Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Halloween 2012

Won't You Come And See Me All Saints Day?

Happy Hallowe'en everybody.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

I'm Working So I Won't Have To Try So Hard

Reader and commenter and impresario Dave has challenged my Heir and The Spare again:
Alright, the chick in the Youtube video convinced me: $20 for Someday by the Strokes. A quick and easy one for ya- she's very muse-i-cal Dave (Bill Graham's got nuttin' on me)

Okey dokey. The boys know how to learn things. It's the method they've been taught. Learn-Do-Teach. Still, I'm sort of amazed that in one day they can learn a new song well enough to perform it and produce a video of it by themselves. They did enlist their old man to play the bass with them. Last resort. The song only took two takes. I made a mistake in the first one or it would have taken only one. They'll find a decent bass player. Someday.

The somewhat inferior but nonetheless somewhat charming original:


Monday, October 29, 2012

Bulletin, 2012: People Stockpiling Anxiety Medicine And Preparing To Call To Complain If Their Cable TV Is Out

As the philosopher Jagger once wrote: Things are different today. I hear every mother say. The pursuit of happiness just seems a bore...

You may think I'm joking in the headline, but if you read The Meteor, you'll learn that there isn't any joke you can dream up that doesn't turn up true eventually. Sooner rather than later, usually.

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

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Sippican Cottage Readers Are Cautioned That It's Time For The Hurricane Smith Preparedness Drill

You'll need batteries for your transistor radio, so you can scan the dial looking for Hurricane Smith songs to pass the time. Make sure you've got plenty of milk, to mix with cognac and some other stuff to make your lo-fat Brandy Alexanders, in case Harry Nilsson and John Lennon come over. You should probably head over to Home Despot and get some plywood to put over all your windows; if your disco ball sends its reflections outside the house, you might attract ships at sea. Better to keep them in your living room, accenting the flocked wallpaper and the patterned mirror tiles on one wall. Your Peter Max poster looks best that way, too.

Don't forget to stow your faux fur throw rugs, to expose your peel and stick parquet flooring in all its glory. Your stack heels will keep you up out of the raging water if you have sound footing. You'll need candles, of course -- but you've already got several dozen arranged around your papasan chair love nest. Fire them up with your Colibri coffee table lighter, and invite some storm-tossed lovely over. Don't light the fondue pot until she's in the building, or it'll get gummy. Better have a doobie hanging around too; you're not that charming. You're no Hurricane Smith.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

The King Of The King Of Trades

My kinda guy.
Britain's longest-serving blacksmith is still forging iron in his workshop - at the age of 84. Hardy Fred Harriss, 84, first picked up a hammer and tong aged ten in 1938 and is still working every day 74 years later. He has worked back-breaking 12 hour days fixing steam engines and aircraft, as well as making railings and ornamental iron pieces. And the hardy blacksmith - who refuses to wear gloves for the blistering work - claims he will NEVER retire from the job.
I am having trouble adapting to a world where this man is unusual.

Monday, October 22, 2012

My Sons Can Learn Music Faster Than Anyone That Can Learn It Better

So yesterday, reader Dave left a message for my boys on The Drummer's Only Nine And He's Gone Hollywood On Us Already:
If they played requests and took Paypal they could make money right now $20 for "Everybody Talks" by Neon Trees
Dave, who isn't kidding
Well, my boys have always been instructed to come home with their shield, or on it. Here ya go:

Well, there you go. The boys are homeschooled, and they practice in a room with no heat or permanent electricity. They made the video themselves, using only the ambient mike on a flip camera and Windows Movie Maker on an old computer. I've added a Tip Jar to the top of the right hand column, serviced by Google. All you need is a credit card and an email address. [ Updated: Due to overwhelming demand, we've added a PayPal option] Who wants to give them a few bucks to buy some proper musical equipment, or perhaps a hundred-watt lightbulb? The widget auto-fills five bucks. Give what you like.

The original, serviceable, but somewhat inferior version by the Neon Trees, if you're interested

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Pitch-And-Putt With Joyce And Beckett

Fair warning: lots and lots of swearing.

I found a somewhat dog-eared copy of Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man on my older son's night table recently. No one's making him read it. If you have books around, children read them. It's as simple as that.

I once gave a copy of it to my wife, who is not Irish. After reading it, she asked, "What the hell is wrong with you people?"

I dunno.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Julian Bream Plays The Rigging Of A Four-Master While His Roommate Waits For A Bus

He's playing Lachrimae, by John Dowland.

Flow, my tears, fall from your springs!
Exiled for ever, let me mourn;
Where night's black bird her sad infamy sings,
There let me live forlorn.

Down vain lights, shine you no more!
No nights are dark enough for those
That in despair their lost fortunes deplore.
Light doth but shame disclose.

Never may my woes be relieved,
Since pity is fled;
And tears and sighs and groans my weary days
Of all joys have deprived.

From the highest spire of contentment
My fortune is thrown;
And fear and grief and pain for my deserts
Are my hopes, since hope is gone.

Hark! you shadows that in darkness dwell,
Learn to contemn light
Happy, happy they that in hell
Feel not the world's despite.

It's the seventeenth century version of this:

The Sky Is Crying, by Elmore James

The sky is cryin'
Can't you see the tears roll down the street
I've been looking for my baby
And I wonder where can she be
I saw my baby early one morning
She was walking on down the street
You know it hurt me, hurt me so bad
Made my poor heart skip a beat

I've got a real bad feelin'
That my baby she don't love me no more

You know the sky, the sky's been cryin'
Can you see the tears roll down my nose
Gary Moore wasn't fooling. Drank himself to death in 2011.

Friday, October 19, 2012

I Remember The Thirty-Five Sweet Goodbyes

I have no idea who Michael Sirois is; every-other person here is named Sirois. But he made a charming little song and slideshow about Rumford, Maine, where I live. Found it while looking for any sign of life on the Intertunnel that I didn't bring with me.

Time makes fools of us all. Our only comfort is that greater shall come after us. -- E.T. Bell

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Drummer's Only Nine And He's Gone Hollywood On Us Already

Ladies and Germans, Unorganized Hancock!

Ambient mike on a Flip camera singing through a practice bass amp with no reverb in a room with no heat or permanent electricity.  If they could find a bass player who'd show up two weeks in a row, they'd be working for money right now.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

A Kind Of Safety

There is only one kind of real safety: The wisdom to know where danger lies, and the ability to balance the return on risk with the exposure to that danger.

At its most elemental, danger is easily espied. Hey, look; there's a giant, spinning metal wheel covered with raggedy teeth. Ahoy! There are straps running hither and yon and spoked wheels spinning and begging to take a digit. Everything from splinters to a head staved in is in play. That's if the boilers don't explode first.

Everyone in the video looks unruffled. "Don't touch the hot stove" is easy if you're of a serious mind. The boards that marvelous machine is spitting out are valuable and useful and worth the effort, and worth the effort to keep safe, too. Risk/reward at its most elemental.

These are anachronistic machines, which I adore. Simpler is better in almost all things. If they were more up-to-date, there would be a great deal more safety devices in use. What would come of the improvements? The users would get inured to the presence of danger. Blase. They would begin to stick in waxy earbuds and concentrate on organized noise instead of paying attention to what they were doing. Maybe they'd have a snifter or three at lunch and think nothing of it. They might pass the time in skylarking instead of sticking to it. And all the guards in the world will not save those that think that all forms of danger must be made safe --even from attempts at voluntary harm -- and whatever downstream effects of danger ignored must be unquestionably and munificently ameliorated by others.

All that "safety" is before you even get to the Gates of Barrister Hades, guarded by the hellhound with three heads: paranoia, hypochondria and fraud. When suffering harm is a winning lottery ticket, the only way to lose is not to play. And the loser always pays. But you knew that. Stay safe!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Samhain Again

Roaring drunk and carrying salt and iron in the pockets of my cothamore inside-out. No dice. He'll come again.The soul of the man murdered walks the earth on Samhain when the faerie mounds vomit their wards. I haunt the pubs, a guiser with a mask of bonhomie, but to no effect. He will find me.

You can kill a man every which way. That's the trouble. You think there'll be some shade feigning Ellen Terry and holding out a crown and dagger dripping, but murther usually sneaks up on you in this world and haunts you from the next. Did I do that? Is a pillow over a face, sleeping, less a murder than a stick-em-up roscoe to the temple? Are there degrees to it? I don't think so. I never laid a finger on, but that's the point. If you put your hand in your pocket when a man reaches for it in familiarity he's done for. He died alone, but no rutabaga will ward him off me now.

You can starve a man out and say that he died of inanition and who's fault's that? I moved his stone in the Samhain ring without touching it. The smoke off the bones from a stranger's fire could not save him. It had to be me. I offered a cold shoulder and a deaf ear to him and he went away, and now he walks at my elbow like an usher.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Twenty-Two Years Of ZZ Marriage

Circumstances used to demand the ZZ marriage from everybody. You couldn't run around assembling and disassembling your affairs all over the landscape over and over. You placed your bets and you took your chances and you stuck to it. Sometimes the chances were pretty slim. You always stayed until closing even if your chips were gone in the first five minutes.

I've got a ZZ marriage. It is not required any more. No one would much bat an eye socially or otherwise if we parted. There is no disapprobation, even on purely practical grounds, to keep us together.

I do not understand my wife, and have no desire to. I am not a vivisectionist of her personality. The patient always dies in that situation, after all. I am not explaining my situation here; I am simply observing it. I can tell you that I have an enormously defective personality, and she don't seem to care. I don't know why that is, either.

Poor people, dumb people, sick people, interesting or dull people, all sorts of people, no matter how straitened their circumstances, no matter how hard-hammered by life they were, got a chance to do something sublime in their life. For many, it is the only really transcendent thing they will ever be allowed to attempt; opportunities to win a Congressional Medal of Honor or a Pulitzer Prize or something aren't just lying around, never mind the actual article.

I've had an interesting life so far, I guess. It's not over yet. I could tell you wild tales, many of them true. Nothing compares to my ZZ marriage. It's made all the more piquant by the fact that no one is making us do it.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Babble Of The Bends. Bateau Of The Blands. Baffle Of The Blends. Whatever

Bird Dog at Maggie's Farm sent me a video of Lez Zeppelin.He heard them play live at his friend's birthday party. He was smitten, or smote, or amused or something.

Of course, Bird Dog has learned many times that it's dangerous to tell me something interesting, because it's sure to immediately remind me of four things that are not interesting. This is not one of those times.

It's time for a good old Battle of the Bands. We must determine what the finest substitute for Led Zeppelin might be. It is especially important to find a fine substitute for Led Zeppelin, because Led Zeppelin isn't any good, and never was. If we don't find an amusing substitute for them, we're stuck listening to them.

Ladies and gentlepeople. Contestant One. Lez Zeppelin!

Pretty fair there. Not bad. A little too masculine for the subject material. I like my hard rock bands on the fruity side. They could all beat up Jimmy Page on his best day.

Next; Contestant Two. Legion of Rock Stars!

Now we're getting somewhere. That brings something to the cover band table. It steals the salt shakers and half the silverware, and puts all the extra rolls in its pockets before it leaves, but while it's there, it brings it. The trumpet is a nice touch. It insists upon itself. 
We're going international now. The big guns. Contestant Number 3. Leningrad Cowboys!

Sublime. Sub-everything, now that I think of it. Cooler than a banker's palm. Hotter than a babysitter. Dressed sharper than an Italian on payday. Gonna be hard to beat.

But I think Contestant 4 can do it. Ladies, Gentlemen, and everyone that uses the third bathroom at the commie bookstore in Portland, I give you Dread Zeppelin!

An Elvis impersonator in a reggae band doing Zeppelin covers. Admit it, you don't hate them because they're beautiful, you only hate them because you didn't think of it first.

Well, let's hear it in the comments, people. Who's the greatest substitute for Led Zeppelin? Whoever wins, we've all already won, as we avoided listening to the subject material -- actual Led Zeppelin music -- which is uniformly dreadful. So Vote! But remember: No wagering.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Any Fool Can Make Something More Complex; But It Takes Real Genius To Make Something Simple Again

The commendable fellow in the video is making: treenware.
treen, small wooden objects in daily domestic or farm use and in use in trades and professions. Treen includes a wide variety of objects mostly associated with tableware, the kitchen, games, personal adornment, and toilet articles. The word is never applied to objects larger than a spinning wheel and does not include objects designed primarily for ornament. (Britannica)
When I see an ironic-looking fellow sporting muttonchop sidewhiskers and pedaling a single-speed bike, wearing Clark Kent glasses, with a six-pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon under his arm, unstructured scarf flapping in the breeze, I'm often reminded of people like our pole lathe turner. I wonder if anyone else is.

People seek authenticity in their lives. Authenticity is often equated with simplicity. Steve Jobs glommed onto the idea of never showing any screws on the outside of his wares to give the user the impression of a monolithic apparatus, not a machine. It's fake simplicity, but so what? As they say, If you don't have good manners, pretend you do; it's the same thing.

Counterintuitively, simplicity also lends itself to originality in manufacture. You'd think that a lack of ornament would limit uniqueness. And that fellow is trying to make everything exactly the same way, every time -- but he's failing utterly and wonderfully. A human can't do the exact same thing twice like a machine can, and the wood wouldn't allow uniformity anyway; no two pieces of wood are identical. Everything you make is one-of-a-kind. I've made hundreds of tables. No two of them are remotely the same. I'll go further, and aver that each has a kind of personality, revealed in working on them. They all have opinions about the weather, and think they have a "good side," like a teenager being photographed. The pieces of a table will fight with you if you don't listen to them.

People can't all make everything for themselves, or there would only be room for a few million people on earth. But the urge is there, a kind of respect, and straphangers use the power of their purses to rub elbows with authenticity as a worthy substitute for doing it themselves.

(thanks to reader and commenter and customer and friend JHC for sending that one along)

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

I Work Alone

I am a gregarious sort of person. It's my name, after all. But I work alone now. I have no need to seem like anything to anyone unless I feel like it.

I don't mind it as much as I thought I might. I had a job a decade ago and more, a real office job where I had to talk to a lot of people. It was there I became quiet. I dressed the same way, every day. It was, more or less, the same uniform I wore in parochial school. White shirt, tie, slacks, plain shoes. Under no circumstances would I ever unbutton the top button on my shirt or loosen my tie. I wouldn't even do it in the parking lot after work. The office instituted casual Fridays and I wore the same clothes. When I was an underling, everyone near yelled at me for not participating. Eventually I was their boss, and no one yelled at me.

I used to negotiate contracts with very hard-nosed people. Some of those people were way past hard-nosed and were plain criminal. They had all sorts of approaches they'd use to get what they wanted from their employees, and especially from people outside their building. When it was time to meet and negotiate anything with these hardnosed people, I'd always behave the same way with everyone. It almost always worked.

I would arrive early but sit in the parking lot until the exact appointed time. I would warmly greet everyone in the room, and mean it. Then I would sit directly across the table from the other party to the negotiation. If the table was thirty feet long with twenty empty chairs along its edge, I'd still sit at the far end from the person I was talking to. If there were thirty people, I'd figure out who was most important and sit across from them. I put both feet flat on the floor, directly under their respective knees. I would sit up entirely straight. I would fold my hands in front of me. I would look directly into the eye of the other person. I said "eye." You cannot look another person in the eyes. You end up flitting back and forth from eye to eye. I would choose one eye and stare right at it. I often place a blank foolscap pad in front of me with a pen atop it. I would never write anything on it, and would never touch the pen. I would not alter this pose for any reason. If my shirt was full of centipedes I wouldn't budge. A clock in the room might as well be Medusa. No matter what was said to me, I'd just sit there like a basilisk. I wouldn't smile, or frown, or raise an eyebrow. And no matter what was said to me, I would never say anything.

"Never say anything" is hyperbole, of course. I would answer any direct question. But nine times out of ten, you can answer anything said to you during a negotiation with "I understand." People generally don't ask meaningful questions in such cases. Hell, they don't even ask any sort of question; they just say all sorts of things they think might cut some ice one way or the other, and then they wait for you to say something back out of cowardice or manners or pity or anger. They bluster and yell or entreat and cajole -- but mostly just talk to hear themselves talk. If you say nothing, and telegraph nothing with your body language, it would get to them after a while. They'd begin to feel self-conscious. They'd get rattled. Then they'd start giving away the store. They slowly talk themselves out of all sorts of things they brought you there to beat out of you.

I had already offered whatever I was going to offer in meetings such as these. In writing, to the last jot and tittle. Meetings like these do not need to happen. It was all in writing before you were summoned. They figured they were going to use the force of their presence in some way to get what they did not deserve. I felt it was my job to wait it out. I worked for other people and I took that seriously. I have never acted this way while I was working for myself.

If someone rejects your submitted proposal out of hand, you'd be stuck. You'd have to abandon the idea or resubmit. All the work is on your end. That's nerve-wracking, and people's motives are inscrutable if all they say is "No." If someone wants to chat in person, they are already on the lot, as the car dealers say.

All humans are like a pail of water. If you dump them on the floor, they make a big splash, then they run pretty fast all over for a little while, then they coalesce into little puddles and do nothing. You have to wring them up and put them in a bucket and then start over.

That video is the Ohio Association of Realtors, I believe. They are having some sort of convocation. Team-building. Networking. They are being mopped up and wrung back into their Tony Robbins signature bucket, girding their loins for a new year of getting their commissions. It wouldn't surprise me to find out that every single one of them was a nice person. No, really; I mean it. They look pleasant enough to my eye. They are gathering together to feed on each other's enthusiasm for their chosen walk of life.

For the most part realtors are hired to defend the position of a third party. A buyer, maybe, probably the seller. Now I want you to picture anybody who would willingly attend and participate in that RealtorTubbies freakshow in the video, sitting across a table from a negotiator who acted like I did.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Take Two

[Editor's Note: After reading the comments appended to yesterday's essay, I've decided to rewrite it. After all, it's not the readers' fault it reads like Henry James transcribing Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man into Sanskrit. The fault, dear Sippican, lies not in the Intertunnel, but in your pixels]

I want you to click on the triangular button on the YouTube player and watch the video that is enabled and put into motion by clicking on the triangular symbol on the video I want you to play. That is because I want you  to watch the video. This is what I am wanting.

Please look at the video. Are you looking at it? Look some more, ensuring that you look the hell out of it. Do not unlook at any time. I am telling you this, after embedding this video on a blog I keep where I tell people that I would like them to look at things. I hereby affirm and exclaim that the thing I'm bringing attention to is what I would like for you to pay attention to. Please do. Pay attention to it, I mean.

As you may have gathered, I have also watched the video. I wish to take this opportunity to aver that the man in the video is commendable in every way, and the apparatus he has constructed is useful and interesting. It is good. By "good," I mean that it is not bad. It is not not good. I like it and it is good. I like the good things about it, and do not dislike the bad things about it because there are no bad things about it.

I would further like to take this opportunity to say that I am refraining utterly from litote, simile, metonymy, analogy, synecdoche, metaphor, paradox, and any other method of amusing juxtaposition of words, concepts, or images that might give off even the aroma of not goodness to these proceedings.

The man did a good thing with his thing there that was good, and I liked the good thing and you should like the good thing too. Because it's good, and not bad.

Also, any use of the appended video, which I believe you should watch again to see that it's good once more, will be entirely restricted to proclaiming the essential and uncontrovertible goodness of the good thing made by the good person. I will not intimate that the good thing has any lessons to offer us on the state of the nation and the differing views on the correct allocation of time and resources in the private economy. That would simply detract from saying I like it a lot, in every way a man can like a oblong wooden boxlike structure that he's not currently occupying below ground.

Of course, I would like to point out that by mentioning, just this once, that the thing in the video is a good thing, made by a good person, no doubt in a state filled with good people, federated with other states filled with good people into a national entity of outstanding probity, industriousness, and benignancy, that I'm not saying I'm entitled to any sort of opinion about it at all. In the past, I have had profit and loss, hire and fire responsibility for 59 million dollars of construction activity in a single calendar year, but of course that doesn't mean I would have any idea about "carpentry, production, or business."

But by god, I know good. That thing there is good. I wish I was a better writer, too, so I could think of another word for good.

Monday, October 08, 2012

Please Remember: Carpenters Are Really Dumb, And Harvard Grads Are Wicked Smart

Harrumph. I doubt this guy could even make out the paperwork to get a Humanities grant.

The two modules that make up the working surface of his very nifty work table are called "torsion boxes." They are immensely strong for their light weight --but strong things are often bendy; these are able to avoid deflection under very substantial loads. It wouldn't surprise me in the least if the fellow had never heard the term torsion box. It could very well be he's just smart and innovative on his own.

Since he's still in business in this homebuilding climate, I'll guess he's a very good businessman indeed. It's counterintuitive to many people that work in small-shop industries, where there has to be visible, measurable work on display at the end of every day to show the customer, that they should stop what they're doing for any reason to invest time and money in things that have long-term productivity benefits. If in the short run you're dead, you have a tendency to simply hustle all the time. You can only think of the long run as a series of daily short runs.

Increases in productivity are a luxury to a business that has limited capital. That's why you see poor countries emerging from communism using human labor to accomplish things we use machines for. If you've got lots of people and no money, you dig a canal with shovels. Luxuries come last. The fellow in the video probably knew he could improve his, and his workers' productivity with a setup like that for a very long time before he accumulated enough time, energy and money to try his hand at it. If you confiscate his money, squander his time, and dissipate his energy before he gets a chance to use them, his business is less productive, and the work he does takes longer and costs more, or at the very least pays less, than if he invests in himself, his business, and his workers.

Paulk Homes

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Hey, You Never Know

A real friend sent along a dogeared Calvin and Hobbes collection. Just out of the blue, no explanation.

We have lots of books in the house; but many, if not most of them, are still in boxes and piled here and there in unsalubrious places. We even have some Calvin and Hobbes books in there somewhere, but none out and about. We were forced to go find them, because the little feller wants to read them all now that he's read one.

I love that illo by Gluyas Williams. It is an exact representation of little me, every day after school when I was young. There was a green jacquard chair in the corner of our tiny living room, with good light from the picture window, and a hassock before it to hold a heap of newspapers and books. My mother would take me to the library a couple of times a week, I'd max out the lending limit, and swim around the chair just as you see there. There was a mid-century modern fireplace surround hard by the chair, and I'd slowly walk my feet up the edge of the protruding bricks until I was upside down, and then I'd flop like a fish on the beach and start over. I'd never take my eyes off the page for any reason.

It's odd and wonderful to see the Spare Heir flopping around on a jacquard club chair and processing books like a little text shredder. My children do not love books like I did, but then again, there was no Intertunnel back then. They're reading all the time, one way or the other.

The vocabulary is quite challenging for a nine-year-old in C and H. We see him skip over to the computer and type a word into Google now and again when he's stumped. He gets it pronounced for him, too, which I was not aware you could do, but kids find what they need because they look everywhere for everything. You'd never find your car keys if they were on the roof of your house, because you'd never look there. You'd just look on top of your dresser over and over. A kid might start by looking on the roof.  Hey, you never know is a great way to go through life, even if it drills a lot of dry holes.

I don't know what possessed my friend to say Hey, you never know and send my boy the Calvin and Hobbes book. Maybe he's very smart, or maybe he's just lucky. But such questions are circular, because, Hey, you never know.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Huckleberry Finn Is Just A Boatride

The music's a trifle. I V IV, dip your toe in the circle of fifths for the iim and V, a six chord thrown in to throw the dogs of boredom off the scent. Shuffle it around and play Brown-Eyed Girl if you like. It sounds like Van's moved his folk song to B flat for the horns. But it's straight on in.

It's the hardest thing in music. A poem sung, a story chanted. A simple anecdote made profound. Van and his friend blew off school or whatever and went fishing and it rained and they hitchhiked and when the sun came out they went swimming and an old man gave them a drink of water because they were thirsty.

And Huckleberry Finn is just a boatride.

Thursday, October 04, 2012


I can picture this poor schlub doing this act in a Ramada Inn function room for a Kiwanis convention in a few years, after the motivational speaker and the chicken and shells. And that's if he's a success. Otherwise he'll be waiting for a callback after submitting his resume to a Blue Man Group franchise for the fifth time.

I know I've seen this act somewhere before. Hmmm...

I'll see you all at the In-N-Out, after the what-have-you.

(Thanks to regular reader and commenter and all-around good guy Charles Schneider for sending that along)

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Captured Happy In A Picture Frame

My wife and I like to go out for a walk every day the weather's nice. There's a quiet warren of streets near us that's very suitable for it. If I'm too busy working, she goes alone. She's reserved, and she lives in a house of yammering males. She must welcome a moment of peace and solitude.

We know, or at least know of, many of our neighbors. Most everyone's friendly, although some are very private --they're sunny when you encounter them, but there's a whiff of Punxsutawney Phil about them. Many stop and chat when you pass by if they're out in their yard. Everyone at least waves.

The leaves have gone into another spectrum now, and many are already scurrying before your footfalls in the street. The sunshine is milky and the thermometer is losing interest in the indoor numbers. Summer was cool; September was cold. Life will be turning entirely inward here soon.

One of our far-flung neighbors said hullo to my wife at the apogee of her walk. She's a hoot. She and her husband live in a big foursquare, now bereft of children, and make do with the best dog in the neighborhood. Taciturn and friendly. The dog, I mean; the neighbors are chatty and friendly.

The last big agricultural fair of the season is on in Fryeburg just now. Are we going, she asked? My wife and I enjoy such things. We just like wandering amongst the animals, big and small alike, and all the farming regalia; our little one want to go on all the rides. My wife said we were too busy and broke to go. Our neighbor immediately proposed Plan B.

She came by in the early afternoon, after our little son's school work was done, and took my wife and the boy to her mother's house in the next town. It's "out in the landscape," as my father used to term everywhere without sidewalks. And out back of mom's house was too much garden to be considered anything less than a farm by a nine-year-old boy. It was a wonderland.

Our neighbor let him do everything there. He gathered pumpkins for our porch. He pulled carrots, and dug up beets, and parsnips, and pinched off the last cucumbers the season's likely to see. Then he got to dig potatoes, raking them out of the rich earth and tossing them in a basket. She was an old pro, and showed him the ropes. He asked more questions than a policeman, but she didn't mind. He was in heaven.

There's a big outdoor sink hard by the rows, and they rinsed the prizes a bit, and himself a lot, and he came home and told me all about it. My wife mashed those potatoes, and we ate them along with some of most everything else last night at dinner, and will again tonight. They tasted better because they were from friends. My boy is in the next room right now, scrawling a thank-you note to deliver to his farmer neighbors.

I have lived in Maine for over two years now. Before that, we lived in a town in Massachusetts for fifteen years. I think I've determined the essential difference between the two places: It's presumptuous, I know, but I really do believe that my new neighbors here in Maine would cross the street to piss on me if I was on fire. I wouldn't make such an extravagant claim about the last place.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Don't Hire A 48-1/2 Year Old Burn Victim With A Fat Lip As Your Architect

People have the wrong ideas about what a house is.

I've spent a goodly portion of my life observing people and their houses. I think that dwellings show more about people than any other publicly available information about them. Hell, no psychiatrist knows more about a person than their housepainter.

People have got it into their head that a house is an elaborate and fussy thing, antiseptic; it's like a gigantic automobile, and that it should look brand new at all times, forevermore. I do not share this view. I think that your house should get better --be better, more comfortable, more visually appealing --the longer you live in it. It should suit you, not the other way around. This is not achieved with plastic slipcovers and powerwashers.

I am living in what was, until recently, an abandoned home. It had big holes in the roof through which animals that could cast shadows passed in and out. All the plumbing and heating pipes had frozen and burst. It had suffered at least two fires before, the evidence of which was still visible. It was a wreck, and so, cheap. But it had not been neglected. I pray to someday own an old house that has been neglected. Neglect does not indicate a profound contempt for the value of the original house the way the mindless remodeling that went on here does. Wave after wave of owners had mostly wrecked everything in the house worth saving, and had added all the cancers that Home Depot has to offer in their place. They figured the stuff wasn't brand new and shiny any more, so why keep after it? I have muttered under my breath: I can fix the hole in the roof; what did you people do with all the goddamn doors? I don't need a ceiling fan in every room in a house within driving distance of the arctic circle, you lunatics; I need doors in the doorjambs.

Everyone searches for a free lunch. But there is no free lunch in a house. Only a direction. Or, more to the point, there are only two directions, better or worse. You are never at rest. Most everything I see touted for installation in a house touts as its prime characteristic that it never need maintenance. That's the "tell." If you ever see the term "never needs maintenance" again, substitute the word "disposable," because that's what it is. It never needs maintenance right up until you throw it away in an angry fit, 100 years before things that need maintenance are getting warmed up.

I work, really hard, making cottage furniture here in Maine, on one floor of my house. It's fairly large. It's partially below ground, and two storeys up at the same time. It was a really dreary hole when I first set up shop. I've noticed that the longer I work in there, the pleasanter the place becomes. I tinker with it some, but mostly it organically becomes more useful and pleasant because I begin to place things where they are handiest, so clutter is slowly cleared away, and with less clutter, the place is easier to clean up. I put back five windows that former owners had removed, so it's brighter  and warmer than it used to be, too. It's an example of the phenomenon: the longer you bustle about a place, the more suited to you it should become. Many kitchens achieve this in American houses, but few other rooms really do. I've found many dozens of people, living in houses with 5,6,7000 square feet -- even more than that -- and still huddling in some little corner of it with the only possessions they truly like, trying to be comfortable, while the rest of the house is a furniture museum.  They used to ask me what color they could paint the abandoned rooms that would tempt them to enter them.

The siding on my house is 111 years old. It requires painting. There will never be a house with 111-year-old vinyl siding on it. And the siding on mine will be structurally sound for another hundred years -- or two. There are dozens of windows in my house that are 111 years old. They are made of wood, many still with the original wavy glass in the sashes. There will never be a house with 111-year-old double-glazed vacuum-sealed windows in them. My house has 111 year old birch strip flooring in it. There will never be a house with 111 year-old Pergo flooring in it.

I could belabor this point. But the only truly permanent installation in a house is ceramic tile in a color you can't stand. If you like the color, it falls off the wall. Everything else is ephemeral, and will require maintenance once in a while, or replacement if it can't be maintained. You might as well get used to the idea up front.

Women now visit the vivisectionist -- er, I mean the doctor -- and say they'll pay big money to look like a 48-1/2 year old burn victim with a fat lip instead of the fifty year old woman they are. Others buy vinyl siding. But the impetus is the same. You recognize the direction you're heading, and instead of cultivating the passage of time, you want to fight it. Deny its very existence. Good luck with that.