Sunday, December 30, 2012

For Miles

My wife and I had to leave the house the other day. That hardly every happens. Our teenage son is almost a man, and looks after his little brother like a lion, so we don't worry overmuch.

Our older son had a friend over. We left them alone in the house. What would two teenaged boys do to get into mischief in your house if left alone? Ours went into this huge, overstuffed and tumbledown room we call a closet off our bedroom. It's where everything goes to die, or to wait; whichever comes first. There's a bare bulb depending from the ceiling in there, and clothes we don't wear much, and VCR tapes, and a dishwasher we purchased three years ago that I never installed because the floor is too out of level in the kitchen, and I have to fix it first, and we ain't got the dough for that. So my wife stands at the sink, listing to port a little, and washes the dishes by hand and dreams of a dishwasher she already owns.

Anyway, those two scamps broke open some boxes of lps. You know, records. Vi. Nyl. And they listened to Charlie Parker records and played board games until we got back. Full of surprises, those kids are.

Friday, December 28, 2012

When You're A Dad, Every Day Is The Best Day Ever, Until Tomorrow

Little dude left him hanging at the 3:25 mark. Not cool.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

I Figured I'd Better Brush Up On My Architectural Skills

Mmm. Walrus blubber.
En francais, s'il vous plait:

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Make Something If You Can. Own Something Someone Made In Turn

I've lived a fair bit now. Long enough to see simple commodities that everyone thought were consigned to the ministrations of machines alone on a factory floor being made by hand again.

Of course movies are made by, for, and about robots now, instead of people, so the economy is still in equilibrium.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas From Sippican Cottage!

We can't thank everyone enough, but you can't stop us from trying. So here goes:

To everyone that reads, and comments, and links, and corresponds, and buys my book, and purchases furniture, and uses our Amazon links, and pitches in to help us buy musical stuff for Unorganized Hancock -- even though they sing a clunker now and then --many thanks from the entire Cottage family; we hope the blessings of the season brighten your life, and that the new year brings you all good health, good fortune, and many amusements. We love you all.

[Update: Thanks, Dave R.! Thanks, Bilejones!, Thanks, Kathleen M.! for hitting the tipjar]

Monday, December 24, 2012

Traditional, Now

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

Ginger Ale 

by: Sippican Cottage

I wish it would rain.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"No." I rose to leave.

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

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

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

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

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

"Do you want something?" he asked.

"Ginger Ale."

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Days Of Mad Romance And Love

Art Tatum plays Yesterdays by Jerome Kern and Otto Harbach. He made a record of it in 1949, so I imagine this video is from sometime around then. He died in 1956.

Practically blind, drank a lot. Could still blow anyone's doors off on the piano.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Things Are Different Today; I Hear Every Muvva Say

Oh how I love to watch dull things.

I liked to read dull things when I was younger. Still do, but don't have the time anymore. My head is kinda full, now, too, so I look for opportunities to lighten its load before I take on more ballast.

I'd rather read a newspaper that was one hundred years old than a brand new one. Everything in a newspaper is interesting if everyone's dead. The mundane-r the stuff you're reading in it, the better. The ads are better than the articles in any publication, generally.

Look what had to happen to get a book in print in 1947. It's the reason that the apparatus to publish a book had so many gatekeepers along its Appian Way to the bookseller. Can't waste copper plates on fanfiction. Eventually, like with so many things, the gatekeepers thought they were the business, and became a calcified roadblock for anything their crabby little worldview didn't like.

Reform is not possible with large, complex, monolithic entities. They have to collapse. In general, they collapse right after their hegemony over the entire landscape of their walk of life is reached. No one can imagine a competitor. This lack of imagination is a swamp where the noxious exhalations of innovation come from.

I typed a book on an ancient Frankensteined Dell computer running XP, sent it to Amazon, and less than a week later I had a box of them in my lap. No other human was involved in its production on my end. At the printing end, for all I know, seventeen Yetis with a glue gun and a barrel of ink made the damn things.

I don't know much, but I do know that if the entire edifice of publishing was still in place, I'd have never written anything, and would never write anything else. Good riddance to bad trash.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Landfill Harmonic

People are valuable, and often do wonderful things.

That's not the impression I get reading about the wonder of a classical orchestra springing up out of a landfill like a daisy in a graveyard. Everyone's fascinated with the trash. I don't know how to break it to you, but in general, a violin is made from the structural fibers found in the boles, branches, and roots of trees. I can open the windows of my house, reach out, and touch trees. I can go out to my pile of firewood and get fifteen-violins-worth of tiger maple in one five gallon pail and bring it inside and get to work. Trees are even less valuable than trash. And I saw plenty of animals in the video, and if you have animals, you have glue.

That's real recycling, red in tooth and claw, you see going on at the Cateura landfill. Not the smug dump of your Dasani bottles in a bin on the curb. Trash has to go somewhere, and someone has to deal with it. If what you dump is valuable, people or machines pick through it and make money. The people in Cateura are there because they know that the trash is full of what for them is treasure. It's funny that most of the instruments are made from metal, which is the most high-value stuff in the dump. They should sell that, and get a load of pallet lumber and make better violins. But who knows how transparent the economy is in Paraguay? I offer no advice to the Cateurans, except perhaps: Keep going.

Paraguay's had a very lively history. "Lively" isn't often good in politics. From the fifties to the present it's been at least fairly stable, and as recently as 2010 they've enjoyed a 14.5% GDP growth rate, third in the world behind Qatar and Singapore. How'd your 401k do in 2010? Just asking.

So things are getting better in Paraguay, and there are lots of children, and the children need things. People, being clever, make those things for their children out of what's at hand. It's obvious that someone loves the children in the video, because even though they live in a dump, they're well-turned out, clean, and learning Mozart instead of Eminem. I can't say the same for the children I saw at the Walmart near where I live.

Paraguayans have children and make violins for them out of next to nothing, both signs of hope for the future, and are celebrated by childless first-worlders obsessed with their trash who talk endlessly about the end of the world. A Paraguayan seems to know that people are valuable. Do you?

(Thanks to reader and commenter and friend and artista especial Casey Klahn for sending that along)

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Earwax And Zima

Some sort of stuff has been falling from the sky for four days straight now.

What it is, I cannot say. It accumulates on the ground is about all I can report about it. It changes itself from one thing to another from time to time, to avoid monotony. I am having a great deal of difficulty attempting to identify this substance. It has a passing resemblance to "partly cloudy," which of course in New England is measured in inches, generally, but there the similarity ends. I'm used to shoveling six inches of "partly cloudy." This was something else.

At first, I was gulled into thinking it was snow. It was white, and sort of fluffy, and tasted like nothing, and you could push it around with a plastic blade mounted on a wooden dowel. But that was a canard and a swindle. You went out into it, and whoever has his hands on the levers of the machine that makes it dumped all this other stuff on you. Bad stuff. The snow-like stuff was just to get you onto the lot, as the car salesmen say.

The first day was no picnic, but we piled the mysterious admixture up here and there around the place where we thought we'd like to have another look at it in May. The second day brought even stranger material to earth. I tried applying the encyclopedia, and the dictionary, and word of mouth, and the wreckage of my education to the problem of its composition. The town assayist turned down the contract flat. Said he didn't want to spoil his thimble with the gunk. I had to rely on my good sense. So, here goes: I think it was equal parts Visine, petroleum jelly, heavy water, asbestos, and earwax, with just a hint of Zima in it.

The third and fourth days were just variations on the theme, worthy of a Mozart or any of those German fellows banging on their pianos while portly women with viking helmets hit the big notes. My senses are somewhat dulled from constant exposure to the elements, and I am weary from my exertions, so forgive me -- of course it was redundant to mention earwax and Zima in the same sentence. Mi dispiace.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Duke Robillard Has Heard Of T-Bone Walker

Woonsocket's own Duke Robillard plays Blues for T-Bone. The eighties, in Germany. There was a rash of guitars heroes just then. Extended solos might have been our biggest export at the time, after excelsior and gum arabic.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Happy Crimble From The House Band At Sippican Cottage

Unorganized Hancock!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all my friends out there on the Intertunnel. We are friends, you know; I wouldn't let strangers hang around my cottage like you do.

(Update: Thanks, Kathleen, for donating to the boys music fund again. Merry Christmas! Up-Update: Wow; many thanks to longtime Interfriend Ruth Anne! Up, up, and away update: Bilejones comes through. Many thanks!)

Saturday, December 15, 2012

If I Made This, You'd Never Hear The End Of It

Then again, if I made it, it wouldn't have worked, and I'd never have heard the end of it.

Woodworkers constantly construct their own tools. Jigs, mostly, to make the same thing over and over.
Matthias' homemade bandsaw
Previously on SC: Ad Hoc? I Invented It. Six Homemade Tools

Friday, December 14, 2012

It's T-Bone Walker's World. We're All Just Doing Two Shows A Night In It

I'd be hard-pressed to come up with anyone as musically influential as Aaron Thibeaux Walker.

No, really. If you've ever been in a juke joint, or a road house, or a cathouse, or a supper club, or any other borderline disreputable place where liquor and music is served, he's the patron saint of whatever you saw on the crummy stage in the corner. He's the first guitar hero. Gave birth to the birth of rock.

He always looked slick, which I like. People on the stage should look different than the audience. They should act like they belong there. He sang, and then he sang through his guitar. That's the key to his style. It was all melody. And he sang about mundane things that everyday people could relate to. Tuesday's just as bad.

Big band music had to go somewhere. T-Bone Walker took it somewhere else, near where we all live. I very rarely miss playing music. I did it for money. But every once in a while, I think of the tiny stage in the Met Cafe in Providence, and cheap beer and the pool table that listed to port a bit, and I think of T-Bone Walker, and how much fun it was to be sad together on Friday night.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

I Saw Three Ships Come Sailing In

My older brother used to play with a very talented performer back in the day in Providence, RI. The fellow could do everything. Balloon animals, magic, juggling, mad piano skills, sing. He taught himself to play the musical saw for some reason. He would only play songs that could incorporate the saw properly -- I Saw Her Standing There; The First Time I Ever I Saw Your Face -- that sort of thing. Ave Maria would have been right out.

 I Saw Her Again, Last Night, though...

Good night Jose Rose, wherever you are.

(Thanks to Charles Schneider for sending that one along)

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

More Evangelizing

Reader, commenter, and dare I say friend, Shoreacres purchased one of my Evangeline Tables today, (Many thanks to everyone that did!) and supplied a link to one of her essays that also touched on the poem Evangeline. She wrote it a few years back, but Longfellow never goes stale. It's eleventy times more interesting than my essay, and there's good music in the comments, too. Go!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Sippican Cottage Deeply Regrets The Use Of Forced Labor In His Factory, Especially His Own

BERLIN - Swedish furniture giant Ikea expressed regret Friday that it benefited from the use of forced prison labor by some of its suppliers in communist East Germany more than two decades ago. The company released an independent report showing that East German prisoners, among them many political dissidents, were involved in the manufacture of goods that were supplied to Ikea 25 to 30 years ago. The report concluded that Ikea managers were aware of the possibility that prisoners would be used in the manufacture of its products and took some measures to prevent this, but they were insufficient. "We deeply regret that this could happen," said Jeanette Skjelmose, an Ikea manager.

Sippican Cottage today released a statement expressing remorse for the use of forced labor in his factory, and promised to do better in the future.

"I deeply regret forcing the sole employee of Sippican Cottage to work up to sixteen hours a day, seven days a week, for no paycheck, for the last eight years," said Mr. Cottage, the sole employee of Sippican Cottage, "and I have no idea what I was thinking not taking a vacation since 1998, either; I should be ashamed of myself."

Mr. Cottage said the near-slave conditions he kept himself in seemed necessary at the time, but he realizes in hindsight he should have just given a state senator an envelope full of twenties and gotten a block grant or something, and been at the pub at noon on Friday like everyone else. He admits he was just being unreasonable. "I kept trying to pay my property tax bill in full, instead of giving an easement to the conservation committee for the four acres of swamp in the back to get an abatement, and it just sort of spiraled from there. Pretty soon I was forcing the only employee I've got to work for four hours on Christmas Day to make enough to pay the excise tax on my rattletrap truck before the interest started piling up like last year. Jeez, I'm a bastard."

Mr. Cottage describes a slippery slope confronted by many businessmen: when does the desire for profit trump simple human decency? For Mr. Cottage, the answer was simple. "You'd think I'd have learned after my wife had the first kid, but somehow or another your mind gets fuzzy from listening to the dull bandsaw blade screeching in a case-hardened piece of wood all day, and you sorta drift off to the dark side a little at a time. Like an idiot you think that once a kid's big enough, you won't need four hundred dollars a week for Enfamil and diapers, and maybe you can let the only employee sleep until after sunrise on Saturday once in a while. But no; then the little bastards start eating real food, like, twice a day or something, and it's right back to Solzhinitzyn-grade time management in the shop."

Further digging reveals Mr. Cottage's seemingly contrite attitude towards his former transgressions masks an even darker secret. Not only did he make his only employee work in near darkness in a nasty windowless basement for almost five years straight without a break, it turns out that the employee was disabled as well, a fact that Mr. Cottage hid from both the authorities that could have helped, and from his family as well.

"OK, you got me. My only employee is north of fifty now, has had a bad back since the 1970s, Meniere's Syndrome, bad eyesight, tinnitus that sounds like four guys with Tourette's throwing junk cars down a mineshaft, a terrible inflammation of his plantar fascia that's morphing into arthritis, a bad knee from a car accident thirty years ago, and even though he's allergic to bee stings, I made him go up on the roof and reshingle it last summer. But in my defense, none of that stuff seemed like much, compared to all the really disabled people I see getting help for their ailments. Until you've looked into the eyes of someone that's prone to panic attacks, or that's had someone look at them funny at work once, or needs a miniature service horse to shop at Whole Foods, you don't know how lucky you are. I told him, er, me, to suck it up and get back to the table saw."

Although he's promised to do better, Mr. Cottage says he -- and his Schedule C --can't help thinking he's leaving money on the table if he starts taking his foot off the face of the fellow in the shop.

"I mean, I know guys that are forced to limp during an entire round of golf in case an insurance adjuster is surveilling them at the course. I really didn't think I'd have the kind of mental toughness to persevere under that kind of tyranny. Imagine trying to remember which foot to limp with all the time! So I admit it; I just took the easy way out, and just yelled at the help to work harder. Luckily the saws drown out the yelling so my wife doesn't hear me upstairs. I don't want her thinking I'm crazy or anything."

Friday, December 07, 2012

Something Special: The Evangeline Table

When I was little, I went to parochial school. I don't think they call them that any more. The nuns were very kind -- still dressed in full penguin togs and fingering their beads by the hour. They read to us. We read Longfellow. Evangeline

    Ye who believe in affection that hopes, and endures, and is patient,
    Ye who believe in the beauty and strength of woman's devotion,
    List to the mournful tradition still sung by the pines of the forest;
    List to a Tale of Love in Acadie, home of the happy.

Longfellow was from Maine, and lived in the first brick house in Portland. The whole town is brick now. It's a fitting metaphor for his life. He was one of those people whose work was so accessible and popular that eventually no one wanted it any more. It can't be any good -- everyone likes it. I still like it.

I don't create things as much as I'd like. I make things, which is honorable, and gratifying, but it is not always the "whole" thing --the process from soup to nuts, concept to sticks and bricks. I wanted to make the whole thing for a change.

I had this raw material. I'd purchased a pile of flame birch many years ago. It's the king of all American woods, if you ask me. Hard as a banker's heart, and beautiful as a girl that won't talk to you. I tucked it away to do something with it -- eventually. Eventually is a terrible word in my life now. There was potential in the rough planks of wood that could be brought to bear for the right project. But what?

Creation is the whole thing, as I said. I set up my lathe again. I like the lathe. It's quiet. I don't have to put a vise on my head to use it. It's not a rote operation, ever, even when making the same leg over again. My little son said, "Daddy is sculpting again." I adored that. I was. But more, I was thinking. I was trying. I was striving to make something, the whole thing.

What to do with flame birch? Shakers used it once in a while. But I was not thinking spartan. The wood is the hardest stuff America produces. I was thinking of the forests from whence it came. I was thinking of Acadie. And so I thought of Longfellow, and Evangeline.

It was going to be a nineteenth century table, the legs would have tulips for their toes, and the wild, iridescent grain would be revealed, but somehow tamed by the soft shapes of the turnings. The heaviness of the forest would be transformed into something sophisticated and delicate. I went back and forth over dimensions, proportions. I made it small enough to seem delicate, but big enough to be elegant and useful. I think I made it beautiful, but that is not for me to say.

There is a statue of Evangeline in Nova Scotia. It is where my father's family came from, and the statue was made by a sculptor who used the actress my mother is named for as a model. So I had this whole idea, a mishmash brought together into an object.

The table has a look of  unreality to it. The grain flips from dark to light when you walk past it. It becomes a negative of itself and then goes back again as you move. It's like tortoiseshell. I made it for my Father, who is gone, and my Mother, who I do not see often enough, and for Acadie, and for the nuns that read Evangeline to me.

I cannot keep it because there's nothing wrong with it. We can only keep the things that aren't right somehow. You can buy it. It's not on my furniture website right now, so my readers can see it first, here. This table is either the first one, or the only one; I'm not sure which yet. But I must put it out in the world because it's the best thing I've done, and there is no eventually for me any more.

$399.00, Ready to ship. Free shipping to anywhere in the lower 48 states. 16" x 16" x 27" high.

[UPDATE: Sold to Bob in Missouri. Why do I have so many friends in Missouri? I don't know, but I'm glad of it. Thanks, Bob]

[Saturday Update: Due to the overwhelming interest in this item, I've decided to accept orders for Evangeline Tables here on my blog. They'll be ready for shipment approximately six weeks after you place your order. Many thanks to all my friends for their kind words and their interest in Sippican Cottage. Still $399 each, free shipping included] 

Buy one now:

Or if you'd like to buy a pair of Evangeline Tables, use this button:

Thursday, December 06, 2012

The Very Square Dance

Dave Brubeck is dead. Dave Brubeck was a square.

I like squares. I think I'm a square, although that's not for me to say. It must be said about you. I think squares accomplish most everything notable in the world. The hipsters crib from the work the squares do, to achieve their ill-deserved notoriety. The squares invent the moldboard plow, turn the earth deeply, and feed the world with their crops. The hipsters later keep windowboxes full of plastic flowers. No one will remember Lady Gaga in a hundred years. My grandchildren will play Dave Brubeck records.

All my favorite people are squares, and in the arts, too. Dave Brubeck was L7, man. Yeats was the last man picked for dodgeball, writing poems about the first girl he ever kissed until the day he keeled over. Pelham Grenville Wodehouse was a joiner. Mark Twain was the mayor of Squaresville.

Dave went to school to be a veterinarian, and his teacher told him to go across the hall to the music room because that's where he belonged. He couldn't read music, so they gave him his diploma with the stipulation that he never teach music -- because that's what a music school is there to produce: music school teachers. Dave thought it was to produce musicians. What a dork.

What would you do if you were a pianist, fresh out of school? You'd smoke French cigarettes that smell like ass and affect some sort of accent and wear a beret and drink wine outa bottles in a basket and so forth. Dave joined Patton's Third Army. That's what squares do -- what needs doing. They figured out he was more valuable playing the piano to the Mauser fodder than being the Mauser fodder, and he toured around cheering people up.

Then he got out and started a jazz band, and did what squares do. He treated everyone as an individual, and had an integrated band, and he worked hard. He found a place to play, and he played there, and he collected his money, and kept working at what he was doing, befriending more people that could help him. Then he got real square.

I want you to picture yourself in a record company meeting. A guy that looks like he flunked out of veterinary school, but kept the wardrobe, comes in and says he'd like to make a jazz album. Jazz albums don't sell of course, but this dweeb, looking at you through glasses like the windows on a submarine, doubles down and says the whole album is based around playing in limb-contorting, ear-disorienting odd meters like 5/4 and 9/8. You could tap your foot to Blue Rondo a la Turk if you're a carnival sideshow geek, and have the extra limbs required, but for accessibility, that's about it. The rest of the record is wheelchair accessible for dancing after two martinis at the Copa, maybe.

So you're the A&R man. You just put out a Johnny Mathis record, maybe a Fabian single, or maybe you're tragically hip, and you're eating lunch with an Ertegun and you're pressing a Sarah Vaughn disc in the afternoon. What do you say to Ichabod Brubeck? Admit, it, you'd ring the buzzer and have him walking spanish to the curb courtesy of security. You'd have no way of knowing that Dave's record would be the first jazz album to sell a million copies. Only squares understand what squares are doing. Eventually the beautiful people get on the horn and yell at their underlings, "Get me one of those Barbell.. er.. Burdick... ah, whatever that goofy bastards that can't count to four are called. Brubeck. Yeah, that's it. Find me one of those. Them. Whatever"

I don't know why the world makes the squares perform their very square dance alone for a while while we titter at them. You're all going to dance to it sooner or later.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

If You Fix Things Others Throw Away, I Am Your Brother

Coulda helped her out with the finish on the legs.

Every once in a while I get the urge to try upholstered furniture. I lay down, and it goes away. 

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

That Seventies Show

What was it? Three, four years ago. The Heir had saved his pennies and bought a Stratocaster. He pawed over my old setlists and practiced and practiced. I took him with me to an old friend's house, and we reassembled the wreckage of a band that used to make a little scratch down Cape Cod way. The boy wanted to play with a real, live band.

We were, technically, alive, so we let him.
[Update: Thanks to Dave, for hitting the music equipment jar again. It seems to be paying dividends already. You can almost hear and see them in the videos now. And thanks, Gareth! And Henry! Thanks]

Monday, December 03, 2012


Our nine-year-old gets up to things.

His older brother is a teenager, and has gone quiet. But he is not inscrutable. The little one is literally inscrutable. He is my flesh and blood and kith and kin and I have no idea what's going on in there sometimes.

He is currently sitting in the dining room. It's the only really warm room in the house. He's eating a waffle and reading a Calvin and Hobbes compendium aloud to no one -- or everyone, including one sleeping person. He also has handy a giant book of New Yorker cartoons that he reads by the hour. He reads them over and over, but never laughs at those. He reads them like a stock report. Then he turns to a giant, 1000 page visual dictionary he stole from his brother's room. He reads them all like morning newspapers.

After he's done eating and reading, he'll probably watch physics lectures on YouTube on an elderly laptop we keep in there. I have no idea why he watches physics lectures on YouTube. He doesn't seem to think there's any difference between physics lectures and the Borderline Sociopathic Blog For Boys for entertainment purposes. He often sits impassive while watching the most absurd thing in a viral video, like it's instructional, then laughs at gravity drawn on a whiteboard. None of this has anything to do with his schoolwork. He does all this stuff before his schoolwork. Whenever I see those whiteboard animation lectures that are popular in college nowadays, I can't help noticing that they're perfectly suited to a nine-year-old's attention span and interest, as long as it has nothing to do with school. Parents are blowing 40 large on Sesame Street Science class for children that shave and drive and occasionally procreate. 

He likes lists and like things, like many small boys. He favors flags right now. He's fond of drawing each one in Microsoft Paint. He draws all sorts of things in Paint. He's the last person in the world to use it, I think.  He exhibits a behavior I admire. He'll be interested in something, so he'll try to reproduce it in every medium at his disposal. He likes Calvin and Hobbes, so he draws them in crayon, and then in Paint, and then he assembles giant totems of them out of blocks in Minecraft, and then he gets outre and draws the giant, blocky versions of them he made in Minecraft in Paint again. Then he erases is all and starts in on something else.

I do not spend as much time with my children as I'd like. I am always around, but I am busy. Yesterday I took a moment to try to teach the little feller something on the drums. His older brother had learned the guitar parts of a song, but the drumming was, I thought, more complex than anything the little boy had ever heard. I showed him a video of the fellows playing the original song, and it was a regular music video, not just a performance, and he was giggling uncontrollably at the way the rock stars presented themselves. He did not know that they did not intend to appear as clowns. He thought they were the circus. He wanted to watch it forty times, but wouldn't pay attention to the musical part. He could wear out a stone, that boy.

I painstakingly learned the drum parts and went upstairs and haltingly worked them out on the drum set. It took me fifteen minutes or so to get through it, slowly, once. It was deuced difficult. Then I went and got the little weirdo and stood him next to me at the drum throne and tried to teach it to him. He wiggled all around, and looked at the ceiling like there was money up there, and fidgeted enough for me to ask him if he needed to go to the bathroom, and he looked out the window, and generally ignored me until I was exasperated. I could tell he wanted to watch the video, and all this other stuff I was on about was superfluous.

We do not force any musical instruction on the kids. They play because they want to, or don't. I got up because it was pointless to continue. He sat down and played it, without error, right away. I hate that little kid sometimes.

He wants to be funny. He's still unsure exactly how to be funny. He says riotous things at dinner, and we all laugh until tears come. He starts after we do, and laughs more uproariously than we do, and then gets stonefaced and says, "I don't know why that's funny," and we laugh at that, too.

I advise you to get a little boy or two and watch them. They're better than television, and use less electricity.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Tell Me That Joke About The Dumb Polack Again

Henryk Szeryng plays Bela Bartok.

Romanian Folk Dances is a good soundtrack for a Maine winter. Not sure why --although hurrying through the Borgo Pass while the wolves howl in the shadow of Castle Dracul is a lot like going to South Paris, Maine in December to drop off a package at the Going Postal shipping store. There are more Pitbulls roaming around South Paris, so it edges out Wallachia for danger, I think.

Henryk Szeryng was born in Poland in 1918. He was Jewish. Even a casual reader of European history would immediately see what sort of future a baby born there and then might be in for. A Greek playwright couldn't come up with a sword big enough to hang over your head in Act I. We can't blame him for not amounting to much. No, really; we can't.

He started in on piano when he was five, taught by his mother. Oh, dear; a homeschooler. When he was seven, he took up violin. Piano must have been too hard for him. Well, it's too hard for everyone else; I don't see why it would be easy for him. It sounds like he was well-to-do; he eventually studied in Paris and Berlin, and was a notable player before he was twenty. He played with the Warsaw Philharmonic, playing Brahms, when he was only fifteen years old. I don't know about you, but I was still building model airplanes when I was fifteen. I don't want to cast aspersions; you may have been building real airplanes when you were fifteen for all I know.

Later on, when things got very unpleasant indeed in Europe, a certain General Sikorski, who was the head of the Polish government in exile, noticed the young fiddle player spoke seven languages besides being able to play Bach. When I was in my early twenties, I could make myself misunderstood in about three languages, if you include English, so there's that. I also knew the bass line to Jump Into The Fire by Harry Nilsson, so I had the musical waterfront covered as well. You may have been less accomplished than I was. I don't judge.

In 1941, Sikorski went to Mexico to beg them to let 4000 Polish refugees, ie, Jews, settle there. Szeryng went with him, had an epiphany, and decided to become Mexican himself, and eventually taught at the National University of Mexico. I don't think he taught animal husbandry.

In the fifties, Arthur Rubinstein dropped by Mexico City, went to see Szeryng, and after hearing him play, convinced him to start playing concerts again. I don't hear from you as often as I'd like, so I'm unsure how many times Arthur Rubinstein came over to your place and asked you to do things internationally, but the only time I spoke to old Art, he only asked me to paint his fence. I may be misremembering this; it's a while ago. It may have been a housewife name Agnes Morgenstern that had the fence that needed painting. At any rate, I'm sure Arthur Rubinstein would have had some sort of use for you; you're likely a lot sweller than I am. Most people are.

So our friend Szeryng made recordings and traveled the world giving concerts, sawing away at a Stradivarius violin when his good violin, a Guarnieri del Gesu, was in the shop having its bolts tightened or something. I don't think he liked the Stradivarius all that much; he gave it to the State of Israel in the seventies, hoping they'd loan it out to some underachievers like him from time to time to bang away on.

He couldn't sit still, that guy. I am loath to call him a drifter, but I can't find out if he moved around a lot over unpaid gas bills or too many parking tickets or what. He lived in Paris, and eventually died in 1988 in Monaco, flying back and forth from both to Mexico on a diplomatic passport because he was Mexico's official cultural ambassador. I don't know about you, but I once rode in an AMC Ambassador, which is a comparable thrill, I'm telling you. You may have only ridden in a Pacer, so I won't mention it again. I don't want to make you feel like an underachiever.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

If You Make Things For Other People Then You Are My Brother

Environmentalists love boats made like this. I've made boats like this. Been to plenty of boatyards, too. All the evil stuff left in our world is still used in the boatyard. Toluene; acetone; MEK; heavy metals; lead; fiberglass resin; hell, even the sawdust from the funky woods can give you nose cancer. Better to just let the maker read the label on the West System cans and paddle around the lake untroubled.

Gull Wing Boat Works

(Thanks to friend Charles Schneider for sending that one along)