Friday, November 26, 2010

Ten Room Apartment: $110

I've lived in the "good old days" most of my life. But in my mid-20's I kind of outdid myself. It was the late 1970s, and I had just made a major career change - I quit a dead-end job at a Watertown Lumber Yard.

I simply couldn't stand not working, so I immediately set up a number of part-time jobs to support my life style such as it be. I worked on the night shift at the local Best Western Motel, so my days were free for other jobs.

I had a 10-room apartment on Main Street in Watertown, WI. Ten rooms, yup. I lived above an office supply store, and they let me work down there, too, unpacking shipments, and doing janitorial work, as credit toward my $110.00 per month rent. And I shoveled snow for them and the tavern next door. The tavern paid in whisky, and that was a good arrangement, if you ask me...

Then I added a day-job two days of the week working for Minning Liquor Warehouse. I loaded trucks, and soon I had my own weekly delivery route. And sometimes my old buddy Norm Tessman would need some help. He ran an emergency towing company, so when a car slid on the snow and ran in the ditch, I was the guy who dug down under the car to attach the winch hook. (now why was THAT job open?).

Then there were the music jobs - music is what keeps people going when sleep is short and times are tough. I played piano at the Feed Bag Restaurant and Bar on Friday nights, and on Saturdays I would play accordion at Teggatz's tavern (the guy downstairs).

My run-down apartment on Main Street had 10 rooms, and huge skylights! I had a music room, with an old piano in it, a bedroom, a living room, kitchen, separate pantry, one room which I just used as a closet, and a purple room I didn't use for anything at all! What a feeling of wealth!

I had a collection of old faded maroon stuffed furniture with broken springs, you sank down almost to the floor - talk about some serious comfort! I was very poor, very tired, and also very happy.

As Peter Berryman of Madison said: "Music will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no music."

By the way, the lady in the photos is Miss Riley. She was very smart and independent. More on her some other time. Happy Thanksgiving weekend, and thanks everybody for your kind birthday wishes!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

the leaves

The following was written by a German pornographer in 1928. It is my personal all-time favorite literary passage.

The leaves were falling from the great maple at the meadow's edge. They were falling from all the trees. One branch of the maple reached high above the others and stretched far out over the meadow. Two leaves clung to its very tip.

"It isn't the way it used to be." said one leaf to the other.

"No," the other leaf answered. "So many of us have fallen off tonight we're almost the only ones left on the branch."

"You never know who's going to go next," said the second leaf. "Even when it was warm and the sun shone, a storm or a cloudburst would come sometimes, and many leaves were torn off, though they were still very young. You never know who's going to go next."

"The sun hardly shines now," sighed the first leaf, "and when it does, it gives no warmth. We must have warmth again. Can it be true, can it really be true, that others come to take our places when we're gone and after them still others, and more and more?"

"It really is true," whispered the second leaf. "We can't even begin to imagine it, it's beyond our powers."

"It makes me very sad," added the first leaf.

They were very silent a while.

Then the first leaf said quietly to itself, "Why must we fall? What happens to us when we have fallen? "

The second leaf replied, "We sink down ."

"What is under us?"

The second leaf answered, "I don't know. Some say one thing, some another, but nobody knows."

The first leaf asked, "Do we feel anything, do we know anything about ourselves when we're down there?"

The second leaf answered, "Who knows? Not one of all those down there has ever come back to tell us about it."

They were silent again. Then the second leaf said tenderly to the other, "Don't worry so much about it you're trembling."

"That's nothing," the first leaf answered, I tremble at the least thing now. I don't feel so sure of my hold as I used to."

"Let's not talk any more about such things," said the second leaf.

The other replied, "No, we'll let it be. But-what else shall we talk about?" It was silent, but went on after a little while, "Which of us will go first?"

"There's still plenty of time to worry about that," the other leaf said reassuringly. "Lets remember how beautiful it was, how wonderful, when the sun came out and shone so warmly that we thought we'd burst with life. Do you remember? And the morning dew and the mild and splendid nights!

"Now the nights are dreadful," the first leaf complained, " and there is no end to them."

"We shouldn't complain, " said the second leaf gently. "We've outlived many, many others."

"Have I changed much?" asked the first leaf shyly.

"Not in the least," the second leaf said. "You think so only because I've gotton to be so yellow and ugly. But it's different in your case."

"You're fooling me," the first leaf said.

"No, really," the first leaf answered eagerly, "believe me, you're as lovely as the day you were born. Here and there may be a little yellow spot. But it's hardly noticeable and makes you only more beautiful, believe me."

"Thanks," whispered the first leaf, quite touched. I don't believe you, not altogether, but I thank you because you're so kind. You've always been so kind to me. I'm just beginning to understand how kind you are."

" Hush," said the other leaf, and kept silent itself, for it was too troubled to talk any more. Then they were both silent. Hours passed. A moist wind blew, cold and hostile, through the treetops."

"Ah, now," said the first leaf, "I . . . "

Then its voice broke off. It was torn from its place and spun down.

Winter had come.

From the book: "Bambi", by Felix Salten written in 1928

Monday, November 22, 2010

the freezer

Last Friday my wife mentioned to me: "Oh, I forgot to tell you, the Building Inspector was over by the Chinese. They moved a shelf out of the way and there was a hole in the wall, and you can see pipes and wires and stuff in there. Inspector's coming on Monday. It's behind the freezer. "

Two words can push me down into the darkness of the pit of despair these days. "Building Inspector" and "the freezer". And so, I was called yet again to visit the Freezer.

Background - part of the commercial rental complex we took on in 2003 is a Chinese restaurant. Although it's one of the cleanest, best-run, and most successful Chinese restaurants in Milwaukee, the building itself still has some on-going problems. The main problem - RALPHY. Ralphy the Patch-Meister! Ralphy the King of Schlepper-ness. Thirty years of Ralphy (the previous owner of the building) takes more than a few years to undo. There are remote corners of the building where things come undone by themselves . . . The Freezer is the most formidable of these. You can always count on something to go wrong at The Freezer. An ancient metal covered walk-in cooler, in the back corner of the storage room - with failed compressors and restaurant storage above. Bad things happen around the freezer. . .

I remember the time the roof drain backed up, and the water somehow found its way into the building - next to the freezer - The restaurant owners called - terrified. I remember holding a piece of rain gutter to lead the water to a floor drain until the inrush of water subsided enough to assess roof damages.

Last August was when we discovered that Ralphy had anchored the suspended ceiling grid to the ceiling plaster, rather than to the stud structure of the building. How did we make this discovery? One of the bolts gave way, and it caused a chain reaction of course. A major section (8 x 12 feet) of ceiling came crashing down above the freezer. The heavy plaster ceiling fell down on top of the suspended grid ceiling, destroying everything.

Left in the aftermath was a tangled heap of plaster, wires, ceiling tiles, and despair on top of the freezer. The restaurant opened late that day, while we cleaned it up. The next week I spent mostly on top of that freezer, cleaning up, and rebuilding. It was August -- the restaurant's air conditioning doesn't reach into the storeroom, much less above the freezer. Yup, it's hot. From the top of the freezer to the roof was a spacious 3-1/2 feet The new ceiling grid is installed at 2 feet from the top of the freezer - a rather cozy workspace. I shared the top of the freezer with a growling old compressor - this ensured that the temperature never got below 90 degrees.

Working on my knees, with my head ducked down, experiencing over and over the intense feeling of un-pleasure one gets from kneeling on a screw. So, sometimes I would work on my back - you might think it is more comfortable to work that way, but there are conduit boxes and BX cables on top of the freezer trying to take out my kidneys with every move I made.

And in the distance, above the droning thrum of the compressor, everything is shouted in Chinese. The restaurant is run by a Chinese family, and only the ones who know English are the ones directly in contact with the public. Before I discovered this, I had wondered to myself why these people were so agreeable. Whatever I would tell them, they would smile and nod. I felt completely isolated, as one in a far country.

I remember the ultimate moment of despair. I was almost done with the new ceiling grid, lying on my back with a BX cable digging into my shoulderblades, and the compressor blowing a 95 degree blast of dusty air at me, daring me to breathe. I noticed that a bandage one of my left fingers from the day before had slid off due to perspiration. I remember thinking to myself "O, No, Now that's going to get infected" as I paged ahead in my mental calendar for piano engagements that might be affected. Then I realized how hopelessly far from home I really was. I bet Steve Allen never had a "top of the freezer" moment with his hands. . . Maybe it was just the dust of the ceiling tiles making my eyes water... maybe not.

Though your dreams be tossed and blown. I believe Rogers and Hammerstein had the Freezer in mind when they came up with that phrase. Though your dreams be tossed and blown. - Walk on, walk on with hope in your heart and you'll never walk alone.

soon - fixin' the hole...

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Next Chapter - Alana

Alana. It's Alana. The name of the new store on Kinnickinnic Avenue in Bay View, in the Joyce Skylight Court is Alana.

Since we completed the rehabilitation of the Joyce Skylight Court, we have been waiting for the business climate to improve to the point where people can once again have the confidence to take a business risk. While we were waiting, Joyce thought it would be an ideal time to try out a life-long dream of hers. Since the shopping center was sitting there costing taxes anyway, why not launch a ladies' clothing store in one of the units? It would be a show of confidence in the community, and would encourage other businesses to rent the other available units.

.... And so, we present -- Alana!

"Alana" means "the precious awakening". The name is derived from German and Hawaiian roots, a derivation of "Helen" (Joyce's mother) and "Alan" (Joyce's husband's middle name. That's me).

Joyce is more than qualified for this new role, having spent her entire life in the fashion industry. She has hand-selected an assortment of clothing and accessories from select fashion designers which meet her own high standards. Joyce knows how to make you look good.

I've been busy with the thousands of details which don't fall directly into the fashion category, but are all necessary - occupancy licensing, graphic design, web site design, credit card processing setup, store fixture acquisition, not to mention travel arrangements and communications (Joyce does NOT email). And getting Joyce in contact with designers and trade shows to select the merchandise. Thousands of details remain, and yet, somehow we will open in December, without having to quit my "day job".