Tuesday, September 9, 2014

a low voice in the basement

Adventures in Building Management, Part LXVIII

Last Saturday. A memorable day, but not in a good way.  The phone line was not working. I was verifying the connection, because no phone company kid under the age of 70 could understand the old Bell System cable bundles that deliver the Internet and Phone service in our 1925 bank building.  There are numerous logical breaches, undocumented splices which undermine the original Bell Telephone order of things - a blue wire goes into a wall, for example, and emerges red with white stripes.  So, I was crawling around on the floor of my office like the serpent, trying to make sense of it all through the copper boiler pipes, other cables, holes in the walls, lighting, sound, and other studio cables.  It's like trying to trace a single thread of linguini through the Alfredo sauce. 

All together, now:  What Could Possibly Go Wrong? 

In squeezing behind the console, I jostled an already-stressed wooden shelf system, and now it began a low, relentless, painful groan.  Wrenching myself out from under the console, I stood up just in time to see an entire 6 ft section of shelving weaving over, starting to lean into its final descent - a kamikaze dive to oblivion.  It's all my equipment!  My babies!  Two ancient 75 lb. reel-to-reel tape decks, an amplifier, cassette drives, and a vintage pre-amp.  I managed to swing the shelf upright again, but as soon as I let go, gravity had its way, and my moral support was the only thing keeping my beloved tape decks from crashing themselves into sad little heaps of irreparable scrap metal.  I frantically one-handedly disconnected all the power and audio cords in anticipation of rescue.  I wedged a ceramic tile shim into the shelf. First one deck and then the other. After the weight was alleviated, I left the shelf on its own, and great was the fall of it

And that probably contributed to why the phones were sounding so weird that day.

The phone rang - it's one of those modern beige table models with a lucite rotary dial.  A voice came through the crackling, a lady's high voice with a heavy foreign accent. All I could make out was:
"I have a low voice in the basement".
I thought it was a telemarketer, but although I couldn't understand what she was talking about, this lady knew too much to be a telemarketer.  So I didn't hang up.  
"Is this Gaddy, maddy to Joss Barka?"
Well, yes, I'll admit that was close enough for me: Gary married Joyce. 
"There's a low voice in the basement."   
So, I shout through the static  "Who is this really?
 " the Petting Saloon" 
"The WHAT?"
"The Petting Saloon, not Chinese restaurant, but the next store after on the end"
"Oh, the Eyebrow Studio!"  I don't see what's a Petting Saloon, whatever that is. Jani is OK at English, really, but with the crackling phone lines, she sounded like an entirely different person.  We got down to the problem at hand:
"A low voice in the basement". 
OK.  ENOUGH ALREADY! This I gotta see. Who ya gonna call?  Voice Busters!
"I'll be right over".  
I entered the heavily-incensed salon. Jani pointed calmly to the basement stairs. "There."
As I descended the stairs, I could indeed hear the low voice - an eerie groaning, much like the leaning shelf I had just left. The sound modulated and ululated - as if someone is working in the next room with a floor sander.  But there was no next room in the basement, and no floors to sand. The noise was emanating from the water pipes, and the low voice was vibrating the whole building. And with nobody using any water, how was this possible?  I finally traced it to a Chicago faucet with a failing washer - the miniscule water leakage slipping through the washers was enough to set up a resonance. Shut off the water supply valve to the sink, and the small voice was stilled.

Friday, August 8, 2014

A Tale of the Desert

A tale of 1001 nights.  Somewhere in the vast Arabian desert.

The travelers were crossing the vast desert.  After laboriously laborng through the shifting burning sands in the dazzling sun all day, they found that they had not reached their destination. They had taken the wrong way, and were lost.  The moonless night was an inky black and silent, and the lost travelers, their water supply exhausted, sat down to rest, dreading the coming of the dawn of what would surely be their last day on earth.

"I can take you where you wish to go"  The voice of a stranger startled them from their weary reverie. A mysterious slender figure in a robe the color of the sand had suddenly appeared before them.

"Follow Me" the new guide ordered in a soft voice like the falling of sand through the fingers. Still stunned from the weary trek of the day, the travelers stood up, and followed him.  The night was so dark, the guide's robe was barely visible to them. The followed closely, lest they lose him. The desert was eerily silent. The party came to a small hidden oasis.  Water issued from a small heap of rocks.

"Drink", the guide commanded.The travelers drank gratefully, and fully of the black waters.

Their thirst satisfied, they all sat in the darkness, resting.

"Now, I bid you,

fill your pockets with the rocks of this spring. As many as you can carry - take them with you.  My promise to you: In the morning you will be both joyful and sorrowful."  The travelers did as they were bid, filling the pockets of their garments, and their travel sacks, with the smooth stones.  The group resumed the desert journey, following the guide, afraid that he would disappear and leave them in darkness.

The stones were very heavy. Some of the travelers grew weary, and could no longer carry the stones. They slipped some rocks out of their pockets, and cast the rocks aside, leaving the stones behind along the way.

Finally, the party reached the edge of the desert in a familiar place, with no idea how they had ever made it through the desert night.  When they travelers turned to thank their guide for deliverance, he had vanished.

Weary, the travelers made camp, and slept deeply and peacefully until morning.  Awakening in the dawn of grace, they looked around them.  As they looked in their pockets and sacks, they were indeed both joyful and sorrowful. For the rocks that they had blindly filled their pockets with in the darkness were in reality nuggets of purest gold.  Joyful at the beautiful treasure they had acquired, and sorrowful that so much, so very much,  had been left behind along the way.

And, so it is with me, and my Flowering Cacti.  When I planted the seeds, at first they would not come up, and then when they did finally germinate, they grew into little furry-leafed weed-looking things. And then yesterday, they started to bloom - beautiful delicate yellow flowers. Now I wish I had planted more of them.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

goodbye eleanor

Norm and I have been friends since the first day of first grade. August.  School out. Almost every day, we'd go swimming.  And sometimes we'd go all the way to one another's houses.  Norm lived on a six-acre mini-farm on the Rock River.  I had a large family (5 kids), but Norm had an even larger family (5 kids, uncle, and some grandparents, numerous cats and chickens).

Norm's family lived in a two-story farmhouse in which every square inch of space was utilized. There was so much always going on at Norm's place.  Much of Norm's family's subsistence was self-generated. There were gardens, berry bushes, apple trees, chickens, and lots of work to do. The kids were expected to help out with the family survival.  They all pitched in on the weeding, vegetable processing, gathering eggs, and canning.

But, when the chores were done, in all fairness, the kids were free to, well, to be kids.  Doing what kids would do given the endless frontier of a six-acre plot full of buildings there was a hatchery, chicken coops, sheds, cats, fishing worms, and mysterious piles of things. We'd invent things, build things, pull nails from old boards in a fallen-down shed, explore along the river, go fishing.  Once we built a wooden sailboat, and sent it out.

Besides his main job, Norm's father had various part-time jobs he did for people, sometimes for barter. He had been a cook in the Army. So he knew a lot about bulk foods, and how to make meals for hungry masses.   I remember once he came home with a covered pail full of freshly-squeezed milk, cream floating on top.

And Eleanor made sense of it all.  I called her Mrs. L---, Norm called her Mom.

Eleanor would oversee everything to do with the home. With the daily melange coming in to her pantry, she made every meal into a feast.  Green beans, fresh tomatoes, huge chunks of baloney, blocks of cheese, buckets of milk, freshly caught fish, fresh eggs, chickens.  She baked bread - her bread was out-of-this-world good, and would hold its own even in the 21st century where "everybody's a gourmet chef". And her cookies - "Now THAT'S a cookie!"  "Have another one!" You never left her table hungry.

Eleanor Lorenz (1920-2014)
The kids in Norm's family were brought up right, with strong work ethic, and valuable skills, aptitudes, and an attitude of cooperation. Together they made it all work.

In the late 1960s the upbringing was put to the test when the farmhouse was almost destroyed by fire. The brothers pitched right in and re-built the farmhouse, better than ever.  Two of the brothers went on to become building contractors. The sisters became teachers. Norm became a TV producer in Madison.
Me, Norm's sister Pauline, and Norm
serenading at the skilled-care center - 2003
The family, now grown, stayed very close, and would come together for the numerous family rites of passage, marriages, children, baptisms confirmations, graduations.  And when Norman's mother and father could no longer keep up the place, the kids were right there to aid the passage to a new life, retirement community, and finally, a nursing home.  Norm's mother became one of the most remarkable patients at Marquardt Manor in Watertown, and the staff all loved her.  Even when she could no longer talk, she communicated goodwill to the staff and family.

Eleanor always liked music. Church music, secular music.  Back in the farmhouse days, they'd gather around the piano. She loved it when Norm sang "You Load 16 Tons" for her. And "Mairzy Doats". The family would gather in her room in Skilled Care and sing for her.  Even when she couldn't give voice to her feelings, you could always tell she appreciated the music, because she was tapping her toe in time. The family gathered in her room over the past few weeks, as they always have, they sang together, they held her hand. Now, Eleanor has left us. But in some ways, she will never leave us.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The People on the Bus

The Pittsburgh Ave turnoff, part of the 15 route.
I've been off of work a few days this week - between assignments. The special project ended early, and it's too early to start filling in for vacationers. The special project ended early partly because we are such an awesome team - worked myself out of a job... but i'm catching up on the Project O' the Day at home. I've been installing light fixtures, cleaning up the studio, I've got a ceiling fan to install (I hate ceiling fans - you get close enough to adjust them and WHAP you get it on the side of the head.)

In my travels this morning, my old familiar 7am Number 15 bus passed the corner exactly on the 41st ring of the Immaculate Conception church bell, as always.  Why does God have to ring the church bell 41 times every morning at 7 o clock? Although I've had some pretty nasty bus rides on the way home, the ride downtown in the morning is usually very pleasant, and the same people get on and sit in the same places every day. We don't talk much, but if we meet in the course of the day downtown, we exchange a look of "Hey, aren't you, you know, from the 15 bus in the morning, yeah, that guy who sits in the bench across from me in the back?"

Real life characters like the Expectorator - He gets on the bus at the same stop that I do.  He works for some logistics company headquartered Downtown.   Explaining that he has sinus problems that medical science cannot remediate, while we're waiting, he proceeds to cover the entire bus stop area with loogies.To his credit, he doesn't do this on the bus.  Wipe your feet, everybody.

And the Engineer. The engineer always sits in the same spot, right behind the side door.  He always has his nose in a very technical looking manual, different manual every day, but it's always pages of very technical diagrams and tables. He's probably the one they come to when one of the big machines starts going "Pocket-a-pocket-a" 

The Packer Guy - He Dresses in Green and Gold year round, and makes me wonder whatever happened to Jeff Kaufman, a guy I went to grade school with. It's not him - Hey Jeff, where the #$%# are you nowadays?  Packer Guy will cheerfully engage anyone in conversation about the Green Bay Packers. There's always something new in Packer Land.

Madame Librarian. She wears a skirt just below her knees, thick glasses, and very heavy looking boots. She sits oblivious to her surroundings constantly reading a different book every day.

Tall skinny young guy,  lanky, big thick glasses, usually wearing horizontal stripes, and a scarf in winter - Tell them the search is over - we've found Waldo.

Garlic Man - 'nuff said. We feel your presence, Dude.

Der Kommisar - He never speaks, he never smiles.  Tall, wearing a beret. He strides purposefully, with a sense of divine right to his seat, sits down, pulls out a tablet computer and with a regal flourish gestures the computer to do his bidding.

The Snow Queen - This is a case of extreme body language. This woman seems to know me, and makes a point of ignoring me.  I come in all full of  "Good morning" to the bus driver, with nods to some of the other regular passengers, but even this slight bit of camaraderie, though not directed at her, causes her stiffen in her seat, and her head snaps over to look out the window. I have never spoken to her. She works in my building, but always uses the elevator to the upper floors. In her 50s, meticulously well-dressed, straight blond medium length hair combed into frightening symmetrical regularity. At the bus stop, she stands on the line of the curb, staring straight ahead. I guess she's just shut herself off from all of us, it's not directed at me particularly. Hello, in there!

And, as I'm writing this, the agency called, asking if I can start working again, day after tomorrow.  Here we go again!

Monday, July 28, 2014

puppy biscuit

I got there early - the perfect start to the day. Made some coffee and headed out to the courtyard area in back of the store. The morning sun filtered through the verdant green of the asparagus ferns. Outside in the fresh morning dew, the ferns and kalanchoes were doing just great after their recent re-potting. The marigolds have
recovered from their recent battle with rabbits who thought it was the breakfast buffet.  It's been a traumatic season for the white marigolds; their first week out, they were dug out and cast aside by a squirrel who thought there was a damn nut down in the pot. Squirrels are evil vermin, and Syd (the wonder cat) spends a good deal of his day looking out of the window, just hating them. 

And, then there are the "flowering cacti". Regular readers of Excelsior recall that last Winter, I purchased a packet of "flowering cactus" seeds from Amazon, and finally, in late April, they germinated, and turned out to be these furry-leafed things.  These look nothing like the "flowering cacti assortment" pictured on Amazon, but, I'll welcome the little dudes. They're very enthusiastic, and have very deep root systems. 

Then my morning photo-expedition was slammed back into reality. Puppy Biscuit. "We need to move those patio edge blocks. They're ugly just sitting there"  If that means nothing to you, follow this link and read The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.  Do it now. It should open up in its own window.

And so - by order of Her Excellency - the beautiful scalloped patio edge blocks have been listed for liquidation at a shamefully sacrificial price on Craig's List. For details, and more exciting photos of the blocks, follow this link.  

And thank you for shopping at Gar*Mart!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

gentlemen, please

My cousin Percy will be coming to visit the States this summer. Perceival J. Thudbury, Viscount Lord Duke of Slackenshire. "Lord Percy", his chums call him. 

Lord Percy lives across the Pond, you know, that's what the Brits call the Atlantic Ocean. He didn't want to arrive for Independence Day. Percy gets kind of skittish when the conversation turns to whom we are celebrating independence from. The course of human events, you know.
Lord Percy is a gentleman's gentleman, of course. His title requires that he keep up the appearances - polo ponies, fox hounds, livery (I think livery is a sausage, similar to a Banger). One never knows when Prince William will drop by for tea. He always keeps a few crumpets in the larder at Thudbury Castle just for such an occasion. 

Well, I'm planning a real Royal Welcome to show him that we Americans are not all those back-slapping, beer-swilling, loud, friendly, gun-toting John Goodman type characters you see in American movies. We have our gentlemen, too, and I'm going to prove it to His Lordship.  

There's a place I'd like to show him. I saw it from the bus on the way to work. (Yes, Percy, we take the bus here in the USA, too. Although most of them don't have the Upper Deck).  One visit to this place should show him once and for all that we also have gentlemen in the US. Why, yes, Your Lordship, here is where our gentlemen congregate in Milwaukee. There are enough gentlemen, in fact, that they have formed a Gentlemen's Club, and on occasion guests are welcome.

Imagine, a place where a Gentleman can feel at home. I've never been inside, but I'm sure that this club is just overflowing with politeness and Gentility. At every doorway the gentlemen tipping their tophats, "No, after you"  "No, please, after YOU" "Rather.  I INSIST". 

And surely, the gentlemen are all queuing up in the pump room, in their top-hats, adjusting their monacles, and quaffing ales while exchanging pleasantries about the weather, and relating tales from the last fox-hunt. "Tally ho, old sport!"

I didn't have time to visit the Gentlemen's Club in advance, to check it out (I have to stand in queue this week to renew my concealed carry permit).  So I rang them up (called them on the telephone).  I talked to the owner, who said his name was Seymour Heine. Fine German gent, you'd expect that in Milwaukee the Germans will lead the way to gentlemanliness, home of the Beer Barons, and all. He said of course there was a "cover charge". Certainly it's gracious, though, for them to extend temporary memberships to gentlemen and their guests - collecting a few token shillings at the door to keep out the commoners. Bully strategy, that.

And, besides the camaraderie of being with other gentlemen, the Club furnishes entertainment - folk dancing! Some of the finest dancers from Eastern Europe will present their routines. In the main hall, the Pole Dancers step through the traditional Eastern European dances of Poland.  And then, in the annex, the best of Scandinavia. Seymour said you'd have to pay more to see a Lapp Dance. No doubt the colorful costumes that Laplanders wear for their dances are quite costly, or quite dear as Lord Percy would say. But how often does my old chum visit?  Nothing too good for his Lordship on his occasional visit. I'm sure everything will be just as smashing as Seymour described it. I can't wait for our Gentlemen's Night Out.  Percy will be so surprised...

Tuesday, July 15, 2014


The "4th of July" Parade - Independence Day. Childhood memories, family traditions, and perhaps a quiet moment of patriotic reflection - examining the ideal and renewing our responsibility, because liberty is a constantly created privilege, and not an entitlement. It is a delicate balance not maintained by trampling on the liberties of others. "I pledge not to take yours, and you will certainly not take mine."  

Or as General John Stark, a revolutionary general from New Hampshire put it: “Live Free or Die. Death is not the worst of evils.” 

Here's a take on our annual Independence Day Parade, set to excerpts from one of my favorite compositions "Night Passage" by Kamran Ince. I was trying out a new version of my favorite video editor "Power Director 12" by LG. I highly recommend it, it's versatile, and inexpensive - Power Director gets the most from your computer.