Friday, September 30, 2011

Interestingly, The Blues Brothers Was The Worst Band John Belushi Was Ever In

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Last Century: Learn; Do; Teach. This Century: Wish; Smug; Blame

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


Belladonna n. In Italian a beautiful lady; in English a deadly poison. A striking example of the essential identity of the two tongues. (Bierce)

The Avett Brothers

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Chance Like That

I can't believe I gotta sit through this. Boss says go I go. Says this fathead's playin' way past payin' now. He ain't got no use exceptin' what he can learn to the others. He shoulda knowed that eventually you gotta pay the band. Oh, he's gonna wail until I shut him up. Sidle up next to him in the alley and take his elbow like we's on a date, only I leaves fingerprints in him right off so he knows what's what. All the way in the car he's gonna walk Spanish and tell the side of my head that he's got the lettuce stashed and all I gotta do is let him go get it. He knows I'm hard-boiled but he thinks we're still talkin'. Talkin's over, you lizard. I got sent 'cause I got no conversation in me. He's such a swell with the broads when he's gamblin' with other people's dough and drinking champagne and wine. He's gonna look a lot different under the lights I'm gonna show him. Man's gotta learn. He ain't gonna like it but he should get down on his knees and thank me because I'm sent from heaven and I make you repent first so you can meet your maker baptised. Who else is gonna give a man a chance like that?

Monday, September 26, 2011

A Lucky Fellow

I wake up every morning and the room's a little smaller. Walls are creeping in. The ceiling's thinking it over. I limp to the window and it's a porthole that looks on nothing but icebergs.

It's a good room, though. The landlord drinks a bit and you can fool with him. The old ladies he worries like a dog worries a shoe, hair trigger, 'cause they haven't anything but money for him, and they ain't got any of that very often, either. But you find a pint for him now and then, or lift a couple cigars off the counter at the station when the worker bee's making change and you're jake for another month with the guy.

I tried quitting the smokes, but what's the use? It's the only currency in the world now. The only manners a man can have. I got smart and got matches and always kept 'em on me, and the swells never seem to have one and they'll give you a coffin nail for a light every time. Get the empty packs from the barrels and fill 'em back up and pretty soon you're rolling in it.

Once upon a time you could go to the railyard with a gunney and pick up the steam coal that bounced from the cars. Just pennies at the coal and ice, but just pennies is all you need in this world. Now the kids don't bother with school anymore and they're too close to the ground to have a chance against. They waste the money on their mothers. Until they grow up and the army harvests them like they did their dads a man's got to find another way.

I'm a lucky fellow. There's always another way for a lucky fellow.

Sunday, September 25, 2011


I could never quite explain it, coming or going. She had some bizarre vibe going on -- a hybrid of drum majorette and back-alley abortionist. Dancing at a funeral. Her smile was a poster pasted over her brick face. She had no future and no past in her. She was immediate, and all her wants and mine were in the present and that's that. I don't even know hold old she was, and never thought of asking, either. We never asked each other anything anyway. It was always jarring when she revealed herself to you and there wasn't a mark on her, perfectly pink, an unknown to the sun. She was like a giant, obscene infant.

I was no better. I wished I was much worse, but she was all I could muster in that department. She brought out all the 'paying for drinks with the toll change, and driving home the long way' that I had in me, and used it all up, too. She was my nemesis and my abbess. I fought her and submitted to her. Prayed to her and cursed her.

If she turned up dead and the cops showed up at my door I'd ride the lightning for a dead cert. I wouldn't be able to tell them anything about me and her that another person could knit into a likely story. How to explain a woman that would open the door for you wordlessly at three AM, whether you had a bouquet or a rattlesnake in your hand?

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Last Night As I Lay On My Pillow

The man never notices anything because that's his business -- not noticing. He gave me the key like a bribe. The yellow bulb was gone out at the door that was my ration. I held a lighter up to the knob and there were ten thousand stab wounds all around the lock. Thirty years and more of lemme in lemme in lemme in. You could almost feel the heavy paper sack in all their other hands.

The clock is banging on the seconds like a railroad spike. I begin to wonder if a man doesn't really die, just dissolves slowly in the rain. You try alcohol but it's not a preservative.

There isn't a floor crooked enough in the wide world to make that chair sit flat. You lean at the jalousies and watch the nobodies go nowhere, and smoke. A jalousie apparently only has two sides: dusty and dirty.

There's people next door going at each other like strangers. They'll wish they were strangers again soon enough. The other side is teevee teevee teevee.

The neon across the street flashes out of time with the clock and you'd like to meet that man, that neon man. You'd like to meet him like a train meets a cow out on the prairie.

There's an odd number of pulls on the dresser. There's an even number of tiles on the ceiling. There's a smell like the laundry in a funeral home in the bedspread. You know why people smoke now. There's nothing and nobody in this world but the faint orange spark at the end of your nose. 

Friday, September 23, 2011

Highways Are Happy Ways

There is a feeling in my bones I can't pin down. A strike on an elbow I don't have from a hammer unseen. A worrying rattle in the marrow. A place I was expected I did not even set out for. An empty seat sits cobwebbed in the corner, worn into my shape in a house I've never been to. I have been divided and the pieces trucked here and there and misdelivered. I opened my baggage after a long journey and it was filled with nothing but a strange and pungent mulch.

Words are in my head and I don't know who put them there. They pour out and I gather them into my arms and hold them for a moment like some stricken beast breathing its last. They always perish and I wander further in the wilderness alone with their blood still on my hands.

I was dead before my grandfather was born. I was robbed but nothing is missing. The window is broken and there are things on the mantel I did not put there.The fire in the grate throws no heat no matter how I feed it. The pictures on the wall leer at me and they've turned to strangers overnight.

I want to go home but there's no such place and never was.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

North By Northeast

I passed a million pageviews on my little Intertunnel hot dog stands last night. I'm not sure if I should consider that a lot, or a little. I decided a long time ago to generate almost all of my own content, and that actually limits your readership; most people just paste a hunk of text from a bad newspaper and say what's up with that ten times a day and get ten times the traffic. People buy more magazines than books for a reason.

I've written for larger hot dog stands, too, and had more readers than I've cadged on my own in a week, I imagine, but they weren't just mine so they don't count as much to me. A little thing, but mine own. I like all the people that congregate here with me in my version of an Intertunnel appendix.

If I have a regret, it's that I didn't make my father the most famous person with his name ever, at least as far as the Intertunnel is concerned, because I didn't include his name in the most widely read thing I ever wrote as far as I know. No matter. He taught me a long time ago that it's better to have people ask why there isn't a statue of you, than why there is.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Bob, Bewildered

Apropos yesterday's observation that no one much is interested in real work, the lovely reader and commenter and very amusingly named Joan of Argghh sent me that video. Joan's so wise she sent it to me a week ago or more, knowing I'd need it.

I really can't watch a regular news story like a normal person. Everything is weird and wrong and every question is begged and I find it boring and infuriating at the same time, which is a particularly noxious combination.

Dirt is something the effeminate, ill-educated newsreader hires Vietnamese women to dig out from under his fingernails, but he doesn't know that. Excavators dig earth, or soil, or loam, or fill, or processed gravel, or sand, or stone and a handful of other things, but "dirt" isn't one of them. I'm like a fortune teller, too, and would bet cash money that if a mixer was present he would have referred to its contents as "cement," which is of course one ingredient in concrete, and the one ingredient in that fellow's head.

Don't get me wrong, just because I know a little about earthmoving, I don't think this fellow needs to, although it's amazing to me how ignorant your average educated person is about everything that doesn't have an apple on it. His job is not to know about excavation. His job is to ask questions about things so he can report on them to a third party. He sucks at his job. They all suck at their job, and don't even know what their job is.

There's a thumb on the bucket. Why is there a thumb on the bucket? You don't use a thumb for excavation. It's for grabbing things, like in demolition.

Back when I did a bit of this sort of thing, the operators needed a Hydraulics License. I can assure the public that there's precious little that looks like buttons on an iPad or a Bob the Builder episode on there. Here ya go, have at it. Don't forget to pick up the half-million or so of liability insurance you need to sit in the cab and fart if you're getting paid. You're going to need the insurance for funeral expenses at least, because outside of Las Vegas the ground has a lot more than mouldering gangster corpses in it for you to hit, and the first thing you do when you climb in the cab will be to touch the arm on the bucket to the overhead power lines and kill everyone within shouting distance. If you survive that you can hit a gas main later for a change of pace.

Ah, well, the people look like they're enjoying themselves fooling around in the, ahem, dirt, and the instructor is my kind of guy, with his sunny "beats working" attitude. And since the representatives of the class of people who entirely destroyed the construction industry by being so smart want to rent out the residue of constructive work still hanging around, I say knock yourself out, everybody. Make Excavators of the Earth into Pirates of the Caribbean. It is rather fun to use big equipment, after all.

But please don't let anyone fool you into thinking you're getting a taste of the real thing. Because the real thing involves being handed a shovel, and being pointed at a pile of something out in the sun and rain as very skilled and highly trained persons cruise past you in that machinery, while a very cross gentleman stands behind you and directs your efforts in a volume and at a temperature that exceeds the Caterpillar exhaust. Because the first thing you learn in that sort of enterprise is respect for the process, and for the people who have mastered the process, and you don't have any; and you're going to have to get it the hard way.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Hey Mister, Go Mister, Soul Mister, Go Mister

Things are different today
I hear ev'ry muvva say
The pursuit of happiness just seems a bore  -R Stones

I make things. 

I've pretty much always made things of one sort or another, or at least had a hand in their manufacture or maintenance. Houses, mostly, but an enormous variety of other things, too. Swung soldering irons to nailguns, peeped in microscopes and theodolites alike, got spattered with everything from mud to a-dimethylpolysiloxane. I still am pounding on things that aren't a keyboard every single day. I've noticed something lately.

When I was a boy, whenever "the man" came around, to do anything whatsoever that involved anything that changed the size, shape, or general demeanor of the natural world in any way, children of all ages would congregate around them like they were deities.

In my own life, I remember being fascinated by the garbageman with the milky eye and the aureole of flies that visited once a week to fetch the pail's worth of food scraps we'd temporarily immure in a silo with a lid outside the back door of our tiny house. The fellow with the pipe and the endless well of bonhomie that delivered our eggs. My friends and I were very interested in the excavators trying to dig a driveway and add a "garage under" to a ranch house up the street for a while; we later were supremely interested in their affairs when they hit the buried natural gas line and blew the house up entirely --almost as interested as we were in the firemen that came. That kid at that house, safe at school while his home was signed up for NASA treatment, could always produce a malformed and scorched GI Joe when we played together, and so was like a lord among us peasants.

When my uncle, a truly mighty man, showed up from time to time -- he never did anything that didn't involve feats of strength and changing the face of the world in some way back then -- I'd hang over him like a curse and pester him with my fool questions about every damn thing, septic tank or roof, didn't matter. He made the world different looking; he was a god.

I've been living where I am in Maine now for eighteen months or so. I make things here, lots of things, and work on all sorts of things in our old, interesting house whenever we can scrape up a few bucks and fifteen minutes. In all that time, neither my own children, nor any of the friends of my children, who are every age from toddler to adult, and include teenagers from a handful of foreign countries, has ever shown the slightest inclination to want to see what I'm doing. A couple of them were the mildest sort of awestruck that I had written a book, but that was about it.

My older son works with me without complaining, out of a commendable and tangible sense of duty to his family, but is not interested in the least in what we're doing while we're doing it. My little son wants to talk me in to helping him emulate YouTube dorks that "mock" Legos and cardboard and Nerf guns into rude approximations of imaginary things they saw in unentertaining entertainments, but he couldn't give a fig for what I'm doing. He will enthusiastically sweep the floor to earn quarters to buy the Legos with, though.

The vast majority of persons in the United States, and apparently through a goodly portion of the globe, thinks that anyone that does anything productive is boring, and that's that.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Sunday, September 18, 2011

It's Hard To Be Quiet

I exist on the Intertunnel. The Intertunnel doesn't like "quiet."

Not much of any form of mass media likes quiet anymore. The first sound you hear at a movie theater is the THX sound -- the idiot love child of Doctor Moreau and Marconi -- all the foul noises in the world compressed into one giant blast of entertainment flatulence. It's a warning that you're not going to be left alone for a moment from here on in.

Everything that comes out of the pop radio has been beaten on with audio spanners until it is uniformly loud at all times, lest you notice for a moment that's it's not very good and hie thee a button away.

On television the programs mumble loudly and the ads scream and it adds up to a sort of commerce raga. You forget sometimes if you're paying to watch Billy Mays sell Oxy Clean or for the entertainment.

Quiet's dangerous. People could hear the sound of fear in your voice when it's quiet. The average person wants a lot of spackle to cover up their cracks. We live in a world of bluster. But then again, some people don't have any fear, and play it half as fast and half as loud as the others. You can't look away, when it's quiet like that.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

What Do You Know About Men?

I always liked Dick Cavett; or I find him an interesting version of the public intellectual, is more like it. He didn't exude a dullard vibe like Mike Douglas or Joey Bishop or Merv Griffin or any of the panoply of guys back then with a camera and someone standing by with everyone's agent in their rolodexes. But he's a boneless fish, and when the real barracudas show up, he's as powerless as the rest of them.

He should have stuck to talking to his fellow swirlie victims, endlessly exchanging pointed pointless barbs with Gore Vidal or Truman Capote or some other invertebrate, or phony tough guys like Norman Mailer or the Garp fellow (his name escapes me now). Maybe a sportswriter now and then. You could flip the channel back then and seen his polar opposite twin William F. Buckley worrying the dictionary and a functionary at the same time, and acting like owning a yawl and knowing how to fix dinner on a gimballing alcohol stove meant you were Francis fucking Drake. It was much the same. No one in that milieu knows what to do when confronted with a real, live man.

Look at Burton. Every pint is written in his face, every cigarette in his voice. His eyes are living in the ruins of his head like fires in a cave. His mouth is perfectly fixed in the shape of Shakespeare and the pony glass. He is a mountain, and Cavett is an ant trying to climb all over him that can't even get off the ground. Burton does not listen to the questions, he just waits. There's a moment in there, towards the end, where Burton dismisses even Cavett's intellect, which is all he's got; and he does it in such a way that only a man with a foot on a rail and a glass in his hand and dust in his lungs would understand.

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.

("Coal Breaker," from The Devil's In The Cows. Look on it.)

Friday, September 16, 2011

Sounds Like Sexist Xenophobic Bullying To Me. Better Ban It

I recently saw (again) the 1944 version of The Chronicle History of King Henry the Fift with His Battell Fought at Agincourt in France. It's a charming piece of work. Laurence Olivier is famous enough, I guess, but not as notable for his real talent as he might be. Shakespeare drops like ripe apples from his mouth. The movie makes a mockery of so many who have tried fantastical juxtapositions of real and cartoonish in movies since then. It's filmed like watching a Bayeux Tapestry or a child's storybook get up and dance around, and throws in a view from backstage, too, to show just how far down the rabbit hole they can take us.

It's fun to imagine a British audience, worn out with years of blitzes and the terrors of telegrams, sitting rapt in the theater and seeing their island race triumph in a tight spot. There's a great scene where Olivier is backstage, and looks a little round-shouldered and wan, and coughs a bit in an offhand way, and then strides out onto the stage in front of the Globe Theatre crowd, and is immediately transformed by the words and the moment into the majesty of Henry Vth. Olivier knew that the play's the thing that makes a man great, not the other way around.

Old Bill knew how to put words in women's mouths, too; another art long since lost to the playwright. Catherine is made more charming than any sovereign could hope to resist in the blink of a French eye in her garden. Do you need to know French to get it? I don't think so. Flummoxing up "bilbo," a flexible sword, for "elbow" is a nice touch. I can't remember if it's written into the text or a happy accident.

The women are feminine but decide all in their sphere and the men kill one another over insults and geopolitics alike, and your countrymen are your brothers that you'd defend to the death against all comers. In hours, roughly, how long until Shakespeare is banned in public school?

Henry V (The Criterion Collection)

Thursday, September 15, 2011

One Of These Is Banking. One Is Running A Pawn Shop. See If You Can Tell Them Apart

[Editor's Note: Please notice that everyone wants to "invest" in gold, but no one wants to "buy" tools]
[Author's Note: I've never seen either the pawn show or the weird talking (shaved) head show. Nice to know that at least no one will steal my tools to sell to a fence right now. They're all too busy doing home invasions to steal oxycodone from the elderly and "medical" marijuana from the "sick." And there is no editor]

OK, Everybody; Let's Play: Find The Bank!

Situation 1: People need to borrow money, so they put up gimlet-eye-appraised collateral against the sum they need and pay a non-adjustable rate of interest on the money. There is a balloon payment due at the end of the term to repatriate the collateral. If you default, the lender keeps the collateral and sells it to others more able to afford it.

The deals are essentially made between the two parties with a handshake. The lender uses his expertise, hard-won in the marketplace and subject to the immediate loss of capital should he mis-appraise more than a handful of items in a hundred. If the lender dips into the funds he keeps on hand that allow him to supply the liquidity his customers demand, to squander on his own amusement or speculations, or if he tries to capture business that he is not prepared to handle for a short-term bump in his notoriety or to monkey around with the short-term look of his balance sheet, he will immediately go out of business. Since his business is predicated on good relations with his customers and his neighbors in his local community, the lender strives to keep on genial terms with the public.

The lender relies on other experts from time to time, but generally relies on his own good sense. The borrower is in an equal, or superior, position to the lender in determining the value of the property he uses for collateral, as he is in possession of it already and knows its provenance. In any case, the terms of the loan are entirely straightforward and immutable and agreed upon by both parties with no proxies. The lender does not employ any strong-arm tactics to make the loan, and certainly does not need any when the borrower is in default. He simply takes over possession of the asset in a perfectly straightforward and legal process and sells the asset  if he can.

Situation 2: People need to borrow money, so they put up capriciously appraised collateral, most often that they do not own, and/or submit to a byzantine, arbitrary, personal appraisal of their financial affairs made by a slew of shady and disreputable third parties. Both the lender and the borrower know that the third party appraisals are akin to a farce, but neither really cares about the long-term viability of their transactions. The borrower generally has no intention of following through on the terms of the loan all the way to its end, and will try to foist his obligations or the original collateral off on another party in the interim, and the lender has no intention or expectation of the loan being paid off on the terms on which it was made, and may secretly desire the borrower to default on the deliberately convoluted and intricate terms so the borrower's obligations can be increased. Sometimes the lenders repatriate collateral from defaulted loans that they don't even really want, by force, and then just destroy it to appease some  kind of lust for destruction or as a warning to others, or more generally as part of a Minotaur-worthy tax evasion scheme.

The lender generally slips the loan into a weird, giant package of other sorts of loans which is sold to other unwitting lenders under the guise of a business opportunity -- lenders who would be left with little or no recourse if (and more generally, when) the borrower defaults on his loan.

Other loans are made without collateral by these same lenders. They employ a capricious and sometimes draconian sliding scale of interest rates, penalties and fees, deliberately obscured from the borrower to entice them to borrow money at one rate while allowing the lender to collect the loans at a much higher, often usurious rate. If the borrower doesn't pay, the lender begins a non-stop campaign of threats and harassment against the borrower, often hiring vicious and unscrupulous third parties to collect the debts for them, regularly using a campaign of terror that involves the destruction of the borrower's reputation in his home, neighborhood, place of business and among a multitude of government agencies, where many unscrupulous bureaucrats are willing participants in the swindle, and often receive payments from both parties in the disputes.

The lenders are not educated or experienced in the forces of the marketplace, and simply join breeder gangs of like-minded persons, many with bizarre initiation rituals among members of a self-selecting and racially homogenous elite. They are bullheaded, extravagant, and greedy, often dipping into their own source of funds to speculate wildly in all sorts of shady enterprises, mostly using inside information, and regularly secretly betting against their public positions in the market and against their own customers. They are not afraid of a loss of capital because they are adept at skimming money from insurance scams, looting retirement funds, tax evasion and other government swindles, counterfeiting, and when all else fails, they terrorize their entire communities with the threat of taking everyone with them when they go down.

[Editor's other note: We suggest you invest in The Devil's In The Cows. It's got better fiction in it than Bank of America's balance sheet]

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A Beard White With Eld

The caesars wan come forth to peddle luck
They promise things that surely cannot be
They tread upon fresh boards laid through our muck
And supper slippered with our absentee

Their words are dripping treacle for the child
While mothers beat the rocks against the glue
An oven hidden waits for the beguiled
Their harpies stand to claim the residue

In ashes, ashes all comes tumbling down
The babies murmur, turn a closing gyre
The nursery a sad and ghostly town
Just dogs to lift a leg upon the pyre

The dogs lie down to slumber in the snow
The sled is stuck with miles still left to go

Monday, September 12, 2011

Under The Overpass

It was under the overpass.

There was some neon along the street, the odd letter winking at you. Urban tumbleweeds passed on by until slushy puddles gathered them in like dinosaurs in the tar. The bass notes were all that made it through the block wall until the door opened up and disgorged the treble registers to clang off the granite blocks that held their own, barely, against the traffic above. Tattered bills, read only by the people that put them there, announced shows long past attended by no one not related.

There was chain link everywhere. Chain link was our version of the Pale. Keeping us in or the others out with little more than a mute reproach. Simple effort would need to be expended to overtop it, and effort being in short supply, they knew it wouldn't be, and that was enough to keep civilization on a low boil for another day. Chainlink can't be vandalized. Nothing that can't be vandalized is a symptom of civilization.

It was a shower with no water inside. The ride cymbal is the only clock. Someone, back in say, the sixties, had ordered an actual mixed drink in there once. He hasn't been back.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Poke Salad Uncanny

Linsey Pollak  (Warning: auto-plays all sorts of noises)

(Thanks to Charles Schneider for sending that one along)

Friday, September 09, 2011

My Son, Charging At The Musical Machine Guns

What's bravery? Interesting concept. It's a kind of nerve, I guess. In a way it's a form of egoism; in a way it's abject modesty or selflessness. You offer your puny effort to the void, and the mob.

When I was a performer I called it facing the other way. If you've ever seen the discombobulation that grips the average person when you bring an audience member or an amateur up on stage in front of a substantial audience of strangers, you'll grasp the chasm between facing one way or the other.

I'm proud of The Heir. He is brave. He's writing music. He's facing all the way the other way already. 

Thursday, September 08, 2011

5 Guys Try To Keep Up With Oscar Peterson

I freely admit my brother and I used to refer to Niels-Henning ├śrsted Pedersen as: Neil's House of Pancakes.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Roofing; My Ass

It has rained most every second since I finished re-roofing the desolation that the non-hurricane Irene visited on my roof. It's as if Divine Providence wished me to know that my mad-scramble efforts weren't in vain. Or maybe is was just water falling out of clouds. I'm not sure which.

I'm wearing my best trapeze outfit.There's a buncha straps that go here and there and hither and yon and constrict and befoul your motions and efforts and the end result is a kind of safety. You're too exhausted from donning the stuff to climb the ladder and do anything, and so are protected from harm. In the first picture you can see the big metal ring on the middle of your back that you attach via a lanyard to a the rope you see trailing down over the plank. The lanyard has a kind of removable brake/ clamp on the end that slides up and down the rope if you squeeze it, but brakes hard if you yank on it, like you would if you heard the noontime whistle and forgot where you were for a minute. It works like a more elaborate version of the retention mechanism in your seatbelts. There's a problem with this contraption, which I'll get to in a minute.

That's our "before" picture, of course. It was plenty difficult to reach, and I had to do a good portion of it while hanging upside-down like a vampire bat or a congressman. The lump you see there in the "after" picture below is either the spot where I just yanked out the roof jacks, which are flimsy metal plates you nail to the roof to lay a 7-1/4" wide plank atop and then tell other people to go ahead and work on it, or maybe it's a squirrel, I don't remember. The jacks have angled slots on them and hang on three spikes you pound into the roof. When the sun hits it full, the shingles heat up and get as flexible as a crooked judge, and they lie down real flat of their own accord, just like the roofer does.

Here's another "before" picture. My house is one, big before picture.

And the result. Only cost me a couple hundred dollars in materials, and four years off my life. I would have felt stupid, lying in a bed, dying of nothing anyway. Now someday I can have a doctor look at my vital signs while I eat a puzzle my grandchildren just brought me in the rest home, and he'll say, "You used to roof, didn't you. You're a goner."

There's the problem with your fall protection system, right there. That big, iron ring. It's attached to the roof deck on a big metal plate that's attached with dozens of big screws. Someone has to climb up there and install it in the first place. The phonebook says I'm "someone." This is known in the trade as "your ass in the breeze." You can generally remove the rings when you're done, but I leave them for fixing the other 493 things wrong up there in the future. Eventually there'll be so many of these things here and there that my house will look like it's wearing chainmail armor and hurricanes won't bother it.

Roofing shingles cost exactly double what they did a little more than a year ago. They are just little slabs of petroleum emulsions with aquarium pebbles stuck on them, and since our government thinks we don't need any of that sort of gooey black stuff any more except to put into bulletproof limousines and corporate jets, we'll have to economize elsewhere. Before you go all Tea Party on the government on my behalf, I suppose I should admit that we probably would have wasted the money anyway, on food for our children or something equally dumb. Maybe a luxurious 9-1/4" wide board for me to stand on instead of the 7-1/4". Or Faberge eggs or something.

Roofing is one of those barbarian arts I know about but don't care for. It highlights an essential truth about a woodframed house, at least a traditional one that's not all plastic. The proper way to make a house weatherproof was described to me by a man that looked exactly like the carpenters you see in Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House. He even wore a fedora while he worked in overalls pulled over his street clothes -- hence their name, even though no one wears them like that anymore that I've seen.

Anyhoo, he told me to picture myself as a drop of water, falling on the highest point on a house. Now picture how I'd get all the way to the ground without getting in. Now make every piece of the house overlap the piece just below it to make sure it happens. When you roof, like most everything on the house, you just assemble it all correctly, backwards.

I never could have managed it by myself. The heir fetched and carried quite a bit, and he took this picture of me with a little Star Trek remake lens flare for effect. I probably shouldn't wear a red shirt if Star Trek is involved, huh?

It was 75 degrees while I roofed, so the temperature on the roof was about 1500 degrees Kelvin. That's an estimate; it might be low. But I'm glad we hung in there long enough to finish 3/8ths of the turret roof before it rained. By any measure, the job must be deemed a success. Don't get me wrong, the roof still leaks; it just leaks somewhere else now. 

Monday, September 05, 2011

(How I Came To) Disregard The Man Behind The Curtain

[Editor's Note: From 2006, I think.]
{Author's Note: I'm re-running this because I refuse to work three jobs on Labor Day. And there is no editor}

First, my bona fides:

Unions are not an abstraction to me. I was a member of the second largest union in the United States. My brother is a Teamster. My next door neighbor, who is not a bad sort of guy, is a retired union delegate for the Teamsters. I guess I should mention my brother is not a bad sort of guy, too. [Note: I've since moved, and my new next-door neighbor is an upgrade. I think he was in a policeman's union at one time]

When I was a manager, part of the company I worked for was unionized. Part was not. I hired many companies as construction subcontractors over a large part of the United States that were unionized. I hired many more that were not.

I am not wealthy. I was not born wealthy, and will likely not die wealthy. I have worked at hard, physical labor for a great portion of my life. My parents and grandparents almost all worked at least for a portion of their lives in those mills you see in grainy photos, where an untimely lapse in concentration could cost you a finger, or worse. Before them, it was all Europe and lord only knows how bad it was to send us all here.

While it's true that I've been treated pretty badly by many employers -- and imagined I was being treated badly by some employers who weren't treating me very badly at all -- I have also been threatened with the destruction of the only valuable thing I owned at the time -- my car--and serious bodily harm if that didn't convince me never again to exceed the quota of work deemed appropriate by my "brothers" in the union. In a parking lot at midnight. I know what I did, but I'm not sayin'. Tell me; what would you do?

When I worked for others, I've negotiated such things as trash hauling contracts in New York supplied by perfect gentlemen who are very much in a union. Conversely, I've been shown a chrome plated .45 as a means of collecting Accounts Payable by a decidedly non-union fellow. Life is not as simple as they portray it in the movies. In the movies, any evil fellow in a suit always has a picture of a Republican president prominently displayed in their office, usually where any normal person has a picture of their family. In my life, the only really crooked executives I ever met all had pictures of JFK in their offices. I don't know what any of that represents, really.

I have always had a predilection for reading, especially history, so I know all about the Ludlow Massacre and I know what a Wobbly is. I've read Ida Tarbell articles from McClure's. I've got a picture of Mother Jones with Calvin Coolidge around here somewhere. I know what a Pinkerton man was for. I've read Howard Zinn's People's History of the United States and John D. Rockefeller's biography alike. When I read Studs Terkel's Working, I didn't run around yelling "Something must be done!" ; I played a sort of game to compare how many of my own jobs had been worse. I'm old enough to recall a rather thrilling union tableau in a shipyard in Gdansk. And I know all about Sacco and Vanzetti. They were guilty as hell, by the way.

That's a long list of things to explain one thing: People enter into all sorts of organized things-- corporations and unions; rock bands and time-share condo deals; bowling leagues and the Cosa Nostra. I wish you all well. But me? I never wanted to be equivalent of the child in that picture, who doesn't even know what the sign says; and as long as there's breath in my body I'll never again put myself in the thrall of that hand you see, if you look closely, reaching in from the top right corner of the picture.

Happy Labor Day everybody.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

I Get My News Direct From The Seat Of Oxford County, And You Should Too: Read The Rumford Meteor

My very close, personal friend Aubuchon Connery is the publisher, editor, reporter, typesetter, and also has the key to the cabinet with the pens and the lightbulbs at the Rumford Meteor, and he's asked me to help him move a drifter's body  get the word out about the greatest little newspaper in the known universe, which of course stretches from Bethel to over near Lisbon Falls.

It's mostly fresh daily of course-- not entirely new, but  more like old-fashioned doughnuts at Dunkin's than those hot dogs you see on the rollers at the Citgo station in Skowhegan.  Our personal favorite sections are Swampdonkeys, Candlepins And Such, but I hear tell that Queer Doings is a hoot, I tell you what.

During these troubled times, it's more important than ever to stay informed, so remember: Maine leads the nation! Mostly leads you out into the woods if you're from Massachusetts. We know you city pukes and straphangers are frightened to be out in the willie-wacks late at night, but consider our plight: We have to walk out of there alone.

Read the Meteor, or you won't know what it says.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

What It's Really Like To Work At A Music Store

My son saved up his money and purchased an amplifier for his guitar. It was DELIVERED yesterday by UPS. It was DELIVERED TO OUR HOUSE. It came via a PACKAGE DELIVERY SERVICE. We did not GO TO THE MUSIC STORE. I SAID, WE DID NOT GO TO THE MUSIC STORE. THE STORE. THE MUSIC STORE. MUSIC STORE. WE DID NOT GO THERE. 

This is how people who live in Western Maine shop for guitar amplifiers, and everything else Aubuchon Hardware doesn't have -- you take the Intertunnel to England:

Friday, September 02, 2011

Smokin' In The Boy's Room

Longtime reader and commenter and all-around swell guy Sixty Grit has poked me through the bars about an off-hand comment I made in "Tear The Roof Off The Sucka." I've been living for about a year now in a house that was something of a drunkard's nightmare cum insane asylum, so perhaps I've grown inured to the gaping strangeness of the place.
Wait, you can't just throw out "shingled inside" without further explanation. I have seen some stuff, but I have never seen that. One of my houses was owned by a guy who used to saw off molding using a chainsaw, from the looks of it, square, sort of, then nail it next to another piece, on an outside corner. He didn't know you could buy a saw with more than 1 tooth per inch _and_ saw an angle cut. But I never saw shingles inside.
I don't want Sixty Grit to think I'm a liar. I am a liar, by birth, education, temperament, proclivity, and inclination; that's why I don't want Sixty Grit to think I'm a liar. But indeed, I hereby aver that a goodly portion of my house had cedar shingles applied to the interior walls like lumberjack wallpaper:

That's my bedroom, which is still something of a horror, but at least it's not shingled now. The foyer was shingled. A bedroom upstairs. The kitchen was shingled, too, including the backsplash --even the backsplash behind the stove. A cedar shingle dried indoors might as well be soaked with napalm. Using it for a stove backsplash tests the lower limits of behaviors that result in continuing to abide above the lawn. And at least some of the former occupants smoked like steamship funnels. There are scorch marks on the rim of the sink in the bathroom, and the ultimate sign of the hardcore smoker: scorchmarks on the wooden floor around the toilet where the truly dedicated would put down their ubiquitous butt to look after their other ubiquitous butt.

There's a great deal that can be learned from my house. It's a fine example of what happens when a house is worth a lot less than it cost to build it. Every single house in the town I live in is worth less than it would cost to build it. The United States is learning right now how people behave in, and towards, things that are currently worth less than they cost to build. No one takes care of  inexpensive expensive things. They amuse themselves with wrecking it, or tinker with it, like a Home Depot flyer exploded in it, pasting nonsensical gewgaws all over everything instead of fixing the roof or keeping the pipes from freezing. People become inordinately interested in "saving energy," and are prone to listen to the siren song of rubber windows and plastic siding and willy-nilly insulation. The buboes appear as vinyl siding, generally; then the long, slow, slide with lots of stops along the way to copper thievery. Human beings are locusts to a house they don't care about.

You can have expensive houses or you can have no houses. I'd exhort you to choose, but it looks like we already have. Now if you'll excuse me, I've got shingles to put on the roof, and take off the walls.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Now Ish Der Time On Shprockets Vhen Ve Dance!

Computer love
Computer love
Another lonely night
Stare at the TV screen
I don't know what to do
I need a rendezvous
Computer love
Computer love
I call this number
For a downtown date
I don't know what to do
I need a rendezvous
Computer love
Computer love