago, and may add as many as nine more cities by the end of the year.
Everyone seems mildly surprised by this. I wasn't. Unlike "many housing economists," ie: people on the author's speeddial with exactly the same warped worldview and predilection for adjusting information to suit that worldview instead of the other way round, I told you this would happen a long time ago:

Banks, especially big, national banks, are not realtors. They’re not property managers. They have nothing in place to handle owning and selling the property they have on their hands. They will never use a retail approach to unloading them. They will sell them in huge blocks to investors, unload them on the government –who will unload them on favored investors -- or demolish them. These investors will be risking a great deal by buying real estate, and they’re going to demand an enormous return on that investment. They are going to make the most rapacious developers that built the houses in the first place look like Pollyanna.
It's getting lonesome only having myself to quote from the newspapers to prove a point.

They doubled down on teh funnay by mentioning it's "in the Cleveland area." Hmm. I seem to recall something trenchant about real estate and governance in that very area a year ago or so. Oh yes, it was me again:
Remember 2009? Every news outlet was filled with advice on cheap houses you could buy. They were the same news outlets that told you it would be a sound investment to install granite countertops and a stainless steel wine cooler in your kitchen six months before.  Let's pick the first one we find on memory lane: CNNMoney's Radical Cheap: $1000 Homes. What sort of advice did the mainstream media have for us househunters?
Cleveland is another city with many incredibly inexpensive homes. On Ardenall Avenue, in East Cleveland, McMullen Realty has a listing for a four-bedroom, one-and-a-half bath house for $1,900. It's been vandalized inside, but the outside is in good shape...
..."East Cleveland has a beautiful housing stock," she said. "These houses just need someone to come in and love them a little."
I'd never been to East Cleveland, so I took the street they mention in the article and put it into The Google, as our former president charmingly referred to it. And The Zillow. And The City-Data.
Ah yes. If Fallujah is too far to commute to your non-existent job, why not East Cleveland! I did indeed immediately locate a house that sold for $1200 last April. Of course, the city still charges you close to two grand a year in property taxes to live there, which even with today's rock bottom interest rates works out to a $32,000 second mortgage. But think of the amenities the city offers for the money. East Cleveland ranks very highly on City-Data. High pollution, lotsa rape, plenty o’ robbery, burglary, and car theft; you name it, they've got it. I don't believe I've ever seen crime data that's given in thousands per hundred thousand population before. And if you are thinking of getting your tax money's worth back in an education for your kids, City Data ranks schools in Ohio on a 0 (worst) to 100 (best) scale. Shaw High School in East Cleveland is rated a "1."
The first article goes on at some length, accidentally informing me that the banks will write off "the fair market value" of the houses on their taxes, be absolved of the need to pay taxes on or take care of the properties they own, and in many cases get the government to subsidize them to demolish the buildings.

I just fell off the turnip truck, of course, but I doubt that "fair market value" in this case with be the actual market value, which is, of course, not zero. Hold on there, you veritable Warren Buffett you; it's not more than zero, it's less than zero. The bank would have to pay you to take it. A lot. Detroit tried paying people to take a house. They've given up and brought in the dozers, too. There is only one building in any of these benighted cities that needs demolition, and that's city hall. But they're angling to have that be the only building left. 

Speaking of veritable Warren Buffetts, the actual veritable Warren Buffett is quoted in this article on the same topic, suggesting that destroying empty houses would be a swell idea, and it would magically lift the price of the houses that are left -- like Cash for Clunkers crossed with Dresden 1945. He actually referenced Cash for Clunkers as if it worked. I suppose it would be bad form to point out Warren's 19% stake in one of the banks breaking the windows and everything else in these clunky houses with a bulldozer. But then again, the Broken Window Fallacy is only a fallacy if it's your window that's broken. Warren just makes sure he owns no windows, and only sells glass, and he gets good press by observing that taxes should be raised on all wealthy persons that aren't him, expounding from the offices of a shirt company that doesn't make any shirts since he bought it.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Stories For The New Depression, Inspired By The Last One

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 silent with their black faces and their watery eyes at the kitchen table and know what it meant to turn your children over to such men. They'd say nothing because there was nothing to say.

    They turned their sons over to the collieries. There was honor there -- and shame. A man hopes for better for his children than he got. Nothing ever gets 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 insects that worked in his seams, dead of the gas or the great hand of gravity. It was a story from far away, as their very daughters cracked his oysters.

    The men would see their sons fight back the plain fear that showed 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 he 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 his strength, and used one to get the other.

    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 as 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.

    Then 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 couldn’t mine the coal by himself, so 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 and stop them joined them instead. The trucks ran at night to the great glittering city where the coins slept in great vaults.

    The housemaids knew from where 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.

    The great man’s house. Look on it.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Music For The Loose In The Joints

Wilhelm Kempff playing Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata, 3rd movement. He must be old there. Not sure when that was recorded, but it looks plenty recent, and he was born in Germany in 1895. He stopped playing in 1981 because he had Parkinson's disease, which for a pianny player must be as horrifying as Beethoven's deafness was to him. He died in 1991.

Eighty-ish and playing like that. Most people his age are carping about their allowance of prune juice in a home at that age. He was a German, and a European, and lived through WWI, WWII, and the the Cold War, and kept going. If our cable goes out for an hour we go on a four-state murder spree. Maybe we should buy pianos.

Watch him while he plays. He is not executing the music. He is extracting its essence. There are places where it's not exactly sloppy -- that's the wrong word -- but it's loose in the joints. He feels it. Me too.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Call An Ambulance! Does Anyone Know The Number For 911?

What is this I don't even.

It's got a hint of: My hovercraft is full of eels, doesn't it?

Okey dokey- Let's hear from the experts on such matters. Luckily they're all wearing Depends now.

Trouble in the rising sun,
Ladies dialing nine one one
Yeah, she needs to see a physician (Stat!)
For rumbles in her nether parts

That woman from Tokyo
Ate Boyardee
That woman from Tokyo
Smells no good to me

Looking like an eastern Queen
Smelling like a hockey team
Oh, I hope you live a bit upriver
She won't be flushing Perrier

That woman from Tokyo
Ate Boyardee
That woman from Tokyo
She's no good to me

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Stevie Ray Vaughan's Defective Stool Sample

Semi-obscure footage of a sound check from 1986 at a Shriner's hall in Pittsburgh called the Syria Mosque.

Stevie's yawning and picking his nose, so I imagine he's been rousted out of bed at some ungodly hour like four in the afternoon so the roadies can figure out if everything is plugged in.

He looks a little like what would happen if John Wayne was accidentally assigned Liberace's dressing room, but he sure could play. He died and they tore the Mosque down. The end.

(Thanks to my brother for sending that one along.Go say hi to him if you're in LA. )

Friday, August 05, 2011

The World Is Full Of Two-Legged Stools And We Wander In Search Of The Third

Kagen Schaefer is a Denver woodworker. He's a mathematician, but he's not that into it. He likes to make things out of wood. The mathematician part shows through anyway.

His creations are not a joke. I've seen many people that design and build furniture that looks like a bad joke, poorly told. Deliberately crooked. One Chippendale claw foot reaching out to grab its ball, rolled away. Upside down. Anally-retentive finish on fussy materials and an antiseptic design with a big, bent rusty nail pounded into it for a knob. Chairs you can't sit in. That sort of thing.

Furniture is like architecture and a very few other disciplines in that it cannot be solely an intellectual exercise. Architects amuse themselves at the expense of the occupants more often than not, now. The other end of the spectrum is people who make things bereft of any sign of style, proportion, or artistry. There is a circular continuum of this approach, and you crash into one another at the perigee of the approach from polar opposite styles: IKEA asceticism isn't any better than woodworkers lovingly crafting klunky end tables out of ropy oak boards in their basement. The same thing is missing from both.

Look at Kagen's workshop. Compare it with Wednesday's example. I did not want to comment on items not in evidence, your honor, but when I saw all those tools jammed into the previous workshop, the first thing that came into my mind was: I bet he makes homely furniture, and not much of it. I apologize if I'm wrong, which is easy for me because I know I'm not.

"Commodity, firmness, and delight" is the three-legged stool of furniture design, and architectural design, too, of course, where the rule of thumb comes from. I strive for it every day, in my own meager way.  Is it sturdy; comfortable and useful; is it beautiful? We cannot fault Kagen, for lingering so long on the delightful part, can we? He didn't skimp on the other two, after all.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

How Play That Funky Music Became The National Anthem

You're stupid. You think, maybe, YMCA by the Village People is the National Anthem. Pshaw. Amyl nitrate is off the menu for you from now on, you hear?

Spare me Margaritaville, or Brown-eyed Girl. Non-starters. No, it's got to be the official song of every damn thing. It's got to be playing in the stadium, the second scene of the coming-of-age B movie, in the men's room, in the lady's room, there has to be a steel drum version of it being played by the pool, and it's got to be on the television and the jukebox in the lounge while being butchered by the wedding band in the function room next door all at the same time. You've got to hear it in an elevator in a Guatemalan parking garage and on an iPod in the space shuttle. It's got to be seeping out of the world's pores.

Hey, you meatheads at the football games wearing mesh pajama tops with another man's name on them and plumber's-crack low-rise jeans, hooting along with Gary Glitter:


Eight-year-olds, dude. Eight-year-olds. That's not it.

No, it's Wild Cherry that's got copyright on the National Anthem now. And I was there. I know how it happened.

It used to be that other song, the NatAnth was, that everybody sung just before Gary Glitter started up at the football game. The song no one can or will sing properly. The one that makes the guys already on the outside of five beers say, "Get it? Jose, can you see? See, it's funny. I'm funny."

That one. The one that has 1156 notes and syllables if you're white, and 12,564 syllables and 154,652 melisma-smeared notes if you're black. Yeah, that one. That song sucks. It's still better than the Canadian one at the hockey game.

Ohhhh, Can-A-Duhhhh!... umm, er..

Help me out here, what comes next? Something about bacon cut funny and trees or some other thing about clubbing seals or not clubbing seals or maple syrup or Tim Horton's or the War of 1812.

We needed a new one. One that made sense. One that explained life in America. One sung by white people parlaying mockery from black people into a method of getting a leg up on Soul Train chicks.

It was 1976. I had a complexion like the Sea of Tranquility and no hope. Jimmeh Carter bestrode the world like a colossal colostomy bag. Rock had killed pop and then turned the gun on itself. Disco sucked, it's true; just less than everything else. I was sprung from high school and trying desperately to pull down a mildly tubby chick's tube top like the window shade in a crummy summer rental in West Dennis. The living room of the house was four decades past respectability, festooned with daisy chains of pull tabs from cheap beers, the other dude was banging away on the other side of the wall with reckless abandon and the willowy chick, his Roadrunner parked on the four strands of grass that was the lawn, and me with the doughy leftover with the turdcurl hair and the shelf out front. A hopeless situation, really. Then it came out of the radio.

Once I was a boogie singer...
Playin' in a rock 'n roll band...

And she went from the last popsicle in the freezer to Krakatoa in half a verse. Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus got nothing on me. I had seen the light.

11. And the Lord [said] unto him, Arise, and go into the street which is called moderately Funky, and enquire in the steakhouse of Jew-fro for [one] called Wild Cherry, of Ohio: for, behold, he solos on a Les Paul,
12. And hath seen in a vision a chick with a tube top coming down, and putting [his] hand on her, that he might receive his jollies without a slap this time and having to spring for four sloe gin fizzes.

And it was good.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

The Process Is The Product

I come not to bury Jacques Jodoins, nor to praise him. He doesn't require anything from me, anyway. He is a watch with the hands and the stem on the inside, and the gears facing out. But he is interesting to me.

His workshop is perfect for the Intertunnel, isn't it? The Intertunnel is just a big Jumbotron for us to act outrageous on, on the off chance we can get the camera to linger on us during a time-out. Indecent exposure or marriage proposal, doesn't really matter what you do, you'll have your moment on YouTube eventually.

But Jacques did not produce that midden of moil for our amusement. He wasn't trying to get in Guinness or astound Ripley or even catch the woodworking world's eye in the form of that video. He was amusing himself, first, last, and always.

And what's wrong with that? Honesty is what you do when no one's looking. He's truly honest. He's not going to take all that stuff down now that he's been on the Jumbotron and start building the world's largest train set in its place to take another bite of the attention apple. He was what he was, is what he is, and will remain whatever that makes him. He'll die down there, and I imagine he'll die happy.

I know what everything in that basement is. Every last thing. I don't have 1/2 a percent of it, and if offered, I'd turn down the gift of most of it. And I make furniture every day, for a living.

Unlike most of the world, I am not allowed to have the Process be the Product. At the end of the day there has to be something tangibly different with the world or we don't eat. Sometimes we don't eat anyway. Most of the world we inhabit now is all Process and no Product. What is Twitter, or Tumblr, or Facebook, or a million other things you could name that consist solely of: This is how I go, when I go like this.

The federal government thinks the process is the entire product. The public school system can produce only public school teachers. The EPA is now supposed to protect the air from humans. The Department of Energy doesn't make any, and would prefer you didn't as well --or else. Cities like Detroit are trying to exist with no population now. Search your mind. You'll have to search hard to find exceptions, not examples.

I have a tendency to notice things that others overlook. It's not my fault I notice things; don't be hard on me. There is no furniture of any kind, not even a component of a piece of furniture --there isn't even any sawdust-- anywhere in Jacques workshop.

He is happy there. Let us praise him. He is our God.

(Thanks to old StumbleUpon friend Maxismax for sending that one along. StumbleUpon. Heh.The process is the product.)